You first glimpse of Machu Picchu will leave you breathless, but if that is the only view you see while at this amazing place, you will have missed so much of what gives it meaning and wonder. Below are the top 5 sites you don’t want to miss when visiting Machu Picchu.
You don't have to look far for evidence of the connection Machu Picchu has with other landmarks. Machu Picchu's own Sun Temple (modeled after the same temple in Cusco) contains a window that perfectly aligns with the sunrise on the summer solstice. Additionally, the temple was built on a large solid piece of granite, upon which it is thought that religious ceremonies were performed. Below the temple is a meticulously crafted cave, where it is thought that high-ranking persons would have been buried.
These stones can be found throughout the Inca Empire, however were often destroyed by the Spanish conquerors as they held special religious significance to the Inca. The purpose of the stones is not completely known, however it is believed they were used for rituals, as well as precise indicators of the two equinoxes. In fact, during the two equinoxes, the stone casts no shadow, an amazing feat given the precise angles necessary to achieve this. Machu Picchu’s stone can be found at its highest point, the Sacred Plaza, where it is believed the Incas held religious ceremonies surrounding the stone.
Temple of the Condor
It may take you a moment to realize what you’re facing when you gaze upon this majestic temple. Utilizing large, natural rock formations for wings, with the neck and head carved into a large stone upon the ground, the Incas formed the shape of the condor. If you’re lucky, this large bird can be seen soaring high in the surrounding Andes. It is thought that the Incas used this place as an alter, and even the caves beneath the site as a prison to hold the accused while they awaited their fate.
Every building you see in Machu Picchu, and in fact in all ancient Incan sites, is composed in a style where each stone is meticulously crafted and shaped such that each fits together perfectly, without mortar. In fact, you aren’t even able to slide a piece of paper between stones! But not only are the buildings composed without mortar, they also are constructed in an inward-leaning manner, such that shaking from frequent nearby earthquakes hasn't resulted in much damage or collapse. It is considered a major engineering accomplishment, and is still studied today by students from all over the world. Take a moment to marvel at the ingenuity of the Incas.
That awe-inspiring pinnacle just to the north beyond Machu Picchu is known as Huayna Picchu (or Wayna Picchu). Guess what? You can climb it. And there are more structures at the top. Those Inca were certainly ingenious, and apparently didn’t suffer from vertigo. You’ll need to buy tickets for this hike well in advance, as only 400 people are allowed to make the climb each day. There are two opening times, each for 200 people, between 7 and 8 AM or 10 – 11 AM. Before you decide to purchase tickets, make sure you aren’t a fellow vertigo sufferer. This hike is not for the faint of heart. At some points, the trail is so steep the stone “stairs” essentially represent a ladder…without a handrail. And when the trail runs out of room? The Incas simply bored into the mountainside creating narrow tunnels to continue up. The view at the top is spectacular, offering a sweeping panorama of not only Machu Picchu, but also the Urubamba River Valley below. If you make it to the top and back, congratulations! Only a few people survive this trip every year (because only 400 are permitted each day, not because of accidental falls…)!
Machu Picchu holds many secrets. Some may never be answered, but others are there simply waiting for you to discover them. Make sure you don’t miss them when you visit this amazing wonder of the world!