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The Mysteries of Machu Picchu

Reading : 3 min April 8 2020

Since its discovery in the early 20th century, Machu Picchu has taken off as a world destination, being named year after year as a best travel destination and one of South America’s leading tourist attractions. However, while much has been speculated regarding the ancient citadel’s founding, there is even more than what reaches the eye.

Join us as we uncover the mysteries of Machu Picchu, taking you on a tour across time to try and find some answers to one of the world’s greatest puzzles.

Great enigmas and mysteries of Machu Picchu

The exact purpose of Machu Picchu during the time of Incan reign is under much debate.

Because of its proximity to Cusco, some archeologists presume it was used as a getaway for city nobles. Others argue it has more practical roots, such as for crop testing, trading, or even possibly a prison.

Even so, archeologists have projected that Machu Picchu was only able to hold 750 people, and only 200 skeletons were found. This low population number – paired with religious buildings on site – leads researchers to believe today that its sole purpose was for spiritual and ceremonial traditions.

Along those lines, elongated skulls were found on the grounds of Machu Picchu in cemeteries for the noble. It was believed that Inca royalty elongated their skulls to prove their dominance, which is similar to Mayan culture.  

Nevertheless, the idea of the historian Donato Amado who stated that “Machu Picchu was the place from which the Incas administered their empire” also makes sense.

Machu Picchu nobles

How and who built Machu Picchu?

There are many mysteries of Machu Picchu, including who to credit for the ancient citadel’s construction more than 2,400 meters above sea level in the middle of the imposing Andes and the Amazon Basin. 

As of today, it is believed that the ninth ruler of the Inca, Pachacuti Inca Yupanqui, built Machu Picchu in the mid 15th century after defeating his enemies..  

Another great mystery of Machu Picchu is how it was built without the wheel. Although the Incas are believed to have known about the wheel’s existence, they never used it. Many large granite rocks used in the citadel’s construction had to be moved somehow up the steep Andean mountains to be set in place.

Moreover, the stones fit together so tightly that not even the slightest crack can be seen between them, which is essential for the earthquake-prone zone.

To have done so, one theory suggests the implementation of wet wooden wedges. However, that does not explain how enormous structures made out of single stones or structures made from intricate patterns came about.

Keeping all of these factors in mind, the collaboration of a superior race or more advanced beings that predate the Incas could have occurred, especially since the older masonry at the bottom of structures and walls are heavier and more finely carved.

There are questions to this day that have no answer, and perhaps this is what intrigues thousands of people to visit the citadel to find answers.

Machu Picchu structure

The discovery of Machu Picchu

Claimed to fame as the Lost City of the Incas, a great mystery of Machu Picchu involves the fact that it may have never been forgotten at all.

Back in 1911, the American archaeologist Hiram Bingham set off with a small team of explorers to discover Vilcabamba, the last Inca settlement conquered by the Spanish.

Once reaching the Urubamba Valley, a local farmer shared the location of Machu Picchu – meaning “old mountain” in Quechua – with Bingham and his crew. Upon nearing the grounds, a small group of peasants led them to the entrance of Machu Picchu

However, the Inca citadel had been previously discovered – in 1902 – by a landowner named Melchor Arteaga who lived on the banks of the Vilcanota River.

Also, there is more evidence that Machu Picchu was already known among missionaries and other explorers, who had the chance to visit the citadel in the 19th and 20th centuries before Bingham. 

What is evident is that Bingham’s research efforts officially showcased Machu Picchu as an archaeological site to the world.

Machu Picchu Hiram Bingham


Deaths in Machu Picchu: True or false?

There is no risk associated with visiting Machu Picchu.

The deaths reported in Machu Picchu are generally from those who were not following regulations, such as the most recent death of a German tourist attempting to take a selfie in a restricted zone.

Yet, for those who dare to climb Huayna Picchu, the mountain that appears in the background of many photos, its ascent and last part of the hike up – known as the stairs of death – have a bad reputation.

For the majority of the way up the peak, there are reportedly no handrails and very few safety lines. Also, the stairs are practically vertical and date back to Incan times. With the high humidity characteristic of this part of the country, the way up is also often slippery.

However, with proper precautions taken as well as good stamina, climbing to the top of Huayna Picchu is not impossible. In fact, it is enjoyed by hundreds of trekkers nearly every day.

Are you ready to experience the magic of Machu Picchu yourself? Check out our options to make a reservation. Trains leave from Cusco or Ollantaytambo (in the Sacred Valley) in route to Aguas Calientes, or Machu Picchu Pueblo. From there, you will board a bus that takes you to Machu Picchu.


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