#1000 Machu Piccu, Peru

View from Machu Piccu back toward the small town of Aguas Calientes.
Waking up at an ungodly hour to join the line for the bus in Aguas Calientes, and driving along the sheer canyon of the Rio Urubamba, marveling at how much water and the fast current in it, and seeing the Hiram Bingham Memorial Highway rise up the steep face of the jungle walls is an impressive journey in itself, but to be capped with stepping out of the trees and having the intact, ancient, organized stone walls emerge laid out below you is all of what makes Machu Picchu such an amazing experience. Machu Picchu's ruins are impressive in their own right, but to be placed in such an incredible, inaccessible place is what makes them such a part of every traveler's checklist.

First viewed from afar or visited by foreigners at the end of the 1800s (see wikipedia), but made famous by Hiram Bingham of Yale University (which also holds many of the artifacts from there) it was made accessible by in insanely windy, steep road in the 1950s/60s. Thousands visit each day, so many that the Peruvian government capped it in recent years, requiring (a limited number of) tickets for entry. Whether you choose to walk up from town, or climb either Huaynapicchu (the steep cliff behind the famous photo) or the Machu Picchu Montana (behind you in the famous photo), or just visit the ruins and museum itself, you will have an amazing time. Even the most hardened voyager cannot help but be impressed that such a city was built in such a place, surrounded by such beauty.

The Incas, famous for being one of the most important pre-Columbian civilizations of South America, was actually quite short lived in comparison to many civilizations (only a few hundred years). Their constructions were incredible because of the lack of mortar used and stability that continues through earthquakes, and the sheer size of many of the stones they used.

Machu Picchu is amazing because all buildings are almost exactly as they were when the residents left because the Spanish didn't discover or conquer it. Some stones crumbled, and jungle grew over much of it, but otherwise it gives us a view into how it was. It's also amazing because of it's inaccessibility and defensibility. Only 8 paths led in, one of which was the Inca bridge past a sheer cliff (shown at right). Another is the famous Inca Trail which leads up from the Rio Urubamba several turns back along the river to pass high over the mountains to form complex trade routes. The city included agricultural, residential, religious and municipal areas, and was militarily well-equipped. Amazing!

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