Peru travel would be incomplete without time spent at Machu Picchu, in the high Andes east of the capitol, Lima. Lindblad Expeditions has been sending groups to visit this UNESCO World Heritage Site for decades, and our Peru travelers know they will be accompanied by the best local guides in knowledge and language ability.
The construction of Machu Picchu appears to date from the mid-to-late 1400’s during the reigns of two famous Incan kings, Pachacutec Inca Yupanqui and Tupac Inca Yupanqui, but soon abandoned due to Spanish forces invasion in 1572. The exquisite stonework is the trademark of Machu Picchu, and in several renowned buildings one can see the apex of Inca stone construction that uses no mortar. Peru is a highly seismic land, and the trapezoidal shape of the walls and windows of Incan construction are highly resistant to earthquakes, allowing movement, and later settlement into original positions with little risk of collapse for those living inside.
Several outsiders claim to have seen or visited the ruins on top of the mountain named Machu Picchu before Hiram Bingham ever arrived. Maps found by historians make mention of ruins in this location as early as 1874. However it wasn’t until 1911 that they came to light in an announcement by Bingham by way of a scholarly report he made about his search for the last Incan refuge during the Spanish conquest, a city he believed to be named Vilcabamba.
Since then, excavations continue and new discoveries and understanding of the site appear regularly. Mystery still surrounds the mountain, however, as no definite agreement has been arrived at as to the real or original function of the mountaintop citadel. Many theories abound, and certain parts of the city are clearly recognized as temples, parks and residencies, both royal and urban. An agricultural section provided food, and sanctuaries provided space for religious rites and gatherings.
The Peru traveler to Machu Picchu might at some point choose to follow either of two well-known trails leading away from the city. The road to the Sun Gate is a gentle climb to a ridge where the gate is located, and to continue would be to walk the Inca Trail that leads back to Cusco. Another, much steeper trail takes the intrepid Peru traveler up Huayna Picchu. A practically vertical climb up dirt paths and narrow Inca stone steps with rope handrails will finally come out on top one of the most fabulous views known to any Peru traveler.
Machu Picchu lies roughly 80 kilometers northwest of Cusco at 8,040 feet/ 2,450m altitude. Significantly lower than Cusco, it makes for a great first stop, which is how Lindblad Expeditions organizes their visits to these magnificent Andean sites. After landing at high altitude (11,200 ft/3,400 m) in Cusco, our Peru travelers descend immediately into the Urubamba Valley for a few days to visit the remarkable Incan structures here, before finally spending the night near Machu Picchu. Only after our Peru travelers have acclimatized well, do we finally return to Cusco to visit the glorious Incan capital in one of the highest cities in the world.
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