The Machupicchu archaeological complex is located in the
department of Cusco, in the Urubamba province and
district of Machupicchu. It is perched on the eastern
slopes of the Vilcanota mountain range, a chain of
mountains curtailed by the Apurimac and Urubamba Rivers.
At latitude 13º7' South and longitude 72035' West of the
Greenwich Meridian, Machupicchu is located at a height
of 2,350 meters above sea level (main square).
CLIMATE AND ENVIRONMENT
It is located in a subtropical zone, or dense wood, the
reason why the climate is mild, warm and damp, with an
average year-round temperature of 130C during the day.
One can perceive two distinct seasons during the year:
the rainy season from November to March, which is a time
of heavy rains. Visitors are advised to dress
accordingly during this season. The dry season from
April to October brings on higher temperatures.
FLORA AND FAUNA
Both are abundant and varied. Typical plant life in the
historic reserve of Machupicchu includes pisonayes,
q'eofias, alisos, puya palm trees, ferns and more than
90 species of orchids.
The fauna in the reserve includes the spectacled bear,
cock-of-the-rocks or "tunqui", tankas, wildcats and an
impressive variety of butterflies and insects unique in
The lie of the land, the natural surroundings and the
strategic location of Machupicchu lend this monument a
fusion of beauty, harmony and balance between the work
of the ancient Peruvians and the whims of nature.
One cannot pinpoint the first to populate these lands,
as it was a time of occupation rather than foundations.
Machupicchu was visited by explorers well before Hiram
Bingham, although with little success. These included
Antonio Raymondi, the Count of Sartiges and Charles
Wiener. Other visits included one in July 1909 by the
Santander brothers, whose inscription can be found
carved into the base of the Temple of the Sun. At the
same time, Peruvian explorers Enrique Palma, Augustin
Lizárraga and Gavino Sánchez arrived at the citadel by
the route of San Miguel.
The railway line runs parallel to the river in winding
loops that follow the riverbed. From here one can seethe
typical vegetation of the upper jungle, which climbs up
to the top of the steep mountain range that forms the
Urubamba Canyon. The train passes through the Chilca
train station from where one can see the snowcapped peak
called "Veronica". With a height of 5,750 meters above
sea level, it is the highest peak in the Urubamba range.
The train stops at Kilometer 88, where the Inca Trail
The train then continues on its way, passing through the
station of Pampacahua and the town of Aguas Calientes,
located at Kilometer 110. When the train line comes up
against a wall of imposing granite mountains, it then
plunges into two tunnels before arriving at the station
of Puente Ruinas. From here, minibuses take the
travelers up 8 kilometers of roads up to the Tourist
Hotel. The entry control to the Inca citadel is done
near the hotel.
The guided tour of Machupicchu starts on a path that
leads from the bus terminal. The path, built on purpose
for tourism, enters the citadel in the section that
houses a cluster of rooms near the outer wall. The path
continues through a terrace to gain access to the
agricultural zone before arriving at the urban area.
Jump to : Machupicchu & Cusco Guided tours showroom
The citadel is divided into two sectors: the
agricultural (terracing) and the urban, where there are
main squares, temples, palaces, storehouses, workshops,
stairways, cables and water fountains which run through
both sectors, which measure 20 and 10 hectares
It is clear that the architectural design was based on
Cusco, the capital of the Inca empire. Machupicchu was
built according to its natural surroundings, with its
constructions following the natural curves and dips and
rises in the land.
The archaeological excavation that took place after
Bingham discovered the ruins showed the land was
previously given granite foundations with little
The agricultural and urban sectors are split by a dry
ditch, the result of a geographic fault line.
The following chapters describe the most important
constructions in each sector.
THE AGRICULTURAL SECTOR
The sector is surrounded by a series of terraces of
different types and sizes which had two main functions:
to grow crops and halt the erosion caused by the rains.
The most eye-catching terraces lie at the entrance to
the citadel. They begin at the cluster of rooms located
at the entrance and climb up to the top of the mountain
until they stop at a large rectangular room.It is clear
that the upper terraces at the entrance were meant for
agricultural purposes as they have raised steps and are
much wider. The lower terraces, meanwhile, have
different shapes because they were built as foundations.
There are no canals as they were not necessary, as the
constant rains and ever-present humidity allowed the
plants to grow without irrigation. The only water
channel that flows through the urban sector crosses
through the central terrace.
In the agricultural sector there are five rooms that
look like Chincheros and Ollantaytambo storerooms.
THE CONTROL GATE
This is made up of a three-walled room with a view with
several windows, which can be found in front of the main
gateway. There is a go panorama from here of the
agricultural and urban sectors and the surrounding
landscape. It is a good idea to take photos from this
angle as it gives the visitor a good view of the complex.
THE UPPER CEMETERY AND RITUAL STONES
In every Inca city, the dead were buried on the
outskirts of the town, which is where in this case Cusco
archaeologists found human remains. In the upper part,
they also found sculpted stones that belong to the area,
which indicated the Incas used the stones to make
offerings to their gods. On this same piece of ground
lies a granite boulder sculpted with steps. But the most
striking feature is that it is pierced with a ring, the
purpose of which is unknown. This ritual boulder is very
similar to that of the ñusta-hispana in the Vilcabamba I
ruins. In the upper part one can see a body-shaped spot
as if people had been placed on their backs.
THE URBAN SECTOR
While the agricultural sector is cut short by a dry
ditch, one can see a long stairway that leads to the
This sector houses the most important constructions of
any Inca city, where one can appreciate the talent,
effort and quality of the pre-Hispanic builders, as the
constructions are entirely made of granite, a very hard
rock that is different from that used in Cusco.
The city is U-shaped. In the northern section there is
the great religious sector containing the temples, to
the South there are the houses and workshops on platform
terraces that Bingham called the Military Group. The
main buildings in the Urban Sector are the following:
THE TEMPLE OF THE SUN
This construction is shaped like a semi-circle and built
on solid rock, an existing granite block shaped to blend
with the natural curves, with a diameter of 10.50 meters.
It is composed of highly polished polyhedrons. There are
two trapezoidal windows in this building with protruding
knobs at every comer, and on the north side there is a
carefully-sculpted door with bored holes in the doorjamb,
very similar to the Qoricancha temple in Cusco. The
Spanish historians relate there were once gold and
precious jewels encrusted in the door. To the West of
the temple there is a rectangular patio with nine
ceremonial doorways alternating with prism-shaped studs.
This stone is located on a hill made up of several
terraces. The visitor can gain access to the stone via
78 well-crafted steps. At the end of the staircase one
enters an open patio with walls equally well-sculpted,
and where one can see an upper platform where there is a
granite rock sculpted into three steps. In the central
part one can see a rectangular prism that is 36cm high
and which is pointing from North-West to South-East.
Its four corners are directed to the four cardinal
points. The Intiwatana had specific functions: it
measured time (the solstice and the equinox) by using
sunlight and shadow, and also served as an altar. In
Quechua, "Inti" means "sun" and "Wata" means "year",
thereby giving us the meaning of a solar year
THE GROUP OF THE SACRED ROCK
The sacred rock, located in a four-sided spot flanked by
two three-sided rooms, features a monolithic rock
sculpture which is 3cm high and 7m wide at its base. The
pedestal, which is approximately 30cm high, resembles a
feline. From another angle, It looks like the profile of
a mountain near Machupicchu. It is possible that this
cluster of constructions, together with two "Wayranas",
or three-sided rooms, were used for rituals.
THE TEMPLE OF THREE WINDOWS
It is located West of the main square, has a large
rectangular floor. Its name comes from the fact its main
face has three windows and two blind bays. Together with
the main temple, this is the most impressive
architecture in all of Machupicchu. The enormous
polyhedrons have been carved and joined with millimetric
In front of the Wayrana-style construction, on the large
doorjamb next to the central column that holds up the
roof, there is a sculpted lithograph with carefully
polished molds and flat parts.
The temple is located North of the Sacred Square, very
near the Temple of Three Windows. It is built of three
walls and is 11m long and 8m wide.
Doors are a common sight in Machupicchu and especially
in this sector. They vary in texture, size and
architectural style that set them apart from each other,
although all have the same trapezoid shape. Some only
have one doorjamb and lintel, and some have two. Some
doors are simple and others have different security
mechanisms such as stone rings, central trunks and other
mechanisms which served to tie together beams to make
the doors more secure.
To the South of the complex, between the Temple of the
Sun and the Royal Palace, the area houses a series of
water fountains, the only sources of the vital element
for the residents of Machupicchu. The first three water
fountains or "PaqchaS7 in Quechua, have been extremely
well sculpted. The architectural structures in this area
are basically sculpted rock to which are added other
decorations such as the spillway and the side walls.
This beautiful finish is due to the harmony existing
between the Temple of the Sun and the Royal Palace.
These fountains were fed by underground water and
carried via a canal to be used for irrigation of crops.
The enormous leaning block of stone that holds up the
Temple of the Sun has a large crack in its bottom part,
which has been exceptionally skillfully decorated and
furnished to be later used as a tomb.
It was also a site of worship and offerings to the
mummified bodies of the main authorities. In the doorway
it shows a carving portraying the symbol of the goddess
Mother Earth. In its interior there are niches,
monolithic pillars and other accessories used for
religious means and to attend the mummies.
There are four main squares at different levels, but
share the characteristic of being rectangular in the
classic Inca style, interconnected by sunken stairways
in the parameters of the terraces. The main square is
the largest, which just like the main squares in all
Inca cities, had religious and social functions.
The fourth open area is a square flanked by terraces
with their respective access ways, similar to the 1,000
B.C. Chavin culture.
On July 14, 1911, Hiram Bingham arrived together with a
team of Yale University specialists in topography,
biographies, geology, engineering and osteology, led by
local inhabitant Melchor Arteaga. They asked him about
the city, and he told them it was located on top of an
old peak ("Machupicchu" in Quechua).
Later, in 1914 Hiram Bingham returned to Machupicchu
with economic and logistic backing from Yale University
and the U.S. Geographic Society with the specialists
mentioned above, whose report was published and made
available around the world with the title "The Lost City
of the Incas".
In the original map, Bingham carved Machupicchu into
sectors according to the four cardinal points. Some
names have remained the same, but 76 years after the
discovery of Machupicchu, scientific studies carried out
by archaeologists from the archaeological foundation of
the National Cultural Institute as well as delegations
of foreign scientists, have provided valuable
conclusions about the use and functions of the buildings.
These were based on archaeological excavations and the
architectonic relations between the buildings with
similar construction across the vast Inca empire.
The periods of occupation have been broken down into the
following, based on historical accounts, construction
style and ceramics:
1. Initial (up to 1,300 A.D.)
2. Classic (up to 1,400 A.D.)
3. Imperial (up to 1533 A.D.)
4. Contact or Transition (1533 to 1572)
DESCRIPTION OF THE ROUTE TO MACHUPICCHU
There are 112krn of railway line between the city of
Cusco and the station of Puente Ruinas or Machupicchu.
The trip starts in the station of San Pedro in Cusco,
zig-zagging up the Picchu mountain until it reaches the
highest point, a spot called "El Arco" (the arch), in
the northwest part of the city.
- The route then descends to the villages of Poroy,
Cachimayo and lzcuchaca until it reaches the Anta plains,
an extensive cattle area. It climbs down the gully of
Pomatales before descending to the Sacred Valley of the
Incas, arriving at the station of Pachar. The route then
crosses the Urubamba River to the right bank and arrives
at the station of Ollantaytambo. For those who arrived
here by the asphalt road of the Sacred Valley, one can
board the train to continue to Machupicchu.
At a distance of 800m East of the town of Aguas
Calientes, there are underground hot sulfur springs
which bubble up from the rocky ground at varying
The especially-built pools at this resort are the basis
of its use as hot mineral baths. The average temperature
of the water runs from 38ºc to 46ºc. There are also
changing rooms, bathrooms and a small snack bar.
Tourist Train, It only operates in the high season,
leaving Cusco in the morning, stopping at the most
important stations (Ollantaytambo, Km.88 or
Ooriwayrachina) until it arrives at the station of
Puente Ruinas. The trip takes four hours and returns in
Autovagon, This tourist service leaves Cusco in the
morning and takes three hours. The trip from The Sacred
Valley of the Incas (Urubamba to Ollantaytambo) takes
1,1/2 hours. It returns in the evening.
It is recommended to check all timetables in train
stations and travel agencies, as they are modified
according to the season.