Historic Sanctuary of Machu Picchu

Location: Aguascalientes/Machu Picchu Pueblo, Cusco, Peru

Visited: June 27, 2013

Site Type: Mixed (Cultural and Natural)

Background and Opinion:

In the time leading up to my Peru trip, I found out about a place known as Huacachina. The existence of a true oasis biome on the American continent made me doubt whether or not Machu Picchu would even be the highlight of my trip. My first glance at the secret city of the Inca (spelled ‘Inka’ in Peru, which means ‘king’) erased any doubt. Machu Picchu is often what comes to mind when people think of Peru for a good reason. It is truly a spectacle to witness.

Panoramic - Machu Picchu
I don’t know how people did it before digital photography. There is no way I could limit the amount of pictures I take to just a few dozen.

The ancient ruins known as Machu Picchu are one of, if not THE best preserved Pre-Hispanic site in the Americas. It was built less than a hundred years before the Spanish conquest of the early 1500s, but was quickly abandoned before it was even completed when word of the Inka defeat reached the area. It was a place where the highest priests and selected worthy people lived to honor the gods above.

earthquake - Machu Picchu
The terraces on the left (facing Wayna Picchu) are to make the city earthquake proof.

When the Spaniards conquered the area known as the Empire of the Inca, they were known to destroy old signs of worship like this one as they conflicted with their monotheistic beliefs in a single God. Machu Picchu was, thankfully, unknown to the Spaniards, or anyone that wasn’t a local until 1911 with the American historian, Hiram Bingham, made his famous exploration and exposition of the site.

The city is much larger and detailed than I expected.
The city is much larger and detailed than I expected.

While Machu Picchu is now known to almost everyone in the world today, it is quite surprising how isolated it still is. A railway connects the towns of Ollantaytambo and Aguascalientes (now known as ‘Machu Picchu Pueblo’). However, no roads lead to this town, which is the gateway to Machu Picchu. Despite the difficulties of getting there, about half a million people visit every year.

Tower - Machu Picchu
From the central watch tower, the overseer made sure everyone was doing that they were supposed to. Crime was thus non-existent.

The city is far larger than I expected and much like Chichen Itza in Mexico, it has many geometrically positioned buildings to correspond perfectly with the winter and summer solstices. Starting from Cusco, you see signs everywhere that call Machu Picchu “La Maravilla del Mundo” (The World Marvel) and I couldn’t agree more. In the 2007, Machu Picchu was named one of the New 7 Wonders of the World and I have yet to see a more deserving site.

Narrow passageways make it perfect to just wander and make your own route.
Narrow passageways make it perfect to just wander and make your own route.

Odd Fact: The Inka was known to visit the area by following the Inca Trail. Apparently, soon after he arrived, he was known to consume a hallucinogenic plant and smoke a lot of weed. It was in this inebriated state that he often ordered the building of more temples in Machu Picchu. “You know what would make this place better, A BIGGER TEMPLE!” 

The temple of the sun is aligned perfectly. On the summer solstice, a shadow is cast directly on the altar inside.
The temple of the sun is aligned perfectly. On the summer solstice, a shadow is cast directly on the altar inside.

Evaluation:

1) Completeness and Originality (12/15): Considering the age, it is in impeccable condition. A few earthquakes have damaged some temples, but otherwise it is in excellent shape. Recent discoveries have lead to the belief that we have yet to uncover the entire city as chambers have been found below the city, and additional terraces next to it.

In addition, all of the second floors of buildings caved in as the two floors were separated by wood that eventually rotted. Much of the rubble remains with no immediate plans of reconstruction. Finally, the “Door of the Inka” which was the king’s entrance into the city was also made of wood, thus, also rotted away. Despite these minor inconveniences, it is remarkable what remains.

2) Extensiveness of the Site (15/15): The city itself would take about 4-5 hours to truly appreciate it all. However, since this is a mixed site, we must also consider the natural aspects of it. There are two mountains known as Wayna Pichu and Machu Picchu (yes that is the name of the mountain) which have cultural and natural significance. They are both geographically on opposite ends which was significant to the Quechua (the Inca’s people). Furthermore, Machu Picchu mountain forms a V shape which leads to the doorway of the Inka trail. This position is exactly where the sun rises on the Winter Solstice. Unreal.

In addition, the Inka Trail, which is the path the Inka would take from Ollantaytambo to Machu Picchu is a 4-day/ 80 km trek on foot which thousands take every year. It is considered one of the top 10 “journeys of a lifetime” in the world.

3) Cultural / Natural Significance 25/25): Machu Picchu was the last sanctuary of the Inca’s Empire, the second largest during the time of Spanish colonization. Its existence is one of the only untouched signs of civilization that developed isolated from the Afro-Eurasian landmass. It is a rare testament of how mankind developed independently on different parts of the globe.

The nature aspect of it adds to the beauty of the ancient city as it is set almost 3000 meters above sea level on a fairly untouched section of the planet with negligible light pollution leading to fantastic views of the stars. In other words, it is every good thing you heard about it and more.

4) Personal Impact (15/15): I don’t really have to explain this one do I?

5) Logistics (5/10): Totally worth it, but given that it was revealed to the globe more than a century ago, it is still quite a hassle to get to. There are few reliable and current instructions about how to get here an efficient and economic way. Furthermore, the official website to get tickets is largely in Spanish, making it difficult for non-Spanish speakers.

To arrive, you will likely have to go through Cuzco’s airport (which has inflated flight prices for non-Peruvians), take a bus or cab to Ollantaytambo, take a train to Aguascalientes, and take a bus up the mountain the next morning, and trace your way back to return the next day. Peru Rail’s prices are also a little steep. The round trip cost is over 100 US dollars, making the total trek at least 400 USD minimum.

6) Uniqueness (15/20): It is quite a fantastic site on a very unique setting. While the style is definitely unique, the architecture is a bit reminiscent of Tulum in Mexico. The natural aspects of Machu Picchu, however, are truly remarkable.

 

 Combined Score: 88/100

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Julio Moreno

Julio is a California native who has lived abroad since 2009 as an expat in South Korea and New Zealand. He is especially passionate about experiencing other cultures and visiting as many UNESCO World Heritage Sites as possible.
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