Make tracks to Machu Picchu
Hiram Bingham’s grueling slogs through the Andes in search of the Lost City of the Incas needn’t be replicated by those wishing to see Machu Picchu in this day and age.
Bingham, the American university professor who first brought word of Machu Picchu to the outside world a century ago after being directed to it by area Indians while he was searching for Vilcambamba – the refuge the Incas built in the jungle as a retreat from the Spanish – was forced to hike up and down Andean peaks with a group that had to carry its own provisions, camping en route.
But, notes Victor Vargas, a guide with explora Valle Sagrado, a lodge found between Machu Picchu and the former Inca capital of Cusco, notes today’s visitors have a choice of trains – including Belmond’s upscale Hiram Bingham – to take to the community of Aguas Calientes. Tourism-oriented Aguas Calientes is near the base of the mountain the Inca ruins of Machu Picchu sit on. Visitors travel between Aguas Calientes and Machu Picchu through ongoing bus service.
“Now, it’s easy to get to Machu Picchu,” says Vargas, who notes the stark contrast between the easy journeys of most current visitors and the laborious explorations Bingham undertook. (Energetic visitors who aren’t in a hurry can also undertake a guided, four-day Inca Trail trek, following a route the Incas themselves used and seeing periodic Inca ruins and dramatic views of the Andes and the Urubamba Valley.)
Today’s Machu Picchu visitors will see a complex of Inca structures and terraces in a lofty, at times somewhat eerie, cloud-forest setting that is occasionally blanketed by mist.
Tourism authorities, aware that too many visitors might prove damaging to the site, now limit tourists to half-day visits to a site that 10 years ago was named one of the New Seven Ancient Wonders of the World.
“After 2007, everyone in the world wanted to come here,” says local guide Farfan Linder Elisabeth Hakim of Peru tourism board PromPeru in turn labels Machu Picchu “iconic” of Peru, bringing instant recognition around the world. “People may not even know it’s in Peru but they know it’s in South America,” she says.
Meanwhile, the storied Inca Trail has a cachet for hikers from around the world, but Linder says there are other trails in the Machu Picchu area that also provide spectacular treks but simply aren’t as well known as the one that has hikers pass through the Incas’ Sun Gate before arriving at Machu Picchu.