If you think Machu Picchu is called the Lost City of the Inca’s because Western Explorers kept losing track of who discovered it…
you are in great company.
Hiram Bingham III was the first to start looting it officially, but German Engineer Augusto Berns had already built a sawmill opposite the ruins 40 years before Bingham dragged himself half-heartedly on his voyage of discovery. And the Baptist missionary Thomas Payne claims to have told Bingham about the ruins.
It is a little bizarre to read about everyone, including the Peruvian government, now engaging in disputes and full-scale rows about pinpointing the Western claims of discovery when the kingdom of the Incas had so clearly been destroyed by the West following the arrival of Spanish invaders led by Francisco Pizarro in 1532.
Machu Picchu is built along two fault lines and whenever Peru suffers a seismic event the stones dance and bounce before settling back into place. Unfortunately, the same could not be said for the Inca’s and the complications the strangers who came to Peru brought. Not only could the Incas not hope to match their firepower they were also devastated by their diseases.
One can only wonder what the inhabitants, from possibly the largest early 16th Century empire in the world, would think if they could witness their sacred temple today. Would they approve of the thousands of history buffs, new wave healers, curious tourists and pilgrims that descend on it every year?
For the sophisticated traveler, Machu Picchu is a rare treat. The raw physical beauty of the setting is breathtaking and its history utterly tantalizing. An energy is present in the mountains and around the temple that is difficult to ascribe to altitude sickness. One moment you think you can happily ignore it and the next you notice the porters hiding shiny metal mirrors underneath them as they sleep along the train in tents. They say they do it to ward off the ancient spirits within the earth and suddenly you are unsure again.
Machu Picchu means Old Mountain and it looks down on the citadel and across at the Young Mountain or Huayna Picchu (also spelled Wayna Picchu to correspond with the pronunciation) on the other side of the temple.
Together, the two peaks are very like sentinels and they naturally form incredible viewpoints and camera angles looking down on the Incan wonder.
It is popular to climb Huayna Picchu when you visit the temple ruins and many people are not aware of the fact that Machu Picchu also offers an interesting climb.
Should you choose the Old Mountain or the Young One?
Your hiking permits have to be purchased together with your Machu Picchu Citadel entrance (the tickets go together and you cannot buy an entrance and then your hiking permit at a later date… you will have to rebook the entrance as well) The booking fee for both mountains are the same at the time that this post is written and you must try to book as far ahead as possible (six months in advance is advisable).
Completing one of these hikes is a great idea if you are not hiking the Inca Trail. Less than 2 days in Machu Picchu? It might be a better idea to spend all your time in Citadel instead.
Tips for hiking Huayna Picchu:
Adhere to strict climbing rules even though you are not doing a technical climb. Ensure you have nothing loose dangling and swinging from your shoulders, waist or neck that can get tangled or snagged and cause you to lose your balance.
Keep your hands free and if you are hiking with a trekking pole you will have to prepare for extremely steep sections where you will have to stash the pole safely out of the way.
A description of the hike
Beginning with a short descent through small trees and cloud forest plants it opens up onto steep stone steps descending into a little saddle. The trail starts moving upwards with occasional steps and as you near the summit the steps become very narrow and steep. Here ropes are installed on granite walls to enable you to pull yourself up. Right before the summit, you ascend via steep stone ladders which will require your hands. The summit isn’t flat, and you have to negotiate granite boulders along the top one-way loop. There is a short walk through a cave which brings you back to the original path for the descent back to the checkpoint.
Tips for hiking Machu Picchu Mountain:
A trekking pole is highly advised as the risk of falling is quite high. Carry some food and additional water but keep your extra load as light as possible. If you can avoid it don’t carry a backpack.
A description of the hike
The trail is a steep climb up the mountain on rustic stone paths and 90% of the trail is made up of uneven steep stone steps. There are no sections with ropes or chains but there is no break in the ascent which is over 2000 ft. You will start seeing views of Machu Picchu about 15 minutes into the hike. The summit is flat with a 360o view of the citadel and Huayna Picchu and the surrounding jungle. The top of Machu Picchu can be very windy.
If this blog post has given you wanderlust you might be inspired to take the five to eight-day Salkantay Trail to Machu Picchu before you choose between the old and the new mountains guarding the citadel!