Built in the shape of a condor at 2400m above sea level, resting precariously on a series of seemingly uninhabitable precipices is the Incan citadel of Machu Picchu, the route to which is the most popular hike in the Americas. Way up here in the Andes the Incas created a stronghold, and daily hundreds of hiking enthusiasts and visitors to Peru make the journey to this masterpiece, elected as one of the New Seven Wonders of the World in 2007 – either by way of a four day hike over lung sapping high altitude passes or via the easier train and bus combination from Cusco and the nearby town of Aguas Calientes – to marvel at this wonder of Incan technology.
With no drills or saws these resourceful Incas were able to somehow put the stonework together in such a way that baffles engineers today for its precision and complexity. Constructed in such a way that the huge rocks have remained impervious to earthquakes and the elements, the main foundations can inspire awe and be viewed through Cusco, Machu Picchu and the Sacred Valley.
It is risible therefore that through a much frequented alleyway in Cusco one can admire Incan stonework on one side and on the other take in the Spanish attempts. It comes as little surprise that the newer versions, built by the Spanish, pale in comparison and look perilously close to collapse.
There are schools of thought that believe that the Spanish Conquistadores did in fact know of Machu Picchu but they never managed to arrive there. Until a few months ago it was widely believed that the Yale professor Hiram Bingham was the contemporary discoverer of the ruins in 1911. This fact has been refuted and there is now new evidence to suggest that a different expedition, led by the German Agusto Berns in 1867, reached Machu Picchu before. Whatever the case it is only are western egos that permit us to believe that Machu Picchu was “discovered”…the actual fact of the matter was that it was never “lost”.
Certainly one of the thrills of coming through Inti Punku – the Sun Gate – the last pass before Machu Picchu when completing the gruelling hike and viewing the ruins from there for the first time is that you too imagine yourself to be an explorer of times past, happening upon this Andean jewel.
Wayna Picchu (meaning “Young Mountain”, Machu Picchu means “Old Mountain”) towers proud behind the ruins and is undoubtedly the finest place from which to gaze at the condor-shaped structures. You’ll need to be fast though, only 400 people a day are permitted up this promontory and the line builds fast.
As a vastly oversubscribed hike and visitor attraction, the Inca Trail and Machu Picchu in turn have been suffering of later from excessive numbers tramping the path leading for the Peruvian Government to create new and protective legislations that both benefit the local towns and help preserve the ruins. It is highly probable that despite the site’s obvious appeal that in years to come fewer people will be permitted entry and that a day pass will skyrocket to an exorbitant cost.