Machu Picchu Luxury Tours

  • The Unmissable Highlight

Take a luxury trip to Machu Picchu, the famous jewel of the Incas, located in the middle of the Peruvian Andes, 80 kilometers (50 miles) northwest of Cusco; discovered in 1911 during a scientific expedition made by Hiram Bingham. It is also considered as the best-known archaeological site in the continent. This is the one thing you cannot possibly miss during your trip to Peru! So why not take a luxury Machu Picchu tour. On a luxury trip to Machu Picchu by train or by a Machu Picchu luxury hiking tour on the Inca trail; you will be surrounded by beautiful scenery and breathtaking views of the Andes Mountains. The train trip ends in Aguas Calientes, which is a small town located 8 km from the Inca site by car or bus. Or is you decide on the Inca trail it usually takes about 3 days and you will arrive directly to the archeological site on foot. Once there, after admiring all the many ruins and walking through the narrow labyrinth of streets, the visitor can look forward to visiting Huayna Picchu from which the view of the Inca citadel is just breathtaking.


All of our sample luxury tailormade Machu Picchu trip itineraries are fully customized for you.

amazing machu picchu view

Cities Visited: Lima City, Cusco City, Sacred Valley, Machu Picchu

Style: Religious, Cultural, Archaeological, Adventure and Experiential

Service: Luxury

cusco cathedral view

Cities Visited: Cusco City, Sacred Valley, Machu Picchu

Style: Religious, Cultural, Archaeological, and Experiential

Service: Luxury

sacred valley luxury tour

Cities Visited: Lima City, Cusco City, Sacred Valley, Machu Picchu, Puno & Lake Titicaca

Style: Religious, Cultural, Archaeological, Adventure and Experiential

Service: Luxury



Machu Picchu is not mentioned in any of the chronicles of the Spanish conquistadors. Apart from a couple of German adventurers in the 1860s, who apparently looted the site with the Peruvian government's permission, nobody apart from local Quechua people knew of Machu Picchu's existence until American historian Hiram Bingham was guided to it by locals in 1911. You can read Bingham's own account of his 'discovery" in the classic book Inca Land: Explorations in the Highlands of Peru, first published in 1922.

Bingham was searching for the lost city of Vilcabamba, the last stronghold of the Incas, and he thought he had found it at Machu Picchu.

Machu Picchu Ruins

This great 15th-century Inca citadel sits at 2430m on a narrow ridgetop above the Río Urubamba. Traditionally considered a political, religious and administrative center, new theories suggest that it was a royal estate designed by Pachacutec, the Inca ruler whose military conquests transformed the empire. Trails linked it to, the Inca capital of Cusco and important sites in the jungle. As invading Spaniards never discovered it, experts still dispute when the site was abandoned and why.

At its peak, Machu Picchu was thought to have some 500 inhabitants. An engineering marvel, its famous Inca walls have polished stone fitted to stone, with no mortar in between. The citadel took thousands of laborers 50 years to build today its cost of construction would exceed a billion US dollars.

Making it habitable required leveling the site, channeling water from high mountain streams through stone canals and building vertical retaining walls that became agricultural terraces for corn, potatoes and coca. The drainage system also helped combat heavy rains (diverting them for irrigation), while east-facing rooftops and farming terraces took advantage of maximum sun exposure.

The site is a magnet to mystics, adventurers and students of history alike. While its function remains hotly debated. the essential grandeur of Machu Picchu is       indisputable.

Inside the Complex

Unless you arrive via the Inca Trail, you'll officially enter the ruins through a ticket gate on the south side of Machu Picchu. About 100m of footpath brings you to the maze-like main entrance of Machu Picchu proper, where the ruins lie stretched out before you, roughly divided into two areas separated by a series of plazas.

Note that the names of individual ruins speculate their use - in reality, much is unknown. To get a visual fix of the whole site and snap the classic postcard photograph, climb the zigzagging staircase un the left immediately after entering the complex, which leads to the Hut of the Caretaker.


The Inca trail ends after its final descent from the notch in the horizon called Intipunku (Sun Gate; heckpoint closes around 3pm). Looking at the hill behind you as you enter the ruins, you can see both the trail and  Intipunku. This  hill,  called Machu Picchu (Old peak), gives the site its name.

Access here from Machu Picchu ruins may be restricted. It takes about an hour to reach Intipunku. If you can spare at least a half-day for the round-trip, it may be possible to continue as far as Wiñay Wayna. Expect to pay S15 or more as an unofficial reduced-charge admission fee to the Inca Trail, and be sure to return before 3pm, which is when the checkpoint typically closes.

Inca Drawbridge

A scenic but level walk from the Hut of the Caretaker of the Funerary Rock takes you right past the top of the terraces and out along a narrow, cliff-clinging trail to the Inca drawbridge. In under a half-hour's walk, the        trail gives you a good look at cloud-forest vegetation and an entirely different view of Machu Picchu. This walk is recommended, though you'll have to be content with photographing the bridge from a distance, as someone crossed the bridge some years ago and tragically fell to their death.

Cerro Machu Picchu        

A 1 ½  to two-hour climb brings you to the  top of Machu Picchu mountain, to be rewarded with the site's most extensive view along the Inca Trail to Wiñay Wayna and Phuyupatamarka, down to the valley floor and the impressive terracing near Km 104 (where the two-day Inca Trail begins) and across the site of Machu Picchu itself.

This walk (S24) is more spectacular than Wayna Picchu, and less crowded, though a ticket is now required, purchased at the time of your entry. Allow yourself plenty of time to enjoy the scenery - and catch your breath!

Wayna Picchu

Wayna Picchu is tire small, steep mountain at the back of the ruins. Wayna Picchu is normally translated as 'Young Peak,' but the word picchu, with the correct glottal pronunciation, refers to the wad in the cheek of a coca-leaf chewer. Access to Wayna Picchu is limited to 400 people per day - the first 200 in line are let in at 7am, and another 200 at 10am. A ticket (S24) which includes a visit to the Moon Temple may only be obtained when you purchase your entrance ticket. These spots sell out a week in advance in low season and a month  in advance in high season, so plan accordingly.

At first glance, it would appear that Wayna Picchu is a difficult climb but, although the ascent is steep, it's not technically difficult. However, it is not recommended if you suffer from vertigo. Hikers must sign in and out at a registration booth located beyond the central plaza between two thatched buildings. The 45  to 90 minute scramble up a steep footpath takes you through a short section of Inca tunnel.

Take care in wet weather as the stops get dangerously slippery. The trail is easy to follow, but involves steep sections, a ladder and an overhanging cave, where you have to bend over to get by. Part way up Wayna Picchu, a raarked path plunges down to your left, continuing down the rear of Wayna Picchu to the small Temple of the Maori From the temple, another cleared path leads up behind the ruin and steeply onward up the back side of Wayna Picchu.

The descent takes about an hour and the ascent back to the main Wayna Picchu trail longer. The spectacular trail drops and climbs steeply as it hugs the sides of Wayna Picchu before plunging into the cloud forest. Suddenly, you reach a cleared area where the small, very well-made ruins are found.

Cerro Machu Picchu is a very good alternative if you miss out.

Dancers & Anoyances

Inside the ruins, do not walk on any the walls this loosens the stonework and prompts a cacophony of whistle blowing from the guards.

Overnighting here is also illegal: guards do a thorough check of the site before it closes. Disposable plastic bottles and food are not allowed in the site, though vigilance is a bit lax, it´s best to eat outside the gate, use camping type drink bottles and pack out all trash, even organic waste. Water is sold at the cafe just outside the entrance, but only in glass bottles.

Use of the only toilet facilities, just below the cafe, will set you back S1.

Tiny bugs like sand flies abound. You won't notice them biting, but you may be itching for a week. Use insect repellent. The weather at Machu Picchu seems to have U only two settings: heavy rain or bright, burning sunlight. Don't forget rain gear and sun block.

Getting There & Around

From Aguas Calientes, frequent buses for Machu Picchu (round-trip S72,25 minutes) depart from a ticket office along the main road from 5:30am to 3:30prn. Buses return from the ruins when I full, with the last departure at 5:45pm.

Otherwise, it's a steep walk (8km, 1 ½ hours) up a tightly winding mountain road. First there’s a fiat 20-minute walk from Aguas Calientes to Puente Ruinas, where the road to the ruins crosses the Río Urubamba, near the museum. A breathtakingly steep but well-marked trail climbs another 2km up to Machu Picchu, taking about an hour to hike (but less coming downl).

Exploring Machu Picchu

The remarkable state of preservation of Machu Picchu, with its superb interlacing masonry, satisfies even the most demanding visitor. This Inca city, comprising an upper and lower section with houses, temples, fountains, plazas, and agricultural terraces, clings to a mountain ridge, linked by scores of stairways and paths, and watered by natural springs. No other civilization has managed to assemble so many colossal stone blocks so seamlessly. Cut with stone or bronze tools, the edges of the stones were rubbed smooth until they merged together perfectly, like a jigsaw. Just how the Incas transported the granite they chiseled from the mountain remains a talking point for scholars today.

Caretaker's Hut

This small open-fronted hut, with its spectacular view over Machu Picchu, was perfectly positioned to allow the care-taker to observe the access points to the city's south. The hut has been restored with a thatched roof, similar to how it would have appeared when the site was inhabited.


The Incas harnessed a natural spring located on a steep slope to the north of Machu Picchu, building a 2,457-ft- (749-m-) long canal to bring the water down to the city. They channeled the water through a series of16 fountains, often referred to as the stairway of fountains. The water collects in fountain before going into a circular drain that delivers it to a channel leading to the next fountain. Each fountain featured a rectangular spout fashioned to produce a stream of water tailor-made to fill an urpu (a tall-necked, globular clay jug with a flared rim and a pointed base).

Boyal Sector

The buildings in the Royal Sector, sometimes called the Group of the King, all feature considerable rock lintels, some weighing as much as three tons. These heavy structures were a feature of imperial Inca architecture. Such character-istic rock lintels, along with the abnormally spacious rooms, the high quality of stonework, and close proximity to the Temple of the Sun, the Sacred Plaza, and the first of the fountains, has led experts to surmise that this is where Pachacutec, the ninth Inca emperor, and other members of the Inca court lodged when  they were in Machu Picchu.

The entrance and exit to the m Royal Palace via a single portal M also signifies a high level of security. Hiram Bingham believed that the room at the m front of the inner patio facing south was the Inca ruler's bedroom. It features 10 trapezoidal niches that would have housed significant ornaments. A room on the other side of the patio, with 12 niches, was thought to be the ruler's workroom.

Fuñerary Rock

The Funerary Rock, with its curious engraved shapes, is located near the Hut, which   provides a great view of the entire area. Researchers believe It may have been used as a sacrificial altar. Llamas, the Incas’ favorite offering, were    probably sacrificed here. Hiram Bingham, however, suggested it was a mortuary slab on which deceased Inca nobles; were laid out in the heat and cold to mummify. Just above the rock lies the upper cemetery of the complex, where Bingham uncovered a significant number of tombs.

Temple of the Three Windows

Located on the eastern side of the Sacred Plaza, the rectangular temple comprises large polished blocks flawlessly positioned together. There are three walls and the open side faces the plaza. On the opposite side, the wall has three trapezoidal Windows, flanked by two niches During the winter solstice, the first rays from the sun would come through these Windows filling the room with light. At other times, there is a sweeping view on to the ruins below and across the valley. A group of stones in the center of the temple testifies to the presence of a column at some point.

Temple of the Condor

The temple earned its name from the two slabs which form the bird's stylized outspread wings and the head defined by the carved rock on the ground, Hiram Bingham tagged this area as the "prisons" during his expedition because of the dank subterranean dungeons and the niches above the building in which he believed prisoners were held and lashed. Modern-day historians, however, believe that the niches were in fact altars on which mummies were placed during the ceremonies that were devoted to the condor, one of the most important Inca deities.

The Temple of the Sun

The temple is regarded by many as having the most sublime stonework in all of Machu Picchu. Built over a large polished rock, the walls of the temple sinuously mimic its natural curve; the entire perimeter wall bends inward. It has compartments for holding offerings or idols. Archaeologists believe it served as an astral observatory, with Inca astronomers gleaning information about their crop cycles from the position of the constellations and the solstices.


Sacred Plaza

The Principal Temple, the I Sacristy, the House of the High I Priest, the Temple of Three Windows, and the Intihuatana make up what Bingham called the Sacred Plaza. The Principal Temple, which faces the House of the High Priest, features the finest architecture. The two side i walls have five expertly finished niches, while the back wall contains a small stone altar and seven niches. The Sacristy, which is connected to the Principal Temple, is famed for the two rocks lining the entrance: one of them is said to contain 32 angles. A stairway behind the building leads up to the Intihuatana.


The Intihuatana stone indicates the precise dates of the solstices and the equinoxes, as well as other important astronomical  periods. The June (winter) solstice was said to be the most important day of the year, when the sun is said to cast its longest shadow from the pillar. At this moment the sun is said to be "hitched” to the rock, hence its name "hitching Dost to the sun this time, "tying the sun'to halt its northward movement. From this day onward the days become longer meaning more hours of light and more time to work the land and produce food. Interestingly, the Intihuatana is not completely vertical but tilts 13 degrees to the north, the city's latitude.

Sacred Rock

The enigmatic carved rock, which mimics the shape of a mountain, is believed to have been used as an altar to worship the Apus, the gods of the Mountain, Water, and Fertility.

Anthropologists believe that the rock mirrorsthe Pumasillo (Puma's Claw) located in the Vilcabamba Range, a peak revered by Andeans today.The Sacred Rock appeals to the gods whose form it recreates. It may also have been used as a sacrificial altar to appease the gods.

Common District

Located above the Temple of the Condor is the Common District, also known as Secular District or Industrial Quarter. It was thought to have housed the workers of the realm because the construction is Inferior to that of the upper section. Bingham speculated that the two circular rocks which protrude from the floor in one of the buildings were mortars used to crush grain, bur as they do not show any wear and are highly polished, this seems unlikely. They may have played a role in a ritual, being filled with offerings of chicha or blood, or in an astrological ceremony as the sun, moon, and some stars are reflected when the mortars are filled with water. Their real purpose invariably compared the great Roman roads of antiquity.

Stunning Ruins

As the trek progresses, the archeological sites become more stunning and com-plex. Puyapatamarka (Cloud-Level Town) is fascinating for its circular walls and the fínely engineered aqueduct sys-tem.which still provides spring water to the ancient ceremonial baths. Below, the trail offers up yet another delight.

Huge steps, a virtual stone stairway almost lkm (0.6 miles) in length, lead down into high jungle vegetation where wild orchids and other exotic flowers bloom. Curiously, this sec-tion of the trail lay undiscovered until 1984. Until then, a modern footpath connected this interrupted section of the Inca highway.

Tenaciously clinging to the side of a steep ravine is the last set of ruins, and the most stunning. Huiñay Huayna presents an unbelievable picture when first seen in the distance. The ability of the Incas to construct something so complex in an area so vertical defies comprehension, yet the series of ritual baths, long stretches of terracing, and intricate stonework prove what would appear to be impossible.

About two hours away lies the jewel in the crown - Machu Picchu. From the high pass of Intipunku, the Sun Gate, you get the first glimpse of the fabled city. This is the culmination of days of walking; the immersion into an ancient culture is complete. Arriving as the Incas did centuries ago, the trekker begins the final descent into Machu Picchu, sharing a path with history.

Discovering The Ruins

When Hiram Bingham and his party discovered Machu Picchu in July 1911, Bingham was actually searching for the ruins of Vilcabamba, the remote stronghold of the last Incas. Today we know that he had almost certainly found Vilcabamba, without realizing it, when he stumbled across the jungle-covered ruins of Espíritu Pampa, some lOOkm (60 miles) west of Machu Picchu, two months before making his spectacular find on the Urubamba gorge. But Bingham saw only a small section of Espíritu Pampa, and dismissed it as insignificant. It was left to Gene Savoy, another American explorer, to investigate Espíritu Pampa when he carne looking for the lost city of the Incas more than 50 years later.

Bingham was a Yale graduate, later a US senator, who became fascinated with Inca archeology in 1909 while in Peru studying Simón de Bolívar independence struggle. He returned with the Yale Peruvian expedition in 1911, and took the narrow mule trail down the Urubamba gorge in July of that year. Melchor Arteaga, a local campesino whom he met by chance while camping on the riverbanks, led him to the jungle-covered ruins.

Machu Picchu - Ancient Peak was what the local people called the mountain above the saddle-ridge where the ruins were located, and its sister mountain was Huayna Picchu,  because he believed he had discovered Manco Capac's gilded city, but he also speculated that the mountain refuge was Tampu Tocco, the mythical birth place of the Ayar brothers, the first of If, the Incas.

Bingham's mistake in thinking that he had found the location of Vilcabamba is understandable. Who would have imagined that there were not one, but two, lost cities in the jungle north of Cusco? But overwhelming evidence against the Machu-Picchu-as-Vilcabamba hypothesis emerged, and Bing-ham was presented with an enigma: if Machu Picchu was not the last refuge of the Incas, then what on earth was it?

Outpost in a Lost Province

Bingham carried out further explorations between 1911 and 1915, discovering a string of other ruins and a major Inca highway (now known as the Inca Trail) to the south of Machu Picchu. Later still, in 1941, the Viking Fund expedition led by Paul Fejos discovered the important ruins of Huiñay Huayna above the Urubamba gorge, about 4.5km (3 miles) due south of Machu Picchu. This proved that Machu Picchu was not merely a lost city, but part of an entire lost region a fact generally ignored by popular histories. The usual account portrays Machu Picchu as a secret refuge known only to a select few, and concealed from the Spaniards. But this would have been impossible; the location of an entire active and populated region could not have been concealed from the Spaniards, who had many allies among the Indian peoples.

And yet the Spaniards did not H know of Machu Picchu's existence. The only possible conclusion is that the Incas and Indians at the time of  the conquest did not know of it either. Somehow the city and its region were abandoned and depopulated before  the conquistadors arrived, and the memory was lost even to the Incas themselves. Perhaps the area was devastated by plague, or overrun by the But why would there be total amnesia about its location? This cannot have been accidental. The Incas had a caste of quipucamayocs - oral history recorders - who kept detailed accounts of the Inca past, but this was official history, and the Incas were notorious for wiping inconvenient details off the record. Perhaps this was Machu Picchu's fate: a province that rebelled and was dealt with so ruthlessly that its existence was erased from official memory.

That is merely one theory that fits the known facts. Here is another: according to new evidence unearthed from Spanish colonial archives, and recently presented by the archeologist J.H. Rowe, there was a "royal estate" (a rather Western concept, but the most intelligible way to put it) of the Inca Pachacutec at a place called "Picchu," north of Cusco. This leads to an interpretation that Machu Picchu was built and populated by the panaca (royal house) of Pachacutec, and that the eventual disappearance of the panaca, a generation or so after the ninth Inca's death, led to the depopulation and abandonment of the whole region.

Signs of a pre-Inca occupation at Machu Picchu, going back 2,000 years, have been discovered, but there was certainly no pre-Inca city of any consequence here. If we accept that Machu Picchu was built for Pachacutec, we can speak of the construction dates of Machu Picchu with reasonable confidence. According to a widely accepted chronology, the Inca expansion began in the year 1438, after Pachacutec had defeated the Chanca invasion from the north. Various chronicles tell us that for strategic reasons (mainly to keep the retreating Chancas out) this mountainous area was the first to be settled in the head-long rush toward empire.

The building style of Machu Picchu is "late imperial Inca," which supports this thesis, and there are no signs of post-conquest occupation. So the whole settlement was built, occupied, and abandoned in the space of less than 100 years. The rest is speculation. And who can resist speculating when faced with something as affecting and impenetrable as the mystery of these silent stones?

Piecing Together The Past

What kind of settlement was Machu Picchu? John Hemming, author of The Conquest of the Incas - probably the best book on the subject - states that the site has only 200 habitation structures, leading him to estimate a permanent population of about 1,000 people. It is interesting that the agricultural output of the area would have greatly exceed the needs of the population, for, beside the large extension of agricultural terracing at Machu Picchu itself, there were also much larger terraced arcas at Inti Pata (just behind Machu Picchu peak to the southwest), and Huiñay Huayna, along the Inca Trail. More than one archeologist has proposed that the principal material function of the Machu Picchu region was to create a reliable supply of coca leaves for the priests and royals of Cusco.

Hiram Bingham called the ruin a "citadel," existing for strategic and defensive purposes. But beside its outer walls and moat, Machu Picchu contains an unusually high proportion and quality of religious architecture. Modern opinion leans more to the view that Machu Picchu was essentially a site of spiritual and ceremonial significance, with important agricultural functions. Its strategic purposes, if any, were secondary. Bingham's fortress idea did not prevent him from speculating that the city was a refuge of Cusco's Virgins of the Sun, an idea inspired by the revelation that more than 75 percent of the skeletal remains found there were female. This exciting piece of news has been on the lips of tour guides ever since. Yet there is one difficulty with this hypothesis: the Yale expedition found only skulls, the other bones having      disintegrated in the humid climate. It is hard to pronounce on the gender of a skull, particularly if, like the expedition's medical authority George Eaton, m you are not very familiar with bones of the racial subgroup it comes from. Dr. Eaton pronounced most of the skulls "gracile," and therefore, he assumed, female. But they could as easily have been young men, or men of small stature. The skulls still exist, and could be studied again by modern experts, but I so far no one has done so.

It is alleged that the terms of Bing ham's permission to excavate at the site of Machu Picchu were unclear. This led to vague accusations of smuggling after he shipped all the relics back to Yale University. In late 2007, following negotiations with the Peruvian government, Yale finally agreed to return the majority of the artifacts to Peru and they are now housed in the Museo de Machu Picchu de la Casa Concha in Cusco. The Manuel Chávez Ballón Museum (Mon-Sat 10am-4.30pm) near the ruins is a short walk from Aguas Calientes, the last stop on the train. It displays 250 objects excavated at Machu Picchu.

New Discoveries

Since 1985 an astonishing number of new discoveries have been made around Machu Picchu. Taken as a whole they support and expand the ceremonial and possibly administrative center of a huge and quite populous region. The alluring myth of Machu Picchu as some kind of Andean Shangri-la perched alone on its remote crag must now be laid to rest.

The most extensive finds have been made across the river to the northeast, on a sloping plateau known as Mandorpampa about 100 meters (330ft) above the railroad. Its outstanding feature is an enormous wall about 3.5 meters high by 2.5 meters wide (11.5 by 8.5ft), and more than a kilometer (0.6 miles) long, which runs straight up the mountainside toward a pointed peak known as Yanantin. It was apparently built to protect the adjacent agricultural terraces from erosion, and may also have served to demarcate two areas with separate functions.

A road running along its top heads off northeast into densely forested mountains toward Amaybamba, or perhaps some other Inca settlement as yet undiscovered. Other finds on the pampa include quarries, circular buildings, a large number of stone mortars, and a big observation platform.

Closer to Machu Picchu itself, the sector on the north slope of Huayna Picchu, which is known as the "Temple of the Moon," has been cleared to reveal a subterranean temple, a fine wall with an imposing gateway, and an observatory directed toward the Yanantin peak.

Farther upriver, two important burial sites known as Killipata and Ch'askapata have been discovered, and the ruins of Choquesuysuy, just upstream from where the hydroelectric power station used to stand, now appear to be much larger than had been previously believed. Of all these sites only the Temple of the Moon has been opened to the public so far.

In the years following Bingham's discovery the ruins were cleared of vegetation, excavations were made and later a railroad was blasted out of the sheer granite cliffs of the imposing canyon.

Visitor began to arrive. Chilean Pablo Neruda carne in 1942, and was inspired to write one of his most famous poems, The Heights of Machu Picchu. In 1948 a sinuous 12km (7-mile) road from the riverbanks to the ruins was inaugurated by Hiram Bingham himself.

A Walking Tour of the Ruins

To understand the ruins best, you can hire one of the certified multilingual guides who offer their services at the entrance to the ruins. Otherwise, use this walking tour as an interpretive aid. Bingham classified the ruins into sectors, naming some of the buildings. Some of his conclusions appear wide of the mark to modern archeologists; others seem too arbitrary, resting on minimal evidence. However, since nobody has come up with a better system than Bingham's and for the sake of clear directions, we will use the following sector names. Enter the ruins through the House of the Terrace Caretakers, which flanks the Agricultural Sector. This great area of terracing was undoubtedly for agriculture purposes, and may have made the city self-sufficient in crops. The terraces end in a Dry Moat, beyond which lies the city itself.

If you continue straight ahead you come to the Fountains, which are actually small waterfalls, in a chain of 16 little "baths," varying in the quality of their construction. These were relating to the worship of water. Bingham speculated that Machu Picchu might have been abandoned because this water supply dried up, or became inadequate to irrigate the terraces. The hotel near the ruins consumes most of this spring water today. The Main Fountain, just above you to the left as you arrive from the terraces, is so called because it has the finest stonework and the most important location.

Here, too, is the Temple of the Sun. This round, tapering tower features the most perfect stonework to be found in Machu Picchu. It contains sacred niches for holding idols or offerings, and the centerpiece is a great rock, part of the actual outcrop on which the temple is built. The base of this rock forms a grotto casually referred to as the Royal Tomb, although no bones were found there.

Recent archeo-astronomical studies have demonstrated how this temple would have served as an astronomical observatory. The rock in the center of the tower has a straight edge cut into it. This is precisely aligned through the adjacent window to the rising point of the sun on the morning of the June solstice. The pegs on the outside of the window may have been used to sup-port a shadow-casting device, which would have made observation simpler.

The temple's entrance doorway has holes drilled about the jamb, less complex than those on a similar door way at the Coricancha in Cusco. The adjacent building has two stories and was obviously, the house of someone important. Bingham named it the Palace of the Princess.

Next to the Sun Temple, just above the main fountain, is a three-walled house, which has been restored and had its roof thatched as an example of how these structures looked in Inca times. It is usually called the Fountain Caretaker's House - but it is unlikely to have been a house at all, since it is open to the elements on one side. The thick stone pegs fixed high up in the wall are thought to have served as hangers for heavy objects.

Students of the more esoteric aspects of the Inca culture have suggested that this complex of adjacent structures forms a temple to the four elements: the Temple of the Sun (Fire), the "Royal Tomb" (Earth), the open-fronted Fountain Caretaker's House (Air), and the Principal Fountain (Water).

The structures directly opposite the Sun Temple, across the staircase, have been classified as the Royal Sector because of the roominess of the buildings, and also for the huge rock lintels (weighing up to 3,050kg/3 tons) that in Inca architecture generally characterized the homes of the mighty.

At the top of the agricultural terraces, standing high above the city is a lone hut, which is a great place for an overall view of the ruins. It backs onto a gently sloping area known m the cemetery, because Bingham discovered numerous bones and mummies at this spot. Just a few meters from the speculated that this had been used as a place of lying-in-state for the dead, or as a kind of mortician's slab, on which bodies were eviscerated and then left to be dried by the sun for mummification.

Mysterious Stone

At the top of the staircase leading up from the fountains you come to a great jumble of rocks that served as a quarry for the Inca masons. There is a fascinating discovery in this sector - a partially split rock that seems to show precisely how the builders cut stone from the quarry. The rock bears a line of wedge-shaped cuts where tools were hammered in to form a crack. The problem with this rock, though, is that it was reportedly cut by 20th-century Peruvian archeologist Manuel Chávez Ballón.

Follow the ridge away from the quarry with your back to the staircase, and you come to one of the most interesting areas of the city. Here is the Temple of the Three Windows 0. Its east wall is built on a single huge rock; the trapezoidal windows are partly cut into it. On the empty side of this three-walled building stands a stone pillar that once supported the roof. On the ground by this pillar is a rock bearing the sacred step-motif common to many other Inca and pre-Inca temples.

Next to this site stands the Principal Temple, another three-walled building with immense foundation rocks and artfully cut masonry. It is named for its size and quality, and also; because it is the only temple with a kind of sub-temple attached to it. This is generally called the Sacristy, because it seems a suitable place for the priests to have prepared themselves before sacred rites. The stone that forms part of the left-hand door jamb has 32 corners in its separate faces.

Ascending the mound beyond this temple leads you to what was probably the most important of all the many shrines at Machu Picchu, the Intihuatana, the so-called "Hitching Post of in the 19th century, but nobody has ever unraveled the mystery of how this stone and others like it were used. Every major Inca center had one. It seems likely that the stones somehow served for making astronomical observations and calculating the passing seasons. There was at least one other "Intihuatana" in the vicinity, located near the site of the old hydroelectric power station in the valley below, to the west. The second stone was probably situated to make a specific astronomical alignment with the main one. The main Intihuatana is a sculpture of surpassing beauty. It is the only one in all Peru to have escaped the diligent attention of the Spanish "extirpators of idolatry and luckily has survived in its original condition.

The group of buildings across the large grassy plaza below forms another, more utilitarian sector of the city. At the north end, farthest from the entrance to the ruins, you find two three-sided buildings opening onto a small plaza, which is backed by a huge rock generally called the Sacred Rock. An intriguing aspect of this plaza is that the outline of the great fiat rock erected at the northeast edge is shaped to form a visual tracing of the mountain skyline behind it. Then, if you step behind the masma (three-sided hut) on the southeast edge and look northwest, you find another rock that echoes in the same way the skyline of the small outcrop named Uña Huayna Picchu. In 2000, an enormous scandal broke out in Peru after a lighting crane being used during the filming of a commercial fell and broke part of the sacred stone. Since then, all visitors must visit the site with an official guide.

Walking back toward the main entrance along the east flank of the ridge, you pass through a large district of cruder constructions that has been labeled the Common District. At the end of this sector you reach a building known as the Mortar Building, with two curious disk-shapes cut into the stone of the floor. Each is about 30 cm (1ft) in diameter, flat, with a low rim carved around the edge. Bingham thought these were mortars for grinding corn, but this is doubtful. True, he did find some pestle stones in the same building, but the normal mortar used by the Quechua people today is much deeper and more rounded within; also it is portable, not fixed in one spot, these "mortars" would not have served well for that function. However, nobody has suggested a more plausible explanation for these enigmatic cavities.

Just across the next staircase you come to a deep hollow, surrounded by walls and niches, which is known as the Temple of the Condor- Bingham called this the Prison Group, because there are vaults below ground, and mar size niches with holes that might have been used for binding wrists. But the concept of "prison" probably did not exist in Inca society; punishment' tended to involve loss of privileges, or physical suffering, or death. Some early Spaniards reported pits full of snakes or pumas into which offenders were dropped to see if they would survive, but that is hardly a prison. The complex was probably a temple. A rock at the bottom of this hollow bears a stylized carving, apparently a condor, with the shape of the head and the ruff at the neck clearly discernible.

There is a small cave known as Intimachay above and to the east of the Condor Temple, which has been identified as a solar observatory for marking the December solstice. The cave is faced with coursed mason y and features a window carved out of a boulder that forms part of the front wall. This window is precisely aligned with the winter solstice sunrise, so that morning light falls on the back wall old the cave for 10 days before and after that date.

Three Walks

If you arrived at Machu Picchu via Aguas Calientes rather than by the Inca Trail, there are three walks that are worth attempting. First, above the ruins to the southeast you can see a pass scooped out of the ridge, with a small ruin at the center. This is Intipunku, the Sun Gate. You can act from the western heights of the ruins at certain times of year. The trail traversing the mountainside from this point was the main Inca highway from Huiñay Huayna and other sites farther south. It is well preserved, and makes for a fairly easy climb, taking about an hour and a half there and back. The view of Machu Picchu from Intipunku is magnificent.
The second walk is to the Inca Drawbridge. A trail winds back from the heights of the ruins, by the cemetery, leading along the west flank of the mountain behind Machu Picchu.
This trail grows narrower until it is cut into the side of a sheer precipice, and you find yourself taking each step with care. Follow it until you come to a spot so steep that the ancients had to build a huge stone buttress to create a ledge for the path to cross. They left a strategic gap in the middle of the buttress, bridged by logs that could be withdrawn. Beyond this point the trail quickly peters out, becoming unstable and extremely dangerous. The path has been fenced off shortly before the bridge, ever since one walker tried to hike beyond it and fell to his death.
To the bridge and back is an exciting one-hour walk demanding a cool head for heights.
Hardy visitors also like to climb Huayna Picchu, the towering granite peak that overlooks Machu Picchu from the north. It is the original Inca path, very steep, and stepped in places.
Approach it with caution, particularly when wet, but don't be put off by the peak's fearsome appearance. You don't have to be a mountaineer, just reasonably active and healthy, to get to the top - and back. Everyone planning to climb Huayna Picchu must buy a ticket together with the Machu Picchu Bentrance.
As you near the top, you pass through ancient terraces so inaccessible and so narrow that their value for agricultural » purposes would have been negligible.
It is thought that they were probably and a half gets the average person to the peak for a stupendous view.
The Temple of the Moon stands inside a cavern halfway down the north face. It was discovered in 1936 and contains some of the finest stone-work of the en tire Machu Picchu complex. The Inca pathway that leads to the temple forks off the main trail to the left about one third of the way up to the peak of Huayna Picchu.

Huiñay Huayna

Physically active people staying over-night at Machu Picchu can also take the Inca Trail to Huiñay Huayna. The round-trip takes about four hours, including some time to look at the ruins, a miniature Machu Picchu. Note that the Inca Trail fee, minus the entrance fee to Machu Picchu, is charged for this hike.

The journey itself is rewarding and well worth the effort since the trail passes through exotic tropical forest. It is also possible to spend the night at the basic hostel at Huiñay Huayna, and return to Machu Picchu the next morning.