Machu Picchu: Visiting the ancient Inca Empire
Machu Picchu is truly one of the most awe inspiring places on planet earth. The ancient ruins located in Peru are substantial evidence of just how advanced and powerful the Inca Empire was at the peak of its powers. The ultra advanced urban city is full of palaces and plazas, temples and homes that may have been built as a ceremonial site, a military stronghold, or a retreat for ruling elites and its distinctive location is definitely suited for these purposes. The ancient ruins of Machu Picchu lies on a high ridge and is surrounded on all sides by the windy, volatile Urubamba River located 2,000 feet beneath the ancient city.
Such is the appeal of this mysterious city; scholars are today still attempting to uncover fresh clues to the mysteries hidden here high in the eastern slopes of the Andes Mountains. The reason for the intrigue is that the Machu Picchu sight seems to be located right in the heart of a network of related sites and trail. Another interesting thing about these interlinked ancient sites is that many of them are structured in such a way that they align with significant astronomical events such as the solstice sunset. The ancient Inca had no official written language, and as a result no record remains as to the reasoning behind the construction of Machu Picchu or how they used it before they abandoned it in the 16th century.
One thing that fascinates most of the people who visit the almost other worldly site is the advanced engineering skills that are blatantly evident at Machu Picchu. The buildings, walls, terraces, and ramps of the ancient ruins seemed to blend in seamlessly to the surrounding mountainous terrain. There is clear evidence of advanced agriculture and farming skills and of an extensive water-distribution system that conserved water and limited any erosion on the surrounding slopes.
The extremely advanced achievements and skilled labour of the ancient Inca is far more impressive when you consider their lack of knowledge. When Machu Picchu was initially constructed around 500 years ago the Inca people possessed no iron, no steel, and no wheels. Their gigantic efforts to construct this seemingly impenetrable utopia seem quite strange when the estimated population of the residents at that particular time was less than one thousand people.
Today Machu Picchu is occupied by far more people than that. It is the undoubted must see location for all visitors to Peru and the location alone results in thousands travelling to the country each year. Machu Picchu is an incredible part of Inca history. The ancient ruins are as magical and awe inspiring for visitors to the location today as they would have been for the Inca’s who resided there long ago.
When is the best time to visit?
The ancient site of Machu Picchu is certainly at its busiest during July and August. This is the height of the tourist season and also the not-quite-so-wet season. It is never totally dry in the Andean foothills and during your visit you should expect showers and mist. November to April is the rainy season, with January and February being without doubt the wettest months. November and April are really the ideal time of year to visit Machu Picchu in order to avoid the heaviest crowds and heaviest amounts of rain.
For a real relaxed and more intimate experience of the ancient ruins it is advised to try and avoid Machu Picchu between 11am-3pm. This is the peak time for tourist groups and it can be quite chaotic because high volumes of visitors descend by bus and train to the site during this time. The experience will be far more satisfying if you so go early or late in the day.
Early in the morning visitors will be sharing the site with those arriving on the numerous Inca trails. As dusk begins to fall later in the evening, there will be a more get a laid back crowd there and it will be quite peaceful. For anyone who wishes to take some of the iconic photo’s that can be taken here the natural light is usually the best at these times of the day.
Another important point to remember is that most tourists who visit Machu Picchu are brought in from the main entrance. A useful tip is that you can avoid any unwanted company by heading right up to the Intipunku (Sun Gate), which is located right above the citadel. By doing this you’ll enter the site in the same way as those who have travelled on one of the trails which mean that you will get to witness the stunning panoramic views before getting the history lesson about the site.
Best way to book?
When visiting Machu Picchu it is important to remember that you will not be allowed to walk the Inca Trail without being accompanied by a local guide. The numbers are quite limited for the trail considering the amount of people that visit each day(500 per day, about 300 of whom are porters and guides) and at the actual site itself (2,500 per day). For these reasons it really would make sense to book a package trip in advance of your trip with an Irish tour operator.
Budget Travel and Abbey Travel offer deals to the ancient site that can be found on their websites. Alternatively, you can visit the ruins independent of a tour operator. It will cost you around €37 to enter the site. One thing that should be taken into account when planning your trip is that the Inca Trail closes every February for restoration work.
If you are planning to visit the ruins without a guide and there are regular bus services that run from Aguas Calientes which is the closest town to Machu Picchu. The town also has a railway station. A return ticket for the bus journey will cost around €12 and the journey to the site from here will take around a half an hour.
The ancient ruins of this ancient Inca civilisation are one of those “places to see before you die.” There is something quite serine and surreal about the whole place and it is a must see for anyone who is thinking of venturing to South America at some point. Most Travel Agencies in Ireland offer tour packages to Peru including flight prices or alternatively the Latin American Travel Association’s website, www.lata.org, has a full list of tour operators to the region.