Perched on the saddle of a mountain 7,972 feet above the farmland of Sacred Valley in Peru is the spectacular ancient city of Machu Picchu, which name means “Old Peak” in the Incan Quechua language. It was built 550 years ago.
Now, it is one of the most important archaeological sites in Peru and consequently the most-visited – hundreds of thousands of people pass through each year.
Machu Picchu can be reached by a hike of four days or more or, for the less adventurous, by train and bus.
In today’s post, Mark Whitman, from http://www.machupicchutrek.net/ sets out the five things he recommends you do and see at Machu Picchu
The stone thingies
The five square miles of Machu Picchu contain hundreds of well-preserved stone structures: baths, palaces, storage rooms, temples, nigh on 150 houses and 3,000 stone steps. The building blocks employed can weigh 50 tons but are fitted together using a mortarless technique known as “ashlar” with such precision that a knife blade cannot be inserted between some structures. The city is divided into agricultural, religious and urban zones. A visit to ruins can be magical in the morning when they are shrouded with mist, or in the late afternoon when the tourist activity within the Citadel dies down.
One particular stone thingy – the Intihuatana stone
The Intihuatana stone in the urban sector, to the rear of the Main Temple, shows the date of both equinoxes and other major celestial events. On the equinoxes, the sun stands close to directly above the pillar, so there is no shadow. The Incas would hold ceremonies at these moments. According to legend, when a sensitive person touches their head to the stone, they are granted a vision of the spirit world. This sculpted rock stands six feet tall.
The Inca Drawbridge
From Machu Picchu, it takes 20 minutes to negotiate a narrow path that reaches the famous Inca Drawbridge. Starting at “the Building with 10 Windows” in the south of the Citadel, this is a most pleasant hike with virtually no steep inclines. You could glimpse the Andes or the nearby hydroelectric power plant. Once the bridge was raised, the 983-foot drop was unsurpassable and attackers would be in an exposed position. The bridge itself is made from wooden planks and guarded by a barrier ever since one tourist fell to their death from it. You will have a stunning view of the Urubamba Valley.
The 8,923-foot-tall mountain of Huayna Picchu – “Young Peak,” is the prominent peak you see in so many photos of Machu Picchu. This hour-long hike is known in certain circles as the “Hike of Death.” Trails are sometimes no more than a foot wide, with a sheer drop to either side and no handrails. Steps are dangerous after bad weather – the path is closed in the rainy season. There comes a point where you must descend a sheer rock face without steps or ropes. A small cave must be passed which would not accommodate a person of generous girth. There are also some interesting stone ruins on this mountain.
People undertake this climb to be rewarded with a 360-degree view. The sight of Machu Picchu is breath-taking. During peak season, you should book at least a month in advance. Only 400 people are allowed each day, from 7 to 8AM and 10 to 11AM, and you will have to plan accordingly.
The spectacled bear
Machu Picchu is not only a phenomenal archaeological site, but also a spectacular reserve. You could see any of 420 kinds of bird and 53 kinds of mammal. One mammal is the ukuku, the Andean bear, known to science as Tremarctos ornatus. The black and white patches on the face of this bear – mostly black – make it appear to be wearing spectacles, so it is also known as the spectacled bear. Less than six feet tall and weighing under 310 pounds, it is regarded by many as the panda of South America. In the United Kingdom, Paddington Bear was a famous example of this breed. Yes, Machu Picchu is “deepest, darkest Peru.”
This is the continent’s only bear. Feeding it is discouraged and what food you have should be packed securely. 40 spectacled bears have been reported in the forests surrounding Machu Picchu. Your knowledge of this bear can be maximised by visiting the Inkaterra Machu Picchu Spectacled Bear Project. These creatures are shy, and if you wish to see one, you should come early. The greatest prospects of seeing one are at Chaparri Nature Reserve, the Sanctuary near the Machu Picchu Pueblo Hotel and the Inca Trail. Sightings are rare, with quite a few full-time local guides never having done so.
Feel free to leave your own suggestions of things to do at Machu Picchu in the comments below.