HISTORY OF MACHU PICCHU
After the Spanish conquest of Peru, the rebellious Inca Manco Capac II secretly slipped away from Cusco in the night and retreated northwest beyond Ollantaytambo and into the depths of the jungle where he established a town called Vilcabamba. It was from this base that the last of the Incas attacked the Spaniards in Cusco for the next 36 years. In 1572 the Spanish eventually lost their patience and mounted a brutal invasion against the Inca resistance. They attacked Vilcabamba and finally brought the last Inca Tupac Amaru (Manco’s heir and half brother) back to Cusco in chains where he was executed in the Plaza de Armas. Many of his potential heirs and family were either executed or dispersed, putting to rest the Inca dynasty for good. With time the location of the abandoned town of Vilcabamba became forgotten – all apart from a few ambiguous maps and clues left by some Spanish chroniclers.
Hiram Bingham, a doctor in philosophy and history at Yale University, became fascinated with Inca archaeology and stories of lost cities when he was visiting Peru in 1909 whilst retracing the footsteps of Simon Bolivar (South America’s great liberator). He returned to Peru in 1911 with a seven man expedition sponsored by Yale University and the National Geographical Society.
Leaving Cusco in July 1911, Bingham and his team set out in the direction of the jungle, heading down the Urubamba Valley. Bingham had previously spent time in Lima reading through the many Spanish manuscripts. He was convinced that lost cities, Inca ruins and possibly unmentionable treasures lay somewhere in this part of Peru. Almost immediately, the group discovered a major Inca site which they named Patallacta (also called Llactapata). This ruin can be found at the start of the Inca Trail at the junction of the Cusichaca and Vilcanota River. Bingham and his companions were fuelled with excitement and travelled on.
On 23 July 1911, only a week into the expedition, the group camped at Mandorpampa, a few kilometres further along the Vilcanota River Valley than the present day village of Aguas Calientes. By chance they got talking to Melchor Artega, the owner of a local hacienda in the area. Bingham was told of some fine ruins high up in the hills on the other side of the river and Artega was willing to take them there. The next day it rained and only Bingham had the enthusiasm to climb the steep side of the mountain, accompanied by Artega.
To his surprise at the top he was greeted by two locals, Toribio Richarte and Anacleto Alvarez, who had been living up on the mountainside for a few years to avoid the police and tax collectors. After a short rest the men led Bingham to the ancient site.
Extract from ‘The Lost City of the Incas’ by Hiram Bingham:
“I soon found myself before the ruined walls of buildings built with some of the finest stonework of the Incas. It was difficult to see them as they were partially covered over by trees and moss – the growth of centuries; but in the dense shadow, hiding in bamboo thickets and toggled vines, could be seen, here and there, walls of white granite ashlars most carefully cut and exquisitely fitted together (…). I was left truly breathless.”
Bingham believed that he’d stumbled across the rebel Inca’s last strong hold and that Vilcabamba had at last been found. This ‘discovery’ stood unchallenged for the next 50 years until Bingham’s mistake was affirmed by Gene Savoy in 1964, when he discovered what most people agree are the true ruins of Vilcabamba at Espiritu Pampa – 4 or 5 days hard trek further into the jungle. Ironically, Hiram Bingham actually found part of these ruins during his 1909 expedition, but considered them unimportant.
Having succeeded in raising sufficient sponsorship, Bingham returned to Machu Picchu the following year to commence the huge task of clearing the ruins of vegetation – a job that took 3 years. During this time many ceramics, stone objects and bones were found and taken back to the United States. Construction of a railway began in 1913 – finally reaching Aguas Calientes in 1928. The road up to the ruins was completed in 1948 and inaugurated by Bingham himself. In 1981 a 325 km2 area around Machu Picchu was declared a Historical Sanctuary by the Peruvian Government, and given the status of a World Heritage site by UNESCO in 1983.
So if Machu Picchu wasn’t the lost city of Vilcabamba, what was it? Its location certainly wasn’t known of by the Spanish at the time of the conquest and, concealing an entire populated region from them, many of whom had allies among the Incas, would have been impossible.
The only plausible explanation is that the Incas, during the time of the Spanish conquest, did not know of it either! For some reason the city and its region were abandoned before the arrival of the conquistadors and its memory erased even to the Incas.
Archaeologists agree that the style of Machu Picchu’s buildings is “late imperial Inca” placing it within the reign of the Inca Pachacutec. Pachacutec was responsible for the defeat of the Chanca invasion from the north, an event that took place in 1438 and marked the beginning of the great Inca expansion.
Based on our previous conclusion that Machu Picchu was abandoned before the arrival of the Spaniards, this leaves a space of less than 100 years for it to have been constructed, populated, deserted and forgotten about. Although nearly all leading archaeologists agree on this time scale it is still quite difficult to believe. The purpose of Machu Picchu and the reason for its subsequent abandonment is still very much a mystery and inspiration for as many stories as there are tour guides (or guide books for that matter).
The more recent view is that, rather than being seen in isolation, Machu Picchu formed the ceremonial and possibly administrative centre of a large and populous region. The many trails leading to Machu Picchu tend to support this. Recent evidence presented by the archaeologist J.H.Rowe suggest that Machu Picchu was simply built as a ‘royal estate’ for the Inca Pachacutec and populated by his own ayllu or family clan. The location was probably chosen for its unique position surrounded by the jungle and the important mountains of Salkantay, Pumasillo and Veronica, and overlooking the Vilcanota River – a position which in the Inca religion would have been considered sacred. In fact, the Inca Trail leading to Machu Picchu may well have been considered not just a road, but a route of pilgrimage to this sacred centre.
Machu Picchu could also have served several secondary purposes at once, including a look-out post guarding the route to Cusco from the Antisuyo or Amazon Basin, or as a protected source of coca; which was used in every aspect of Inca religion, including sacrifices, divination and medicine.
When you stand in Machu Picchu and look around, it’s not difficult to feel the energy that its location possesses. If we feel awe-inspired by the presence of the mountains, the jungle and the gushing white water of the Vilcanota River below us, it doesn’t seem too hard to comprehend that the Incas, who lived with the utmost respect for the beauty of their surroundings including the worshiping of mountains, rocks, water, rivers and the sun, moon and stars, etc, felt that Machu Picchu was a very special and sacred place as well.
Evidence suggests that Machu Picchu, with its 200 or so buildings, had a permanent population of about 1000 people.
The abandonment of Machu Picchu may simply be explained by the death of Pachacutec and the construction of a new ‘royal estate’ for the next Inca, as was the custom. Other scholars suggest that the city’s water supply may have dried up.
During your guided tour of the ruins you will no doubt hear some of the more interesting stories of the city’s purpose including being a last refuge for Cusco’s Virgins of the Sun (Inca nuns) or the location where the mythical first Inca, Manco Capac, emerged from a sacred cave with his brothers and sisters. It all makes good listening … and who knows, it may even be true!
Located 120 km northwest of Cusco, the Inca city of Machu Picchu lay hidden from the world in dense jungle covered mountains until 1911. This ‘Lost City’ is one of the world’s archaeological jewels and is one of South America’s major travel destinations.
The well preserved ruins of Machu Picchu seem to almost cling to the steep hillside, surrounded by towering green mountains overlooking the Vilcanota River Valley. Even after having seen the classic photos of Machu Picchu in guide books, web sites, travel brochures and postcards you still cannot fail but to be impressed by the awe-inspiring location of the ruins.
When you read about its discovery and the unsolved mystery of its purpose and how it came to be ‘lost to the world’, you will realize why so many people make the pilgrimage to visit this fascinating and spiritual site.
With the right information, getting to Machu Picchu shouldn’t be as much a mystery as the place itself. You can either book all the components of the trip yourself or you can buy a ready made package tour from one of hundreds of tour operators offering this service. However, as Machu Picchu becomes more and more of a popular destination it is important to try and make your arrangements as far in advance as you can.
HOW TO GET TO MACHU PICCHU
Many routes exist to come to the lost city of machupicchu, only it all depends on your physical condition and the time you have at your disposition.
INCA TRAIL: 4 DAYS AND 3 NIGHTS
If you love adventure sports and enjoy long walks, contact with nature and beautiful landscapes, an alternative for you to get to the spectacular citadel of Machu Picchu will definitely be walking along the old Inca trail which leads to Machu Picchu.
There are longer and shorter options, with the classic, average trip taking four days and three nights. Most of the trip is done 2,000 m above sea level, but you will have to cross three clearings at over 4,000 m above sea level. Therefore, it will be necessary for you to spend a whole day at least in a high place in order to become acclimatized.
The Inca trail to Machu Picchu is known as the most famous trekking route in South America due to the different things it offers visitors. It begins at Km. 82 of the railway to Valle de la Convencion (Convention Valley), in a place called Q’oriwayrachina, 39.6 Km from the sanctuary.
SALKANTAY TREK: 5 DAYS AND 4 NIGHTS
The famous Salkantay Trek, recently named among ones of the best Treks in the World, by National Geographic Adventure Travel Magazine, is a trek open to everybody, with no limitation on spaces or permits (at least for now). Connecting the city of Cusco with Machu Picchu, The Salkantay Trek is an ancient and remote footpath located in the same region as the Inca Trail where massive snowcapped mountains collide with lush tropical rain forests.
LARES TREK: 4 DAYS AND 3 NIGHTS
For trekkers wanting to get off the well beaten tourist path and escape to a part of Peru that has changed little over the last 500 years then a trek through the spectacular scenery of the Lares Valley is a must. This remote and rarely visited region offers the trekker an insight into the real lives of the Andean farmer, dressed in their traditional brightly colored ponchos. You’ll have the opportunity to see thatched stone houses surrounded by herds of llamas and alpacas. Inside the houses you’ll see guinea pigs running loose.
CHOQUEQUIRAW TREK TO MACHUPICCHU: 8 DAYS AND 7 NIGHTS
This expedition will take you to two of the major archaeological sites in the Cusco-area and Peru: CHOQUEKIRAW and MACHU PICCHU. The legends and knowledge of the Machu Picchu ruin are already all over the world. Since its re-discovery of Machu Picchu by Hiram Bingham in July 1911, the ruin has been a topic of discussions and research about the Incas, and finally in 1981 the Peruvian government established The Historical Sanctuary of Machu Picchu, same that in 1983 where honored by UNESCO as World Heritage. As much one can find of writings and histories about Machu Picchu, the little one can find about the latter, though not less interesting ruin complex of Choquequiraw, or Choquequiraw, meaning “Cradle of Gold” in Quechua Inca´s language – although this is probably not its original name. It is another “Lost City of the Incas” rediscovered officially late in the 20th century, located high on a ridge spur almost 1750masl, above the raging glacier-fed Apurimac River and surrounded by the towering Salkantay and Humantay snow-capped peaks.
GET TO MACHUPICCHU BY TRAIN
CUSCO – AGUAS CALIENTES – CUSCO
The most usual way to get to Machu Picchu is by train. Puente Ruinas station in Aguas Calientes is 112 km away from Cusco city.
There are three daily trains, which depart from San Pedro station in Cusco (close to SANPEDRO MARKET) to Machu Picchu. Please take care of your belongings on this trip. Services start at 6:50 a.m. If you buy your tickets through your travel agency, you will be picked up at the hotel to be taken to the station and, after the visit, you will be taken back to your lodging in the evening.
One of the peculiarities of this trip is that during the first half-hour, the train goes up Picchu Mountain, taking the zigzag way up to the highest point called “El Arco” (The Arch) in the northeastern part of the city. Then the train will go down through the villages of Poroy, Cachimayo and Izcuchaca, towards Pampa de Anta, which is a large cattle-raising area. After crossing the narrow Pomatales pass, the train will roll over the Valle Sagrado de los Incas (Inca Sacred Valley) and up to Pachar station. It will cross the Urubamba river to arrive at Ollantaytambo station, whence it will leave for Puente Ruinas – its final destination.
There are three types of train services: tourism or backpacker train, auto-wagon or Vista Dome and Hiram Bingham service, all of them departing early in the morning and returning in the evening.
CUSCO – AGUAS CALIENTES – CUSCO TRAINS
Peru Rail or Inca Rail – Which one to choose to travel by train to Machu Picchu?
There are two companies with authorization to travel the train tracks to Machu Picchu.
Peru Rail has 4 services of different qualities: Vistadome, Expedition, Sacred Valley and the Hiram Bingham luxury train.
Inca Rail has 4 different services: The Voyager, The 360º, The First Class and The Private.
In order to plan your trip to Machu Picchu you have to understand a little about the geography of the area. Machu Picchu lay hidden from the world for such a long time because its location is fairly remote and inaccessible. Machu Picchu is located high up on a mountainside. The nearest town is Aguas Calientes which is located down in the valley beside the Vilcanota River.
Aguas Calientes is only a couple of kilometres away from Machu Picchu as the crow flies, but it takes a bus about 25 minutes to climb the narrow, steep zigzagging dirt track that connects the two.
There are no roads that connect Aguas Calientes to the outside world, you either have to take a train to Ollantaytambo (and then take a taxi or bus to Cusco)