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Edition 2015


Built as a “royal estate” for the Inca emperor Pachacuti, Machu Picchu is an astounding and perennially mysterious climax to one of the world's most famous journeys: the Inca Trail. Perched high above a sinuous bend in the Urubamba River, Machu Picchu has lured explorers, poets and pilgrims to its mist-wreathed ridgetop ever since its discovery by the American explorer Hiram Bingham in July, 1911.

No one lived here before the Incas. Those mighty empire builders from Cusco discovered this extraordinary place, finding it rich in natural features sacred to their religion. Both inspired and humbled by its dramatic natural beauty, their answer was to create on a vast scale one of the planet's most sensitive and harmonious works of art. The aesthetic genius of its layout and architecture coupled with the durability of its brilliant planning and engineering have given us today this finest of jewels among the UNESCO world heritage sites.

Scholars still argue about the meaning of Machu Picchu: why it was built and what purpose it served, who lived there and when they departed. Most agree that its main intent was spiritual and ceremonial. But clearly its creator, Pachacuti, intended the journey to his sacred city to be a powerful experience in its own right, a pilgrimage whose effort is stunningly rewarded time and again as one follows its winding way among peaks, forests, deep gorges and fairytale ruins. Perhaps if one is to experience the spirit that inspired the builders of Machu Picchu, one truly must walk the length of Pachacuti's white granite highway -- today's Inca Trail. if you need more information >>>>

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The Inca Road to
Machu Picchu

An Ancient Power
By Ted Rose

 Perched precariously on the saddle of a dramatic Andean ridge in Peru, I gaze out at the sea of mountainous peaks. It's a perfect time: the afternoon clouds are rolling back, revealing an extraordinary panorama. Laid out below me are ancient pieces of rock, cracked and weathered, set in an organized jumble. The terraced land looks like stratified rock. An imposing granite tower lords over it all. And below, 3,000 feet straight down, the Urubamba River curls around the rock, its Class V rapids pounding so hard I can hear them from above.  

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Above the ruins: Get an
eagle's-eye view from the Inca Trail

Welcome to Machu Picchu, the ancient Incan ruins that make up South America's best-known archaeological site. While the pyramids of Giza lie on a flat desert floor and Angkor Wat is spread out on a jungle carpet, Machu Picchu is blanketed by thick Andean jungle and surrounded by peaks. It requires a bit more perspective and a bit more effort to reach. In fact, it's perhaps the rainforest that prevented the Spanish Conquistadors from discovering Machu Picchu and kept it a secret.

How to avoid the crowds? Spend the night there.

Despite efforts to study Machu Picchu, it has a hazy provenance. American Hiram Bingham, who found the ruins in 1911, originally thought little of them. Later, he ginned up an argument that he had discovered Vilacamba, the legendary last stronghold of Incas on the run from the Spanish Conquistadors, but other archeologists squashed that theory. Some believe Machu Picchu was a secret Inca capital; others claim it was a religious retreat. Archaeologists presume the complex was built in the 15th century. While stones testify to the building prowess of the Incas and the crop terraces reflect their agricultural skill, the mighty Inca civilization, which rose and fell within a short 100 years, had its flaws. First and foremost, the Incas never invented writing. For that reason, if no other, Machu Picchu may always remain a mystery.

And that mystery draws hordes of visitors. There are numerous ways to get to Peru's number-one tourist attraction, including efficient and comfortable trips by helicopter or train. I chose a third option: hiking there on a reconstructed stone path called the Inca Trail. When all of the traffic converges at Machu Picchu, the crowds can get overwhelming. The key to avoiding those crowds? Spend the night on the high cliff: In the early morning and late evening, I had the site almost to myself.


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