I didn’t know a great deal about Machu Picchu before coming here. But it turns out there’s a lot that nobody knows. That’s part of the allure of this ‘City of the Incas’, with its precisely designed and crafted stone structures and terraces. Here they sit, very remote and at 8,000 feet, nestled amongst spectacular mountains and clouds. There are signature trapezoidal elements, and features perfectly aligned to track the rays of the sun for the winter and summer solstices. And we do know that it was all built and abandoned in the span of just 100 years, beginning in the mid 1400s.
But why was it there? Was it a sacred retreat? A religious site? A fortress? We may never know. And why did they leave? To flee the Spaniards? Drought or disease? The death of their leader?
We do have answers for why it is so well preserved. The isolated location saved it from the destructive path of the Spaniards. Even today, to get there from Cusco, we took ground transport . . . then a train . . . and, finally, a bus that snaked up steep switchbacks in the cloud forest. The settlement’s granite base provides a solid foundation that has saved it from earthquakes, and a sophisticated drainage system staves off erosion.
What is beyond question is the stunning natural beauty of the location. Images of it serve as an icon of adventure and amazement known all around the world. The Incas were all about harmony with nature, and I don’t think there is work of man anywhere that is more complementary to its surroundings.
Most people do this as a day trip. But we stayed nearby overnight, and visited it both after the crowds the first afternoon, and before them the next morning. The sight of it really holds you. All you want to do is sit and stare. After hiking stone-paved trails to two of its entries, I did exactly that. In the most true sense of the very overused word, it is absolutely awesome!