The legendary 'Lost City of Machu Picchu' is without a doubt the most important tourist attraction in Peru and one of the world's most impressive archaeological sites.

Built by the Incas on the summit of "Machu Picchu" (Old Peak), overlooking the deep canyon of the Urubamba river in a semi-tropical area 120 Km. (75 miles) from the city of Cusco at 7,000 feet above sea level.

It sits on a mountain site of extraordinary beauty, in the middle of a tropical mountain forest, Machu Picchu was probably the most amazing urban creation of the Inca Empire at its height, with its giant walls, terraces and ramps, which appear as though they have been cut naturally in the continuous rock escarpments.

The natural setting on the eastern slope of the Andes encompasses the upper Amazon basin with its rich diversity of species.

The whole archaeological complex covers approximately 5 square kms. It is situated in the high jungle. Its climate is semi-tropical, warm and humid.


There are two routes leading to Machu Picchu:

By rail - the most rapid and comfortable - following the course of the Urubamba River

On foot - following the traditional and true route of entry, best known as the Inka Trail.

A minimum of one whole day is needed to visit these ruins and upon arrival there, one should have approximately 2 hours to go over the main part and have lunch at the hotel on your return, before taking the mini-bus anew down to the Puente Ruinas Station (2.30 pm). The traveler who has more time to spare may stay overnight at the Machu Picchu Ruinas Hotel

The Citadel

Machu Picchu is also one of the Inca's best kept secrets, since they did not left written records and Spanish chronicles make no mention of the citadel, it remains a mystery. Discovered only in 1911 by the American Yale professor Hiram Bingham. The building style is "late imperial Inca" thought to have been a sanctuary or temple inhabited by high priests and the "Virgins of the Sun" (chosen women). Excavations revealed that of the 135 skeletons found,109 were women. No signs of post Conquest occupation were unearthed.

The original entrance to the complex is on the southwestern side of the citadel at the end of the Inca Trail, a short walk away from "Intipunko " (Sun Gate), the ancient final check point to Machu Picchu. The present entrance on the southeastern side leads to the agricultural section. The complex can be divided in three distinct sections: Agricultural, Urban, and Religious.

The agricultural area consists of a series of terraces and irrigation channels that serve dual purpose, as cultivation platforms making it self sustained, and as retention walls to avoid erosion. Some smaller buildings next to large terraces are part of this section and thought to have served as lookout posts.

The urban section starts at the wall that separates it from the agricultural area, this group of buildings were constructed on the ridge that descends abruptly to the Urubamba valley. In the southern part of this section are found a series of niches carved on rock known as "the jail" with elements that include man size niches, stone rings would have served to hold the prisoner's arms, and underground dungeons.

The group of refined structures next to "the jail" is known as the "intellectuals' quarters", with tall walls, nooks, and windows built with reddish stone are considered to have been accommodations for the Amautas (high ranked teachers). One of the buildings has several circular holes carved on the rock floor named the "mortar room" believed to have been used for preparation of dyes. The largest urban section in Machu Picchu located on the north western part, is reached by a 67 steps staircase and involves a group of buildings not as finely constructed as other parts of the complex.

The central plaza that separates the religious from the urban section, has a great rock in the center. The religious section contains splendid architecture an masonry work, one of the most important and enigmatic is probably the Intihuatana shrine, this block of granite was presumably used to make astronomical observations.

Descending the hill next to this site is the Great Central Temple, a three walled building with fine stonework and an attached smaller temple called the "Sacristy". Next to this structure is another three walled building, known as the 'Temple of the Three Windows', so called because of the trapezoidal openings on the east wall. Directly across is the Royal sector, with ample buildings typical of Inca royalty. A very important structure in this section is the "Temple of the Sun", a: circular tower with the best stonework of Machu Picchu. Its base forms a cavern known as the Royal Tomb. Recent studies show that the actual purpose was for astronomical observance.

Huayna Picchu, young peak, is as much a part of the site as the buildings of the citadel, the towering granite peak overlooks Machu Picchu to the North with a steep well preserved original Inca path, well worth the one hour climb for an astounding view of the citadel and the entire valley.

'The Temple of the Moon', located halfway down in an underground chamber on the north side of the Huayna Picchu, is a fairly recent discovery. The access to this site is rather difficult and diverges left from the main trail. It contains finely carved structures on large boulders. The climb to the top takes about three hours.


Only from the nearby hilltop observatory of Intipunku can you realize the full extent of Machu Picchu's colossal conception.

The citadel is a stupendous achievement- in urban planning, civil engineering, architecture and stonemasonry.

Who built this symphony in stone, this vast complex of buildings so well constructed that even five centuries in the inexorable grip of the Peruvian jungle has deprived them only of their thatch and reed roofs?

The architectural forms are unmistakably characteristic of the Incas but beyond that its origins are veiled in a mystery as thick as the early morning mist swirling around its craggy fastness. At any moment, it seems, a gold-encrusted and befeathered Inca warrior will materialize between the curiously sloping door jambs.

The enigmatic Incas knew neither the wheel nor any written language, but forged an empire stretching 3,680km (2,300mi) along the mighty Andean heights.

Machu Picchu was a complex of temples, palaces and observatories and was the home of the Inca ruling classes. From here, high priests made observations and calculations enabling them to chart the heavens - a knowledge which gave them both religious authority and temporal power.


Hiram Gingham found many objects of stone, bronze, ceramic and obsidian, but no gold or silver. There should have been fabulous riches of these metals comparable to those found at the 'Temple of the Sun' in Cuzco where even the garden contained lifesize gold replicas of maize and other plants.

It is unlikely the Spaniards stole the gold and silver, for it seems they never found Machu Picchu. They always took great pains to visit every inhabited settlement in Peru and record it in detail before relieving it of everything worth taking. But there is not a single reference to Machu Picchu in the Spaniards' chronicles. The Peruvian scholar Dr Victor Angles Vargas thinks the city became depopulated toward the end of the 15th century before the Spaniards arrived. What brought this about is one of the deepest enigmas surrounding this sacred site.

Wars between rival Inca tribes were common and blood, often resulting in the annihilation of whole communities. When the Inca ruler, Wayna Capac, defeated the tribe of the Caranques, for example, he ordered the execution of all the remaining members. The citizens of Machu Picchu may well have suffered such a fate.

Another possibility is that a novice priest defiled one of the sacred Virgins of the Sun. Garcilaso de Vega, the son of a Spaniard and an Inca princess, wrote exhaustive commentaries on Inca customs. According to him, anyone found guilty of sexually violating an 'ajilla' was not only put to death himself, but servants, relatives and neighbors, inhabitants of the same town and their cattle were all killed. No one was left . . . The place was damned and excommunicated so that no one could find it, not even the animals! Was this, then, the fate of the inhabitants of Machu Picchu?

Also epidemics are common enough even in modern times - in the 1940s malaria decimated the population of an area near Machu Picchu. And the skeleton of a rich woman found by Hiram Gingham showed she had suffered from syphilis and was unlikely to have been alone in this. Perhaps the city was ravaged by a plague so terrible it was permanently quarantined by the authorities.

Theories show that it could have been a country estate of Pachacuti, proving its existence in mud 15th century. Some think that it was abandoned by the Incas before Spanish conquest, yet no one knows why. Overlooked by conquistadors, it was supposedly untouched until 1911.


Machu Picchu's unusual patterns are best viewed from the sky. Many believe it to be a landing strip for extraterrestrials. Its celestial observatory depicts many patterns found on petroglyphs throughout the world.


Peru Finds Inca Burial Site at Machu Picchu

October 2002 - Reuters News - Lima, Peru

Peruvian archeologists have discovered the first full Inca burial site at Machu Picchu since the famous mountaintop citadel was discovered 90 years ago, officials said on Saturday.

"It's important because nothing like this -- a burial site and all that goes with it -- has been found since the Bingham era," Machu Picchu's administrator, Fernando Astete, told Reuters, referring to the U.S. explorer Hiram Bingham who rediscovered the Inca citadel in 1911.

"The find is significant because of the funeral objects, such as stone and clay pots and five metal objects accompanying the remains of bones of a person, probably a woman," he added.

He said other excavations in recent years at the atmospheric gray stone site, perched at an altitude of 8,200 feet on top of a mountain near the edge of Peru's southern jungle, had yielded some bone fragments but not Inca graves.

"Studies will confirm the sex and determine the age of the person who was buried, but the objects that were found around the body point to it having been a young woman," he added.

Machu Picchu, which was built more than 500 years ago, is Peru's top tourist attraction and a U.N. World Heritage site, drawing some 500,000 foreign visitors a year.

"When the citadel of Machu Picchu was discovered in 1911, 172 tombs with human remains were found, but over the years only bones have been found. It's only now that a complete burial site has been uncovered," Astete said.

The Spanish conquerors of Peru never stumbled upon Machu Picchu, near the southern Andean city of Cusco, some 684 miles southeast of Lima, and the site was only discovered when Bingham and local guides came across the vegetation-covered ruins.

Cusco was capital of the Inca empire from the 13th to the 16th century. The Inca empire stretched from Colombia to Chile.

Astete said well-preserved ceramics, including a stone pan and clay pot, as well as bronze pins, a mirror and clasps, were found in the burial site.

The site was discovered a week ago in a sector of Machu Picchu that was used by the Incas as a viewing place. Archeologists have been excavating there for several months, and found the grave some 31.5 inches (80 cm) below the surface.

Astete said Machu Picchu had not yielded all its secrets yet. "Not everything has been discovered, there are parts which have not been investigated yet by archeologists," he said. Another group of investigators found new stone terraces, water channels, a garbage dump and a wall at Machu Picchu in June.

The burial find will be put on display where it was found to encourage tourism, he added. This cash-strapped Andean nation is betting on tourism as a big money spinner and most visitors to Peru make the trip to Machu Picchu.

Peru 'ignoring threat' to Inca site

June 23, 2001 - BBC

A leading archaeologist has accused the Peruvian Government of failing to act on a report that suggests the ancient Inca citadel of Machu Picchu is in danger of falling off its mountain perch.

Dr Frederico Kauffmann is calling on the National Cultural Institute of Peru to urgently set up an inquiry into a recent survey by Japanese geologists who found the earth beneath Machu Picchu is moving.

According to the Japanese, there are alarming signs that the mountainside beneath the 2,250-metre-high city could give way in a potentially catastrophic landslide within the next few years.

To study the geological activity in the mountain, the researchers from the Disaster Prevention Research Institute at the Kyoto University set up sensitive instruments buried in the steepest slopes around the citadel.

The team found that the soils were moving at a rate of up to one centimetre a month.

The Incas were master stone-masons, crafting walls out of massive blocks of granite so tight fitting that it is impossible to slip a piece of paper between them. But gaps have begun to appear in some of the constructions, hinting at movement beneath.

Warning signs

All around the spectacular razor-back ridge that the Incas built on, there are other warning signs: deep scars on the jungle-clad slopes left by landslides caused by natural erosion in the geologically young Andean mountains.

The mountain perch where the Incas established their homage to the gods of the Sun and the Moon is also split by no less than five geological faults.

The Incas were aware of just how unstable the region was when they started building 500 years ago. They were careful to protect the city when they built the foundations, and they did such a good job that there's very little damage to Machu Picchu until now.