The Crown Jewel of the Inca Empire: A Visit to Machu Picchu

Tuesday April 30, 2013
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The Crown Jewel of the Inca Empire: A Visit to Machu Picchu

Every year during the months of May and September, countless visitors from around the world flock to Peru to visit the breathtaking ruins of Machu Picchu, the Lost City of the Incas. Imagine how the tourists feel now and then compare that to the astonishment Hiram Bingham must have felt when he accidentally stumbled on this site in 1911.

When Bingham discovered the ruins, they were completely covered with vegetation. It was an incredibly difficult feat to uncover and unearth the ruins from underneath hundreds of years of growth. Once uncovered, a fascinating and complex archaeological site comprised of palaces, temples, plazas, dwellings, steps and terraces appeared. At an altitude of 2,400 meters (some 8,000 ft.) above sea level, Machu Picchu is located in a semi-tropical climate, and is frequently covered in a mist that gives it a mythical feel. The layout of the city is such that the Northern half is mostly agricultural steppes and ritualistic areas, and the southern end is mostly domestic/living areas.

Machu Picchu is considered a wonder of architecture with clearly displayed Incan trapezoidal building techniques. The buildings are of differing heights, and although much of the ruins have been unearthed, it is still unclear how much remains to be discovered.

Upon arrival, one can find a nice serene spot to relax, but the trek itself to Machu Picchu can be challenging. Generally tourists arrive in Cusco before beginning their journey to Machu Picchu, allowing a day or 2 to acclimate to the altitude. In order to help with this, tourists generally drink coca leaf tea and avoid strenuous activity for a few days.

There are tons of things to do while biding your time in Cusco. You can buy a general tourist ticket that´s good for the duration of your stay, which allows entry into the many archaeological sites, temples and other places of interest in Cusco or Qosco in Quechua.

From Cusco, most people take the 60 AM train to Aquas Calientes located outside of Machu Picchu. There a local non-tourist train which is always busy, as well as tourist trains.

Aguas Calientes, which is named for their hot springs, is not highly recommended as a destination in itself, but there are reasonable places to stay if you plan to stay more than one day at Machu Picchu. You may want to soak in the hot springs after touring the ruins, especially if you hiked the Inca Trail!

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