The dramatic location of Machu Picchu makes this one of the World’s most evocative archaeological sites. The image of dry-stone buildings, walls and terraces nestled high amongst peaks of the Andes, swirling with mists and clouds is well known. So well known in fact that many people travel to Peru to specifically experience for themselves this extraordinary site and its setting. Not surprisingly, it is a site that is high up on my bucket list of archaeological sites.
Machu Picchu is as enigmatic as it is evocative. Construction began in the fifteenth century, but it seems that the settlement was abandoned just over a hundred years later. As the Incas had no form of written record, the purpose and function of the site are debated. There are a number of possible explanations for the complex of dry-stone palaces, homes, plazas and temples, including a ceremonial site, a military stronghold or a retreat for the ruling elite. Over seven hundred terraces were created to reclaim the steep mountain slopes for agricultural purposes.
Getting to Machu Picchu
Machu Picchu is some 80 kms from the town of Cusco, which was the Inca capital. The mountain-top location ensured the citadel was never found and plundered by the Spanish in the sixteenth century and others after them. Today, it is this location and apparent remoteness that adds much to the sense of adventure in getting to Machu Picchu.
Visiting Machu Picchu is now regulated, it is no longer possible to make your own way up to the Inca ruins. There are two ways of getting to the site. Hiking the Inca trail is still possible, but only with an officially recognised tour operator. Hiking can take anything between four or seven days, and there are a few operators who provide this service. I have a number of friends who have done this, and they all say how enjoyable and breathtaking the hike is. One person, who chose to celebrate his 40th birthday with a four-day hike to Machu Picchu, shares his experiences in the video below.
I have hiked to some spectacular archaeological sites in the Drakensberg mountains of South Africa and in the canyonlands of the American southwest, and the idea of hiking to Machu Picchu is very appealing. As breathtaking as a hike may be, it is probably not for everyone. An alternative is to get a train to Machu Picchu from either Cusco or Ollantaytambo – this only takes a few hours. The following video shows various aspects of the train journey up to the Inca site though the Sacred Valley, which is clearly every bit as incredible as hiking the Inca Trail.
Machu Picchu was added to the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in 1983.
Photographs © mckaysavage.