See the sublime city of Machu Picchu

Machu Picchu

Built in around 1450 by the Inca people, Machu Picchu is one of the most esteemed yet most touching tourist sites in the World, often arousing a spiritual experience in its visitors. The ‘lost City of the Incas’ was for lack of a better word, ‘lost’ when the Inca people abandoned the city due to the threat of the Spanish Conquest about 100 years after its construction, in 1572. At 2430 meters above sea level, located on a mountain ridge above the Sacred Valley, Machu Picchu was, in a twist of fate, safe from intrusion, a stone-walled sanctuary that is the World’s best memory of the great civilization of the Incas. Machu Picchu was in fact left free from international renown for centuries until the year 1911 when the American explorer, Hiram Bingham documented the existence of the city after being guided their by local Peruvian residents. Since this fated moment, Machu Picchu has become iconic, attracting global fascination and winning accolades such as being a UNESCO World heritage site and being voted as one of the seven wonders of the modern World. With such significant hype however, it would be understandable to expect a visit to be anticlimactic. This simply is not the case.

Sitting in the heavens, the mountain-top marvel radiates a feeling of the devotional and serves as a portal to an archaic past that is laced with intrigue.

Since Bingham’s discovery of Machu Picchu, renovations have been undertaken in attempt to transform the lost city to its former glory, these renovations to Machu Picchu however, merely serve to add its captivating charm and by 1976, over 30% of the site had been restored.

DISCOVERY

1911 Machu Picchu

A photograph of how the site looked upon its discovery in 1911.

As previously mentioned, Machu Picchu was brought to global attention when the American, Hiram Bingham discovered it in 1911. Bingham was then employed as a lecturer at Yale University and his intent when discovering the site was in fact to locate a completely different city altogether. Bingham had set out to locate the city of Vilcabamba which was considered the last Incan place of refuge during the Spanish Conquest. It was only during his expeditions to Peru, where the guidance of locals, most notably an 11 year old boy named Pablito Alvarez led him up to the forgotten city (it seems the only ones that had known of its existence where the Quechan natives).

The following archaeological studies were however wrought in controversy, although it seemed his research into Peruvian ancestry would be welcomed by local authorities and heritage sites, there soon circulated rumours of malpractice in his operations. Bingham’s excavation team soon encountered accusations of stealing artefacts from the site and smuggling them through Bolivia to reach America. Furthermore the press took a critical turn, claiming that Bingham and his team were exploiting the Peruvian site and depriving local archaeologists of their right to understand their own history with intrusive excavation procedures. In response to the growing negative attention that Bingham was developing, Machu Picchu locals (the Quechan people, a boy of whom was the one who helped Bingham locate the site) formed a coalition in order to defend the ownership of their home. A clash arose when Bingham claimed that certain artefacts from the area were best studied in American instructions, such as Yale, and the fact that they remain there ignites dispute between the countries even to today.

The long-lasting debate however was ineffective in one thing; quelling the surmounting interest in the area which has culminated in the site being a siren call to many a tourist looking for adventure, a leap into history and a grasp of overwhelming beauty.

ASCENT

Machu Picchu train

The experience of Machu Picchu is preceded by a marvellous ascent up to the mountain tops by their own merit, the journey begins with an hour and a half long train ride with wholly unique views of the mountain range that surrounds the carriage, and this is followed by a bus ride that continues the ascent, a vehicle that climbs a fluctuating mountain path in a manner that recalls the thrill of a roller-coaster (it too is completely safe). Finally a short hike brings you to the peak wherein your views transform from the mountains to the enthralling stone remains of a city that was. It is recommended to avoid travelling to Machu Picchu during the hours between 10am and 2pm, as this is when the site is at its busiest and overcrowding may impinge on the rather personal sense of awe and spectacle you will be experiencing; what must be noted is that although other tourists may be avoided, the mountain top is notorious as a home to several llama that like to wander through the city as if they have adopted the role of its Incan inhabitants.

Alternatively there are many treks available to the peak of Machu Picchu, however the trip itself is a 4-day affair and should only be undertaking by those with a good level of fitness and a penchant for adventure.

The Inca trial that documents the hike to Machu Picchu was the route taken by Bingham himself and is albeit arduous, is a prime way to engage with the variety of natural phenomena and vegetation that serves as a backdrop to thoughts of the life of the Inca people; thoughts that become actualised with the stunning stimulus of the lost city of Machu Picchu at the end of the journey.

Machu Picchu llama

BUILDINGS

Machu Picchu buildings

Fittingly, Machu Picchu was built in the classical Inca style, possessing dry-stone walls, and although a city abundant in the ruins of residences and a wealth of buildings, the three primary structures in the site are the Intithuatana (translated as the hitching post of the Sun), the temple of the Sun and the room of three windows; all three of which are located in what is known as the Sacred District of Machu Picchu. What makes Machu Picchu such high calibre as a heritage sight is the pure quality of the restored structures amidst a beautifully maintained locality.

A level of quality in fact that makes navigating in between the labyrinthine buildings the nearest thing to revisiting the past an architectural ruin can afford a visitor.

Often in life, excessive press attention can lead to a feeling of disdain when faced with the actuality of what was focused on. There is even a term called Paris Syndrome which documents the psychiatric symptoms a visitor could experience when met with the harsh reality of the city that they weren’t prepared for (oddly, this mainly happens with Japanese tourists).

Machu Picchu however is perennially praised as a stunning destination to visit, and to succumb to the use of cliché, regularly stirs the mind, body and soul.

The very fact that the city is situated among the clouds imbues the trip with a sense of romance and otherworldliness and the stonework present is evidence of how a natural raw material, used in the right way can work with and enhance the beauty of nature.

Machu Picchu’s beauty comes from the fact it respects and compliments its stunning natural surroundings; built from local stone and arranged like a crown on the head of its regal mountain range.