Machu Picchu, Peru – history, facts, attractions and things to do

Welcome to an exciting journey into the wonders of Machu Picchu, a captivating destination nestled amidst the majestic Andes Mountains of Peru. In this article, we will delve into the enchanting world of Machu Picchu, exploring its location, climate, intriguing history, and the must-see attractions that await adventurous travelers like you.

Perched at an elevation of approximately 2,430 meters (7,970 feet), Machu Picchu offers a breathtaking setting surrounded by lush mountains and mist-covered peaks. Its remote location adds to the sense of awe and mystique that permeates this ancient Inca citadel.

Unraveling the history of Machu Picchu reveals a fascinating tale of the Inca Empire. Constructed in the 15th century and abandoned shortly after, the purpose behind this architectural masterpiece remains a captivating enigma. Archaeologists and historians continue to uncover its secrets, inviting us to step back in time and unravel the mysteries of its past.

As we venture into the heart of Machu Picchu, we will encounter remarkable attractions that showcase the ingenuity of Inca engineering and the cultural significance of this revered site. From the awe-inspiring Temple of the Sun to the intricate stonework of the Temple of the Three Windows, each structure offers a glimpse into the ancient traditions and beliefs that shaped this extraordinary citadel.

Join us as we embark on a virtual exploration of Machu Picchu, where history, natural beauty, and architectural wonders converge to create an unforgettable experience. Get ready to immerse yourself in the allure of this UNESCO World Heritage site and discover the best attractions that await your discovery.

Machu Picchu altitude, location and climate

Machu Picchu, located at an altitude of approximately 2,430 meters (7,970 feet) above sea level, offers a unique blend of awe-inspiring mountain scenery and diverse climate patterns. Situated on the crest of the mountain that shares its name, Machu Picchu lies about 80 kilometers (50 miles) northwest of Cusco, nestled within the southern hemisphere at 13.111 degrees south of the equator.

The ancient city itself is positioned strategically above a bend in the Urubamba River, encompassed by the river on three sides. Majestic cliffs drop vertically for an impressive 450 meters (1,480 ft) to the river at their base, shrouded by morning mists that rise from the flowing waters. These natural features, including the deep precipices and steep mountains, served as intrinsic defenses for the city, which was carefully concealed due to its military significance.

The Inca Bridge, an intricate grass rope bridge spanning the Urubamba River in the Pongo de Mainique, provided a secretive entry point for the Inca army. Another notable Inca bridge, constructed west of Machu Picchu, known as the tree-trunk bridge, spans a 6-meter (20 ft) gap in the cliff.

Situated between two mountains, Machu Picchu and Huayna Picchu, the city boasts an advantageous position with commanding views of two valleys and an almost insurmountable mountain guarding its rear.

The water supply is sourced from natural springs that are difficult to obstruct. To optimize farming opportunities and hinder potential invaders, the slopes leading to Machu Picchu were meticulously terraced, minimizing soil erosion and safeguarding against landslides.

Two high-altitude routes from Machu Picchu lead back to Cusco: one through the Sun Gate and the other across the Inca bridge. These routes could be easily blocked in the event of an approaching threat.

Machu Picchu is situated in a sub-tropical region characterized by a pleasant combination of cool and warm conditions, offering both sunny and rainy days depending on the time of year you choose to visit. This climatic variation contributes to the awe-inspiring beauty and rich biodiversity found within the sanctuary of Machu Picchu, making it home to one of the planet’s most remarkable ecosystems.

Machu Picchu experiences a milder climate than the Inca capital, Cusco, being over 1,000 meters (3,300 ft) lower in elevation. The region features wet and humid summers, with dry and mild winters.

The rainy season, stretching from November to March, witnesses the highest precipitation of the year, with February being the wettest month. Consequently, the Inca Trail is closed during February.

However, despite the continuous rain, the temperatures during this season are warmer, ranging between 19 and 21 ºC (66-70 ºF), and the nights are not as cold as during the dry season.

Exploring Machu Picchu during the rainy season has its advantages, including witnessing the vibrant greenery and spectacular transformation of the Inca city. Rainfall typically occurs in intermittent bursts, lasting from a few minutes to a couple of hours, predominantly in the afternoon. While the rain may be abundant, it is not uncommon for precipitation to happen at any time of the day.

Machu Picchu’s dry season extends from May to October, offering mostly dry weather, particularly in June, July, and August. Daytime temperatures range from 17 to 19 °C (63-66 °F), while nights are cooler, occasionally dropping below freezing in June and July. It is a popular time to visit Machu Picchu, although visitor numbers peak during this period.

During the dry season, expect sunny days and vibrant flora, thriving due to the abundance of insects. However, note that it is also the coldest season, with temperatures reaching as low as -2 °C (28 °F) in June and July.

September provides a chance to experience Machu Picchu in spring. This time offers fantastic weather, lush landscapes, fewer crowds, and affordable prices. Is the best month of the year to capture memorable photos and embark on mountain climbs.

When was Machu Picchu built and abandoned

The question of when Machu Picchu was built has been a topic of scholarly debate for dozens of years. Recent studies utilizing radiocarbon dating techniques have shed new light on the timeline, suggesting that Machu Picchu may have been occupied from approximately 1420 to 1530 AD, during the reigns of Inca rulers Pachacutec, Túpac Inca Yupanqui, and Huayna Capac.

The Picchu Gorge, located midway between the Andes and the Amazon rainforest, was a region colonized by Andean populations, not indigenous peoples from the rainforest. These Andean populations originated from the regions of Vilcabamba and the Sacred Valley in Cuzco, seeking to expand their agricultural borders.

Archaeological evidence indicates that agriculture was practiced in the region as early as 760 BC. A demographic explosion occurred from the Middle Horizon period, starting from the year 900 AD, by groups not historically documented but possibly linked to the Tampu ethnic group of Urubamba.

These people may have been part of the Ayarmaca federation, rivals of the early Incas of Cuzco. During this period, the agricultural area, defined by terraces, expanded significantly. However, the specific site of the city we now know as Machu Picchu (the rocky ridge connecting the mountains Machu Picchu and Huayna Picchu) shows no traces of previous buildings before the 15th century.

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Machu Picchu, believed to have been built in the 1450s, may have been occupied from around 1420-1530 AD, according to a 2021 study using radiocarbon dating. The construction is attributed to Inca rulers Pachacutec Inca Yupanqui and Túpac Inca Yupanqui.

Pachacutec likely ordered its construction as a retreat after a successful military campaign. Although considered a “royal” estate, it was not passed down in the line of succession. Around 1430, during his campaign towards Vilcabamba, the Picchu Gorge was conquered by Pachacuti, the first Inca of the Tahuantinsuyo (1438-1470).

The location of Machu Picchu must have impressed the monarch with its unique characteristics within the sacred geography of Cusco. Therefore, around 1450, he would have ordered the construction of an urban complex with luxurious civil and religious buildings.

It is believed that Machu Picchu had a mobile population like most Inca settlements, ranging from 300 to 1000 inhabitants, belonging to an elite group (possibly members of Pachacuti’s panaca) and acllas (chosen women).

The agricultural workforce consisted of mitmaes or mitmas (mitmaqkuna) slaves from different parts of the empire, with the majority being the Chankas, who also built the fortress after being enslaved and deprived of their lands (current Apurimac and Ayacucho) following their defeat by Pachacuti.

Machu Picchu was not an isolated complex by any means, so the myth of the “lost city” and the “secret refuge” of the Inca rulers lacks foundation. The converging valleys in the gorge formed a densely populated region that significantly increased its agricultural productivity after the Inca occupation in 1440.

The Incas built many administrative centers there, the most important being Patallacta and Quente Marca, along with abundant agricultural complexes consisting of terraced fields. Machu Picchu relied on these complexes for sustenance as the agricultural fields within the city would have been insufficient to feed the pre-Hispanic population.

Intraregional communication was made possible by the Inca road network, with eight roads leading to Machu Picchu. The small city of Picchu distinguished itself from neighboring settlements through the exceptional quality of its main buildings.

After Pachacuti’s death, in accordance with Inca royal customs, his properties, including Machu Picchu, would have been passed on to his panaca (royal lineage), which was responsible for dedicating the income produced to the worship of the deceased Inca’s mummy. This situation presumably continued during the reigns of Tupac Yupanqui (1470-1493) and Huayna Capac (1493-1529).

Machu Picchu likely lost some of its importance as it had to compete with the personal properties of the succeeding rulers in terms of prestige. In fact, the opening of a safer and wider road between Ollantaytambo and Vilcabamba (the Amaybamba Valley route) made the route through the Picchu Gorge less traveled.

After approximately 80 years of use, it was abandoned, possibly due to the Spanish conquests in other parts of the Inca Empire. It is speculated that the inhabitants may have succumbed to smallpox introduced by travelers prior to the arrival of Spanish conquistadors in the area.

How was Machu Picchu built

Machu Picchu, the magnificent ancient city perched high in the Andes mountains, stands as a testament to the remarkable engineering skills of the Inca civilization. The construction of this architectural marvel was no small feat and involved innovative techniques and careful planning.

The central buildings of Machu Picchu showcase the classical Inca architectural style characterized by polished dry-stone walls. The Incas were masters of the ashlar technique, where stones are precisely cut to fit together without mortar. This meticulous craftsmanship resulted in tightly interlocking walls that provided stability and durability.

The location of Machu Picchu posed several challenges that the Incas ingeniously addressed using local resources. The area was prone to seismic activity due to two fault lines, rendering traditional building methods ineffective.

Instead, the Incas mined stones from the nearby quarry, shaping them to fit together perfectly and creating structures that could withstand earthquakes. Inca walls incorporated various stabilizing features, such as trapezoidal doors and windows, rounded corners, and interlocking blocks.

These architectural elements enhanced the structures’ resilience and ensured their structural integrity. Observations during seismic events revealed that the stone blocks would shift and settle back into place afterward.

The construction of Machu Picchu required an immense amount of labor. The Inca Empire employed a system called Mit’a, where males between the ages of 15 and 50 were obligated to contribute their labor to large-scale public projects.

This organized workforce was crucial for undertaking such ambitious construction endeavors. The social organization of the Inca civilization facilitated the mobilization of a significant number of people, enabling the creation of these monumental structures.

The Inca builders utilized locally available materials, predominantly limestone and granite. To cut through these hard rocks, they employed stone, bronze, or copper tools. Moving the massive stones required teams of men pulling with ropes, as depicted in the drawings of chronicler Felipe Guaman Poma de Ayala. Historical accounts describe thousands of workers quarrying, cutting, and hauling stones using large cables made of leather and hemp.

The construction efforts at Machu Picchu also included extensive terracing for agricultural purposes. These terraces, meticulously engineered for proper drainage and soil fertility, prevented erosion and landslides while supporting crop production.

However, studies indicate that the farming area of the terraces was not sufficient to sustain the population of over 750 people living at Machu Picchu. The Incas imported food from neighboring valleys and beyond to supplement their agricultural output.

Water management was a vital aspect of Machu Picchu’s construction. Heavy rainfall necessitated effective drainage systems to prevent mudslides, erosion, and flooding. The Incas constructed canals and reservoirs throughout the city to supply water for irrigation and safeguard against these natural hazards. Layering of stone chips, sand, dirt, and topsoil on the terraces helped absorb water and prevent runoff.

Interestingly, the Incas did not employ wheels in their practical engineering endeavors. The challenging terrain, dense vegetation, and the absence of strong draft animals limited the use of wheels. Instead, the Incas relied on the labor of hundreds of men to move and position the enormous stones. Some stones featured knobs that may have been used as leverage during construction.

The Inca road system, including a route leading to Machu Picchu, facilitated long-distance trade and connected the people of Machu Picchu to other regions. Archaeological findings, such as non-local artifacts like obsidian nodules, indicate the presence of trade networks and the transportation of goods over significant distances.

When was Machu Picchu discovered and by whom

In the late 1500s, Spanish conquistadors who had recently gained control of the region heard stories from indigenous individuals about a place called “Huayna Picchu,” a name believed to have been given to the site by the locals.

The Spanish conquistador Baltasar de Ocampo described visiting a mountain fortress called Pitcos at the end of the 16th century. He marveled at the majestic buildings with elaborately carved marble lintels on both the main and ordinary doors.

Over the centuries, the site became engulfed by the surrounding jungle, remaining unknown to most beyond the immediate area. It is possible that a German businessman named Augusto Berns rediscovered and plundered the site in 1867. Some evidence suggests that German engineer J.M. von Hassel arrived earlier. Maps from as early as 1874 referenced Machu Picchu, while a 1904 atlas designated it as Huayna Picchu.

Hiram Bingham and Machu Picchu in 1911
Hiram Bingham and Machu Picchu in 1911

In 1911, American historian and explorer Hiram Bingham embarked on a journey in search of the old Inca capital. Guided by a villager named Melchor Arteaga, Bingham arrived at Machu Picchu. Although he was not the first to visit the ruins, Bingham’s exploration brought Machu Picchu to international attention and earned him the reputation of its scientific discoverer. He organized a subsequent expedition in 1912 for extensive clearing and excavation.

Bingham, a lecturer at Yale University but not a trained archaeologist, had initially traveled through Peru in 1909. Invited to explore Inca ruins at Choqquequirau, he organized the 1911 Yale Peruvian Expedition to search for the Inca capital, believed to be Vitcos. Consultations with historians in Lima, such as Carlos Romero and references from Father Antonio de la Calancha’s Chronicle of the Augustinians, led Bingham to focus his search along the Urubamba River.

Despite being informed of interesting ruins at Machu Picchu by an old prospector, Bingham initially disregarded the information. Only later did he discover that Charles Wiener had also heard of the ruins but was unable to reach them.

Equipped with this knowledge, Bingham’s expedition followed the Urubamba River. Along the way, they sought Inca ruins described as having a white rock over a spring. At Mandor Pampa, farmer and innkeeper Melchor Arteaga informed Bingham of excellent ruins atop Huayna Picchu.

The next day, Arteaga led Bingham and Sergeant Carrasco across the river and up to the Machu Picchu site. On the mountain’s peak, they encountered a small hut occupied by Quechua farmers Richard and Alvarez. Richard’s 11-year-old son, Pablito, guided Bingham to the main ruins along the ridge.

The site was mostly concealed by vegetation, except for the cleared agricultural terraces and clearings used as vegetable gardens by local farmers. Due to the dense vegetation, Bingham could not fully assess the site’s extent.

Nevertheless, he made preliminary notes, measurements, and photographs, appreciating the exceptional Inca stonework in several principal buildings. While uncertain about the ruins’ original purpose, Bingham concluded that they did not match the description of Vitcos.

Continuing their expedition down the Urubamba and up the Vilcabamba Rivers, Bingham’s team explored various ruins. Guided by locals, Bingham rediscovered and correctly identified the site of the old Inca capital, Vitcos, along with the nearby temple of Chuquipalta.

In 1912, sponsored by Yale University and National Geographic, Hiram Bingham returned to Machu Picchu with the support of Peruvian President Leguia. The expedition, aided by local labor and the Prefect of Cusco, cleared the site over four months.

Excavation took place in 1912, 1914, and 1915. Bingham focused on Machu Picchu due to its well-preserved state and fine Inca stonework. None of his hypotheses explaining the site proved accurate. During his studies, Bingham brought back various artifacts to Yale, including a notable set of 15th-century ceremonial Incan knives made from bismuth bronze, the earliest known artifacts of this alloy.

The Inca Trail to Machu Picchu

The Inca Trail to Machu Picchu is a legendary hiking trail that attracts adventure enthusiasts and history lovers from around the world. Spanning across the beautiful landscapes of Peru, this trail is not just a journey but an experience of a lifetime. With its rich history, breathtaking scenery, and challenging terrain, the Inca Trail offers a unique opportunity to explore the remnants of the ancient Incan civilization and culminates at the magnificent Machu Picchu.

The trail consists of three main routes: Mollepata, One Day, and Classic. The Mollepata route is the longest and toughest, featuring the highest mountain pass and intersecting with the Classic route. The One Day trek is a shorter alternative for those with time constraints.

The Classic Inca Trail is the most popular and takes around four to five days to complete, offering trekkers an immersive experience through diverse Andean environments such as cloud forests and alpine tundra.

The Classic Inca Trail starts at either 88 km or 82 km from Cusco, at elevations of approximately 2,800 meters or 2,600 meters respectively. These trail segments meet above the Inca ruins of Patallaqta, an ancient site with religious, ceremonial, and agricultural functions.

One of the highlights of the Inca Trail is the challenging ascent to Warmiwañusqa, also known as “Dead Woman’s Pass,” which reaches an altitude of 4,215 meters. This high point offers breathtaking views and a sense of accomplishment for trekkers.

From there, the trail descends into the Pakaymayu drainage and continues its undulating journey, passing through significant sites such as Runkuraqay, Sayaqmarka, and Phuyupatamarka. Along the trail, trekkers will encounter stunning viewpoints, ancient ruins, and fascinating natural landscapes.

As the trail nears its culmination, it approaches Intipata and Wiñay Wayna, two significant sites filled with agricultural terraces, Incan ruins, and ritual baths. These sites provide a glimpse into the advanced agricultural practices and architectural achievements of the Incas. From Wiñay Wayna, the trail continues below the crest of the east slope of Machu Picchu mountain, leading trekkers to Inti Punku, or the “Sun Gate.” Finally, after a short downhill walk, the grandeur of the Machu Picchu ruins comes into view, an awe-inspiring reward for the arduous journey.

One of the major concerns regarding the Inca Trail is the preservation of its natural and cultural heritage. To prevent overuse and erosion, the Peruvian government has implemented strict regulations. Only a limited number of people are allowed to hike the trail each day, with a maximum of 500 individuals, including guides and porters. This means that advance booking is mandatory, especially during the high season when permits sell out quickly.

To protect the trail’s integrity, it is closed for cleaning every February. What was once informally managed by organizations like South American Explorers is now officially regulated. The cleaning process helps maintain the trail’s condition and ensures a safe and enjoyable experience for future trekkers.

The attractions of the Machu Picchu site

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Machu Picchu’s buildings hold intriguing mysteries and insights into Inca civilization. The Intihuatana, Temple of the Sun, and Room of the Three Windows are prominent structures, while many outlying buildings have been reconstructed for visitor appreciation.

Divided into an urban and agricultural sector, as well as upper and lower towns, approximately 200 buildings are strategically placed on terraces. The kanchas, or compounds, utilize the terrain, and stone stairways allow movement across different levels. The eastern section likely served as residences, while the western section held religious and ceremonial significance.

Other areas include the Popular District for lower-class residents, the royalty area for nobility, and the Monumental Mausoleum for rites. The Guardhouse, opening onto the Terrace of the Ceremonial Rock, showcases the distinctive wayrona architectural style.

The Temple of the Sun (Torreón)

The Temple of the Sun, also known as the Torreón, is a remarkable structure situated in the ‘Hanan’ neighborhood of Machu Picchu’s religious sector. The Inca civilization believed that being at the highest point allowed them to connect with the heavens and conduct rituals to honor their deities, making the temple’s location strategically significant.

This semicircular temple, constructed on the same rock as Bingham’s “Royal Mausoleum,” exhibits exquisite ashlar stonework. Inside, a 1.2 m by 2.7 m rock platform dominates the space, featuring a smooth surface with a small platform on its southwest quadrant. The temple boasts two trapezoidal windows: the “Solstice Window” facing 65° and the “Qullqa Window” facing 132°. These windows align with celestial events, such as the rising of the June solstice sun and the appearance of constellations like Qullca and the Pleiades.

The Temple of the Sun
The Temple of the Sun

The Temple of the Sun holds historical significance, as it was believed to house the remains of the esteemed Inca Pachacutec. However, recent studies suggest that the space was likely utilized for ceremonies honoring Mother Earth (Pachamama). With its elevated position and exquisite craftsmanship, the temple holds great religious importance for sun worship.

Notably, this circular temple stands as the only structure in the Inca city with such a shape. It features intricately designed windows, niches, and an entrance door. Chronicles mention the burial of the renowned Inca emperor Pachacutec within the temple, who commissioned the construction of Machu Picchu.

Built with imperial Inca-style granite blocks, the temple was once adorned with gold and silver ornaments, which were later looted. The connection between the Temple of the Sun and the Royal Tomb suggests that Pachacutec might have been interred there, surrounded by opulent decorations.

While the temple displays cracks caused by a fire that occurred centuries ago, its stone structure remains resilient. The exact cause of the fire is uncertain, but theories range from Spanish invaders attempting to subjugate the settlers of Machu Picchu to soldiers aligned with the rebel Inca of Vilcabamba.

Despite the challenges it has endured, the Temple of the Sun stands as a testament to the rich cultural and architectural heritage of Machu Picchu, inviting visitors to marvel at its beauty and ponder the secrets it holds.

The Inca Trunk Bridge

The Inca Trunk Bridge, located on the western border of Machu Picchu, is a remarkable construction made of sturdy tree trunks that could be removed during invasions. Accessible via a 30-minute hiking route, this site remains relatively unknown to most visitors.

The trail leading to the bridge winds along the cliffs. Although most of the narrow path is in disrepair and inaccessible, the final section leading into Machu Picchu has been restored, including the Inca Bridge itself.

Carved into the cliff face, the stone path features a section with a deliberate 20-foot gap. This gap, overlooking a steep 1,900-foot drop, could only be crossed with the placement of two tree trunks, effectively blocking access to outsiders. The Inca Bridge served as a defensive boundary for Machu Picchu on the western side, allowing the Incas to prevent invasion by removing the bridge.

Due to safety concerns, crossing the bridge is currently prohibited. Visitors are only allowed to admire it from a safe distance. Despite its off-limits status, the Inca Bridge remains a testament to the impressive engineering skills and strategic defense systems of the ancient Incas, offering a glimpse into their ingenuity and the remarkable setting of Machu Picchu.

The Temple of the Three Windows

The Temple of the Three Windows, located near the Main Plaza of Machu Picchu, is a hall measuring 35 feet long and 14 feet wide. It features three trapezoidal windows, the largest found in Inca architecture, on one wall built with polygonal stones. The precision of its wall carvings and the use of white granite distinguish it from other structures in the citadel, highlighting its importance.

Out of the original five windows, only three remain, each representing a different realm: the underground (Uku-Pacha), the heavens (Hanan-Pacha), and the present time (Kay-Pacha). These windows also symbolize the sunrise, a significant event in the daily lives of the Inca people.

Visitors are prohibited from touching the structure or leaning out of the windows. It is only permitted to observe this remarkable construction from a safe distance. The Temple of the Three Windows offers a glimpse into the architectural mastery and symbolic significance of Machu Picchu, showcasing the Inca civilization’s reverence for the celestial and earthly realms.

The Intihuatana stone

The Intihuatana, a ritual stone at Machu Picchu, served as an astronomic clock or calendar for the Inca civilization. Believed to have been constructed around 1450, it was hidden from the Spanish conquerors and discovered intact by Bingham in 1911. The stone, carved directly into the mountain’s summit, features complex surfaces and angles, though their purpose remains unknown.

This remarkable stone column, inclined at 13 degrees northward, may have functioned as a sundial, aligned with the sun’s position during the winter solstice. According to Inca beliefs, the Intihuatana held the sun in place along its annual path in the sky. On the equinoxes, the sun’s position causes no shadow to be cast, while on November 11 and January 30, the sun is directly above the pillar, casting no shadow. On June 21, the stone casts its longest shadow on the southern side, and on December 21, a shorter shadow on the northern side.

Although some suggest that the base of the Intihuatana resembles a map of the Inca Empire, most archaeologists disagree, noting the dissimilarity in shape. Despite this debate, the stone remains a captivating and mysterious landmark at Machu Picchu, described by Pedro Sueldo Nava as one of the most beautiful and enigmatic places in the site.

The Temple of the Condor

The Temple of the Condor in Machu Picchu showcases stunning Inca stonemasonry. Named after the massive condor head carving, this site is a testament to the craftsmanship achieved by Inca masons. The outstretched wings of the condor, crafted from natural rock outcrops, enhance the grandeur of the temple. It is believed that the condor’s head served as a sacrificial altar.

The Andean Condor, revered as a god by the Incas, is the largest bird in South America and a majestic inhabitant of the Andes. The Temple of the Condor pays homage to this powerful creature and its significance in Inca civilization.

Beneath the temple lies a small cave that once held a mummy. Behind the temple stands a prison complex, featuring human-sized niches and an underground maze of dungeons. Historical accounts suggest that accused individuals were shackled in the niches for up to three days, awaiting their fate. Offenses such as laziness, lust, or theft could result in execution.

To truly grasp the magnificence of the Temple of the Condor, it must be experienced firsthand. This awe-inspiring site showcases the mastery of Inca stonework and offers a glimpse into the beliefs and practices of this ancient civilization.

The Intimachay cave

Located on the eastern side of Machu Picchu, near the “Condor Stone,” the Intimachay cave, or Inti Mach’ay, holds special significance. While many surrounding caves served as tombs in prehistoric times, there is no evidence of burial in Mach’ay.

This cave played a crucial role in observing the Royal Feast of the Sun. The festival took place during the Incan month of Qhapaq Raymi and spanned from earlier in the month to the December solstice. Inside the cave, noble boys underwent an ear-piercing ritual, symbolizing their initiation into manhood as they witnessed the sunrise.

Considered the most important structure at Machu Picchu, Inti Mach’ay showcases remarkable Incan masonry in its entrances, walls, steps, and windows. Notably, it features a unique tunnel-like window designed to admit sunlight only during a few days surrounding the December solstice. As a result, the cave remained inaccessible for most of the year.

The House of the High Priest

The House of the High Priest, also known as Nusta’s Bedroom, is a remarkable structure that still stands in Machu Picchu, boasting all four of its original walls. It is closely connected to the Temple of the Sun and occupies a position on the southern side of the Sacred Plaza. This plaza is formed by the convergence of the Temple of the Three Windows, Principal Temple, and the House of the High Priest, each renowned for their architectural excellence within the citadel.

Initially, Bingham referred to it as the “House of the Priest,” speculating that it served as the departure point for the High Priest who would oversee the religious ceremonies taking place in the plaza.

Although this building exhibits slightly lower architectural quality compared to its counterparts, it features two entrances facing the square and a series of niches adorning its interior. These niches likely held significant religious objects or ceremonial artifacts, reflecting the importance of the space in the spiritual practices of the Incas.

The Palace of the Princess (Ñusta)

The Princess’s Palace is a meticulously crafted structure believed to have accommodated a member of the Inca nobility. Adjacent to the Temple of the Sun, this two-level building showcases flawless stonework with precisely fitting blocks.

The front of the palace features a small window, while the second floor connects to the Temple of the Sun through a larger window. Named for its potential association with an Inca princess or esteemed female priest, the Palace of the Princess’s strategic location next to the Temple of the Sun, its exclusive entrance, and its exceptional craftsmanship indicate its significance.

According to some researchers, this room may have served as a sacred refuge for virgins destined for sacrificial rituals related to the sun or water deities. This theory gains support considering its proximity to the Temple of the Sun and the direct connection between the two buildings via the upper window. Within the Temple of the Sun, a large table or altar further suggests its potential use in these sacrificial ceremonies.

The Watchman’s Hut

The Watchman's Hut
The Watchman’s Hut

As you embark on the Machu Picchu Mountain hike or brave the challenging Huayna Picchu’s Stairs of Death, you’ll pass by the Watchman’s Hut. This spot not only provides an excellent vantage point to admire Machu Picchu but is also where most tourists capture the iconic picture of the site. The Watchman’s Hut, also known as the Guardhouse, served as a lookout post for the Inca army to protect Machu Picchu.

Many believe that this location was used for the mummification of Inca nobility on the carved rock behind the hut, which archaeologists presume was also utilized as a sacrificial altar. During his exploration, Bingham discovered a group of skeletons near this stone.

From here, you’ll be treated to breathtaking views of the entire complex below, offering a truly dramatic perspective. Keep an eye out for a delightful sight as well – a small herd of alpacas and llamas often make their way into Machu Picchu near Funerary Rock, grazing along the terraces.

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