Machu Picchu, Peru – WorldAtlas


The ancient Inca ruins, Machu Picchu, located above the Urubamba river valley of the Cordillera de Vilcabamba of the Andes are one of the major finds of pre-Columbian sites and one of the 7 Wonders of the World. They sit comfortably and almost completely preserved in the saddle of Machu Picchu and Huayna Picchu (New Peak). In Quechua, “Machu Picchu” means “Old Peak” or “Old Mountain”.

Where is Machu Picchu?

Part of the department of Cusco in Peru, in the province of Urubamba, Machu Picchu, located in the district of the same name, rises to 2,430 meters or 7,970 feet above sea level. This is contrary to popular belief that it is higher than the city of Cusco, which is only about 50 miles (80 kilometers) away. A UNESCO site since 1983, the ancient ruins of the stone city of the historic sanctuary of Machu Picchu stretch over the basin of the Vilcanota-Urubamba river.

History of Machu Picchu

Long before the kingdom of Cusco developed as a city-state from 1300 to 1500 AD, the people of the province had been farming in Urubamba and the adjacent valleys since 760 BC. First ruled by Manco Capac, in 1440, the Vilcabamba region became controlled by the Incas. Many believe that the Royal Domain of Machu Picchu was established in 1450 to honor their 9th King, Pachucutec, who initiated territorial expansion in the Tahuantinsuyo Empire. Others think that it was only a city center, where the great minds of the Empire gathered.

A llama at the site of the ancient Inca ruins of Machu Picchu.

The king’s lineage, the religious elite, and the highly skilled yanaconas or artisans hired throughout the empire, made up the bulk of the city’s population, which ranged from 300 to 1,000 citizens. Agriculture remained the economic engine until the death of the king, on which new constructions were built on the fertile valleys of the region.

Although during the Civil War the rural population was annexed by workers from other parts of the Empire, they returned home as a result of the conflict. It wasn’t until Manco Inca’s exile in Vilcabamba during the colonial-era Spanish conquest in 1532 that the empire lost its importance, with the city abandoned and known after the fact as the legendary lost city of the Inca.


A traveler enjoying the spectacular view of Machu Picchu.

Having discovered the deep underground riches of the region, Augusto Berns created a mining company there in 1867, the lands also being crossed in the second half of the 19th century by explorers like Antonio Raimondi, without realizing it. In search of Vilcabamba, an ancient city to which the Incas fled after the Conquest, a history teacher, Hiram Bingham, discovered the ruins in 1911, being led there by a young boy from Mandorpampa.

Wrongly thinking that it was on the ruins that the last foot of the Incas landed, it was only after his death in 1956 that the real Vilcabamba was discovered in the jungle, to the west of the citadel of Machu Picchu. The artefacts, excavated by the professor’s team during the scientific discovery, were returned to Peru and exhibited at Casa Concha (Machu Picchu Museum) in Cusco, in 2012, just over a hundred years later.

Importance of Machu Picchu

The houses of Machu Picchu
Ruins of the ancient Inca city of Machu Picchu.

While Peru is known for high seismic activity with numerous earthquakes and Machu Picchu is located near two fault lines, the ancient city is virtually protected from destruction, due to the “dancing rocks”. The Incas built their buildings with stones cut and wedged very tightly, and incorporated the technique of bracing blocks that danced during an earthquake, falling back into place. The trapezoidal shaped doors and windows, as well as the walls sloping inward for additional strength, gave an extremely aesthetic city facade. Called a “stone town” for a reason, even the walkways and thousands of steps connecting the plazas, residential areas, terraces, cemetery, and main buildings were made of boulders with sockets carved into the rock beneath. underlying for overall insulation.

Machu Picchu sprinkler system
The old watering system of Machu Picchu.

As South America’s most impressive ruined archaeological city, it was built without the aid of mortar, wheels, or iron tools, and over 600 terraces kept it from slipping off the mountain. The stones, some weighing more than 50 tons, were pushed by hundreds of men up the mountain, while others were chiseled into the bedrock of the mountain.

The magnificent Sun Temple was also of major cultural significance, especially during the annual June solstice, when the sun shone through the temple window onto the ceremonial rock. Other important buildings include the Temple of the Three Windows consisting of a 10.6-meter-long and 4.2-meter-wide hall containing three trapezoidal windows, as well as the Intihuatana or the sun hitch station that forms a stone pillar probably intended for astronomical observations.

Climate and environment

Even the nature around these one-of-a-kind ancient sacred grounds uniquely contrasts with the nearby bare mountains where gray and dry Cusco is located. Located on the borders of the Andes and the Amazon rainforest, the bright green temperate forests of Machu Picchu lie in a haze, embraced by low clouds and haze.

The very humid environment produces 1955 mm of annual rainfall (mainly November to March), with warm days and cooler nights where the temperature ranges from 52 to 81F (11 and 27C). The most commonly seen brightly colored birds and colorful flower carpets are just a few of the many varieties of subtropical species that can be found in the region.

Getting There

Hiking on the Inca Trail
Hikers on the Inca Trail in Peru.

There are only two ways to get to Machu Picchu, one of which is by taking a two hour train from Ollantaytambo station in the Sacred Valley. Taking a train from Poroy Station in Cusco is a 4 hour ride to Aguas Calientes or Machu Picchu Pueblo at the foot of the mountain. Followed by walking or taking the bus the remainder of the way, one would ascend approximately 1,640 feet (500 meters) into the Urubamba River Valley via the serpentine. The more active can opt for the “Caminos Del Inca” adventure trek (classic Inca Trail) which will take them to the Sun Gate entrance to Machu Picchu over a four-day route.

From the “88 km” train stop to Machu Picchu, there are several thousand stone-carved steps, high retaining walls and tunnels. During the hike, whose altitude varies from 8,530 to 13,780 feet (2,600 and 4,200 meters), one can observe all the engineering marvels and Inca ruins of various shapes. Upon reaching the world famous destination located in the mountainous cloud forest, there is actually an option to receive a passport stamp to Machu Picchu, for a unique souvenir and for additional bragging rights.

What to do in Machu Picchu

Huyana Picchu hike
Tourists enjoying the spectacular view from the top of Huayna Picchu. Editorial credit: Milton Rodriguez /

While there is never a shortage of artifacts to look at, active people can take their adventure to a “higher” level by climbing to the top of Huayna Picchu, the classic postcard backdrop of Machu Picchu. The hike involves taking the ‘Stairs of Death’, a set of seemingly menacing, conquering stone steps that offer a first-class view from the top. Another aerial view can be obtained from the opposite summit, on Machu Picchu mountain, also requiring a permit to climb.

The short hike to the Sun Gate gives even the less active a fabulous view of the ancient city, while the short and relatively flat hike to the Inca Bridge uncovers many other archaeological structures from the Inca Empire. To end the day of exploration, there is a hotel with a restaurant, as well as thermal baths in the village of Aguas Calientes nearby.

Built and occupied from the mid-1400s to the early to mid-1500s, many believe Machu Picchu was a royal domain of the powerful Inca Emperor Pachacuti Inca Yupanqui. Recently, it has also been suggested that Machu Picchu marks the last ancient pilgrimage route of the Incas.


Leave A Reply