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FAQs Inca Trail & Machu Picchu

FAQs Inca Trail - Machu Picchu

Questions about Machu Picchu and the Inca Trail; When you plan to visit Machu Picchu, we always advise you to look for some information and read about it. The same goes for the Inca Trail. Still it is possible that you have some more questions about the sanctuary and the trails leading there. Therefore we will sum up the most asked questions about Machu Picchu and try to answer them the best we can.


Machu Picchu

  • Translation:
    Machu Picchu is Quechuan for "The Old Peak".
    Machu Picchu represents the face of the Inca who is looking up to the sky.
  • Location: Machu Picchu is located on a mountain ridge above the Urubamba Valley, which is 70 km northwest (44 miles) from Cusco. The Urubamba Valley, also called the Sacred Valley is home to the Urubamba River. Machu Picchu is located in Urubamba Province, District of Machu Picchu S13 7 W72 35
  • Year of construction: Around 1450 A.D.
  • Climate:
    Dry season from May to November
    Wet season from December to April
  • Climate low altitudes:
    Annual average temperature of 16°C
    Annual rainfall between 1500 and 3000 mm
  • Climate 2500 meters / 8202 feet
    Annual average temperature of 10°C
    Annual rainfall about 2200 mm
  • Fauna:
    1. Birds such as the "condor" (Vultur gryphus)
    2. Diverse species of hummingbirds
    3. Mammals such as pumas (Felis concolor)
    4. The "Tigrillo" (Felis pardalis)
    5. A few species of monkeys and ophidians of the Bothrops species
    6. There are species in danger of extinction in Machu Picchu:
    7. The "rock hen" ("gallito de las rocas")
    8. The "spectacled bear" ("oso de anteojos")
    9. The otter
    10. The mountain cat.
  • Flora:
    1. Over 90 species of orchids.
    2. In higher areas: different species of high-Andean grains.
    3. In low areas, trees like
      • "aliso" Alnus jorullensis
      • "nogal" Juglans neotropica
      • "intimpa" Podocarpus glomeratus
      • "Kisuar" Buddleja incana

What was the function of Machu Picchu and the different parts of it?

Machu Picchu was built around the year 1450 A.D. A lot of theories have been developed about the sanctuary, but based on research most archeologists now believe that Machu Picchu was an estate of the Inca ruler Pachacuti. It would have been a retreat place for the Inca rulers. Pachacuti was the 9th Inca emperor, the one who started the expansion of the Inca Empire. It is mostly seen as a religious place for the Incas, not as an administrative, military or commercial place.

Approximately 1200 people would have lived in Machu Picchu, but also the number of just 750 people is mentioned in many sources. The city is divided in three parts: the agricultural, urban and religious part. The partitioning is also visible in the architecture. The houses, in which the rulers would have lived, are much more precisely build than the houses of the ‘common people'.

Following you can read about the several parts of Machu Picchu as we call them right now. Most of the names are given by Hiram Bingham, the discoverer of Machu Picchu, who was an explorer, not an archeologist. For this reason the several parts of the sanctuary can have had other functions than the name would make us think.

Wayna Picchu
This is the high mountain you can see on the postcards of Machu Picchu, the perfect place to have an overview of the sanctuary. On top you can find some buildings such as the temple of the moon. Also here are the visitors limited to 400 per day. When walking up we advise you to do it at an easy pace as it is very steep. This will take you about 45 minutes.
During the Inka time it was probably a place for observing the city and its surroundings.

Caretakers Hut
Hiram Bingham suggested this house was the place where travelers first arrived during the Inca time when visiting Machu Picchu.

Temple of the Sun
This, most probably was the place to observe the sun, something that was really important in the Inca time.

Royal Tomb
Here, Hiram Bingham would have found the remains of some important people.

District of the Sun
Here was found an ancient system of water channels and a ritual bathing place. Next to the sun, water was worshipped during the Inca time.

This was the place where the Inca's collected all the material to build Machu Picchu. Because of the unorganized piles of stones, historians think that they were not ready when they left their city.
One of the stones in the quarry shows really nicely how they used to split them.

Royal Sector
Because of its location, which is between the Temple of the Sun and the baths and near the main square; and because of the larger rooms than the other houses, it is thought that this section of the sanctuary was the royal sector.

Sacred Plaza
This was probably the most important place where important ceremonies and rituals would have taken place.

Principal Temple
This was most likely the place for displaying religious items.

Most probably priests prepared here for the messes.

The translation for this word is ‘hitching post of the sun'. Most likely it was a astronomical calendar.

Sacred Rock
This rock is said to have the same shape as the mountains behind it. It is said to have energy that people can take by putting their hand against the rock.

Temple of the Condor
This temple has the shape of a condor. Probably the heavenly world was worshipped here.

The Inca Bridge
This is a drawbridge that functioned as a defense on one of the few entrances of the city. It is about half an hour walking away from Machu Picchu.

The Inti Punku is an important archeological site that was originally a fortress of the sacred city, reached through the still-accessible "inti ñan" or "royal path". It is said to be best place to have a view over Machu Picchu.


Why is Machu Picchu build on its particular place?

Some historical sources say that the location of Machu Picchu is chosen on purpose by the Inca's. In the mountains behind the city and in the city itself we can see the face of a man looking up in the sky. In the mountain of Wayna Picchu we can see the face of a Puma. Next to this face can be seen the face of a young bird that pulls up its wings. From the postcard perspective, the right part of the city shows a cayman lying on the ground.

The mentioned animals were very important in the ideology of the Incas. The condor represented the upper world and the puma represented the humanly world. The cayman is thought to been seen as the oldest animal in the world.

Of course also the difficulty of reaching the high grounds must have been very important for choosing the specific place.


We have heard something about the Incas leaving the city?

The Incas left the city less than 100 years after constructing it. The most common theory is that the inhabitants of Machu Picchu left, fleeing for the Spanish conquistadores. It is most likely that the Incas deliberately decided to ‘forget' the city. For this reason it is assumed that the Spanish invaders never found Machu Picchu and therefore didn't destroy it.


Why was Machu Picchu only discovered in 1911? The Peruvians must have known about it.

All sources tell that only a few people living near Machu Picchu knew about its existence. The sanctuary, even now is difficult to spot from the valleys around it and in 1911 it was still covered with a lot of vegetation. Here you can see a small picture of Machu Picchu as it was photographed in 1912 by National Geographic. Just click on it to get a larger image.



The dicovery of Machu Picchu in 1911 by Hiram Bingham

Hiram Bingham (35) was actually already searching for quite a while for Vitcos and Vilcabamba. These places where seen as the last hiding places of the Incas after the Spanish invasion. On July the 23rd of 1911 he was in the Andes for a new attempt to find the mentioned places, this time with some cryptical indications of Inca Manco Capac II, one of the last rebels against the Spaniards. The weather was really bad but Bingham was triggered by a local farmer, called Melchor Arteaga, who told him some things about the sanctuary.

The next morning Bingham started his final search together with the landlord and a representative of the Peruvian government (Sergeant Carrasco). After dangerously crossing the Vilcanota river Bingham was the only one who did not want to wait longer to go up. The further guidance was done by a 10-year old boy called Pablito Alvarez. Very soon now he got to the lowest terraces and after that at the old gate of Machu Picchu.

In his book "The discovery of Machu Picchu" Bingham later wrote: "Suddenly I was standing in front of the walls of a ruin and houses from the best quality of Inca building art. The walls were difficult to see because the trees and moss ranked partly the stones during centuries. But in the shade of bamboo bushes and climbing plants were the walls visible of white granite blocks chopped in the highest precision. I found brilliant temples, royal houses, a big square and tens of houses. It looked like a dream.".


What is the story behind the limit of 500 people a day?

Machu Picchu is an UNESCO world heritage site since 1983. In the 1990s more and more tourists were discovering the sanctuary and plans were made to build a cable car to it and a luxury hotel besides the sanctuary. There were big protests against these plans from scientists, academics and Peruvians. The new facilities would both destroy the area but also open it for more tourists.

Since the first of January 2001 the government has set the limit of 500 people per day to walk the Inca Trail. This only goes for the Inca Trail, not for Machu Picchu. The maximum amount of people per day to enter Machu Picchu is 2500. For this reason a lot of alternative trails have been developed and also visiting Machu Picchu by train for one day is possible.

The available spaces for the Inca Trail are to be seen by clicking on the following link:


What is the story and what are the facts about the "Inca Trail"?

The Inca Trail, as we know is today, is just a very small part of the ‘Inca Road System' as the Incas used it hundreds of years ago, before the Spanish invasion. This system went from what is now Quito (Ecuadorian capital) and Santiago de Chile (Chilean capital). It covered about 22,500 km (14,000 m) and ensured access to 3 million square kilometer of the eastern part of South America.

The roads were mostly used by people on foot, because the Incas didn´t use horses or wheels. The people were sometimes accompanied by the llamas for carrying heavy supplies. The trails were used to send messages and transport goods. On the trail were lots of Tambo's, resting places for the traveling people. They provided food, shelter and military supplies. There were also stables for the llamas.

Many of the roads came together in Cusco, the capital of the empire. This was the reason why the Spanish found the city of Cusco and all other places in the empire very easy.


Review the following information.


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