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© 2008 Mark Collins


Peru 2004 - Day 10, Machu Picchu

After a tremendous effort by our tour guides we were finally able to catch the train to visit this famous site - the highlight of any trip to Peru.

Cuzco Railway station - MTCHere are the trains waiting for us to board.  They reach the highlands by a series of switch backs.

I am looking cheerful for the time of day - our alarms woke us at 4am!

The cup and saucer vine we notices growing close to Machu Picchu - we grow these as a tender annual at home!

The glorious panoramic view was taken from the train on the highlands above Cuzco.  The track follows the Urubamba River through magnificent scenery.

Mark on the train to Machu PicchuCathedral Bells

View from the train - MTC

Train in mud stranded in the station - Machu Picchu - MTCOur arrival at the station at Aguas Callientes ("Hot Springs")was solemn, as the signs of the land slip and mud were very apparent.  These two men were still digging the mud from under this train which was stranded in the station.

Our train terminated up the track as the bridge into the station was washed away, we completed the last few hundred metres on foot.

First view of Inca buildings - Machu Picchu - MTCOur first view of Inca buildings at Machu Picchu, which means "Manly Peak" - this one has had its roof restored.  Note how the roof timbers are tied down to the stone posts coming out of the eaves - an ingenious solution to keeping the roof on!

The city was built between 1460 and 1470 by Pachucuti Inca Yupanqui, an Incan ruler.

Machu Picchu is comprised of approximately 200 buildings, most being residences, although there are temples, storage structures and other public buildings. It has polygonal masonry, characteristic of the late Inca period.

Machu Picchu is integrated into the landscape. Existing stone formations were used in the construction of structures, sculptures are carved into the rock, water flows through cisterns and stone channels, and temples hang on steep precipices.

About 1,200 people lived in and around Machu Picchu, most of them women, children, and priests. The buildings are thought to have been planned and built under the supervision of professional Inca architects. Most of the structures are built of granite blocks cut with bronze or stone tools, and smoothed with sand. The blocks fit together perfectly without mortar, although none of the blocks are the same size and have many faces; some have as many as 30 corners. 

Ruins at Machu Picchu - MTC
Ruins at Machu Picchu - MTC

Few people outside the Inca’s closest retainers were actually aware of Machu Picchu’s existence. Before the Spanish conquistadors arrived, the smallpox spread ahead of them. Fifty percent of the population had been killed by the disease by 1527. The government began to fail, part of the empire seceded and it fell into civil war. So by the time Pizarro, the Inca’s conqueror, arrived in Cuzco in 1532, Machu Picchu was already forgotten.

Here is Mum with the famous ruins behind her.

View of Machu Picchu - MTCMark at Machu Piccu - ARL
View from Machu Picchi - MTCThis fortress city of the Incas city sits between two mountain peaks and comprises approximately five square miles of terraced stonework linked by over three thousand steps.  When rediscovered by Hiram Bingham, a professor from Yale, in 1911, although submerged and virtually invisible under the undergrowth, the buildings were virtually intact.

Bingham was searching for Vilcabamba, which was the undiscovered last stronghold of the Incan empire. When he stumbled upon Machu Picchu, he thought he had found it, although now most scholars believe that Machu Picchu is not Vilcabamba. Machu Picchu was never completely forgotten, as a few people still lived in the area, where they were "free from undesirable visitors, officials looking for army ‘volunteers’ or collecting taxes", as they told Bingham.

Steep terraces at Machu Picchu - MTCDry moat at Machu Picchu - MTC

Mum is standing in front of the main entrance into Machu Picchu.

The houses had steep thatched roofs and trapezoidal doors; windows were unusual. Some of the houses were two stories tall; the second story was probably reached by ladder, which likely was made of rope since there weren’t many trees at Machu Picchu’s altitude. The houses, in groups of up to ten gathered around a communal courtyard, or aligned on narrow terraces, were connected by narrow alleys. At the centre were large open squares; livestock enclosures and terraces for growing maize stretched around the edge of the city.

Mum at entrance to Machu Picchu - MTC

The Incas planted crops such as potatoes and maize at Machu Picchu. To get the highest yield possible, they used advanced terracing and irrigation methods to reduce erosion and increase the area available for cultivation.

This millipede was about six inches long (about 15cm).Millipede at Machu Picchu - MTC

Gable of Inca building, Machu Picchu
Ruins at Machu Picchu - ARL
Machu Picchu - The Intihuatana - The Hitching Post of the sun - MTCOne of the most important things found at Machu Picchu is the intihuatana, which is a column of stone rising from a block of stone the size of a grand piano. Intihuatana literally means ‘for tying the sun", although it is usually translated as "hitching post of the sun".

As the winter solstice approached, when the sun seemed to disappear more each day, a priest would hold a ceremony to tie the sun to the stone to prevent the sun from disappearing altogether. The other intihuatanas were destroyed by the Spanish conquistadors, but because the Spanish never found Machu Picchu, it remained intact. Mummies have also been found there; most of the mummies were women.

We saw many exotic and beautiful flowering plants at Machu Picchu.

No pictures of this amazing place can do it justice - it is truly amazing.  The ruins are located at 8000 feet with a near vertical drop each side, with 360 degree views of green mountains and deep valleys.  The Gate of the Sun, above the city, leads to an Inca road, which for the more energetic, provides a hiking trail which eventually reaches Cuzco.

The view below shows the road that climbs from the valley below up the steep mountain side to Machu Picchu. This eight kilometre road has thirteen zig-zag hairpin bends which the busses climb with acrobatic ability!

The railway tracks and river look tiny from this elevated position.


Exotic plants and ruins at Machu Picchu

Here is the Peru Rail logo on the side of the trains.

After a long wait in the railway station we eventually were escorted back up the track to board our train for the long journey back to Cuzco.

On the way we were entertained by the train staff dressed up in these bright costumes - we have no idea what they were doing but it was fun to watch!

We were disgorged from the train at a station above Cuzco and taken back to our hotel in a minibus. This was rather a relief as it takes the train some time to descend the steep hillside on the switch backs.

Boarding the train at Machu Picchu