Machu Picchu – The Unmissable Marvel
No travel blog is complete without an article about Machu Picchu! Having visited the famous Inca citadel twice before even having this blog, I had always wented to go back and create a Machu Picchu virtual tour. To tell the truth, I think I could just go back every year and not get tired of it.
In addition to the interactive tour of the Machu Picchu ruins, there will be a Part 2 and Part 3 where you will even be able to climb the Machu Picchu mountain and the Huayna Picchu mountain in virtual reality too! (coming soon!)
This time, I have visited the site on two consecutive days – one rainy day and one sunny day. The weather at Machu Picchu is ever-changing, and when the sun is out, when the mist delicately engulfs the mountains, or when the rain falls, the atmosphere is always completely different and unique. I feel quite glad to have experienced the place in varied weather conditions, like seeing the different faces of the place. In any case, I think that no matter how the weather is like, you can only be awed by the beauty of Machu Picchu.
You may have heard some voices saying that it’s getting way too touristic and other Inca ruins are just as good. While it’s true that other Inca sites are great (such as Choquequirao), in my opinion other sites simply cannot match the majesty of Machu Picchu. I hope this virtual tour will convince you (if you were not convinced already).
As someone who is addicted to going off the beaten track, you can trust my word. Machu Picchu is very touristic but it’s unmissable.
GPS (site entrance): 13°9’56.51″S, 72°32’35.59″W
Best way to go: Train from Cusco or Olantaytambo to Aguas Calientes, or via a trek (Inca Trail, Salkantay Trek)
Entrance: 152 soles (47 USD) for Machu Picchu alone | 200 soles (62 USD) for M.P. + Huayna Picchu mountain or M.P. mountain
Duration of visit: Half day to full day
Best season: May to September
Official link: MacchuPicchu.gob.pe
Hotel recommendation: Hostal Cusy Qoyllor, Aguas Calientes
Machu Picchu Virtual Tour
Let me quickly tell you about the virtual tour above. It was shot across the two days of my visit – the beautiful sunny day and the more cloudy and misty day. This explains why the weather seems to change inexplicably from panorama to panorama – I preferred to arrange the panoramas in a logical progression for a single virtual tour instead of making a cloudy virtual tour and a sunny one!
The tour starts at the entrance, shortly after you showed your entrance ticket, as you start seeing a few first ruins. It then goes on across the famous terraces to get closer to the citadel itself.
After reaching the city wall, we climb the steep stairs all the way to the main gate of the citadel, ready to go in. The tour then follows a classic route through the Quarry and on to the Sacred Plaza, the religious hotspot of Machu Picchu.
Passed the Sacred Plaza, the virtual tour lets you climb the Intihuatana Hill to the sacred Intihuatana rock, offering a fantastic panoramic view of the whole citadel.
We are now ready to cross the Main Plaza to the other half of Machu Picchu, the Eastern Urban Sector. You can explore the houses of the Industrial Sector, where it is believed that pottery work was taking place. Just outside, you can reach a viewpoint with a pluging view to the Urubamba River and the Putukusi Mountain – The landscapes that makes Machu Picchu so fabulous
After passing by some llamas, we arrive at the Royal Tomb, which is directly below the Temple of the Sun. We can even say that it’s the foundation of the temple. It is said to be a mausoleum for elite members of the Inca Empire.
We have almost closed the loop, and from there you can easy continue back to the terraces and start the tour again!
Machu Picchu Travel Video
Here is a short clip summarizing my exploration of the ruins of Machu Picchu. Enjoy!
10 Interesting Facts About Machu Picchu
Machu Picchu is a fascinating site. The Incas were an amazing and advanced civilization, and I thought that after seeing the virtual tour, you might want to know some interesting facts about the citadel of Machu Picchu.
Geography & Altitude
Machu Picchu is located in the southern half of Peru, in the Andes Mountains. Just mentionning the Andes is enough for people to imagine that the site is super high up the mountains. It’s actually not really the case! Cusco, the former capital city of the Inca Empire, was built at an altitude of 3400 m / 11,155 ft which is pretty high.
Machu Picchu on the other hand, was built in a loop of the Urubamba River in the cloud forest – locally called Ceja de Selva. This forest covers the eastern side of the Andes, and is a transition between the Amazon rainforest and the high, cold Andes. The ruins stand at an altitude of 2430 m / 7972 ft.
Rise & Fall of Machu Picchu
Machu Picchu around 1450 by the great Inca Emperor Pachacutec, probably as a relaxation retreat for himself and the elite of the Inca Empire. The citadel was in use for about 80 years before being abandoned.
It is believed that Machu Picchu was abandoned when the Spanish Conquistadors arrived in the region. But the site is so well hidden in the mountains and almost invisible from the valley, that the Spanish invadors actually never found Machu Picchu.
A Lucky Rediscovery
It’s in 1911 that the American explorer Hiram Bingham rediscovered Machu Picchu. He was actually searching for Vilcabamba, the last refuge of the Inca elite fleeing the invasion of the Spanish Conquistadors. While searching for Vilcabamba, he met a farmer who told him about some abandoned ruins on the mountain. After a really dangerous climb up the mountain, he discovered the ruins of Machu Picchu swallowed by the jungle.
Hiram Bingham was told by the farmer that the ancient ruins were locally known as Machu Picchu, and he kept that name. This is actually the name of the mountain the citadel was built on. Machu Picchu means “old mountain” in Quechua. The peak that you can see in the background of the ruins is the Huayna Picchu – “young mountain” in Quechua.
The discovery of Machu Picchu was so exceptional that the National Geographic Magazine has dedicated its entire April 1913 issue to this discovery. I am lucky enough to own an original copy of this issue, it features fascinating early photos of the site, still partially covered with jungle and being cleared. And of course, you can read the whole adventure story of Hiram Bingham’s expedition and discovery, written by Bingham himself.
The Inca stone work is always very impressive. The carving is so perfect that the rocks are assembled flawlessly and you can’t even slide a knife blade between two rocks. This result is even more impressive when you know that the Incas didn’t even have any metal tools! They were using hard rocks to carve and polish the rocks. In order to split a big rock, they would dig a series of aligned holes, then put wet pieces of wood inside. The wet wood swells and ends up cracking the rock. Pretty smart huh?
Machu Picchu is organized in 3 main sectors. The first one is the agricultural terraces, the inca built them following the shape of the mountains and filled them with good soil to grow their crops. You can imagine the amount of work required!
The second sector is the western part of the ruins, where sacred monuments and accommodation for the elite (and the Inca himself!) are found. The stone carving is extremely refined on these important constructions.
The third sector is on the other side of the main plaza, the eastern part of the ruins. It is called the Eastern Urban Sector and also includes the Industrial Zone where various works were carried out, such as pottery.
Attaching The Sun
The highest point of Machu Picchu is the Intihuatana Hill (on the western side). Intihuatana means, “hitching post of the sun” – Inti is the sun, main deity of the Incas. At the top of the Hill can be found the carved Intihuatana stone, with its top part pointing towards the North, South, East and West.
The way this ritual stone was used is still a little mysterious. It is possible that is was used as a sundial or an astronomical calendar. On the two equinoxes of the year at midday, the sun is exactly above the stone and casts no shadow at all. On the two solstices, the stone casts the longest shadows of the year.
In 2000, the sacred rock was damaged by a filmmaking crew: a camera and a crane fell on the stone as they were filming a commercial for a beer… Since then, a rope is in place and it is forbidden to touch the Intihuatana.
Temple of The Sun
The Temple of the Sun is the only construction in Machu Picchu that has rounded walls. The temple has two windows, orientated to the winter solstice (June 21) and the summer solstice (December 22). In the solstice mornings, the first sun rays of the day go exactly through these windows and light up the sacred carved rock at the center of the temple.
Fame & Crowd
Due to its exceptional nature, Machu Picchu has quickly become a site of importance in the world. It was declared a Historical Sanctuary by the Peruvian government in 1981, and a UNESCO World Heritage Site two years later. In 2007, it was elected one of the Seven New Wonders of the World.
Nowadays, more than one million people visit the site annually (1.4 million in 2016), and the authorities had to cap the number of daily entrances to 5,940 – but that’s still far more than the 2,500 recommended by the UNESCO to protect the site.
It is of course difficult to write a complete article about Machu Picchu. Each building, each monument would deserve a whole paragraph and more! I still hope that you enjoyed the virtual tour and reading about these few interesting facts about Machu Picchu.
The tourism pressure on the site keeps increasing, and the authorities keep putting more and more limitations of what you can do or not – If you have always wanted to see Machu Picchu, I suggest you to go as soon as you can!
For those who like trekking, Machu Picchu has a little sister called Choquequirao, only accessible by foot, and receiving only 3-4000 visitors… a year!