Machu Picchu Travel Guide

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Machu Picchu Travel Guide

Machu Picchu Local History

Because the Incas hid Machu Picchu so high in the clouds it managed to escaped destruction by the empire-raiding Spaniards. It was never discovered by the Spaniards and it lay dormant for more than 4 centuries. Never mentioned in the Spanish chronicles, it was seemingly lost in the collective memory of the Incas and their descendants.

It was rediscovered in 1911 by the Yale archaeologist and historian Hiram Bingham with the help of a local farmer who knew of its existence. The majestic setting the Incas chose for it remains unchanged. The ruins are nestled in the Andes mountains and are frequently covered in mist. When the early morning sun rises over the peaks and illuminates row by row of granite stones, Machu Picchu leaves visitors as awestruck.

Machu Picchu Attractions

Machu Picchu Parks & Gardens

Hiking the Inca Trail - Hiking the Inca Trail, the ancient royal highway, is, hands down, the most authentic and scenic way to visit Machu Picchu and get a clear grasp of the Incas' overarching architectural concept and supreme regard for nature. As impressive as Machu Picchu itself, the trail traverses a 325-sq.-km (127-sq.-mile) national park designated as the Machu Picchu Historical Sanctuary. The entire zone is replete with extraordinary natural and man-made sights: Inca ruins, exotic vegetation and animals, and dazzling mountain and cloud-forest vistas.

There are two ways to walk to Machu Picchu: either along a fairly arduous 4-day/3-night path with three serious mountain passes, or as part of a more recently opened and more accessible 2-day/1-night trail. You can hire porters to haul your packs or suck it up and do it the hard way. Independent trekking on the Inca Trail without an official guide has been prohibited since 2001.

You must go as part of an organized group arranged by an officially sanctioned tour agency (at last count, 29 agencies, most in Cusco, were allowed to sell Inca Trail packages). A couple or a small number of people can organize their own group if they are willing to pay higher prices for the luxury of not having to join an ad-hoc group.

Machu Picchu Restaurants and Bars

Pachamanca is a classic sierra dish perfected by the Incas. The word is derived from Pachamama, or "Mother Earth," in Quechua. A pachamanca is cooked underground. It consists of several types of meat, along with potatoes, chopped ají (hot pepper), herbs, and cheese, which are baked in a hole in the earth over hot stones. Banana leaves are placed between the layers of food. The act of cooking underground was symbolic for the Incas. They worshipped the earth, and to eat directly from it was a way of honoring Pachamama and giving thanks for her fertility. Peruvians still love to cook pachamancas in the countryside.

Quinua, which comes from the word that means "moon" in Quechua (another central element in the Inca cosmology), was the favored grain of the Incas. The grain, which expands four times its original volume when cooked and contains a greater quantity of protein than any other grain, remains central to the Andean diet. Most often seen in sopa a la criolla, it is often substituted for rice and incorporated into soups, salads, and puddings.

Machu Picchu Restaurants

Indio Feliz - Lloque Yupanqui 4-12, Down an alley to the left off Av Pachacutec, Aguas Calientes, Tel (084) 211-090. This attractive and friendly two-level place has lots of plants and is usually jam-packed with gringos. Even though its fixed-price menu is a great value, the restaurant qualifies as distinctly upscale in this ramshackle town. Nearly everyone opts for the three-course menu because ordering a la carte will get you basically the same thing at higher prices. Starters include quiche Lorraine and sopa a la criolla (Peruvian milk-based soup) and the standout among main courses is the lemon or garlic trout. You can also try the ginger chicken. Hours Daily noon to midnight. Main courses $6.50 - $9; fixed-price menu $11.

Chez Maggy - Av. Pachacutec 156, Aguas Calientes, Tel (084) 211-006. This restaurant is situated on the right side of restaurant row, as you walk toward the hot springs. It is a the perfect place to enjoy a relaxed meal of wood-fired pizzas, pisco sours, and cold beers. You can also get a whole range of Peruvian comida típica and Mexican dishes. Hours Daily 10am to 10pm. Main courses $4 - $10.

Toto's House - Av. Imperio de los Incas s/n, Aguas Calientes, Tel (084) 211-020. This large restaurant, is one of the nicest in town. It features an open area overlooking the river with refreshing mountain views. The dining room is dominated by a barbecue pit and most days features live Andean music. The menu is extensive and varied, ranging from a mixed grill and trout to the standby of all restaurants in town, pizza. The lunch buffet ($11) is a good value for money and is popular with visitors waiting for the train back to Cusco. Hours Daily noon to midnight. Main courses $6 - $11.

Machu Picchu Bars & Clubs

In Machu Picchu most folks take to the bars for a few beers in the evening. A good spot for music and drinks is Blues Bar Café, Av Pachacutec s/n, Tel (084) 211-125. In the late afternoon, it's a fine place to hang out and gaze at Putucusi, the mountain across from Machu Picchu.

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