Machu Picchu

sights / Historic

Lonely Planet review

For many travelers to Peru, a visit to the lost Incan city of Machu Picchu is the whole purpose of their trip. With its awe-inspiring location, it is the best-known and most spectacular archaeological site on the continent. Despite being swamped by tourists from June to September, it still retains an air of grandeur and mystery. Alejandro Toledo, the country's first indigenous Andean president, impressively staged his inauguration here in 2001.

Apart from a few indigenous Quechuas, nobody knew of Machu Picchu's existence until American historian Hiram Bingham stumbled upon it in 1911. When Bingham returned in 1912 and 1915, he also discovered some of the ruins on the so-called Inca Trail.

Knowledge of Machu Picchu remains sketchy. Over 50 burial sites and 100 skeletal remains have been discovered during excavations. Some believe it was founded in the waning years of the last Incas in an attempt to preserve Incan culture, while others think it may have already become a forgotten city at the time of the conquest. A more recent theory suggests that the site was a royal retreat abandoned at the time of the Spanish invasion.

What is obvious from the high quality of the stonework and the abundance of ornamental work is that Machu Picchu must once have been an important ceremonial center.