After hiking part of the Inca Trail to arrive at Machu Picchu the day before, we spent the night in Aguas Calientes and headed back up to Machu Picchu the next day to explore the ancient city for another day. Aguas Calientes is the closest access point to Machu Picchu which is 6 kilometres (3.7 mi) away. The official Quecha name for Aguas Calientes is Machu Pikchu which means old sharp peaked mountain. The name was changed by the Spanish to Aguas Calientes which means hot springs water as there are some natural hot springs in the town. The only way to get to the town of Aguas Calientes is by foot or train.
We awoke at 4:45am, ate breakfast in our hotel, and met our guide, Hever, at 5:20am and walked to the shuttle bus area to take the first shuttle up to Machu Picchu. Here is a shot of the road we would be taking up to Machu Picchu.
A shot taken from the bus as we headed up the windy road to Machu Picchu.
We arrived at the entrance and waited a few minutes for the gates to open at 6:00am. It was great to be one of the first to arrive and explore around the ancient city before a lot of other tourists arrived later in the day.
Hever took a couple of pictures of the three of us.
Our guide, Hever, was very passionate about telling us the history of Machu Picchu. Having grown up in the area, when we arrived at Machu Picchu he said “this is my office”. It was important to him to tell us what he believed to be the true history of Machu Picchu, and the history of the Spanish Conquest of Peru. He told us his father told him “never lie Hever, always tell the truth”.
Most archaeologists believe that Machu Picchu was built as an estate for the Inca emperor Pachacuti. Often referred to as the “Lost City of the Incas”, it is perhaps the most familiar icon of Inca civilization. The Incas built the estate around 1450, but abandoned it a century later at the time of the Spanish Conquest. Since the site was not known to the Spanish during their conquest, it is highly significant as a relatively intact cultural site.
Spread over approximately 5 square miles, Machu Picchu housed a population of around 750 to 1200 people. It consists of a number of Sectors or Districts, which relate to the activities which were carried out there. These are Agricultural, which consists of terraces constructed by the Inca. These enabled crops to be grown but also provided stability to the mountain. The Industrial sector provided the facilities to produce and maintain the implements required by the population. The Urban sector provided the living accommodation for the people and the nobility. The Sacred District contains the religious buildings.
Hever gave us a 2-hour guided tour of Machu Picchu where we learned a lot about the different parts of the city. Here are some of the highlights:
Intihuatana is a Quechua word which loosely translates as the ‘Hitching Post of the Sun’ and refers to the carved rock pillar, often mistakenly called a sundial, which stands at the top of the Intihuatana hill. The Inca astronomers were able to predict the solstices using the angles of this pillar.
The Sun Temple
The most important building for Machu Picchu, the tower known as Torreon, was placed inside of the Temple of the Sun to indicate that that was exactly the position with the highest altitude all over the city. This was therefore, the designated position to place what could be the citadel’s civic center, the Temple of the Sun, where the most important and meaningful events were held. The two windows are aligned to the points where the sun rises in the mornings of the summer and winter solstices, the longest and shortest day of the year.
The Royal Tomb
The Royal Tomb is located exactly below the tower of the Temple of the Sun. The Incas carved the rock that served as the base of the temple and there they constructed a mausoleum that served as a tomb of an important person. (And from here came the name). On the right side, in the external part, one can appreciate a rock carved with three steps (the symbol of the Pachamama). The rock was harmoniously united with the great rock that supports the Temple of the Sun. This is a characteristic of the Inca religious architecture. The internal walls of the grotto in the Royal Tomb are covered by stones that are perfectly joined and in these walls there are four trapezoidal niches, the size of doors.
Temple of the Condor
Temple of the Three Windows
Located to the East side of the Sacred Plaza, it is imposing for the huge blocks of stone that were used, which were finely polished and perfectly fitted one into the other. The building is in a rectangular shape and only possesses three windows, leaving the side open to the plaza, where there are grouped a series of blocks, of which one seems to have served as a column. These 3 windows represent each part of the world: The underground (Uku-Pacha) the heaven (Hanan-Pacha) and the present or the actual time (Kay-Pacha).
House of the Priest
This house is located on the south side of the Plaza, and Bingham named it the “House of the Priest” thinking that from there the Supreme Priest would depart to direct the religious acts that would have had to take place in the plaza. This building is of less architectural quality, with two doors exiting onto the plaza and a series of niches in the interior.
After our 2-hour tour, it was time to say goodbye to Hever.
A close up of one of the storage buildings.
Views from the Guardhouse looking back down over Machu Picchu.
We continued on up from the Guardhouse, heading in the direction of the Inka Bridge. We encountered a group of llamas on the way.
More views along the way.
Along the trail to the Inka Bridge.
A view over at the Inca Bridge. We weren’t allowed to cross the Inca Bridge – quite a drop off!
The Inca Bridge is a part of a mountain trail that heads west from Machu Picchu. The trail is a stone path, part of which is cut into a cliff face. A twenty-foot gap was left in this section of the carved cliff edge, over a 1,900 foot drop, that could be bridged with two tree trunks, otherwise leaving the trail impassable to outsiders.
Hiking back from the Inca Bridge. A pretty narrow section of the trail – they provided a cable to hang onto along the inside wall of the trail.
We hiked back from the Inca Bridge to the main city of Machu Picchu and continued to tour around.
Here is a view looking back up the trail to the Sun Gate. This is the trail we came down the day before on our first arrival at Machu Picchu.
A shot of Huayna Picchu.
A close up of the top of Huayna Picchu. A steep and at times exposed climb leads to the summit. Only 400 people a day are allowed to hike up Huayna Picchu and a separate ticket/permit is required to be purchased in advance to do so. We opted not to do this hike.
Some close-ups of the buildings.
A close up view more of the terraces.
A few more close-ups where you can see the construction of the buildings and all of the stone work.
A few other shots of some flowers and plants, one being the coca. The coca plant is native to South America. Coca is known throughout the world for its psychoactive alkaloid, cocaine. The alkaloid content of coca leaves is low, between 0.25% and 0.77%. Coca is considered particularly effective against altitude sickness. Coca leaves are prepared either to chew or as a tea. We did find the coca tea to help with the altitude in the high elevations of the Andes.
An interesting blooming tree near the entrance of Machu Picchu. It is called Brugmansia. They are large shrubs or small trees. Their large, fragrant flowers give them their common name of angel’s trumpets.
More shots of the area.
After soaking in as much of Machu Picchu as we could, we took the shuttle bus back down into Aguas Calientes to have some lunch and look around a bit before boarding our train back to Cusco.
The Urubamba River flows right through town.
After a wonderful two days of hiking the Inca Trail and exploring the magnificent ruins of Machu Picchu, we boarded our train in late afternoon and headed back to Cusco. We arrived back at our hotel around 8:30pm to prepare for our journey to Puerto Maldonado and the Peruvian jungle the next day.