Located around 2,450 m (8,000 ft) above sea level and nestled on a small plateau in the centre of the Andes, the majestic city of Machu Picchu is easily the most iconic of all Incan ruins in Latin America.
Meaning ‘Old Mountain’ in the Incan language of Quechua, but often referred to as ‘The lost city of the Incas’, Machu Picchu was only reported to the outside world in 1911 when the explorer Hiram Bingham was led to the site by an 11 year old local boy.
Completely shrouded in mystery, no-one really knows what the purpose of Machu Picchu was. There are numerous theories about the citadel’s religious purpose and agricultural use – even the number of people who lived there is unknown. Likewise, the reason behind the area’s desertion is widely disputed: did the Incas abandon or flee the city or was it decimated by disease? However, one thing is certain: it was never discovered by the Spanish conquistadors, resulting in some of the finest intact Incan architecture and stonework in South America.
Trekkers, visitors and early explorers describe similar emotions whilst at Machu Picchu. Many call the experience magical; some even believe it to be located on an energy hot spot. Whether looking out from the Watchman’s Hut, where many iconic photos are taken, or gazing down from the lofty heights of the facing peak of Huayna Picchu, Machu Picchu is simply breathtaking.
As 2011 marks the 100th anniversary of its recognised discovery; Machu Picchu faces one of its greatest challenges in preserving the site. Strict regulations now restrict the number of trekkers allowed on the famous Inca Trail and both the Peruvian government and UNESCO are aware that the site must be carefully managed to safeguard it for generations to come.
Machu Picchu facts
- Date of construction: around 1450.
- Number of buildings: over 170.
- Heaviest construction stones: Over 50 tons.
- Estimated original population: 750 to 1000.
- Area protected by the Machu Picchu Historical Sanctuary Reserve: 325 sq km (125 sq miles).
- Number of people allowed to climb Huayna Picchu per day (the peak behind Machu Picchu): 400.
- Number of people per day allowed to start the Inca Trail trek to Machu Picchu: 500.
- Time from Cuzco: 4.5 hours (2.5 hours road, 1.5 hours train, 30 minute bus).
- Best time to visit: May to October. Read our full best time to visit Peru guide
- Awarded UNESCO World Heritage status: 1983
Find out more about tailor-made holidays to Machu Picchu
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