My feelings about Machu Picchu are complicated. On one hand, it’s one of the New 7 Wonders of the World. And I feel very privileged to have had the opportunity to experience the magical ancient city in the middle of nowhere. However, this is also one of the most populated tourist destinations I’ve been to in recent years. It felt less like a unique experience, and more like a race to get to the photo points before everyone else so you could have that quintessential tourist photo without hundreds of people in the background.
That said, Machu Picchu really is an incredible destination. I understand why thousands of people want to go. And while the mountainside construction is enough to blow your mind, the obscure legends are what really caught my attention. Well, the legends, and the hike up Huyana Picchu. Let’s review.
#1: The Spanish supposedly never saw Machu Picchu in its current state
What does that mean, exactly? The reason for Machu Picchu’s abandonment is factually unknown, but one theory is that the Inca destroyed much of the site before they left because they didn’t want the Spanish to have the opportunity to discover and conquer it as they did so many others. This theory also plays into the name “the Lost City of the Inca.” The city was supposedly discovered in the ruins that you see below, then restored to the state that it’s in today.
#2: Llama skin was used to attach the original Inca roofs
I suppose it should be assumed that there was some sort of mechanism used to attach the Inca thatched grass roofs to the stone buildings. My assumption, however, was that it was some sort of woven plant or twine. According to Roger (my guide), the roofs were actually attached using llama skin. Whether this is actually true or not remains a mystery, but it’s definitely something worth imagining.
#3: There is an annual llama sacrifice on June 24
Speaking of llamas, each year on June 24th falls the Festival of the Sun, otherwise known as Inti Raymi. The festival, which marks the first day of the new year on the Inca calendar, is held on winter solstice to honor the Sun God – the main God of the Inca civilization. In ancient Inca times, upwards of 200 llama were sacrificed in order to ensure a year of good crops. Today, that number has dropped significantly to one llama (per celebration), but the sacrifice allegedly still occurs.
#4: Every structure you see has foundations up to 6 feet deep
Supposedly every single one. The terraces, the temples, the living quarters, etc. Can you imagine how much work that would have taken today, let alone in the Inca era? The engineer Kenneth Wright has estimated that 60 percent of the construction done at Machu Picchu was underground. Much of that consists of deep building foundations and crushed rock used as drainage. Apparently they spent less time on their cell phones.
#5: Machu Picchu makes up an entire village
It’s estimated that, in its glory day, about 750 people lived on site at Machu Picchu. Most of these people served as support staff for Pachacutec and his family. The site is roughly divided into an urban sector – complete with an upper and lower town – and an agricultural sector, marked by the 200+ terraces.
The primary archaeological treasures consist of the Intihuatana, the Temple of the Sun and the Room of the Three Windows, all of which were dedicated to Inti, their sun God and greatest deity. That said, let’s not forget about the insanely impressive Temple of the Condor or the spiritual Sacred Rock.
Fact #5: Only 400 people are allowed to climb Huayna Picchu per day
And I was one of them. In fact, I climbed the mountain at 9am that day, and I was number 186. The climb to the top was essentially a moderate stair master excursion ending in an unbeatable view of Machu Picchu from above. If you can get a ticket to climb, I would highly encourage it. And when you do, take your time to look around and appreciate the magnificent terrain that surrounds you.