The ancient Incan citadel of Machu Picchu is one of the most well-preserved sites that come down to us from the indigenous peoples of the New World. Declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1983, the breathtaking combination of Classical Incan architecture with stunning mountain views draws over a million tourists every year and should definitely be a part of your itinerary the next time you visit Peru and the Sacred Valley! Here are some of the highlights of the site.
As the name implies, the Guardhouse housed Incan soldiers tasked with guarding the entrance to Machu Picchu, which was originally designed as an estate for the Incan emperor. One imagines that an Incan soldier assigned to this post might have been a little bored – after all, the reason why Machu Picchu is so remarkably well-preserved is that the Spanish conquistadors never discovered its existence, even after the Incans abandoned the site around the year 1572. While the Guardhouse may not be the architectural highlight of your tour of the citadel, the amazing panoramic views of the mountains from within should make this spot a must-visit!
With a name translating to “hitching post of the sun”, archeologists still aren’t completely sure what use this carved stone had for the Incans. However, most speculate that it was used for astronomical purposes. The stone’s four corners point to the four cardinal directions, and if you happen to be viewing the stone at noon, the shadows will disappear briefly!
The Royal Tomb
The Royal Tomb was a building fashioned like a cave where it is thought that sacrificial rituals and burials were performed. Over 100 skeletons have been excavated from the site. Next to the tombs is a series of ceremonial baths which were operated in conjunction with a surprisingly intricate aqueduct system.
The mountain behind the Machu Picchu complex is known as Huayna Picchu, and the summit affords the best views of the citadel. While it only takes roughly an hour to ascend to the top, you do need to make sure to book a hiking spot in advance as entrances to the trail are limited to just 400 tickets per day at two different entrance times – 7-8 AM and 10-11 AM.
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