During my visit to Machu Picchu, I loaded up with a bunch of useless facts, anecdotes, and quirky information. I actually also got some important questions answered, too. Some of these are things I actually wondered, while other information has no other place to find shelter than in this blog. I’ll try to mix the serious and the goofy ones, but am not making any promises!
1) Are there llamas in Machu Picchu?
Yes, there are a number of llamas in the ancient city. There are actually 22 llamas… well 23 if you count the recently born baby. They all have names which can be found on name tags behind their ears. I met the llama known as Lily.
2) Should I get a guide?
“So… I went to Machu Picchu and learned absolutely nothing about it.” Don’t be “that guy.” While the city is a fantastic site with or without a guide, there are no signs of explanation anywhere in the ruins. I would definitely recommend getting a guide with as small of a group as possible.
Personally, I am cheap too, looking for the best deal possible. But when it comes to sites like Machu Picchu or my recent trip to Komodo National Park, I am willing to spend a little extra to make the experience all it’s cracked up to be. I suggest to take as small of a group as possible so you can ask many questions.
Guides run for about 100-120 soles (30-40 USD) for a 2-3 hour tour (you can split it with your group). It should be noted that these are professional guides, who have studied tourism for 5 years in university AND had to do residency training for 3 years. They usually don’t live in Aguascalientes either, and come from as far as Urubamba or Cuzco for work. Feel free to tip if you got a great service.
3) Can I walk up to Machu Picchu or do I have to take the bus?
You can walk, but that is probably the dumbest suggestion anyone ever gave me. There is a road that goes from Aguascalientes to Machu Picchu. The buses start at around 5:30am, but the front door to the ancient city isn’t opened until 6:30-7:00 anyways. Why waste your energy, especially since you will likely walk around the city for 3-4 hours, and if you bought the tickets (like I suggested), you will also do a climb of Wayna Picchu for an additional 2-4 hours. Save your energy for the real hike.
4) Why was the city built here?
Geometry, geometry and geometry. Some co-workers teased me for making Machu Picchu sound uncool, but I’ll say it anyways. The geometrical position of Machu Picchu was perfect for the people under the control of the Inka, which strongly believed in harmony with the heavens above.
First, Machu Picchu is situated on a mountain, putting it closer the the gods above. The shape of the ruins even resemble a condor, the bird that represents the God world.
Second, the sun rises exactly at a point between Machu Picchu Mountain, and the mountain next to it on June 21st, the summer solstice. This is called the gateway of the sun, and the entrance to Machu Picchu is you come through the Inca Trail. During this day, some buildings are designed to cast shadows on altars or other religiously significant stones.
Finally, security. This place was not easy to reach, even for the Inca himself. It was supposed to be a secluded monastery where high-priests and priestess made offerings to the gods. A number of the finest thread workers also lived here and taught the next generation how to work and make clothes.
5) Why do you keep saying “the Inca” and not “Incas?”
Initially, I thought that people in Peru had strange grammatical rules for saying “the Inca’s people.” As it turns out, “the Inca” is one person, the king. The empire that existed at the time of the Spaniard conquest was called the “Empire of the Inca,” because it signified a multi-cultural empire that was controlled by this king. The original people that spread this empire are called the Quechua, an ethnic minority that exists in the Cusco region to this very day.
6) Are there other places like Machu Picchu?
A tourist asked our guide about another city that was found behind Machu Picchu which I had never heard about. She knew exactly what he was talking about and told him the name and its location. I wish I had written it down, as I can’t seem to find any information online about it.
There is a city found a few years ago which was much like Machu Picchu. It is currently accessible by foot only on a 4 day hike from Ollantaytambo (similar to the Inka Trail). Apparently, since so few people know about it, and it is still covered with the overgrowth of hundreds of years of isolation, and very few venture to it. If you are adventurous enough, visit and share the info here, as I would love to go!
7) Are the myths about secret chambers and escape routes true?
Yes! In the last five years, there have been three very important discoveries.
First, there are chambers filled with gold directly under Machu Picchu. The remains have been moved to the museum nearby.
Second, additional terraces were found downhill from the ancient city. Their purpose is unclear.
Finally, we now know how and where the inhabitants of the city fled. A previously unknown route leading deeper into the mountains has been found. It looks like the people likely died in their haste to flee, as bodies have been found on these trails.
8) Why are there Hallucinogenic Flowers and Coca Leaves in Machu Picchu?
The Inca did not inhale, he just tripped like no one has ever tripped before! Apparently, these flowers were used hundreds of years ago, much like today, to trip out and see flying pink elephants.
The Inca would often visit the city, get high, and order monumental tasks! I cannot make this stuff up.
9) Are there places to eat in Machu Picchu?
I got incorrect information before going that there are no places to eat besides a 36 USD buffet. THIS IS NOT TRUE. There are two other, more affordable places that sell traditional Peruvian burgers and chicken wraps. They also have authentic Peruvian hot dogs and ice cream. These are overpriced, but not unreasonable (~10 USD a meal). They also have water at about 3 USD, three times the price of water in Aguascalientes.
10) What is Aguascalientes like?
I expected an old little village with little to do but offer accommodation before going into Machu Picchu. In fact, the town is booming with restaurants and hotels/hostels. Almost the entire village exists for the purpose of tourism, and no one other than a hand full of people live there. The food was overpriced and not as tasty as I expected, but then again, I didn’t expect restaurants at all. There were also a ton of places to shop, but if you compare prices, it was much cheaper in Lima, Cuzco, and Ollantaytambo (in that order, with Lima being the cheapest).
While I expected to feel very isolated in knowing that no road from the outside world leads to Aguascalientes, it was hard to notice with the amount of people and shops booming with activity. The natural surrounding however, made up for the “touristy feel” as you could see an insane amount of stars at night. The hotel we stayed at also had a fantastic view.