|Machu Picchu, sacred city of the
Incas, is accessible by train from Cuzco, or via a trek along the Inca Trail, in
Peru. The "city" was never discovered by the Spanish conquistadores and
remained lost for centuries.
Picchu is an architectural jewel. The Beauty and Mystery of it's walled ruins, once
palaces of the finest Inca stone work, are augmented even more by the lush, almost
virginal landscape of the surroundings.Green jungle flora suffuses the abrupt topography.
Orchids add a strange brilliance.
The ruins blend harmoniously amid the narrow and uneven topography. One thousand, three
hundred feet below, snakes the Urubamba Canyon and its roaring river.
Machu Picchu sits nearly 8,000 feet above sea level, on top of a ridge between two peaks
of different size. The smaller peak, called the "Huayna Picchu", is the one most
often seen in photographs of the ruins.
With the passing of the centuries, the ruins' original name has been forgotten.The
name "Machu Picchu" comes simply from its geography. It literally means
"old peak", just as "Huayna Picchu" is "young peak". The
more accurate translation relates, however, to the concept of size, with Machu Picchu as
the " bigger peak" and Huayna Picchu,the"smaller peak".
With its discovery in 1911, Machu Picchu made its debut as an authentic archeological
enigma. Its purpose continues to intrigue, with mysteries that perhaps will never fully be
It was Hiram Bingham who, in charge of a Yale University expedition, discovered
Machu Picchu on July 24, 1911. Bingham's goal had actually been to locate the
legendary Vilcabamba which was the capital of the governing Inca's descendants. They
resisted the Spanish invaders and used Vilcabamba as a fortification between 1536 and
But on penetrating the Urabamba Canyon, in the desolate site of Mandorbamba,
Bingham's expedition learned from a peasant named Melchor Arteaga that the hill Mahcu
Picchu, at the top, held important ruins. To reach them meant ascending a steep
slope covered with dense vegetation. Even though skeptical- the expedition was
familiar with the many myths about "lost cities"-Bingham insisted on being
guided to the spot. Once there, a child from one of the two families that lived
there, led him to imposing archeological structures covered by tropical vegetation and
abandoned centuries ago.
As an astonished Bingham noted in his diary: "Would anyone believe what I
How did this center of Inca culture hide itself in the
mountain jungle? From our knowledge of Greek, Egyptian and other early civilizations
with written records, it is hard to understand how such a fantastic site could have been
hidden from the Spanish. Yet until its discovery in the 1911, Machu Picchu,
"the lost city of the Incas", remained forgotten for 400 years.
Actually, Machu Picchu is not a city at all. It was
built by Pachacuti Inca as a royal estate and religious retreat in 1460-70. Its
location -- on a remote secondary road in nearly impassable terrain high above the
Urubamba River canyon cloud forest -- ensured that it would have no administrative,
commercial or military use. Any movement in that direction to or from Cusco and the
Sacred valley upriver would have been by other Inca roads, either the high road near
Salcantay or by the Lucumayo valley road. Travel was restricted on these roads
except by Inca decree.
After Pachacuti Inca's death, Machu Picchu remained the property of his kinship group, who
were responsible for maintenance, administration and continued building. As an
extraordinary sacred site (location as well as buildings), it was visited by Topa Inca and
the last great ruler, Huayna Capac, although each in turn built their own estates and
palaces. Few outside the Inca's retainers knew of its existence.
Machu Picchu, like most Inca sites was undergoing constant construction and had a resident
crew of builders as well as attendants, planters, and others, and the compound required a
steady supply of outside goods. So in order to really understand how Machu Picchu
remained a secret, it's necessary to understand how Inca culture constricted travel and
The Inca were a completely regimented society. Although great numbers of people were
moved around for corporate state projects (mit'a) and resettlement, once at a location,
they did not move. The royal roads were reserved for official travel. The
Incas were able to control their remarkable state system through a pyramidal hierarchy
with information and direction flowing down through 10 overseers to 100, to 1000 and so
on. We know from historical writing and the archaeological record that the Incas did
not possess a written language, although, they must have used some symbols and perhaps
diagrams. We also know that the Quipu ( collection of colored strings and knots) was
extensively used for accounting and record keeping. But Quipus need highly trained
interpreters to read them, and the Spanish were unable to locate or interrogate even one
of these specialists. The Inca also maintained a class or guild of verbal
historians. But with the catastrophic collapse of Inca state structure following the
arrival of the Spanish, these historians were scattered and forgotten.
But Machu Picchu was mostly forgotten even before the Spanish came. Small pox was the
conquistadores' advance guard. Huayna Capac and an estimated 50 percent of the population
died of small pox sometime around 1527. Inca government suffered, and after a period of
turmoil, the empire fell into civil war over Inca secession. Machu Picchu was probably
abandoned at this time -- both because it was expensive to maintain and with most of the
population dead from war or epidemic, it
was hard to find the labor to keep it up.
The Pizarros arrived in Cusco in 1532. The first wave of Spanish were mostly illiterate,
uneducated adventurers who had little interest in anything besides wealth and power. By
the time scholars and administrators arrived, knowledge of Machu Picchu had been lost.
Manco Inca staged a country wide rebellion in 1536. After a failed siege of Cusco, Manco,
along with remnants of the court, army and followers, abandoned his headquarters at
Ollantaytambo. Fleeing back into the remote Vilcabamba beyond Machu Picchu, He burned and
destroyed Inca settlements and sites accessible to the Spanish including Llatapata at the
start of the trail to Machu Picchu from the Urubamba River.
But by that point it hardly mattered. The Machu Picchu trail and the site itself would
have been long overgrown and the approach blocked by seasonal landslides that so hinder
backcountry travel in Peru.
Lost City of the Incas: The Story of Machu Picchu and its Builders, Hiram Bingham,
The Incas and Their Ancestors: The Archaeology of Peru, Michael Moseley, Thames and
History of the Conquest of Peru, William H.
Prescott, New American Library, 1961
The Conquest of the Incas, John Hemming, Hartcourt Brace 1970.
Machu Picchu, The Sacred Center, Johan Reinhard, Nuevas Imagenes, Lima. 1991.
Lonely Planet Peru, by Rob Rachowiecki - An essential Peru travel guide.
The Rough Guide to Peru by Dilwyn Jenkins
The Ancient Kingdoms of Peru by Nigel Davies
The Cities of the Ancient Andes by Adriana Von Hagen, et al.
Machu Picchu Links
Rediscover Machu Picchu has several
excellent articles and links.
Roy Davies Inca Site has several
excellent articles and dozens of links to other Inca pages.
The Inca Trail to Machu Picchu This link has photographs
and notes on the ruins seen along the trail.
Trail and Machu Picchu by Angus McIntyre. A good description of the Trail, with
- The Inca Trail FAQ
Some answers to frequently asked questions.
- Routes and Tips -
The Inca Trail and the Royal Trail In addition to advice on hiking the Inca
Trail this site contains information on a recently discovered shorter trail to Machu
Picchu, the Royal Inca Trail, which starts at Km 104 of the railway very close to
the archeological ruins of Chachabamba, where the Incas worshipped many Andean deities.
By walking the Royal Trail you can reach the citadel of Machu Picchu in one or two
- 20,000 Miles of Dreams
(excerpt) A brief account of what it was like to be on the Inca Trail in weather
so atrocious that the authorities were forced to close the trail for the first time in the
national park's history.
- The Inca Trail : a virtual tour by Ben
Brazil A personal account with photographs.
- The Inca Trail El Camino Inca by Vince
Stevenson A very detailed account with photographs, of a trek undertaken in
- Machu Picchu and
the Inca Trail by Marcos Aninkvicius Gazzana. Photographs and a description in
Portuguese. An English version is under construction.
- How I survived the Inca
Trail by Jen Warren A very detailed account, with photographs, of one woman's
- Inca Trail and Peru Travel Information By
David Gualtieri, based on a visit there in September 1997.
- The Inca Trail,
King of Trails by Ulf Carlsson A description with emphasis on the environment
and what needs to be done to preserve this magnificent national park for future
- Hiking the Inca Trail by Ric
Finch A good description with links to high-quality photographs of the places
mentioned in the text.
- The Inca Trail Race
Run the Inca Trail! This is a race for those who find hiking far too easy, are
extremely fit and well-acclimatised, or simply suicidally mad! Andes Adventures also organize an
Inca Trail run.
- The Machu Picchu Library An excellent
source of information including a large collection of links. Another version of the Machu
Picchu library is maintained on the George Mason University University server.
- Machupicchu Online
Official web site for tourist information in Spanish. An English version of the site is
- Magnificent Machu Picchu A collection
Multimedia Gallery Includes photographs, audio and video clips, and a QuicktimeVR
panorama of Machu Picchu.
- Machu Picchu - Places of Peace and
Power Photographs from a forthcoming book on sacred sites by Martin Gray.
- Arild Nybø's Pictures from the
Inca World More photographs of Machu Picchu.
- Machu Picchu Abandoned, a
Summary An article by Gary Ziegler outlining some theories about why Machu
Picchu was never found by the Conquistadors.
- The Meaning of Machu Picchu Based
on a book by James Westerman.
- The Historic Sanctuary of Machu Picchu
Information from UNESCO.
- Machu Picchu:
Consecration or Desecration A plea for the preservation of this unique
area by Carol Cumes who is the author of a book, Journey to Machu Picchu, on the
traditions and beliefs of the Andean people.
- The End of a Legend Save Machu
Picchu! It is threatened by a plans for a huge new hotel which would dominate the
ruins. This website tells you what you can do to ensure that Machu Picchu is preserved for
the sake of generations to come.
Adventures in The Cusco Area
- The Pongo de Mainique
Adventure Trek A journal with many photographs of a trip starting from
Cusco, going through the Sacred Valley of the Incas, and across the glaciers of the
Vilcabamba Mountain Range down to the Urubamba and the Pongo Canyon.
The Incas and Other Peruvian Civilisations
- The Empire of the Incas
An outline of the history of the Inca Empire by Dennis Ogburn at the
Department of Anthropology at the University of California at Santa Barbara. These pages
include one with links to some other selected sites on the Incas and a bibliography of
books about them.
- Books about the Incas
An extensive list of titles that can be ordered from Aon Books, a company
affiliated with Amazon.com.
- Ice Mummies of the Incas
Information, with photographs, about the sacrificial mummies found on the summit of Sara
Sara in Peru in September 1996.
- Inca Architecture
An account of its characteristic features with links to illustrative
- Sixpac Manco
The web site of Vincent Lee who is the author of a number of books on Inca and Chachapoyas
architecture and ruins.
- Descendants of the Incas This site
contains a wealth of writings and photography about people living today near the city of
Cuzco, Peru. It was the capital of the Inca empire and is close to Machu Picchu.
- Talking Knots of the Inca
An article about a recently discovered manuscript, supposedly dating from the
17th century, explaining the function of the quipus, or knotted strings used by the Incas
for keeping records.
- The Civilization of the
Incas An attractive and informative site which includes various school
- Inti Raimi,
Festival of the Sun Photographs and notes about the modern Inti
Raimi Festival held on the southern hemisphere's Winter Solstice every year plus
information about the original Inti Raimi in prehispanic times.
- Ancient Peru
Brief information on the Inca, Moche, Chimu, Paracas, Nazca and Chachapoya
- Raiders of the Lost Tomb
How Dr. Walter Alva, Director of the Bruning Museum, saved the Moche
treasures of the Lord of Sipan.
- Exploring Lost Civilizations
Information on selected expeditions, conducted in Peru's Dept. Of Amazonas by
Gene Savoy, Frank Ciampa and Dr. Gary Ziegler.
- Chacha Picchu, New Discoveries in
Amazonas, Peru An account of recent archaeological discoveries in
the Chachapoyas region.
- Other Lost Cities of Peru
An article from Outpost Magazine,
December 1998, about the Chachapoyas region which contains little-visited ruins such as
the massive fortress of Kuelap, built with three times the amount of stone used in Egypt’s
great pyramid of Giza.
- Images of
Archaeological Sites in Peru By Clive Ruggles, Senior Lecturer in the
School of Archaeological Studies, Leicester University.
- South & MesoAmerican
Archeology A collection of links on the ruins of the civilizations of the
Contacts between Ancient Civilisations?
Thor Heyerdahl and the Kon Tiki
- Thor Heyerdahl - A Living Legend
An account of the Norwegian archaeologist and explorer's career and his
controversial theories about pre-Columbian contacts between Peru and Polynesia.
- Thor Heyerdahl's incredible life and career
Another good account of Thor Heyerdahl's life and theories.
- Kon Tiki Museum
The museum's web server has accounts of recent research into the possibility of contacts
between Peru and Polynesia in pre-Columbian times as well as accounts of Thor Heyerdahl's
- Thor Heyerdahl Expeditions and Archaeology
of the Pacific Peoples More information on his work and links to related
- Gene Savoy Home Page
Gene Savoy has discovered no fewer than 43 lost cities in Peru! These
include not only Inca sites but, even more importantly, huge ruins built by the the
Chachapoyas who were conquered by the Incas just a few decades before the Incas were
themselves conquered by the Spaniards. He is also a strong advocate of the view that there
were contacts by sea between the civilizations of Peru and those of central America,
Europe and Asia.
Finds a 'Lost World' in the Jungles of Peru Gene Savoy believes he has
found the lost city of Conturmarca. Sunday, September 26, 1999.
- Andean Explorers Foundation and Ocean Sailing
Club Details of the extraordinary journeys of explorer Gene Savoy and his
crew on the ill-fated ship Feathered Serpent III-Opir as they sailed the seven seas in an
attempt to confirm their theories of cultural exchange among ancient peoples.
won't stop explorer A report from the Seattle Times that Gene Savoy is
determined to try again despite the loss of his double-hulled, 73-foot mahogany vessel the
design of which was based on images found on pre-Incan pottery from Peru's northern
Other Evidence for Trans-Oceanic Contacts
may show 'Incas' beat Maoris to New Zealand An ancient earthwork
discovered in a remote New Zealand forest could have been built by a South American
civilisation that arrived 1,000 years before the Maoris arrived. Daily Telegraph Thursday
11 June 1998.
Crossings : Scientists Debate Who Sailed to the New World First Evidence
from inscriptions in central America similar to those from the Shang dynasty in China and
pottery in south America similar to that of the Jomon period in Japan suggest that
Europeans may not have been the first to visit by sea.
- Peru Home Page A large collection of
links to sites based in Peru.
- Images of Peru This
is one of the files that are part of the Peru Home Page (above) but it is worth mentioning
separately. It consists of pictures from all over Peru, including the Cusco area.
- Peru Reference Desk A large
collection of links maintained as part of the Latin
American Studies Virtual Library.
- Peru Links
This is claimed to be the most extensive collection of Peru links on the
Internet. It is certainly very extensive.
- Peru Traveller Guide
An excellent source of information for the independent traveller to Peru.
- Window on Peru A
directory of resources of all kinds from commerce to recipes.
- Peru Tourist Guide
- Virtual Peru
Describes the different regions of Peru, the country's history, its culture and people.
The site includes many photographs.
- Destination Peru A
Lonely Planet website. In addition to material related to that in the guidebook this site
includes a forum with hints and advice from recent visitors to the country.
- The Peru Explorer An online
guide to Peru including, of course, Machupicchu.
- The Lost Cities Adventure: Peru
Navigable panoramas for those of you who have Quicktime Vr installed, and
still images for everyone else.
- PeruSource Archaeology and
Travel Information about Peru. This website was created by an archaeologist who lives in
the United States and travels often to Peru.
- The South American Explorers Club
A natural starting point for travellers seeking information.
- Cultures of the Andes Music,
poetry and language are just some of the subjects covered by this site. In addition there
is a large well-categorised collection of links to other sites on the people, history,
current affairs, culture and landscape of the Andes.
- CIPS - Californian Institute for Peruvian
Studies Contains a lot of information about archaeology, including
archaeo-tourism which gives tourists interested in such matters the opportunity to assist
both foreign and Peruvian professionals.
- Rumbos Magazine The online version of a
marvellous bilingual Spanish/English magazine on Peru. If you are interested in Peru,
whether you know any Spanish or not, you should read this magazine. Better still, order
the printed version so you don't need a computer to read it!
- Books on Peru
A selection of books that can be ordered from The Travel Bookshop.
- Fired Up! The life of a
novelist in Peru In an interview with HarperCollins Linda Davies discusses her
experiences in Peru and the inspiration they provided.
- President Fujimori accepts a
Nest of Vipers The Peruvian president, keeping calm during the hostage crisis,
on his way to London to attract foreign investment.
Adventure Travel Companies
- Journey Latin America You can
read their Condor dossier
for full details of an the itinerary. Recommended!
- Explore Worldwide Recommended.
- Exodus Exodus also offer a variety
of trips to Peru.
- Adventure Specialists This
company's founder is Gary Ziegler, the well-known archaeologist. News of his activities and plans is also
- Andes Adventures This company offers
both treks and, for the exceptionally energetic, running adventures including a run along
the Inca Trail.
- Tread Lightly A US travel company
specialising in eco-tourism.
- Peru Expeditions Overland A
Peruvian-based company organising a wide range of trips.
- Vilaya Tours An adventure
travel company based in Chachapoyas specialising in trips to places in that region,
including the immense ruins of Kuelap, one of the largest stone structures in the world.
Newsgroups for Inca Trail Discussions
If you have direct access from your browser to newsgroups the links below should work
but if you don't you can get access via Deja News
- rec.travel.latin-america This is
the most popular Usenet newsgroup for discussions of the Inca Trail.
- rec.backcountry Has the occasional
discussion of the hike.
- alt.rec.hiking Also has relevant messages