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100 facts for 100 years of Machu Picchu: Fact 38

May 22, 2011|By Catharine Hamm | Los Angeles Times Travel Editor
  • Clouds often hang over Machu Picchu, Peru's best preserved Incan city.
Clouds often hang over Machu Picchu, Peru's best preserved Incan… (Shirley Salemy Meyer / Associated…)

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.

38. Did the Spaniards know of Machu Picchu? Hiram Bingham didn't think so. "Yet so far as I have been able to discover, there is no reference in the Spanish chronicles to Machu Picchu. It is possible that not even the conquistadors ever saw this wonderful place."

37. Hiram Bingham continued, "Surprise followed surprise until we came to the realization that we were in the midst of as wonderful ruins as any ever found in Peru."

36. And what, really, could be? Here's what Hiram Bingham wrote in Harper's Monthly in 1913 about coming upon Machu Picchu. "... Suddenly we found ourselves in the midst of a jungle-covered maze of small and large walls, the ruins of buildings made of blocks of white granite, most carefully cut and beautifully fitted together without cement."

35. Hiram Bingham found Vilcabamba, but he dismissed it because it wasn't as grand as Machu Picchu.

34. Today, historians think the real Vilcabamba is close to Vitcos, an archaeological site, in the eastern Andes. Another swashbuckling explorer, Gene Savoy, came upon it in 1964 at a place called Espiritu Pampa.

33. Hiram Bingham thought he had found Vilcabamba, the true "Lost City of the Incas," which was said to be where the Incas took refuge from the Spaniards.

32. Columbus, of course, thought he discovered Asia; Hiram Bingham thought he discovered the "Lost City of the Incas." Both were wrong.

31. Here's something Hiram Bingham and Christopher Columbus have in common: Both thought they had discovered some other place.

30. Like many explorers, Hiram Bingham didn't know exactly what he found.

29. Hiram Bingham said in his Harper's Monthly story, published in 1913, that a "local muleteer" may have been in Machu Picchu in 1902, based on scrawls he found on a wall. It seems clear that even if the Spanish didn't know it existed, others certainly did.

28. Hiram Bingham may not have been the first European to find Machu Picchu. Some say it was a German named Augusto Berns who came upon it in 1867.

27. Hiram Bingham didn't really discover Machu Picchu; the residents knew it was there, and a local Quechua-speaking guide, Melchor Arteaga, is said to have led him there.

26. Machu Picchu was, not surprisingly, declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1983.

25. When you enter Machu Picchu, you'll see why it's been designated one of the best-preserved pre-Columbian ruins in the world.

24. You can go to Machu Picchu and return to Cuzco in a day, but you'll have more of it to yourself if you plan to stay a night or two. Day trippers usually leave by 2 p.m.

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.

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