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100 facts for 100 years of Machu Picchu: Fact 23

May 07, 2011|By Catharine Hamm | Los Angeles Times Travel Editor
  • A man dressed in Incan attire rehearses for the 100th anniversary celebration.
A man dressed in Incan attire rehearses for the 100th anniversary celebration. (Aurelio Alejo / AFP / Getty…)

In July, Machu Picchu, Peru's biggest tourist attraction, will mark its 100th anniversary of rediscovery. Hiram Bingham III, a Yale professor, came upon the vine-covered ruins on July 24, 1911. Here, then, as we lead up to the century mark, are 100-plus facts about Machu Picchu, its country, its history and its players. We will post one each day for the next 100 days.

23. Aguas Calientes, which has grown haphazardly as tourist crowds have grown, offers accommodations, some basic and others more luxurious, and is the starting point for the ascent (by bus, if you wish) to the Incan citadel.

22. The train deposits you at Aguas Calientes, at the foot of Machu Picchu (which you'll see spelled as Machupijchu).

21. In March and April, however, train travelers have been taking a bus from the Wanchaq Station in the Cuzco area, to Ollantaytambo and then taking the train to Aguas Calientes because of maintenance projects with the line.

20.Depending on the level of luxury you desire, your train trip to Machu Picchu could cost as little as $96 from Cuzco (for the Expedition train). It's $142 for the VistaDome and $668 for the Hiram Bingham.

19. You have three choices of train travel to Machu Picchu: the Expedition, or backpacker train (basic), the VistaDome train (which has lots of windows, but if it's warm outside, you may feel as though you are baking in a terrarium) and the Hiram Bingham, a luxury train operated by Orient Express.

18. Most visitors take the narrow-gauge train to Machu Picchu from the Cuzco area (usually departing from the Poroy station).

17. The five days' journey from Cuzco refers to hiking to Machu Picchu, which you can still do today on the Incan Trail, a three- to six-day trip that requires good stamina.

16. Hiram Bingham wrote in Harper's Monthly in 1913: "It seemed almost incredible that this city [Machu Picchu], only five days' journey from Cuzco, should have remained so long undescribed and comparatively unknown."

15.Cuzco, with a population of about 300,000, is the gateway to Machu Picchu, but don't let the word "gateway" confuse you: Machu Picchu is 50 miles beyond Cuzco NEAR the town of Aguas Calientes, far below the Incan ruins.

14. The symptoms of altitude sickness don't generally present until you're at 8,000 feet. Depending on which yardstick you use, Machu Picchu may be less than that (or more). Some say it's at 7,100 feet; others say 9,000. Bottom line: Cut yourself a little slack.

13. To help cope with the altitude, make sure you don't get dehydrated and avoid drinking alcohol.

12. Some hotels provide oxygen for visitors; others offer coca tea, and it's not unusual to find packets of coca leaves for sale. These can be chewed and are said to help relieve altitude issues. And yes, cocaine is produced from the leaves, but the amount of the alkaloid you'd ingest from the tea or chewing the leaves is small.

11. Among the problems AMS can cause (if you're coming from sea-level California, be aware of this): headaches, shortness of breath, fatigue and/or nausea or vomiting. Consult a doctor before you go if you think you may have a problem. Symptoms usually disappear in four days, but in some cases, AMS may be fatal.

10. At 11,150 feet,  Cuzco requires acclimation. Some people develop altitude sickness, also known as acute mountain sickness, or AMS.

9. Cuzco, sometimes spelled Cusco, means "navel" or "center" of the Earth. It certainly was the center of Inca civilization high in the Andes Mountains.

8. Legend has it that Manco Capac, the son of the sun god, and Mama Ocllo, daughter of the moon, established the seat of what would become an empire at Cuzco in the 11th or 12th century.

7. Much of what we know -- or think we know -- about the Inca society is hazy and often mixes fact with myth.

6. Because the Incas had no written language system (or one that we have yet figured out), the spellings of original words vary widely. Inca, for example, may be spelled Inka, Ygna or Inga.

5. The Incas, who created incredible architecture and political systems, had no known written system of language, although some scientists suggest khipu may also have served that function.

4. The Inca used khipu (spelled "quipu" in Spanish), a series of knots that functioned as a sort of counting system.

3. About half the population of Peru is Quechua, a South American Indian group. The group's native tongue is also called Quechua. A dialect of that language was spoken by the Incas.

2. Peru shares borders with five countries: Ecuador, Brazil, Bolivia, Chile and Colombia.

1. At 496,218 square miles, Peru, in western South America, is about the size of three Californias. California, however, has about 8 million more residents than Peru.

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