What Exactly Is Machu Picchu?

Machu Picchu is so popular that is has become something of a cliché in recent years but don’t let travel snobbery make you miss out on what is undoubtedly the most fascinating archaeological site in the whole of South America.

You may find it hard to believe but until just over a century ago, Machu Picchu was a hidden treasure, known only to the people of the Andes and the Amazon. Since Hiram Bingham III, an American academic and explorer, publicised the existence of this wonder of the New World in 1911, its fame has spread across the globe and if it isn’t on your South America tour itinerary, it certainly should be.

What Exactly Is Machu Picchu?

Almost everybody has seen pictures of this historic site but what exactly is it and what is it doing in the middle of this area of outstanding natural beauty? The archaeological treasure that we know as Machu Picchu is a citadel that was built by the Inca in the 15th century and abandoned around a hundred years later during the Spanish conquest. Why it was built on a mountain peak is not known for sure but some believe that it was used as a military stronghold, the location being chosen for strategic reasons. The giant walls, cut from the local stone and wedged tightly together without any mortar, seem to support this theory. However, the existence of the Temple of the Sun and other religious structures in the mountain city may indicate that its purpose was more ceremonial than tactical.

Why It Is so Popular?

Putting the debate over the primary use of the citadel to one side for a moment, let us examine the reasons that Machu Picchu features prominently on the itinerary of nearly all commercially and independently organised South America tours.

Location – Perched on the side of a mountain peak, on the eastern slopes of the Andes, Machu Picchu boasts commanding views of the Urubamba River and the tropical rainforests of the Amazon that surround it far below.

Archaeological Remains – Even if you only have the faintest interest in history, you cannot fail to be impressed by the remains of the temples, palaces, homes and agricultural buildings that comprise Machu Picchu. Built according to a strict city plan, there are approximately 200 structures in the entire complex, many of which are remarkably well preserved.

Sense of Achievement – If you join one of the tours that takes place on foot, you can reach the citadel by the same trail created and used by the Incas nearly 600 years ago.

Joining an organised expedition is the only way to trek to Machu Picchu today, owing to regulations put in place by the government of Peru to protect the ancient highway. If you would like to book a South America tour that includes a visit to this stunning Inca site, please do not hesitate to get in touch with us and we will help you to plan your trip in detail.

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