Machu Picchu is on almost everyone´s bucket list for good reason.
We were fortunate to be able to spend two days there, taking a guided tour, taking our own time exploring and getting the feel for the place, hiking up Machu Picchu mountain for a bird´s eye 360 degree perspective, and hiking out to the Sun Gate to see how Inca trail hikers first experience Machu Picchu. When Machu Picchu was proclaimed a World Heritage site it was recommended that visitation be limited to 1,000 tourists per day. Today there are 2,500, so you have to work a bit to get away and imagine what it must have been like with Inca Priests, nobles, and workers walking the trails, working the fields, and praying in the temples.
What makes Machu Picchu so special?
It´s an undisturbed Inca site, and the location is incredible.
When the Spanish invaded Peru they did their best to destroy all of the Inca sites, but they never found Machu Picchu. In fact they walked through the Urubamba river valley, but evidently they never noticed to buildings and terraced fields high above them, thank goodness. As a result we´re able to see the Inca temples, buildings, waterworks, and terraced fields almost as if the Incas just stepped out.
When you first approach Machu Picchu, you see the towering granite cliffs in the Urubamba canyon that have an almost Yosemite feel today, and provided substantial defense in the Inca´s day. When you get up to the site you find substantial level places, plenty of granite, spring water, and spectacular views of the surrounding mountains. Above the site there are two peaks where guards could easily see any approaching invaders. Also, the Machu Picchu location lent itself to astronomical observations. For example, viewed from Machu Picchu’s main sundial, the Southern Cross is above Mt. Salkantay’s summit when at its highest point in the sky during the rainy season. The Incas associated this alignment with concepts of rain and fertility, because they considered Salkantay to be one of the principal deities controlling weather and fertility in the region west of Cuzco. Reference.
Our favorite photos of Machu Picchu are below. Then there´s a discussion about the Machu Picchu gold and silver.
What happened to the Machu Picchu gold and silver?
An interesting question…There are several possibilities.
1) When the Incas saw what the Spanish were doing in Cusco they proactively removed all Machu Picchu´s gold and silver and hid it somewhere. One guide told us that there were 8 trails leading to Machu Picchu although there are only 3 today. The missing 5 are unusable due to landslides and growth. Perhaps it is along one of these 5.
2) There never was any gold or silver in Machu Picchu. It´s estimated that the Spanish removed 39,000 pounds of gold from the Inca´s temples in Cusco, and two times that much Silver, so it is reasonable to expect that the Incas also put these metals in Machu Picchu, but perhaps they didn´t for reasons we cannot fathom.
3) In 1896 a farmer burned the jungle surrounding Machu Picchu, as part of the slash and burn method of agriculture. That farmer may have discovered the valuables and removed them. There are stories of a few people in Aguas Calientes having treasures, which reinforces this theory.
4) When Hiram Bingham´s grandson visited Machu Picchu he mentioned that his Grandfather had a private museum of artifacts, suggesting that the Professor himself may have taken the valuables.