The Eternal Mystery
Since it was discovered on the 24 of July, 1911
by the North American Hiram Bingham, Machu Picchu has been
considered, by its astonishing magnificence and harmonious
construction, as one of the most important architectural and
archeological monuments of the planet.
Located 2400 meters above sea level in the province of Urubamba,
district of Cusco, Machu Picchu (which means Greater Summit) is surprising
for the form in which the constructions in rock are revealed over a
narrow and uneven small hillock, in which borders has a cliff that is
400 meters deep- that forms the canyon that arrives to the Urubamba
Citadel surrounded by mystery, because until now
archeologists have not been able to decipher the history and the
function of this stony city that is almost a kilometer in extension,
erected by the Incas in a magic geographical zone, where the Andean
and the Amazonian come together.
The tourists that visit this natural relic are
convinced that perhaps the mystery will never be absolutely revealed
because until now, hypotheses and conjectures only exist. For some,
it was a post to advance in the Incan expansive projections; others
believe that it was a monastery, where the girls (acllas) formed to
serve the Inca and Willac Uno (High priest). This is presumed
because of the 135 bodies found in the investigations, 109 were of
The surprising perfection and beauty of the walls of Machu
Picchu -constructed uniting stone on stone, without cement neither
sticking them together- have raised myths about its construction.
The oral tradition counts with a bird called Kak`aqllu, which
knew the formula to soften the stones, but by order perhaps from the
old Incan gods, they tore off its tongue. Also it is said that
there exists a magical plant that dissolved the stone and could
But beyond the myths, the true charm of Machu Picchu (declared
Cultural Patrimony of Humanity by Unesco in 1983) is in its plazas,
in its aqueducts and vigilance towers, in its observatories and in
its Solar Clock, evidence of the knowledge and techniques of the Andean
Nevertheless, in these last years they have insisted that the
visitors be careful while visiting this place, in fact, the majority
of the tour guides agree that precautionary measures that take place
are strategies to avoid the early collapse of the zone.
The concern is also shared with environmentalist and
anthropologist of Cusco National University, alarmed at the excess
of visitors that provoke movements in the stones of the sacred city,
hardly discovered in 1911
It is necessary to know that in the year 2000, almost 100
thousand people visited this archeological complex of 32 thousand
hectares that is, in addition, the possessor of an extraordinary
biodiversity, this is because Machu Picchu and all of the Cusco zone
are found on the geological plate of Tambomachay.
The entire park has an extension of 325,92 square kilometers and
is located 112 kilometers form the Cusco-Quillabamba railroad; the
train station is known as the "Ruins Bridge" and is 2
thousand meters high in altitude. This is the area from where the
majority of the buses leave to realize tours to this Archeological
The climate of this sector has some characteristics there are
only two well defined and distinguished seasons: the rainy season
between September and April and the dry season from May to August.
In spite of, Machu Picchu, it is found in the brow of the
Amazonian forest, and the rains are latent in any month of the year.
On the hottest days it is possible for temperatures to reach
approximately 26° Celsius, the coldest mornings are en June
and July where the temperature can drop to -2° C. The annual
average temperature is 16°C. You can clearly differentiate two
seasons in the year: the rainy period (from November to March),
recommending the visitors to travel with appropriate clothing during
the strong sunny period (from April to October), with a notable
increase in the temperature.
There is an average of rainfall that fluctuates between one
thousand five hundred and two thousand eight hundred cubic meter,
this is the reason why the monthly relative humidity is in direct
relation with the rains, by which the average humidity is 77% during
the dry months and 91% in the rainy months.
One of the more relevant architectural characteristics is that
Machu Picchu is found on a grand orogenic structure of baptized
granite like the "Vilcapampa".
This is because the white-gray granite is an igneous stone mainly
composed of an average of 60% feldspar and 30% quartz, and 10% mica;
that has given it a unique resistance for six centuries to this
From the Incan language it is translated to Machu Picchu like
"Old Mountain" in all of its Andean entirety, although it
highlights the famous mountain that is seen in front of photographs,
and appears in the majority of classic views of the site it is
called Waynapicchu (Young Mountain).
A bit of history
It turns out relative to indicate the time of the first
settlement of these territories, because we can't talk about
foundations but occupations. Many explorers before Hiram
Binghman tried to discover this Historic Sanctuary, since they had
heard of it; nevertheless, men like Antonio Raymondi the Sartiges
Count and Charles Wiener never reached the success that the North
American did. It is known that the Santander brothers had been
at the base of the Temple of the Sun in July 1909, due to
inscription that appears in this place.
The 14 of July 1911, Hiram Binghman arrived with specialists from
Yale University in topography, biography, geology, engineering and
osteology. They were lead to the place by Melchor Arteaga, an
inhabitant of the zone that gave them methods or means of how to
arrive, until today it is considered the Eighth Wonder of the World.
Later, in 1914, Binghman returns to Machu Picchu with economic
and logistic support from the proper university and the Geographic
Society of United States in front of a specialized team and with a
publication that was already circulating around the world:
"The Lost City of the Incas".
In the original plan, Binghman divided Machu Picchu into sectors
according to the cardinal orientation. Some names conserve
there originality, but after various decades of discovery, the
scientific studies fulfilled by the patronage of archaeology of the
National Institute of Culture have reached valuable conclusions
about the use and the functions of the buildings on the basis of excavations
and architectural relation with similar buildings from the ample
Routes and attractions
There are three known ways to arrive to Machu
Picchu that exist. The first of them is the traditional (or on
train), with a three hour duration; the second is for those that
like adventure tourism there is the "Camino del Inca" route,
hiking that requires a great effort during 4 days. And the
newest way of arriving to the Aguas Calientes town is by
helicopter. All of these tours can be contracted in Cusco and
have an average value of 60 dollars.
When traveling by train, it is necessary to know that 112
kilometers of distance between the city of Cusco and the Puente Ruinas
(Ruins Bridge) station or Machu Picchu exist, by railroad; the trip
initiates in the San Pedro station in Cusco, crossing the Picchu
mountain, by the zigzagging route until reaching the highest
pinnacle named "El Arco" (the arc) in the northeastern
part of the city.
Continuing, you will descend through towns like Pory, Cachimatyo
and Izcuchaca until the Pampa de Anta, ample livestock ranching zone
and an undisputed geographic pulchritude. Roaming through the
narrow Pomatales Gorge, one creeps through the Sacred Valley of the
Incas through the Pachar station. Crossing the Urubamba River to the
left margin to arrive at the Ollantaytambo station and then
proceeding to Puente Ruinas, final destination.
Those who have crossed the Sacred Valley by highway and do not
desire to waste time returning to Cusco, can also take the train to
Machu Picchu in the Ollantaytambo station.
Two services exist: a tourism train and train ferry, which leave
on the first hour and return in the afternoon.
Those who find themselves in good physical state can
take the Camino del Inca route to Machu Picchu that is known as the
most famous trekking route in South America by the conjunction of
different elements that are offered to the visitors. One
begins 88 kilometers from the railway line to the Convention Valley
in the place named Q'oriwayrachina, featuring a total distance of
39.6 kilometers towards the sanctuary.
In order to initiate the long walk you cross the Kusichaca bridge,
that was constructed in the Incan epoch, in a suspension bridge
manner, with steel cables over the Urubamba River. After
crossing a eucalyptus forest, almost immediately after you will have
contact with the archaeological groups of Q'ente, Pulpituyoc,
Kusichaca and Patallaca, when we arrive after various hours of
walking to Wayllabamba, where camping is recommended.
The second day is more difficult because you have to climb to
4200 meters above sea level until lowering down to the valley of the
Pakamayu River, where you should say overnight.
While we continue with the long hike, on the third day observe
impressive archeological remains like Runkuraqay, the Yanacocha and
Phuyupatamarca Lagoons, very close to the visitors’ center of Wiñayhuayna,
where you can camp.
The fourth and final day of the adventure, it is recommended to
depart at 8 am in the morning, to arrive at Machu Picchu after three
hours of crossing the brow of the forest and bordering precipices.
During the days of trekking you will witness and impressive flora
and fauna that includes animals in extinction like the spectacled
bear, pumas, Andean foxes, river nutrias, mountain cats and others.
We recommend you take a sleeping bag, backpack,
multiuse knife, and tablets against motion sickness and antiofidic polyvalent serum.
In the case of taking the route by helicopter, there is solely
one company that offers a daily flight at 8:45 a.m. from the Cusco,
airport, "Velasco Astete", the flight lasts 25 minutes
until the Aguas Calientes town. A few meters away you take the bus
to the citadel arriving in 30 minutes. In total the journey from
Cusco is completed in 55 minutes. From high up you can appreciate
the impressive panoramic view of Cusco city and the Sacred Valley,
but you do not approach the archaeological zones, for this reason we
recommend you take the ground routes to get to know the zone
Surroundings with grace
Although visits to the area where prohibited in the final decade
of the 90's, The Temple of the Sun can now be visited once again.
This semi-circular construction is seated on a massive rock. In this
building you will find two trapezoidal windows and according to the
chroniclers, in the epoch that it was inhabited, it had
incrustations of precious stone and gold.
Another attraction included in the tours is the Intihuatana. It
is located on a hill conformed by various terraces and platforms,
where you arrive after climbing 78 staircases finely carved.
The Intihuatana served two functions: measuring time (solstice and
equinoctial) by the effect of light and shade and as a rock altar.
Also there is Huayna Picchu, which as we explained at the
beginning of the report, is located in the top of the young mountain
with a difficult route and with small temples. This is the point
where you can obtain the best vista of the citadel. Other
attractions are the Group of the Sacred Rock, The Doorways, The
Fountains and the Mausoleum or Tomb.
In addition, only 800 meters from the town of Aguas Calientes, in
the eastern direction, fountains of thermal sulfur waters exist in
different degrees of temperature that emerge from the rocky subsoil.
The dregs or conditioned pools in this place present the basic
infrastructure for it use as thermal baths. The average temperature
of these waters is between 38 and 46 degrees Celsius. Vestibules,
hygienic services and a small snack bar exist.
As much in the territory as in the companies that organize the
tours recommends that everyone that enters the Historical Sanctuary
of Machu Picchu and makes use of the authorized routes for trekking
should avoid environmental contamination and should have basic norms
for the preservation of the zone by not throwing away waste,
igniting bonfires, depredation, and acquisition of any species of
flora or fauna of the area.
In fact you can only camp in indicated places for camping in