On any tour to Peru or South America, you will want to travel to the Inka citadel of Machu Picchu. Located high in the Andean mountain range the site was hidden from the invaders for many centuries. There are many theories about the site and what is was used for, most of which are not true and myths, the truth is that nobody even today really knows what the site was built or used for and we may never know. So when was Machu Picchu discovered? You may ask there are several theories, it is said that three men names Enrique Palma, Gabino Sanchez and Agustin Lizarraga set foot on the site on 14 July 1901 and left their names carved into a rock at the site.
However, the story we know today is different; Hiram Bingham is the man who showed the site to the world and is regarded the person who discovered Machu Picchu. Born in Hawaii in 1875, his parents were missionaries and he wanted to follow in their footsteps. He entered Yale in 1894 and had a strong interested of South American history. He married an heiress and luckily for the world he used her money for his expeditions.
In 1906, he led an expedition to trace the routes of the Simon Bolivar, through Venezuela and Columbia in the 1820s. In 1909, he explored historic South American routes from Buenos Aires to Lima, going to onto Cusco. Nevertheless, it was in 1911 he led an expedition to Peru in search of the lost city of Vilcabamba, the last known refuge of the Inca Manco Capac who had fought against the Spanish in the 1530s.
With a party of only seven he set out on foot until came across a village and a farmer named Melchor Arteaga. Arteaga told Bingham about the ruins in the nearby mountains, called Machu Picchu, meaning Old Mountain in Quechua.
They climbed for a few hours until they reached a hut with a local farming family, a small boy of the family showed the American the rest of the way to Machu Picchu. He marched into the ruins and said that this was an unexpected sight, confronted with stone terraces, walls of ruined houses of the finest quality of Inca stonework. The ruins were overgrown by trees, bamboo thickets and tangles of vines covered in moss, the scene took his breath away.
He believed that this was the lost city of Vilcabamba, this he believed until the end of his life in 1956. He returned many times to Machu Picchu and took thousands of photos and many objects from Machu Picchu back to the United States for study causing much discussion between the Peruvian and the American governments. After the First World War, he went into politics in the American state of Connecticut. He was not an archaeologist so many of his theories were proven wrong, the real Vilcabamba was discovered by American explorer Gene Savoy, in 1964, with Machu Picchu believed to have been the mountain retreat of the Inca Pachacutec, thought to be abandoned after his death in around 1472.
Bingham removed around five thousand items from the Machu Picchu site, although he claimed that he never found any real treasures of gold or silver, but only came across items of copper, stone and pottery, making their value minimal but the scientific value high. Legend has it that there is another city called Paititi; here the Inka´s hid all their gold from the Spanish.
Hiram Bingham wrote a book called The Lost City of the Incas, which you can still find today in bookstores and online. An interesting story if you are interested in the discovery of Machu Picchu.
Today the Inca site is a mecca for tourists who plan to visit Machu Picchu; people come to Peru from all over the world to experience the Inca legends. There are many ways to travel to Machu Picchu, firstly is the train, there are many different services to choose from, from the budget friendly to the luxury Machu Picchu, Hiram Bingham train with its observation coach, lunch, delicious cocktails. The train leaves from Cusco every day and you will arrive in luxury and style.
Another option to Machu Picchu is the four-day Inca Trail hike, this challenging yet rewarding hike is not for the faint of heart. Day two features a climb up to around 4000 meters. However, rest assured that the reward at the end is worth the suffering. You will pass ruins; walk through cloud forests, camp at sacred sites so the Inca trail is something to remember for a lifetime. July is the best month to hike Machu Picchu, the weather is dry but the nights are cold. This is also the high tourist season so expect the trail to be crowded. You will need to book months in advance to secure your space in July for the Inca Trail.
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