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Without doubt, Peru’s great centerpiece is Machu Picchu. This modern wonder of the world is one of South America’s most notable sites and one of the strongest ‘pulls’ to visit Peru. I have been fortunate enough to visit Machu Picchu too many times to count, but I must admit, when I first stumbled into the ruins – and I do mean stumbled, as I had just finished the 4 day Inca Trail – I had no idea what I was walking into. I knew very little about the ruins, Peru, and the culture behind it all. But that first visit left a lasting impression.
Today, any traveler can ‘discover’ Machu Picchu. But who (re!)discovered it first, and when?
The first modern man to have ‘uncovered’ Machu Picchu is believed to have been Herman Gohring, a German engineer working worth the Peruvian government, whose 1874 visit of the area mentions Machu Picchu. But Gohring doesn’t tend to get official credit and if he ever climbed up to the ruins, he makes no mention of it in his report. The first foreigner to reach them was Hiram Bingham, an American academic who heard of the lost city through a local farmer. That farmer, Arteaga, guided Bingham to the ruins in 1911. Sponsored by the National Geographic Society, the trek involved forwarding the Rio Urubamba and climbing up the muddy, uncleared slopes.
Upon finally reaching Machu Picchu, a young boy who lived on one of the small farms once found there took Bingham through the ruins proper. In them, Bingham found a small graffiti of a name and date, Lizarraga 1902. It belonged to Agustin Lizarrga, who lived nearby and had been the first modern man to set foot in Machu Picchu. But if Hiram Bingham ‘rediscovered’ the ruins for outsiders, the whole world would ‘discover’ them soon enough. National Geographic devoted an entire issue to the ruins in 1913 – the only such issue in the magazine’s history.
While the journey to and around the ruins today is much easier, even luxurious, the spirit of adventure is still part of the trip, as is the mystery that confronted Bingham. A full day guided tour is highly recommended after you disembark from your train or end the Inca Trail. Learn the many theories surrounding the ruins – the Incas left no written records – explore the many nooks and crannies of the ruins, walk to the Sun Gate, Machu Picchu mountain look out or the Inca Bridge. Pre-book a climb up to the peak of Huayna Picchu, the mountain top that is typically seen in the background of every other Machu Picchu photo, yet offers its own unique view of the ruins.
I first walked into Machu Picchu over 30 years ago, ignorant of what it was. Over 50 visits later and over 30 Inca trails walked, to this day the ruins cast a spell on me. Their mystical history and location make every visit feel like the very first. So much so that when I walked the Inca Trail again with my family last year, I had the pleasure and pride of introducing them to this unique and special place.
A politically stable country with a fast-growing economy, modern Peru doesn’t lack for the conveniences, even as it tips its hat to history. Its colonial past is as recognizable as its Inca ruins. Stunning stone churches dot every city, large and small, reflecting the strong Catholic faith. Intricate wood balconies are a feature on the many public squares and the museum, cafe, nightlife, shopping and recreational options match those of any country in the world.
All of this said demonstrates why Machu Picchu is by far Goway’s top destination in South America. Goway’s in house experts for Central and South America are at hand to develop top quality itineraries for your clients to experience Machu Picchu and the marvels of Peru.
Product Manager, Central and South America
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