10 fascinating Machu Picchu facts
You’ve probably been dreaming about your bespoke Machu Picchu trip for yonks, but – if you’re anything like me – this is probably based on seeing millions of photos and knowing a little about the Incas. Here are ten fascinating Macchu Picchu facts I unearthed. Some are straightforward, others not so much, but they’re all true.
1. Machu Picchu means ‘old peak’ or ‘old mountain’ in the local Quechua tongue.
2. Almost all known Inca settlements, cities and sites were at least partially destroyed by the Spanish conquistadors: one need only visit Cusco to see what they were capable of. Machu Picchu’s location saved it as the fact that it is not visible from below meant that the Spanish never found it.
3. Although Hiram Bingham is credited with as the first westerner to discover the ruins (in 1911), it’s highly likely that others had been before him – perhaps as many as 40 years earlier. Bingham was definitely the first academic to discover them, and his book Lost City of the Incas caused quite a storm in the US and Europe. Ironically, Machu Picchu probably isn’t the lost city Bingham was looking for: Vilcabamba is is believed to be about 50 miles west of Machu Picchu.
4. The Incas are probably the greatest stonemasons ever to have walked the earth. For all its magnificence, the construction Machu Picchu did not require a single ounce of mortar: instead the Incas cut their stone blocks so precisely that they were able to wedge them together so tightly that the blade of a knife cannot fit between them. Not only is this an amazing feat of engineering but it’s also very useful in an area prone to earthquakes: during a quake or tremor the stones ‘dance’ but the walls do not crack or fall. Cusco’s quakes of 1650 and 1950 were clear proof of the superiority of Inca construction over Spanish.
5. Not only was Inca stonemasonry exceptional, but their labourers are thought to have carried the 50 pound stones to the site by hand. Incas did not have wheeled vehicles, and they did not use animals to lug or carry heavy items.
6. Throughout Machu Pichu there are more than 100 staircases. Almost all of which are carved from a single piece of stone!
One of the peculiarities of Machu Picchu is that there is hardly any information about the ruins on site.
7. Luckily all Vaya Adventures guests benefit from exceptionally knowledgeable private guides, but if you still want to know more there is a very good ‘museo del sitio’ a few miles from Aguas Calientes. Your guide will be happy to incorporate this into your itinerary.
8. If you do the Inca Trail you’ll probably notice that the porters sleep on top of a small piece of mirror or reflective metal. They do this to protect themselves from being whisked away by evil spirits which live within the earth.
9. Although the Inca trail is a challenge for most people when completed over four days, there is now an annual Inca trail marathon where runners compete the course (at 26.2 miles it’s actually a bit longer than the trail) in under 12 hours. The record stands at just under four hours!
10. Like all tourist attractions, Machu Picchu has rules of entry. Most of them are pretty standard, but one is very quirky indeed as it forbids you to enter the ruins in the traditional dress of another country. Best not to pack the lederhosen, then.
Hopefully, armed with these 10 fascinating Machu Picchu facts, you’ll have plenty of questions for your highly knowledgeable Vaya Adventures guide!