As Machu Picchu is the most visited site in South America, obviously it has much to offer. Situated on the border between the Andean highlands with its majestic snowcapped peaks on one side, and on the other by the beginning of the Amazon Rainforest, the location alone makes enough for a great destination.
It is here that the Inca decided to build their most impressive and inaccessible city ever discovered; Machu Picchu. The site of Machu Picchu itself is quite extensive and minimal a full day is needed to see the central part of the site. The site is located in a “saddle” between the foot of Machu Picchu Mountain to the top of Huayna Picchu Mountain on the other side. Nevertheless this would comprise the main site; the site is much larger as other parts of the site keep being discovered.
Following we will give you a quick overview of some of the places within the site you would want to visit on a one or two day Machu Picchu visit.
The Sun Gate is recognized as the official entrance to the site when doing the Inca Trail. It is where the ancient trail coming from Cusco and the Sacred Valley enter the site. The views from here are spectacular and it is recommended going in the early afternoon to avoid the people coming from the Inca Trail in the morning. Allow about 45 minutes walking to the Sun Gate from the official entrance. A bit below you can also find the Guardhouse, from here many famous pictures of Machu Picchu have been taken.
On the opposite from the Sungate there is a towering mountain located. This mountain is called Huayna Picchu, or Young Mountain. This mountain looks like it is made of sheer granite covered in green. Even though it does not look like this from a distance, the mountain can be climbed via a small and steep path that gives you altitude over the site below. The climb is quite steep at times and can get crowded as it goes over small paths sometimes cut out of the rocks. On the end there are several routes to take, some including ladders and ropes others by following the path as before. On top of the mountain you will have an amazing view on Machu Picchu and on a clear day you will be able to see several snowcapped mountains in the distance. These mountains were holy places for the Inca, called Apu. You will see several Inca buildings and constructions with cliffs on one side of over 500 meters deep. Don’t forget to visit the Temple of the Moon located in a huge boulder on the top of the mountain. There are two ways down; the first going back as you came up and the second taking you back around the mountain via an old Inca Bridge to the site. The last option is quite a long walk and as the rules have changed with regards to climbing Huayna Picchu not clear if still open to public.
Sectors and architecture of the site;
The site of Machu Picchu is divided into two principal sectors, the Urban and Agricultural Sector, divided by a wall and staircase with fountains. The Agricultural Sector is further subdivided into Upper and Lower sectors, while the Urban Sector is divided into East and West sectors, with in between wide plazas.
The central buildings of Machu Picchu use the classical Inca architectural style of polished dry-stone walls of regular shape. Many junctions in the central city are so perfect that it would be hard to fit a razorblade.
Some Inca buildings were constructed using mortar, but by Inca standards this was a quick, almost temporarily shoddy construction, and was not used in the building of important constructions. Peru is a highly seismic land, and mortar-free construction was proven to be more earthquake-resistant than using mortar. The stones of the dry-stone walls built by the Incas can move slightly and resettle without the walls collapsing. This was proven during an Earthquake in Cusco in the 1700 when many of the colonial Spanish buildings came down while the Inca foundations stood strong.
Doors and windows are almost always trapezoidal and tilt inward from bottom to top; corners usually are rounded; inside corners often incline slightly into the rooms; and "L"-shaped blocks often were used to tie outside corners of the structure together. These walls are not straight up but are inclining slightly from row to row. How they moved and placed the enormous blocks of stones remains a mystery, although the general belief is that they used hundreds of men to push the stones up inclined planes. A few of the stones still have knobs on them that could have been used to lever them into position.
The site in total holds about 140 structures and constructions such as temples, plazas, residences and religious buildings. According to archaeologists, the urban sector of Machu Picchu was divided into three great districts: the Sacred District, the Popular District to the south, and the District of the Nobility.
Located in the first zone are the primary archaeological treasures: the Intihuatana, the Temple of the Sun and the Room of the Three Windows. These were dedicated to their highest god, the Sun or Inti in Qechua. The Popular District, or Residential District, is the place where the lower-class people lived. It includes storage buildings and simple houses.
The sector for the nobility is a group of houses located in rows over a slope; the residence of the Amautas (wise persons) was characterized by its reddish walls, and the zone of the Ñustas (princesses) had trapezoid-shaped rooms. The Monumental Mausoleum is a carved statue with vaulted interior and carved drawings.
For more things to do and see in and around Machu Picchu, please click here.