Machu Picchu is one of the New Seven Wonders of the World—and rightly so.
An entire mountaintop city built a half-millennium ago, on top of two fault lines, no less, Machu Picchu remains standing today, a testament to the ingenuity and craftsmanship of the Native American Incas.
Here are some of the most interesting facts about Machu Picchu Peru:
Where is Machu Picchu?
Machu Picchu is located in the Eastern Cordillera of southern Peru, in the midst of the Andes mountain range 2,430 meters (7,970 ft) above sea level, situated above the Urubamba River Valley in the Cusco Region.
Machu Picchu is about 505 km (314 mi) from Lima, Peru’s capital, and 80 km (50 mi) northwest of Cuzco, the former capital of the Inca Empire, on the eastern slopes of the Andes near the upper Amazon basin.
Interesting Facts About Machu Picchu in Peru
Machu Picchu is an Incan citadel (core fortified area of a town or city, like a castle) overlooking a mountain ridge above the Sacred Valley in Peru.
Machu Picchu was built around 1450-1460, believed to have been used as a kind of summer home for Emperor Pachacuti.
The site was abandoned a century later when the Spaniards conquered the Inca Empire in the sixteenth century during the Spanish Conquest.
The Inca Empire was the largest empire in the Americas prior to the arrival of Columbus.
The area is a UNESCO World Heritage Site known fully as the “Historic Sanctuary of Machu Picchu.” There are “approximately 200 structures making up this outstanding religious, ceremonial, astronomical and agricultural centre are set on a steep ridge, crisscrossed by stone terraces.”
Three main structures of Machu Picchu are:
- the Intihuatana, an Incan astronomical clock or calendar ritual stone,
- the Temple of the Sun (Torreon), a semicircular temple, and
- the Room of the Three Windows, self-explanatory and facing the sunrise.
The city is divided into two parts, a lower part and an upper part. This helped to separate the fields for farming from the residential areas. There is a large square between the two areas.
“Machu,” in the Quechuan language, means “old” or an “old person,” while “pikchu” can mean either “cone” (or “pyramid”) or a “portion of coca plant being chewed.” Combined, “Machu Picchu” is generally believed to mean “Old Peak” or “Old Mountain.” Quechua is an Andean language indigenous to the peoples of this region.
As of February 2019, Machu Picchu is now wheelchair-accessible through a special tour package.
Debunking Machu Picchu Myths
Machu Picchu is NOT the “Lost City of the Incas.” That title most likely belongs to Vilcabamba, Peru (Willkapampa in Aymara and Quechua). Vilcabamba served as the final Incan capital before the empire finally fell to the Spanish in 1572.
American historian, Hiram Bingham, did NOT “discover” these ruins. Rather, he is most famous for bringing the ruins to worldwide attention. In 1911, he was guided to the ruins by local indigenous farmers, who were already aware of its existence.
How was Machu Picchu Built?
Most of the main buildings use polished dry-stone walls connected which fit together in such a way so as not to need mortar; this technique is called ashlar.
Due to seismic activity in the region, mortar between stones would have cracked and become ineffectual, so ashlar helped Machu Picchu survive throughout the centuries.
It is still unclear how the carried the massive stone blocks from the quarry below and lifted them into place. Incas weren’t known to rely on the wheel as much as others, so it is likely that people pushed and pulled the stones into place by brute strength.
Getting to Machu Picchu
The other option between Cusco and Machu Picchu would be to hike, which would be a multi-day affair. There are numerous tour operators (just Google them) offering a service, or you can set out yourself along parts of the great Inca Trail.
From Lima: You have to make your way to Cusco either by plane or bus (no trains connect these two cities yet). If you choose the bus option, be forewarned that it’s a long 22-hour ride!
From New York or anywhere else: Get yourself on a plane to Peru 😉
When to visit? Though Machu Picchu is open all year long, October through April is the rainy season (off-peak). July and August are peak travel periods, especially Sundays when cusqueños and cusqueñas (city demonym for people from Cusco). Our advice? Hit up Machu Picchu on the shoulder season.