November 19, 2014: A Day in Cuzco, Peru
November 17, 2014: From Quito, Ecuador to Cuzco, Peru
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Page Index
November 18
Machu Picchu

    Getting to Machu Picchu
    Touring Machu Picchu
    Walking Around Aguas Calientes
    Return to Cuzco

November 18, 2014
Machu Picchu


Today will be what we expect to be the second highlight of our trip to South America. We will travel by train from Cuzco to the isolated mountain town (it can only be reached by train) of Aguas Calientes and then take local transportation up to Machu Picchu. We will spend almost the entire day there, with just a bit of time left before our return train to explore the town itself.


Getting to Machu Picchu

Before we head out on today's trip, let's see an overview of the traveling we will be doing.

First, we will have to get from our apartment to the train station out in Poroy, about eight miles from the center of town. The trains used to come directly into Cuzco, but for reasons unknown to me, the tracks into the city were decommissioned some years ago. Perhaps they caused too much traffic disruption- I am not sure. In any event, our housemaid helped us arrange for a taxi to show up about 5:30 in the morning. Our train left for Aguas Calientes about 6:30, and if we missed it out whole day would be ruined.

From the Poroy station, we took a special Peru Rail train that traversed the relatively level farmland on the way to the town of Ollantaytambo, about halfway on our 60-mile trip from Cuzco to Aguas Calientes. From there, it was more scenic as we traveled through the mountains along Rio Vilcanota all the way to Aguas Calientes.

From that mountain town, we'd take a local bus up to Machu Picchu for our day there, and in the evening we would return by train to Poroy where we had arranged for the same taxi driver to meet the train about eight in the evening to take us back to the apartment.

That's the general route, so let's start out by being picked up by our taxi right about 5:30 in the morning.


Getting to the Poroy Station

As I said, the taxi was right on time (if he hadn't been, our maid helped us with a backup- someone she knew, I think). We piled into the small taxi and headed out the road west out of Cuzco for our eight-mile trip to Poroy.

While parts of Cuzco seem modern and well-kept, the areas we drove through on our winding trek up the side of the valley and out into the farmland beyond were not. Houses and shacks were ramshackle and crept up the hillsides. There were little construction projects everywhere; streets and sidewalks and little buildings. The road was narrow and our taxi had to dodge oncoming traffic, so steadying our cameras was hard to do.

Click on the thumbnails below for some of the least fuzzy of our pictures:


At the Peru Rail Station in Poroy

Well, we got to the station in plenty of time (right at six, actually), and the first thing I did was to record the moment with a picture of Greg, Fred and Yoost in front of the station. We weren't the earliest arrivals by any means; when we got there, we found a crowd already waiting inside the station. We verified our tickets at the little office in the station; the nice thing was that we had reserved seats, so there was no anxiousness about being first to board.

Boarding Our Train At Poroy

We took a few pictures of the waiting train outside as we sat in the station; there are thumbnails below for a few of these pictures:

The train has three classes of service- first (which we had), second and "Hiram Bingham" (an outrageously expensive affair with its own private car, waiter service and little sleeping compartments). When we boarded the train (you can see Fred boarding the train in the picture I took), we found our seats easily. We were in a little section of two-by-two facing seats with a table. Yoost snapped a picture of Greg and I while the rest of us photographed each other. There are thumbnails below for some of these pictures taken inside the train:

It wasn't long after we boarded that the train began to pull out of the Poroy station on our way to Aguas Calientes via Ollantaytambo.


The Train Ride to Ollantaytambo

The first part of train ride, from Poroy to Ollantaytambo was through fairly level farmland. We began following a very small stream that wound through the farmland. This stream, in actuality, turned out to be the headwater of the Rio Vilcanota, which we would follow all the way to Aguas Calientes. The river continues past that town and below Machu Picchu to join, eventually, the Amazon River and flow into the Atlantic. This should tell you that we were on the east side of the Continental Divide of South America, but we had to be just on the east side of it for major rivers were just starting out as small creeks.

Another oddity, and something that still plays havoc with my senses, is that our entire trip from Cuzco to Aguas Calientes was down. In fact, even when we ascended from Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu, we were still lower than in Cuzco. The reason this is odd is that Cuzco seems fairly level, compared to the steep mountain valley in which Aguas Calientes is located, and of course the mountain peaks that Machu Picchu is nestled atop.

The trip to Ollantaytambo took about two hours. Even though the entire trip is only about sixty miles, the train only goes about twenty miles an hour at its fastest. Plus, there is much time taken up with the switchback process near Ollantaytambo as the train has to descend two thousand feet in less than five miles. About an hour into the trip we were served breakfast; there are thumbnails below for some pictures of us enjoying it:

One thing was odd about the breakfast service. The little cart they were using seemed awfully familiar. We realized where Peru Rail got them, and we got quite a chuckle, when we read the cautionary metal sign affixed to the side of one of them.

While we were traveling through farmland, there were, of course, hills and mountains on either side of us; this area of Peru is a series of very high mountain valleys (which actually look deceptively low). The terrain reminded me very much of South Korea, with the same kind of mountainous terrain where maximum use is made of the flat areas to grow crops.

Countryside Between Cuzco and Ollantaytambo

The pictures that all of us took are pretty much self-explanatory: fields, farms, little towns, dirt roads and the constant stream flowing through all of it. If you would like to see some representative views of this Peruvian countryside, there are a number of thumbnails below that you can click on:

While our train waited at the Ollantaytambo station I looked up out of one of the ceiling windows in our car at the cliffs that towered above us over the Sacred Valley, and I saw, hanging on the cliff face, three of what seemed to be glass capsules. I had no idea what they might have been, and we had a good deal of discussion about it. They looked like habitations, but we couldn't figure out how people would get in and out of them. It was not until I was creating this page that I made an effort to find out what they were. As it turns out, the three transparent capsules are the Skylodge Adventure Suites, and they are part of a two-day adventure that people can take that involves hiking, rock climbing and ziplining- and which includes a night in one of the pods. Each one can sleep four and, if you are asking the obvious question, each has a little porta-potty for those calls of nature that occur at inopportune moments.


The Journey from Ollantaytambo to Aguas Calientes

From Ollantaytambo, we began the more scenic half of our journey to Aguas Calientes. Although we were still surrounded by mountains, the valley floor along the Rio Vilcanota was still flat enough that farming was possible; and almost every arable square inch was covered in fields.

The Rio Vilcanota West of Ollantaytambo

At this point in our journey, just after leaving Ollantaytambo, the river had gotten quite broad, but it was still flowing rather lazily through the valley.

West of Ollantaytambo, the high mountains were to the right of the train; we could see them constantly through the ceiling windows of our railroad car. Incidentally, if you are curious as to what the inside of the car looked like, you can see it here. (Yoost took that picture, and our seats are on the left at the end of the car.)

South of the Rio Vilcanota

As I said, we are heading west at this point, with the river south of us. Most of the farmland is across the river; there is about a mile of relatively flat land before the mountains rise up. The valley narrowed and widened as we went along; when it narrowed, we could see that terraces had been built up the hillside to provide flat areas for farming. In some of those spots, bridges had been built across the river.

We took a large number of good pictures as we moved along through the valley, and there are thumbnails below for the best of them:

Soon, we could see the end of the valley ahead of the train, and once we got there, the farmland pretty much disappeared and it was all terraces, as the land rose steeply on the other side of the river. The river itself was still relatively slow, but soon it would become much quicker. Farming would pretty much come to an end as we entered the narrow portion of the Rio Vilcanota canyon on the way to Aguas Calientes. Below are thumbnails for some of the pictures we took as we left the wide part of the valley behind:

As we entered the mountain passes, the whole complexion of the landscape changed- and the complexion of the river changed along with it. Mountains now rose steeply on either side of the river. There were still some inhabited areas, but only in a few spots where a wide area had been created by the river and some small amount of terraced farming was undertaken.

Terrace Farming

There are only two ways to Aguas Calientes- our train or hiking the Inca trail, which began some ten miles east of Aguas Calientes. We spotted the trail a couple of other times on our way, as it wound across the mountains on the other side of the river.

The terrace farming was very interesting; the idea is an ancient one, but still used today. (My first exposure to it was in South Korea, where the rice farmers built an amazing number of little walled ponds that crept up the hillsides, making maximum use of the land.) At one point, a field had been created by the construction of a series of low, sturdy walls right along the river. Here are some thumbnails for some more pictures of the intricate terracing:

Soon, this part of the Andes became reminiscent of someplace in Colorado- a wild mountain river flowing between steep green mountains. The railroad curved to follow the river all the way to Aguas Calientes. And the beautiful scenery was just non-stop. I made two movies that you might like to watch, and in one of them you can see our train as it wound its way through the canyon; use the players below to watch:

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I just can't say enough about how beautiful the scenery was. The day had cleared and when the blue sky appeared, everything got even more beautiful.

The Rio Vilcanota in the Andes Mountains

Two of Yoost's pictures from the train turned out quite well, and you can see them here and here. But perhaps I should just let the beauty of the Andes speak for itself. The thumbnails below are for the best of all the pictures we took before reaching Aguas Calientes:

Just before 10AM, we came around a final curve and our excursion train began to slow as it came into the station at Aguas Calientes.

An Aerial View of the Area Around Machu Picchu

Before we depart the train and find our way up to Machu Picchu itself, I want to orient you to the site and the surrounding area. I need to do this because many of the diagrams I will use to plot our walks through the Machu Picchu complex are not typically oriented with North at the top; the Google Maps aerial view at left is, however, oriented that way.

We came up into Aguas Calientes from the south. At that point, the Vilcanota turns west and curves around between two mountains- Huayna Picchu and another mountain that is a favorite of experienced hikers. It continues to flow north, then west then south again around the base of Huayna Picchu and south below the Machu Picchu site. South of the site it turns almost due west and flows into another large valley, eventually turning north again on its way to the Amazon.

If you will keep this general orientation in mind, then you can ignore the different orientation of the Machu Picchu diagrams and the sequence and direction of our pictures. And the occasional references in my narrative to actual directions will make more sense. One rule of thumb: whenever you see one of the iconic pictures we took of Machu Picchu, with the ruins in the foreground and Huayna Picchu towering in the background, you are looking north.


From Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu

When our train started slowing down, we came around a curve to our right and this opened up a view ahead to the town of Aguas Calientes. The train came to a stop in the station (the end of the line) and we got off to go find our way up to Machu Picchu. When we left the train station, we had to navigate a maze of shopping stalls to find the footbridge over a stream named the Alcanota to the main part of town. From the middle of this bridge, we could get a good view looking west down the Alcanota to where it feeds into the Vilcanota- a view that looks towards the Machu Pichu site.

Aguas Calientes

We found the bus kiosk on the street below the bridge. While we were waiting for the bus, I took a picture of the footbridge, and also made a movie that you can use the player below to watch:

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We had to wait about ten minutes for the next bus to leave but that wasn't long. Then we were off to Machu Pichu itself. Our bus followed a dirt road along the north side of the Vilcanota as you can see in the aerial view, and then we crossed the river, passed the entrance sign and then began one of the most nerve-wracking vehicle ascents I have taken in my life.

Perhaps I made a bad choice, sitting by a window, but when the bus was on one of the southeast legs of the switchbacks (you can see that switchbacked road on the aerial view) I was looking straight back down the mountainside to the river. The bus took up most of the road, but even so, we were passed a couple of times by other buses coming down. Every time we got close to the edge, scenes from "The Big Bus" came to mind.

I took lots of pictures, and tried to take a few movies, but there was so much foliage going by that it obscured most of the pictures and ruined the focus on all the movies. But trust me when I tell you that few amusement park rides have much on this bus ride. It wasn't until we disembarked at the entrance station that we were able to get some decent pictures, and there are thumbnails below for some of them. (You can see the bridge we crossed over the Vilcanota in the first of those pictures.)

With our arrival at the entrance station, our actual day visit to Machu Picchu began.


Our Day at Machu Picchu

Machu Picchu is the second of the two "bucket list" visits of our South American trip (the Galapagos Islands being the other). Fred and I have talked about visiting this site for years, and we are glad that we are finally getting our chance.

Machu Picchu

Machu Picchu is a 15th-century Inca site located 8,000 feet above sea level. It is situated on a mountain ridge above the Sacred Valley- a 60-mile valley that stretches from Cuzco to the northwest. Most archaeologists believe that Machu Picchu was built as an estate for the Inca emperor Pachacuti (1438–1472). Often mistakenly referred to as the "Lost City of the Incas", it is the most familiar icon of Inca civilization.

The Incas built the estate around 1450, but abandoned it a century later at the time of the Spanish Conquest. It was unknown to the outside world until 1911, when the American historian Hiram Bingham was led to it by a local guide. Reconstruction of the site began almost immediately thereafter and continues today. Some 70% of the site has been restored (not completely rebuilt, but restored so that visitors can see what the buildings would likely have looked like when the site was in use). Machu Picchu is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and is the most famous and largest tourist attraction in South America, visited by almost a million people a year.

Since the site was not known to the Spanish during the colonial period, it is highly significant as a relatively intact cultural site. Machu Picchu was declared a Peruvian Historical Sanctuary in 1981 and a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983. Machu Picchu was built in the classical Inca style, with polished dry-stone walls.

It is the popularity of Machu Picchu that makes it vulnerable to the threat of overuse. The heavy rains of January, 2010, trapped 4000 locals and tourists at the site and in Aguas Calientes; the tourists had to be airlifted back to Cuzco. In July 2011, the Dirección Regional de Cultura Cusco (DRC) introduced new entrance rules aimed at reducing the impact of tourism on the site. Entrance was limited to 2,500 visitors per day, and entrance to Huayna Picchu (within the citadel) was further restricted to 400 visitors per day, in two allocated time slots at 7am and 10am. (We would have liked to climb Huayna Picchu, but there was no way we could meet either of the entrance times unless we stayed the night before in Aguas Calientes and spent two days at the site.)

We spent all day at the site, walking through almost all of the ruins and photographing and filming as much as we could. Organizing even a fraction of all the pictures we took is a daunting task. I will do so by dividing our visit into segments keyed to a map of the Machu Picchu site. The entire map, with the various segments marked on it, is in the scrollable window below.

Each of the segments will have its own section of narrative, pictures, thumbnails and movies below. Also, for each segment I will repeat a smaller version of the map with the area covered by that section marked on it. I hope that in this way, the hundreds of pictures and movies will make more sense to you.


From the Entrance to the Main Viewpoint (1)

The first segment of our visit will take us through the entry station and then up a walkway that is actually part of the Inca Trail. This will take us to a long walkway out to a spot from which we can experience the iconic view of Machu Picchu. Below left is a small version of the Machu Pichu site diagram, and at the right the map covering this first segment:

The entry was right by the Machu Pichu Lodge, where I suppose some people stay if they want to climb Huayna Picchu early in the morning. We showed our tickets (which we had bought months ago online) and entered the site via a walkway past some plaques and markers (one of them commemorating Hiram Bingham).

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We walked just a few feet along that walkway, which passed beneath a restored rock wall, and suddenly a vista opened up where we could look back down towards the river and Aguas Calientes. In that view, you can see just how far up we have come (although, as I mentioned earlier, Machu Picchu itself, at 8,000 feet, is actually lower than downtown Cuzco. (What makes this so counterintuitive is that here one is surrounded by craggy peaks with their tops in the clouds, whereas the landscape is deceptively flatter around Cuzco.)

At this point, I stopped to make my first movie of the day, which will show you that vista down the mountain as well as our path ahead into Machu Picchu itself. Use the player at left to watch this movie if you wish.

At the end of this walk, we found ourselves at the base of the Inca Trail, the stairs of which led to our left, and an area ahead and below us to our right known as the Houses of the Guardians. We stopped to look at our guide map and reconnoiter. We decided to make a broad circle through the site, by first ascending the stairs to our left to the top of the agricultural section of Machu Picchu. From there, we'd descend into the residential and commercial area, make a circle around it and finally return to our starting point by coming up the stairs we could see to our left that passed these restored houses (the ones with the thatched roofs).

Before we began ascending the stairs Fred and I each took a picture of the rest of the group as our "introduction to Machu Picchu". These pictures are below:

With our general plan in mind, we turned to our left and headed up the stairs to our left. These quickly turned into a series of switchbacked walkways that snaked up the hillside. As we ascended, the restored houses dropped below us and the view out across Machu Picchu got better. Yoost stopped at one point to capture one of these views; you can see that picture here.

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Right when we started up, I made a movie that didn't turn out well, but a ways up the hill I tried again, and this time the movie was better. It will show you what this ascent was like, so use the player at right to watch it.

As we climbed, both Fred and I took a number of pictures. I've eliminated some of the duplications, and chosen some of the best to include here. Use the thumbnails below to have a look at them:

When we got to the top of the stairs and switchbacks, there was a long walkway that headed out west to the overlook. As we knew they would be, the views from here were just incredible, and we all took scads of pictures. Let's whittle it down. First, I took a series of nine pictures, combining them into one large image. It is in the scrollable window below:

I know the image is quite large, but I wanted to show as much detail as I could but still have a picture of pretty much the whole site of Machu Picchu. I encourage you to scroll around and look at the extent of the area; remember that those are all people wandering around various areas.

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In addition to the composite image, I of course wanted to make a movie as well, panning across the site from our vantage point (not the best, as I was later to discover, but hey, pixels are cheap). Sometimes just the ambient noises can add a lot to one's appreciation for what a place is like. You can use the player at left to watch the movie.

Finally, there were all the pictures. Most of them duplicate, in miniature, what you saw in the large scrollable image or in the movie. But there were a few out of all of them that deserve inclusion here, and you can use the clickable thumbnails at left to have a look at them.

Machu Picchu was built around 1450, at the height of the Inca Empire, but it was abandoned just over 100 years later, in 1572, as a belated result of the Spanish Conquest. It is possible that most of its inhabitants died from smallpox introduced by travelers; but there is no record of Spanish having visited the remote city. The types of sacred rocks defaced by the conquistadors in other locations are untouched at Machu Picchu. Over the centuries, the surrounding jungle grew over the site, and few knew of its existence.

Hiram Bingham was an American historian employed as a lecturer at Yale University; he was not a trained archaeologist. In 1909, returning from a conference in Santiago, he traveled through Peru and was invited to explore some Inca ruins, and he developed an interest in them. He returned with a Yale expedition in 1911 to search for the lost city of Vitcos, the last capital of the Incas. His expedition examined ruins throughout the Sacred Valley, but none matched the descriptions available. By the time they camped near present-day Aguas Calientes, they had examined ten different sites.

At their camp, a local farmer told the party of some excellent ruins at the top of Huayna Picchu. On 24 July 1911, the farmer led Bingham and his party across the river and up the mountain. At the top, they came across a couple of men who were farming some of the original Machu Picchu agricultural terraces; the 11-year-old son of one of them led the party along the ridge to the main ruins. These were mostly covered with vegetation, and so Bingham's party did not immediately realize the extent of the site, and spent their time examining just a few buildings. They concluded that the ruins didn't match the description of the city of Vitcos.

The next segment of our walk through Machu Pichu will take us to our highest point and give us access to the Watchman's Hut, Funerary Rock and the cemetery.


The Watchman's Hut and Cemetery Area (2)

From that first overlook, we took a series of stairs and walkways that led mostly up (but down occasionally) to bring us to the Watchman's Hut, Funerary Rock and the Cemetery area- all located on the highest point of the Machu Picchu site. On the way up to the Watchman's Hut, we stopped at a number of ledge overlooks that gave us great views out across the Machu Picchu site.

There is no aerial view or site diagram that can show exactly where the ledge overlooks were, but I suppose that is not really important. We were in the area of the site just below the Watchman's Hut, making our way up towards its level.

A lot of the credit for what we see here today belongs to Bingham. He returned to Machu Picchu in 1912 under the sponsorship of Yale University and National Geographic Society and with the full support of the Peruvian government. The expedition undertook a massive four-month clearing of the site with local labor, which was expedited with the auspices of the Prefect of Cuzco. Excavation started in 1912 with further excavation of the site undertaken in 1914 and 1915.

Here are clickable thumbnails for more of the great pictures we took of the site from our vantage point below the Watchman's Hut:

Bingham’s focus on Machu Picchu was because of the fine Inca stonework and the well preserved nature of the ruins that had not been disturbed since it was abandoned. Although Bingham put forward various hypotheses to explain the existence of Machu Picchu, none of them has stood the test of further examination and study. Bingham’s lasting contribution is in publicizing Machu Picchu to the world and undertaking a rigorous and thorough study of the site.

Bingham wrote a number of books and articles about the discovery of Machu Picchu, the most popular of which today is "Lost City of the Incas", a retrospective account of his 1911 Yale expedition and his discovery of Machu Picchu, written in 1948 near the end of his life.

Huayna Picchu, or Young Peak, is the mountain rising several hundred meters above the Machu Picchu citadel, and you can see it in many of our pictures. It provides a stunning outlook over Machu Picchu and the surrounding area, it has become a very popular hiking destination, so much so that access is now fee-based and limited to 400 daily permits – 200 at 7am and 200 at 10am. It would have been quite an adventure to climb it; good hikers can reach the top in about an hour. It is not an easy climb though, as there are steep steps built right at the edge of the cliff, hand-over-hand cables and railings. There is even a squeeze through a narrow tunnel that limits the size of folks who attempt the climb.

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But we could not work out the timing, as we couldn't reach the site before the 10am cutoff. So we had to content ourselves with pictures of it. Fred took two amazing ones with his incredible zoom, in which you can see many of the trails, stairs and people on the peak. Have a look at those pictures here and here.

While we were going from viewpoint to viewpoint, I thought I would make a movie, since most of the site was spread out below us. You can use the player at right to watch that movie. And below are clickable thumbnails for three more of the best of our pictures taken from the various viewpoints:

Before we reach the Watchman's Hut, there is one more picture I want to include here- a panoramic view of Machu Picchu taken from the terrace just below the hut:

The Watchman's Hut and the cemetery area are at the top of what is called the "Agricultural Sector" of Machu Picchu. It is an area of some 40 terraces constructed up the east side of the site in its southern area. These terraces served two major purposes. First, they provided level, arable land for farming. It may be hard to believe, but these terraces, and others elsewhere in the complex, were capable of providing much more food that would have been necessary for the maximum number of people who ever occupied the site. They also provided grazing area for animals.

The Watchman's Hut

The other purpose served by the terraces was defensive. With these areas of cleared land surrounding the complex, there would be little cover for attackers to use as they came up the side of the mountain. Such attackers would also have to slow down every ten feet or so to negotiate the next wall, and when they did, they would be sitting ducks for defensive fire.

The Casa del Vigilante (Watchman's House) is the most prominent construction in the agricultural sector, and it is strategically located on the highest point in the complex. From here, one could observe the entire Urban Sector as well as almost all of the agricultural sector. Here, for example, is the view from just a few feet outside the hut of the terraces on the west side of the complex.

Of course, the view would be reversed for anyone attempting to scale the terraces; they would have to look up at the defenders. Being at the highest point in the complex, the views out over Machu Picchu and the surrounding mountains were quite beautiful, and you can use the clickable thumbnails below to see some of them:

There is another theory involving the use of the Watchman's Hut. It involves the Funeral Rock that was located nearby, on the flat, open area near the top of the southern mountain in the Machu Picchu complex. (Huayna Picchu is the northern mountain, and the site itself occupies the saddle between them.)

Fred and I with the Funeral Rock Behind Us

The Funeral Rock is quite near to the Watchman's Hut. This area at the top of the complex is mostly level, although the mountain continues to rise up perhaps two hundred feet away. Here the terraces are larger as the slope is much less. The Funeral Rock is a huge stone, with what appear to be steps up to some sort of platform. Human remains were found near it, proving that burials were made in the proximity.

Some stones found nearby contain grooves, which could mean that they were used in sacrifices. Some specialists say that certain carvings in rocks were made for blood drainage or for placing human or animal body in it. Though, there is no concrete evidence that the Incas made human sacrifices in Machu Picchu, we know that animal sacrifices were very frequent and considered requirements by the gods in Inca religion. Bingham himself believed that it may have been used as a mortuary slab where the deceased were laid out in the sun before mummification. In the Upper Cemetery just above this rock, Bingham found a significant number of skeletons.

The views from here were much the same as from the Watchman's Hut, although we were just a bit higher, and could not see down the east terraces. Here are clickable thumbnails for some of these views (and another one of the Funeral Rock):

The area west and south of the Watchman's Hut was given over mostly to terraces. As I mentioned, the Funeral Rock is just fifty feet or so due south of the hut; there are terraces south and east of that, and also terraces running along the mountainside to the southwest of the hut.

An Aerial View of the Area South of the Hut

Since I have just referred to some directions that don't seem to be in sync with the diagrams I've been using, I think this is a good time to repeat what I said earlier in the day: the diagrams and maps you've seen so far do not have the typical orientation of north at the top.

At left is a little portion of the big aerial view you saw when we arrived in Aguas Calientes, much expanded to show just the Watchman's Hut and the area south and west of it. The urban area ruins extend out of the picture to the top. The diagrams you've seen so far are "flipped," in that south is at the top. (Maybe this is some sort of convention south of the equator, I don't know). But since the next group of pictures and movies detail our wanderings around this area, I thought it might be useful to repeat the aerial view.

On this aerial view I have marked the Hut, the Funeral Rock, the terraces southeast and southwest of the Hut and also trailhead for our hike to the Inca Bridge, coming up in the next section.

Now, the four of us walked along the various levels of terrace south and west of the Watchman's Hut. I, particularly, wanted to go as far west along these terraces as I could, so I could see into the valley to the west. The views from these terraces were just incredible, and we took lots of pictures. In a different take on the iconic Machu Picchu view, I segmented it into four pictures, and then put them together into the large picture below:

All four of us walked out beyond the Watchman's Hut, but it became apparent that Greg and Yoost wanted to walk through Machu Picchu at a faster pace than Fred and I, and weren't as concerned with snapping pictures every five seconds.

Before Greg and Yoost got away from us, I used my extender to take a selfie of the four of us. (I did a second one where we were all centered, but the lighting washed it out too much to use here.)

Then Fred and I walked all the way to the end of the terraces that go west from the Watchman's Hut; from there, we got interesting views looking back towards the Watchman's Hut.

Not too many folks came out this far, so they missed the excellent view of the Vilcanota River as it came south on the west side of Machu Picchu.

From the end of the terraces, we also got different views of the Machu Pichu complex, so I took a series of pictures from each of four different locations and stitched each series together into a panoramic view. The views were similar, but two of them stood out as being the best of the bunch. Have a look at them below:


I liked the perspective of the site from my position just behind the young man in the panorama above, and so I also took one still shot from that location; you can see it here.

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I haven't shown you many movies yet; perhaps that's because the stunning views actually show up better in pictures. But I did make one movie worth including from out here; in it I was trying to be a bit funny, but use the player at left to watch it and judge for yourself whether my attempt was successful.

To wrap up our time out here on the terraces, I want to include six more out of some 25 other pictures we took from out here. Each, I think, shows something different, and you can click on the thumbnails below to have a look at them:

I went a bit further out to the end than Fred did, and I happened to notice a couple of young people walk past a little sign and off onto a trail that led further up the mountain. I went to read the sign, and found it pointed the way to the Inca Bridge. I consulted my guide brochure, found out about the hike, and went to see if Fred would want to do it.


The Trail to the Inca Bridge (3)

I went back to ask Fred about hiking to the Inca Bridge, and since Greg and Yoost had gone on ahead down into the urban sector of the ruins, we decided to do the hike. Our hike along the one-mile trail to the Inca Bridge started off with a climb up the mountainside from the far end of the terraces above the Watchman's Hut.

The Inca Bridge

We worked our way through some trees, heading up around to the far side of the mountain at the south end of Machu Picchu. On the way, Fred found an interesting plant that he wanted to get a picture of. Then the path took us by an entry station where we had to sign in. I suppose this is so they can ensure that everyone that goes out on the hike eventually returns.

From that entry station, the path went along the side of the cliff- although the path seemed quite safe- walled on the outside along most of its length. Here is a picture of Fred on the path. The views off to the side were beautiful; we could see the point where the westward course of the Vilcanota turned directly north (as you saw on a map view earlier). The valley through which it flowed had some buildings, and we understood later that there were mining operations there. Use the clickable thumbnails below to see a couple of these views:

Our 30-minute walk along the pleasant path brought us to a clearing an the overlook for the Inca Bridge. When we arrived here, we could see that the path continued right to the end just above the bridge itself.

Some believe that the path of the Inca Bridge was a secret back entrance to Machu Picchu. Like a drawbridge, the bridge itself could even be made impassable across its 20-foot gap in the narrow mountain trail right where it clings to the face of a 1,900-foot cliff.

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When we got to this overlook, I made a movie of the Inca Bridge, and you can use the player at right to watch it. Two long tree trunks could traverse the breach, but when removed, there would be no simple way through. These days, for security reasons, crossing the bridge itself is forbidden, but you can get very close. Below are clickable thumbnails for more pictures we took of the Inca Bridge:

As I said, we could have continued on from the clearing to where the trail narrows to a stone track seemingly carved out of the mountain and perched above a sheer vertical drop; there are metal and rope hand holds along the way. But we thought the views we'd already gotten were sufficient, and wanted to head back to the main part of Machu Picchu.

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Before we left trail's end, I wanted to make another movie, this time of the valley down below us where the Vilcanota flows northward towards the Amazon. You can watch that movie with the player at left.

Then we headed back to the trailhead, taking pictures along the way, and a number of these are good enough to include here. There are clickable thumbnails below for them:

When we got back to the terraces, we headed to the path just below the Watchman's Hut that led down to the urban sector.


Entering the Urban Sector Through the City Gate (4)

From the terraces to the west of the Watchman's Hut, we will slowly descend them, following one of the many walkways that lead eventually to the city gate at the northwest corner of the urban sector.

When visitors arrived at Machu Picchu, they would enter through the city gate (actually one of two or three defensible gates around the complex). This gate is located at the southwest corner of the complex, just below the Watchman's Hut.

When we came back from the Inca Bridge, we went down a few terraces from the top, but still west of the Watchman's hut. From here, there were excellent views out across the complex, such as this one of Fred and Machu Picchu.

You have seen a number of pictures of the over 100 terraces in the complex, and you might wonder how one got from one terrace to another; the answer is that there are rock stairs in the terrace walls. You can see that they are not regular stairs as elsewhere in the complex, but just stones that stick out from the terrace walls. At other places in the complex, there will be a continuous stairway at one end or the other of the terraces. But little steps like these would be a shortcut up or down.

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While we were standing here, Fred made a movie (one of his rare efforts) and it shows all of Machu Picchu and Huayna Picchu in the background; it is well worth using the player at right to watch. Fred took a number of good pictures of the terraces around and above us, and you can use the clickable thumbnails below to have a look at them. He also took what I thought was a good picture of me and Machu Picchu.

We are getting ready, now to descend from the terraces down into the urban sector of Machu Picchu, so these will be the last of the expansive view of the complex.

The area we have been in so far is the Agricultural Sector, and is basically the area at the south end of the complex. Between that sector and the Urban Sector, there is a long continuous wall and stairway running alongside it. The city gate that we will pass through is at the top of these stairs (the west end of the wall). The Urban Sector is divided into three main areas. On the west is a residential area that contains upper-class residences, royal houses and most of the religious sites. To the east is the main square, today a manicured lawn with just a few walkways traversing it and some ceremonial buildings at its north end at the base of Huayna Picchu. On the east side is the part of the Urban Sector where lower-class residences as well as shops and factories and commercial buildings were located.

Click on the thumbnails below to see some pictures I took from our vantage point here of these various features of the Urban Sector:

The City Gate will lead us into the upper-class residential area, and you can see that area (and the City Gate) in the photograph at left (which was actually a composite of six different pictures).

It is hard to overstate how wonderful were the views of this amazing place from high up on these terraces. I suppose that's why almost every picture you usually see of Machu Picchu was taken from here.

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The last thing I did before we started down the hill towards the City Gate was to make my own movie of the Machu Picchu complex. I begin at the west side of the Urban Sector (the high-class and religious sites), pan up to Huayna Picchu at the north end of the complex, go across the central square and finally take a look at the commercial area and the wall separating the Agricultural and Urban Sectors. I hope you will use the player at right to have a look at one of the better movies I took today.

So we finally descended from the Watchman's Hut down the zig-zagging walkways to the City Gate. As we approached it, we took a number of pictures, and there are clickable thumbnails below for three of the best of them:


The Royal District Residences (5)

Before we start through the Royal District, I'd like to say something about our general route through the Urban Sector. We made a wide horseshoe path through the complex, and you can I have marked some of the sites we visited on the picture I took earlier from the Watchman's Hut:

When we passed through the City Gate, we toured through the residential area, wandering back and forth to see the various buildings, but continually working our way to the Sacred Plaza. From there, we climbed the Intihuatana Pyramid and worked our way around past the Ceremonial Center and Sacred Rock. We then came back through the commercial area, stopped at the Condor Temple, and then finished in the area of the Royal Houses and palaces.

So we will begin by touring the west side of the Royal District, between the City Gate and the Sacred Plaza. You can see the area that we will be walking through on the marked picture above, and if you are interested, you will also be able to pick out exactly where many of the pictures were taken or the subject of those pictures. I will try to let you know where we are as we tour the residential area so that you can make these connections.

You can see in the large marked picture above that when we came through the City Gate, we were on a long path with a long wall on the left; this path ran directly towards the Sacred Plaza. In the picture at left, Fred is standing just at the bottom of the white stone ramp you can see just inside the city gate. We will visit the Sacred Plaza in a while; right now, we are going to walk around the residential areas.

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As you can see, a short ways down this path there were three rock wall fragments on our right; these defined four entry points to what appears to be a long, thin balcony that looks down into a large rectangular room- the largest in this area of the site. I stepped through one of these openings to stand on that balcony and make a movie. You can use the player at right to watch it.

I also took two still pictures of the wall on the other side of that room; there are clickable thumbnails below for them:

We walked a little further north along the main pathway until we were just past the north wall of the large room and there we found some stairs down to our right; these led down towards the royal houses that we would visit later on in the day. There was a sign partway down the stairs indicating that restoration work was going on towards the bottom. Fred went down to that sign and took a great picture looking southeast back towards the terraces and the mountains beyond; you can have a look at that picture here.

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I was doing a bit of exploring while Fred went on ahead to the end of the main walkway we were on. Instead of going right ahead into the Sacred Plaza, he turned to his left and climbed some stairs to get up to an area that was the highest part of the residential district. There were more partially restored rooms up here and an area marked as a quarry (which was actually just on the other side of the hill). I saw him up there, and so I went to join him, making a movie as I walked along through the sometimes crowded walkways. You can use the player at left to watch this movie.

The views from this highest point were pretty incredible. They weren't the most expansive views of Machu Picchu (those were available from the level of the Watchman's Hut), but they offered a different perspective.

While he was waiting for me, Fred took the panoramic view that you see at right; it includes most of the rest of the complex we have yet to see (except for the royal houses which are down below the hill to the right in the picture).

Fred took a couple of other pictures from up here on the hill; use the clickable thumbnails below to have a look:

After a few minutes, I joined Fred up here at the top of the hill.

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From this vantage point, most of the complex was visible, and as Fred had already discovered, the views were really great. I made a pretty good movie from up here, and you can use the player at left to watch it.

I also took some good pictures of the complex from here, and there are clickable thumbnails below for them:

We were going to continue on to the Sacred Plaza, but first we wanted to go down a few levels in the residential area to take a look at a row of restored structures one level below the large room we'd stopped in earlier.

In the little inset view (taken from the large view above), I have marked both the top of the hill at left and the row of restored houses we wanted to see at right. The actual royal houses are out of the view to the right, but we will stop to see them later. I think it is interesting, in this little view, that you can actually see, right near the white star at the top of the hill, the rock wall fragment that you looked at in the fourth picture in the row just above. I always find it interesting to relate aerial views, or in this case, part of a view we'd taken from way up by the Watchman's Hut, to pictures we take on ground level.

So we walked to the eastern edge of that top area and then some of the stairs until we came back to the main pathway we'd entered onto through the City Gate. Then we continued down one more level until we came to the level where there was a row of restored house walls.

As I was coming down the stairs to the lower level, I stopped to take a picture of the north end of the row of structures while I could still look out to the mountains beyond. You can see that picture (actually a composite of three pictures) at left. And below are clickable thumbnails for some of the pictures we took in this area of the residential district:

From this point, we returned to the main pathway, and went down some additional stairs and came to the Sacred Plaza.


The Sacred Plaza (6)

We came down from the residential area into the Sacred Plaza; in the picture I took here, you can see the path ahead down from the residential area and the Sacred Plaza ahead of us. This plaza and the pyramidal hill (the Intihuatana Pyramid)north of it were the central religious sites in the Machu Picchu complex. Here is an excellent view of the Sacred Plaza that Fred took from the terraces just to the west of the Watchman's Hut.

As we entered the Sacred Plaza, we passed to the east of the House of the High Priest. You can see in the aerial view that this is the only entry to the plaza from the residential area. From this side of the structure, there were some nice views out east across the grassy main square, and there are a couple of clickable thumbnails below for some of these views:

We continued into the center of the plaza, and from there, Fred got an excellent view of the House of the High Priest with the terraces, the Watchman's Hut and the mountain of Machu Picchu; you can see that view here.

Also from here, there were nice views looking back up to the terraces from which we had come. Over by the west edge of the flat plaza, we could also look down into the valley of the Vilcanota River, at the point where it turns from its southward course and flows to the west.

Now we are going to have a look at the three major sites here in the Sacred Plaza, and you can see them marked on the view we took earlier from up above the residential sector- the House of the High Priest, the Temple of the Three Windows and the Main Temple. As we leave the plaza, we will also pass by the Chamber of the ornaments.

The House of the High Priest

The House of the High Priest is on the south side of the Sacred Plaza, just across the way from the Principal temple. It isn't clear exactly if the priest(s) lived here during certain holy periods, or what the actual tradition was. It is also one of the great solid structures built here; unlike the Principal Temple and the Temple of the Three Windows, it had four intact walls, and so not much restoration has been done. The roof and doors, of course, are long gone.

Fred got an interesting picture through one of the south windows in the high priest's house- framing the Watchman's Hut in that window. You can have a look at that picture here.

And here are some clickable thumbnails for other views we got of the House of the High Prients here in the Sacred Plaza:

The city of Machu Picchu was never really "lost". The work or archeaologists and anthropologists has shown that the locaion was well-known locally long before Hiram Bingham arrived. Bingham believed that he had found "Tamputoco" or "Hill of the Three Windows"- the origin of the Inca civilization. The Temple of the Three Windows shows engravings made by visitors- the most recent before Bingham having been in 1902. Anthropologists don't doubt that the Temple figured prominently in the history of the city.

The Temple of the Three Windows (from across the main square)

The Temple of the Three Windows has a long history. According to indigenous folklore, the city was built in part to hide the Inca civilization from the Spanish conquerors; this location was ideal for that. This Temple held a great spiritual value for the civilization in addition to its important historical meaning.

The Temple is located on the east side of the Sacred Plaza, just above the main square; views from here look over to the commercial side of Machu Picchu. The rectangular Temple consisted of three walls with an upright stone in the middle of the line where a fourth wall would have been; on the vertical stone are engravings that represent the three levels where the Inca civilization divided the Andean world: the sky spirituality (Hanan-Pacha), the Earth's surface or the mundane (Kay-Pacha) and subsoil or inner life (Ukju-Pacha).

The building probably had a roof, since the end walls were shaped so as to support one, and there are a rounded rock protrustions that may have been involved in the roof structure. The walls themselves were constructed from large blocks of solid rock carved in polygonal shape forming a conglomerate of perfectly matched stones each other.

The east wall may originally have had five windows (there is space for that many), but today there are only three windows, and they are oriented to the exact location of the sunrise. In one of the niches that may have been an additional window, Fred spotted little squatter- actually one of the few animals we saw today. Fred took one other picture of this temple, this one from below and just north of it; you can see that picture here. I also stepped back a ways from the upright stone and put a couple of pictures together into a small panorama; you can see it below.

The Temple of the Three Windows

The third structure of note in the Sacred Plaza is simply known as the principal temple. This structure has suffered from ground settling, a major problem here, partially due to the masses that tramp all over the mountain. However, because of the actual architecture and construction of the building it is considered one of Machu Picchu's greatest.

The Principal Temple

On the north side of the plaza we found the Principal Temple, a three-sided edifice with huge and cleverly constructed foundations. Called the Principal Temple because of its size, it has a mini-temple adjoining which Bingham named the Sacristy as it seemed a likely place for a priest to have collected himself before worship. (It is now usually called the Chamber of the Ornaments.) If you look closely at the picture Fred took of this temple while we were still high up in the residential sector (click here to view), you can see that at the western end of the temple is a kite-shaped stone embedded in the ground. The stone points south and is said to symbolize the Southern Cross.

The walls of this temple are, for the most part, intact, although that you can see that fissures have opened up and stones have moved out of place. Some of the walls have niches in them; the Incas placed sacred objects into them. This temple is another example of a "Wayrana-type"- one with three walls and built out of rectangular stones. (Some anthropologists think that the absence of the fourth wall was not intentional, and might simply be an indicator that the building might not have been finished or perhaps a sign of the fact that the population had left, abandoning the city.)

We took a few minutes to go around the east side of the temple to see the large vertical rock that we could glimpse behind it. I asked Fred to have a seat at the base of this rock so I could get a picture, and you can see it here.


The Intiwuatana Pyramid (7)

We continued our tour of Machu Picchu by climbing the pyramid of Intiwuatana, which is located just north of the Sacred Plaza and the Principal Temple. (In fact, the pyramid is considered by many writers to be part of the Sacred Plaza area, but I'll follow the more common view that the pyramid is a separate structure.)

The Intiwuatana Pyramid

To show the pyramid, it is necessary to get back from it, and the best view we got was from the high point of the residential sector- before we toured the Sacred Plaza. In the picture at right, you can see the Principal Temple at the bottom and the Intiwuatana rising up behind it. We followed the pathway west of the Principal Temple. There was a little overlook here with great views down into the valley to the west. We passed the Chamber of the Ornaments and then came to the stairs up the Intiwuatana Pyramid.

As we climbed the stairs that you can see in the picture at right, I made a movie; in it, you can see our surroundings and get a feel for what the climb was like. Use the player below to watch it.

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It took only a few minutes for us to get to the top of Intiwuatana. The site was built on a small hill that existed; the builders reconstructed the hill to take on a pyramidal shape. They turned the sides of the hill into level embankments forming a structuring of terraces and runners.

Looking South from the Intiwuatana Pyramid

There are two sets of stairs to the pyramid; we came up the south stairs and will leave by the ones on the north side. We counted the steps on our way up; there were 78 of them, most carved right into the rock of the hill. Just a few steps from the top of the structure (which had agricultural terraces on its west side) there was a flat area that looked like the prow of a ship; it offered great views to the east, as well as views over the complex. I took a few pictures from this area, and there are clickable thumbnails below for a couple of them:

The Intiwuatana can, again, really only be appreciated from a distance. You have already seen it in some of our pictures taken from the south, but it is much more impressive seen from the east.

The Intiwuatana Pyramid is surrounded by the most valued buildings for the citizens of Machu Picchu because of their religious and spiritual meaning, something essential for the Incan civilization; this is one of the reasons that clearly explains why so much effort went into creating the staircases, which were of course sculpted by hand out of the huge granite rock hill.

At the top of the pyramid there was an "outdoor chamber"- a walled area that probably was never roofed. It was more like an enclosed patio.

The Walled Chamber on the Intiwuatana Pyramid

The building on the top of the pyramid was really neat; it was another three-sided building with windows built into all three sides. We enjoyed looking through them in all directions around the complex. Below are clickable thumbnails for three views of the building:

Right in the middle of the walled area was, what archaeologists theorize was an astronomical device- made of stone. The structure could have been used by the Inca civilization as measuring instrument for scientific purposes such as astronomy, astrology, mathematics, physics, meteorology and many other doctrines. The tool seems to be based on light phenomena and provided the civilization with a way to analyze the light and shadows from the sun, thus identifying the different seasonal periods by pinpointing the solstices and equinoxes.

The device is quadrangular, with a 40-centimeter-high prismatic shape. Two of the sides of the gadget would provide measurements to create a calendar based on the apparent solar time or sundial time- absolutely essential to the life of the city. It has four vertices indicating the cardinal directions, which means that the Incan civilization had been using a Cartesian coordinate system.

It is interesting that "Intiwuatana" could translate to “observatory” (in Quechua, "Inti" refers to the biggest star in the sky and "wata" means "year"). This explains why this site was the astronomical observatory, but it probably also had a religious connotation because of its sacred location. It may well have been an altar used in all sorts of ceremonies. This double meaning, time device and sacred altar, reflects the tight relationship between the Inca deities and astronomical phenomena.

From the Intiwuatana Pyramid

We thought that the Intiwuatana Pyramid was pretty amazing. We certainly had the feeling that atop the pyramid we were at the focal point of the spiritual life of Machu Picchu. And of course, the views in all directions were equally amazing. You can use the clickable thumbnails below to see some of the views from Intiwuatana:

From the top of the pyramid we could see our next objective- the Ceremonial Center. It is an area nestled at the base of Huayna Picchu.


The Ceremonial Center and Sacred Rock (8)

We left the Intiwuatana Pyramid by descending the stairs and paths on the north side of the structure, and as we descended, there were again great views out west to the Vilcanota River valley beyond.

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On the way down the stairs, I used my little extender to make a movie with me in it, but the stairs were so narrow and steep (and the dropoff so precipitous to my left) that I found myself looking less at the camera and more at the ground. But it is an interesting movie, and you can use the player at left to watch it.

At the bottom of the stairs, we turned to the east to clamber over the large rocks at the base of Intiwuatana and head towards the grassy main square.

As we walked eastward towards the square, we came out from behind the Intiwuatana Pyramid and could again look out across the complex- a view hidden from us when we were around the northwest base of the pyramid. And the views that opened up were really neat. As soon as we cleared the base of the hill, we could look down the wall of the lowest terrace back towards the Agricultural Sector and its many terraces leading up to the Watchman's Hut.

So we descended the north end of the Intiwuatana Pyramid and began to follow the pathway across the grassy central area of Machu Picchu, crossing from the Royal and Religious sectors over to the Popular Sector. As we crossed, we got some great views.

The Religious and Royal Districts of Machu Picchu

For example, in the view at right, you can see the Intiwuatana Pyramid from which we have just descended, the Sacred Plaza and the Royal District south of it- all leading to the slope up the Agricultural Sector. As we cross the Square, I also want to include a picture that was actually taken a bit later from the ruins of the Popular District (commercial structures and lower-class residences) on the east side of the complex. It shows an excellent view of the Intiwuatana Pyramid.

There were great views from out here in the middle of the complex, and you can click on the thumbnails below to see some of them:

From out in the middle of the Square, I put together a panorama of the complex, and it is below.

Reaching the east side of the complex, we turned to the north to follow the path towards the Ceremonial Center, which was only a hundred feet or so north of where we crossed the square.

The Ceremonial Center

Machu Picchu was an extraordinarily important site for the Inca civilization, and so it makes perfect sense that it would be a ceremonial and religious center. We had already toured the religious portion, and now we came to the ceremonial one. Located as it is right at the base of Huayna Picchu, it was probably, next to the Intiwautana Pyramid, the easiest-to-find location in the complex and so a natural focal point.

Standing in the middle of the area, one has excellent views looking towards the Pyramid and beyond it in the direction of the path leading to the Inca Bridge, and also the terminus of the Inca Trail in the Agricultural Sector. You can see that view here. There were two three-sided, thatched-roof buildings here; of course, the ones you see in our pictures have been restored based on the wall fragments that Bingham found. You can see some of the detail of the construction of these buildings in one of the closeups Fred took. An explanatory sign said that this wall was intact up two feet above the lintel, while the rest was a reconstruction (as was, of course, the roof).

There was another low building here (which may not have been roofed). It had windows in its east and west walls, and when you look through and line them up, you are looking pretty exactly east or west (east in the case of Fred's picture).

The Sacred Rock

The other item of interest here was the Sacred Rock. Experts have considered several theories about the rock and its placement here. One noted that the rock's shape mirrors the view of Machu Picchu that can be seen from Cerro Pumasillo, located on the far side of the Vilcanota River Valley. Perhaps there was something significant about the spot across the valley, but in any event it seems likely the the Sacred Rock had some astrological significance since it was here in a location where numerous sacred rituals were conducted. These were undoubtedly important in the life of this most significant city for Inca civilization.

The monolith (some have speculated that a visit to Machu Picchu inspired Stanley Kubrick's "monolith" in 2001: A Space Oddyssey) is about nine feet high and located in an area formed by a rectangular perimeter with the two adjoining three-walled houses called "huayranas". The Sacred Rock sits on a base 21 feet wide, adopting a form that comes to remind the profile of a feline animal on a podium of solid rock that was carved by the construction tools referred to as "Ollantaytambo" ("rocky rolling stones" and a name used for the town we stopped at on our trip up here). Anthropology experts the shape as being a representation of the sacred puma of the Cerro Pumasillo of Machu Picchu. This has lead to a popular theory that the Sacred Rock and the other buildings of the Ceremonial Center are a sort of "map", showing the various geophysical elements of the mountain systems of Machu Picchu and Huayna Picchu.

The Sacred Rock was placed at the northernmost point of the city, right at the point where the access to Huayna Picchu is found. This spot also offered entry to the Main Square of Machu Picchu and the Popular District nearby. For all these reasons, the experts agree that the Sacred Rock represents a geographical landmark which marked the portal of Machu Picchu to Huayna Picchu. This was an interesting spot, and just before we left to explore the Popular District, I stopped to take a selfie of ourselves with the Intiwuatana Pyramid in the background.


The Popular District: Factory Houses

Now we are going to leave the area of the Ceremonial Center, and begin to walk south again down the east side of the Machu Picchu complex. This area is known as the Popular District, and here are found lower-class residences and various commercial structures- including at least two religious buildings. We began our walk through the "Factory Houses" by leaving the Ceremonial Center and walking across the crest of the hill in a direction away from the stairs that we had climbed initially to get to the Center. This was kind of an open area of large boulders that we had to navigate. There were some good views of the mountains to the northeast before we came to the first buildings in the residential district for lower-class Machu Picchu residents.

Popular District (North End) Seen from the Royal District

We had a good picture view to use to track our progress through the Religious District to the Ceremonial Center, but now let's return to our little diagram of Machu Picchu to show where we will be walking next:

According to our brochure, the area outlined in red consists of the "factory houses", which we took to mean the dwellings of the many Incas who worked here in agriculture and manufacturing and other commercial endeavors. The buildings were much smaller than those back in the Royal District, and there were many more of them.

Factory Houses (seen from the Watchman's Hut)

We have already passed by one residential district on the other side of the main square- the place where royalty lived. We haven't toured them yet, but we will shortly. And we have yet to see an area where nobles had their houses. So this area is not the only residential area of Machu Picchu, but it is so named because lower-class Incas might have had their homes in this area (and most of what are thought to be dwellings are located here.

We took lots of pictures as we wandered through the buildings; there are clickable thumbnails below for the first set of the best of these:

The buildings in this area of Machu Picchu are thought to be the dwellings of factory workers, craftsmen and perhaps military personnel. The buildings were mostly simple rectangular structures, used for living and storage.

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Wandering through the structures was really neat, although I can imagine that if all the walls were still in place and the roofs covered, the little narrow passageways that we went through would have seemed much more claustrophobic. But we did find one area that seemed to be an area where the people who lived here could congregate; it had good views off to the mountains. I made a movie as we descended into that area, and you can use the player at left to watch it.

Inca walls had numerous design details that helped protect them against collapsing in an earthquake. Doors and windows are trapezoidal and tilt inward from bottom to top. You can click on the thumbnails below to see some other examples of windows and doors in the restored walls here at Machu Picchu:

In the construction here, corners usually are rounded; inside corners often incline slightly into the rooms; and "L"-shaped blocks often were used to tie outside corners of the structures together. These walls do not rise straight from bottom to top, but are offset slightly from row to row.

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This area was quite confining; many of the passageways between structures were very narrow. You can play the movie at right to follow along with me as I walk through one of these passageways.

We took a great many pictures here among the factory houses, and there are thumbnails below you can click on to see some of the best of these pictures:

Certainly these structures are not on the scale of the pyramids, which make one wonder how the huge blocks of stone could have been placed without modern technology. Nor are these buildings on the scale of Mayan ruins like Chichen Itza. But while the individual stones could easily have been placed manually, it is still an architectural wonder.

Below are some of the excellent panoramic pictures we took either within our cameras or by stitching pictures together. In them, you can see the intricacy of the Incan construction:

Here is a very good panoramic shot of Fred standing in the middle of one of the largest buildings here in this area of Machu Picchu:

One still wonders how all the rocks and boulders were hauled here. Some were quarried up on the hill we visited earlier, but certainly not all. They would not have been transported in any kind of cart, for the Incas never used the wheel in any practical manner. Its use in toys demonstrates that the principle was well-known to them, although it was not applied in their engineering. The lack of strong draft animals, as well as steep terrain and dense vegetation issues, may have rendered the wheel impractical. So how they moved and placed the enormous blocks of stones remains a mystery, although the general belief is that they used hundreds of men to push the stones up inclined planes.

However the factory houses (and other buildings were constructed) there were good views from the buildings that bordered the main square:

We worked our way through the factory houses to the southwest corner of the area where we found one of the longest staircases at Machu Picchu that led down to the next area we visited. Here is Fred at the top of these stairs.


The Popular District: Industrial Zone

From the Factory Houses, we descended one of the longest stairways in the complex to an area called the "industrial zone." To orient you to where we are in the complex, take a look at two of our pictures below:

At left you can look across the main square and see the upper level factory houses and the long stairway down to the industrial sector right in the center of the picture. In our photograph below, you can see that same long stairway at the left, but also almost all of the industrial sector below the area of factory houses. (The last couple of pictures in the section above were taken at the top of that stairway, where you can see the long wall and the open platform.)

To get down to the industrial zone, we had to descend that stairway, of course. From the top of the stairs, I stopped to take some pictures looking straight down it- and with Fred at the top of them for scale, you can get an idea of how steep they are.

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So let's walk down the stairs, shall we? You can follow along with me as I descend by using the player at right to watch the movie I made as we descended. At the bottom of the stairs (which ran alongside a tall stone wall), we walked along that wall towards the corner where we could turn left into the idustrial sector. When we did we descended a few more stairs to the buildings in this sector.

It is hypothesized that these buildings that are located below the Main Plaza were used by workers to make weavings and pottery. At least one of them has a pedestal in the middle, the purpose of which is unknown. For example, some mortars were found in this area and some archaeologists believe these mortars were used to grind plants to make dyes used during the manufacture of weavings and pottery. However, other scientists believe that these so-called mortars were actually "cradles" for holding pointed base jars that contained "chicha" (a fermented drink). Others have suggested that the mortars were made to be water basins which served as mirrors for making astronomical observations of the moon.

Like any archaeological ruins, the true purpose of many artifacts is obscure and was lost with departure of original habitants of the site.

Walking through the various buildings in this particular area was interesting, actually more so because the purpose of each building is unclear, and you are free to imagine the activities that might have gone on in any of them.

Below are clickable thumbnails for just a few of the many pictures we took in the industrial area:

The industrial sector seemed to wrap around the hillside down below both the factor houses and the main square (the open grassy area in the middle of the complex), and as we walked through the buildings we found ourselves right at the east edge of the complex.

At the eastern end there was a little open area that had good views back towards the agricultural sector. A path continued through that area down below the east wall of the industrial buildings and then down the slope to more agricultural terraces- terraces that extended across the hillside until it got too steep to build them. Here, we found breathtaking views east, right along the east edge of the complex. And of course, there were great views down into the valley cut by the Vilcanota River.

From the edge here, I took a selfie and then made two movies. The first surveys the east side of the Machu Picchu complex and then out across the valley of the Vilcanota, looking down to the railway by which we arrived. We found that we also had a good view of the bus road up the mountainside from the river to the entry pavilion for Machu Picchu, and the second movie zeroes in on that road. You can watch both movies with the players below:

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The Valley of the Vilcanota
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The Bus Road Up to Machu Picchu


The Royal District: Noble Houses and The Temple of the Condor

From the edge of the complex, we walked back towards the main square and again turned left, descending more stairs to an area where it is thought that nobles had their houses (right next to the prison buildings, apparently), and here we also found the Temple of the Condor. We have actually changed districts, moving from the Popular District to the eastern end of the Royal District.

In this area as well there were interesting buildings to explore, and, again, the area extended out to the edge of the complex, offering good views of the mountains beyond. Here are clickable thumbnails for some of our pictures taken here:

The extraordinary beauty of Machu Picchu can be seen both in its ruins and in the Machu Picchu and Huayna Picchu mountain systems. The iconic views of the ruins always include Huayna Picchu, but what is harder to show is another of the indigenous wonders of the area, the bird granted the status of "King of the Andes"- the condor.

Fred at the Temple of the Condor

The Temple of the Condor is, as are the other temples, oriented to the Sun to facilitate measurements of the stars. It is located here, in the southeast area of the Urban Sector. In this area, the buildings, including the temple, show a peculiarity in their architecture; more than the buildings elsewhere, they seem to have been designed to meld with the environment, producing a fusion with the profile offered by the rocks of the surrounding area. Many anthropologists believe that the temple was sited after the discovery of a rock outcrop that seemed, to its Incan discoverers, to present the shape of a bird with wings extended, something that the Incas took as an omen from their deities and which impacted their worship and celebration of sacred rituals. The reflection of this rock on its backdrop, at certain times of the day, projected the figure of the sacred bird.

In addition to the rock resembling a bird with spread wings, excavations carried out nearby discovered another representation in stone that resembles the animal; in this case, a rock just below the actual outcrop was delicately carved to create the bust of the bird, in a curious beak form on the temple floor. Why this was done is unclear, although it seems obvious that the Incas used the representation of the condor to conduct their sacred rituals. To the Incas, the figure of the Condor was the representation of fertility; contemporary accounts tell stories that when condors were present, the clouds would gather and rain would result. This temple is extremely popular with Machu Picchu's visitors.

Fred and I of course took our own pictures, some of which you've already seen. Fred stepped back into some of the nearby structures to take a couple of pictures of the temple with the terraces as a backdrop, and you can see those here and here. Meanwhile, I got up close to the rock outcrop to see if I could capture the wing shape of the rocks a bit better, and you can see a couple of my views here and here.

Noble Houses

To the South of the Temple of the Condor, is a residential area residential area of the high Inca social class; this area was connected to the area of the temple via a series of narrow steps that led from one area to another through a series of courtyards; there is evidence that guinea pigs were kept in these courtyards.

There was quite a lot of restoration work going on in this area- particularly on the slopes that led down into the river valley. Below are clickable thumbnails for some our pictures of the noble houses and the restoration work going on:

As a matter of fact, from one of these courtyards, we got our best view looking down to the river where you can clearly see the railroad and the Vilcanota River bridge that we crossed on our way up here. Oddly, another area nearby seems to be where prisoners were kept (there is evidence of dungeons underneath the Temple of the Condor). It was odd that this area might be right beside the area where nobles lived; I guess the NIMBY movement had yet to take hold.

Wandering around this area was immensely interesting, going up and down the steps, and stopping at one of only two curved walls in the entire complex. From here, we could look out to the terraces (where we would eventually go) and see the llamas grazing there (brought in from outside, we found out later). Click on the thumbnails below for more pictures taken here in the area of the noble houses and the Temple of the Condor:

The view from here was so good that I took a series of five pictures and stitched them together into the panorama below:

The views we got of the noble houses up close were certainly interesting, but a little later on, when we climbed up to the Royal Houses above, we could look back down on this entire area, and so we were able to show the entire area as well as close-up detail of many of the structures through which we wandered.

As you can see in the pictures at left, the views were really spectacular from just below the area of the royal houses, and we took quite a few pictures from here.

You can click on the thumbnails below to see some of the best of the many pictures we took of the noble houses from our vantage point higher up:


The Royal District: Royal Houses and The Temple of the Sun

From the eastern part of the Royal District, where the "five-percent" probably lived, we will walk west up a series of stairs to the western part of this same district where, I guess, you might say that the "one-percent" and the royals had their houses. On the way up those stairs, there was a platform off to the right that gave us expansive views out across the terraces of the Agricultural Sector.

At the top of the stairs (at the western side of the Royal District) we found a number of points of interest and a great view looking up past the royal houses to the Watchman's Hut.

As it turns out, Fred took a good picture earlier, when we were up above the city gate, of the area we will walk through now, and so I think it might be useful for you to have a look at it. In this picture, you can see the royal houses, the Temple of the Sun, a set of buildings called "The Palace of the Princess" (Nusta's Palace) and the Street of Fountains. I have marked these features on this picture, which you can see at left.

We actually came up the stairs just out of the picture to the right of that open area at the right of the picture. It was from there that we took the picture looking up at the Watchman's Hut, and it was there that I took a picture of Fred that you saw earlier as he was going down the short set of wooden stairs towards the Street of Fountains.

I think it serves as a good introduction to the features of this area of the city and may help you relate together the pictures that are upcoming.


The Staircase of the Fountains

In the western part of the Royal District, between the Temple of the Sun on the north and the royal palaces on the south we came to the ruins of a once magnificent set of buildings that housed one of the two water supplies for Machu Picchu. Beginning here and running down to the east, towards the houses of the nobles, was the "street of the fountains ", "staircase of the fountains" or "the liturgical fountains"- just some of the names for this group of water tanks or pools that the Incas called "paqchas".

From the Top of the Street of Fountains

The 16 fountains were more than decorative; they had a spiritual dimension for the Incas. This civilization believed that the natural elements, like water or fire, were actually gods, and thus part of the Inca mythology. Pariacaca, the God of Water, was believed to be the almighty creator god who was once a falcon before he turned into a human. The whole culture, and the city itself, were based on the water element water, as evidenced by all the fountains. These fountains were spring-fed (from deep inside the mountains); in addition, the Incas developed a collection system (from rain and some streams nearby) to provide the city with its most important natural resource. The water was used to fill the various channels all over the landscape and its different terraces; it was then used for drinking, irrigation and various rituals.

I sat down near the top of one fountain right between the Temple of the Sun and the Royal Palace. Click on the thumbnails below to see some views of the fountains near where I was sitting:

The stairway and its pools show incredibly fine work using high skills and construction techniques that created the various channels and sinks that constitute this water collector system- the Incan version of a Roman aqueduct. The construction also shows a number of polygonal rocky ridges and their meaning could have been also religious.

There is a main fountain located in the Wayrana, one of the most significant buildings here, that was probably some sort of spiritual center. Today, the water found by the Incas has a more prosaic use- it is used by the lodge and entrance center as well as the town of Aguas Calientes. So, sadly, the beautiful fountains no longer run.


The Royal Houses and the Royal Tomb

This area, which archaeologists theorize was the site of the homes of the royalty and perhaps some of the upper-levels nobles, lies between the Sacred Plaza to the north and the Temple of the Sun just to the south. Residents of this area may have included the priests and possibly the emperor as well.

Some of the Royal Houses, Seen from the Terraces

The houses in this part are located in rows, constructed on a slope, with narrow pathways between them. The houses in this sector were larger and roomier buildings, when compared to those in the Popular District, where the "normal people" lived, and even thouse in the noble houses just down the slope. One of the buildings had large stone object in its center; it may have been another temple and the rock (oddly, with a hole in it) might have been an altar or used for ritual sacrifices (of animals, it is presumed).

One of the houses we went into had more of the same circular depressions in the floor. As noted earlier, the purpose of these is unknown, although theories abound. In any case, the stonework involved in the construction of these houses was pretty amazing (particularly for the time and particularly since there is no evidence that the Incas used the wheel as anything other than a toy or novelty. Click on the thumbnails below for some pictures taken in the royal houses:

One of the royal houses seemed to have been more completely restored than many of the others, and we saw one of the tour guides taking a group into it, so we followed along. The building that we entered and walked through had multiple rooms; the first such building we'd been in. (Most of the other buildings we had walked through seemed to be only a single room, although it may be that there had been interior partitions built of material that has long since decayed.)

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The building had a little sign ("Casa del Inka"), and at first I thought it might have been some site whose name had been referenced in historical records. But I was not able to find any reference to it specifically on the Internet, so now I think the sign should be interpreted as "a typical Incan house". I made a movie inside, and you can use the player at right to have a look at it.

We also took a number of pictures inside the Casa del Inka, and you can use the thumbnails below to have a look at them:

As we walked south from the royal houses towards the Temple of the Sun, we came upon what we found out was the Royal Tomb. The Royal Tomb of the Machu Picchu has a character similar to the buildings of the Sacred Plaza, although it appears to have been carved out of solid rock.

The Royal Tomb

Anthropologists who have studied the various popular stories as well as the various inscriptions from the time when Machu Picchu was in use have confirmed that this mausoleum (and others) was built for the highest circles of the aristocracy. And because of its specific placement here, it is thought that this particular tomb was built for and at one time contained, the King.

We could not enter the Royal Tomb but there are engravings carved all over the inside walls; these are quite intricate, with all kinds of sacred symbols. The "stair-stepped" construction was supposed to give the idea of a House with three tiers- one of the city's symbols. Studies have revealed that the Royal Tomb and the Temple of the Sun are perfectly aligned. This was very characteristic of this civilization, which based their architectural work on the spiritual symbolism and religious buildings attributed to the city.

Click on the thumbnails at left for some closer views looking into the Royal Tomb.

The architecture inside the tomb is a symmetrical arrangement of carved rocks, and these form different small spaces; presumably, each person buried here would have his own space in one of the niches embedded in the walls, or in one of the tiny room-like enclosures. Though we could not see them, there are also inside a series of stone cylinders built into the interior wall; these may have been the support for some ornamentation or perhaps part of some necessary equipment used in the burial process.


The Temple of the Sun

From the Royal Tomb, we could see the north wall just south of us, so we walked in that direction. On the way, we passed in front of what appeared to be a thatched-roofed porch; you can see it in many of the views of this area shown earlier. Of course, the roof is a reconstruction, but the purpose of the structure is a bit unclear. It does overlook the top of the cascading fountains, so perhaps it was just a spot where the nobility could sit or stand and survey the cascade. Perhaps the sound of falling water was as restful for the Incas as it seems to be for most people.

The Temple of the Sun

The Temple of the Sun, located just south of the top of the Street of Fountains, is actually entered via a wooden stairway on its south side. This bypasses the actual entrance, which involved double beams and a closure mechanism to provide the temple with the necessary means of protection and security. (The city itself was placed as high as possible, because the Incas believed that a closer position to the Sun would be religiously beneficial and more appropriate for astronomical studies (which were very important to them).

The tower of this temple, known as the Torreon, was the most important part of this most important building in Machu Picchu. Not counting the agricultural terraces or the pyramid, the top of the tower was the city's highest point. It was the center of civic life, where the most important and meaningful events were held. These events- astrological occurrences, sacred rituals, etc.- have left behind a large number of archaeological remains, like the gnomic device or sundial that was used for the civilization to indicate the daylight hours and therefore, to create the Inca calendar. Actually, entry into the temple proper is blocked off; one can only look at the inside of the temple from a platform at the top of the wooden stairs.

We could, however walk through some of the ancillary rooms of the temple, and view the tower itself from not only that platform but also from walkways down below.

The “Torreon” shows a striking semicircular architectural design; its flat segment holds the Serpent gate while the circular wall has two peculiar trapezoid shaped windows. The tower was built up on the top of a big granite rock that is part of the mountain, taking advantage of its natural outline. It was on this rock where a 30-foot enclosure and half wall were made out of irregular blocks of hand-polished stone. The door used to contain a large number of elaborate encrusted jewels and all kind of golden ornamentation; there are many little empty niches where these items are presumed to have been placed.

There are other areas of the temple we could not enter. Underneath the Tower, there is a small underground cavern with excellent masonry works. The theory is that this room was a crypt to accommodate the mummified corpses of the highest members of the Inca aristocracy. In the western side of the temple, a rectangular courtyard shows nine hollows that could have been intended as graves. There is another room that has a drainage/sewage system, and it is thought that this was once a barn or stable for domesticated alpacas and llamas. This animal barn leads to an adjacent room that gives access to another private chamber that has a balcony facing east and providing views out over the city.

It would have been interesting to explore this underground area, but we had to content ourselves with wandering around abovegorund. From all around the temple there were great views out across the city and the agricultural terraces, and you can use the clickable thumbnails below to look at some of them:

We left the Temple of the Sun to go a few feet further south to the palace of the princesses.


The Palace of the Princess (Nusta's Palace)

The complex structure of the Incan society defined several classes even among the high aristocrats. Not all the members of the nobility possessed the same privileges, because these distinctions were awarded according to lineage. The most noble of all were the direct descendants of the King- "Panacas". This class comprised the Queen ("Colla"), brides, princesses ("Pallas"), the sons of the nobility of blood, and the "Ñustas" or Princesses not married yet.

Inside the Ñustas Palace

Being a sanctuary for the Inca civilization, Machu Picchu could have served as an asylum for the Virgin princesses of the Empire known as "Princesses of the Sun" or "Ñustas", after the arrival of the Spanish conquistadors. These theories are based on the fact that archaeological excavations have discovered that most of the human remains found in burial chambers here belonged to women.

The Ñusta Palace came to be considered part of the Temple of the Sun; the palace was not only an annex to the Temple of the Sun, but displayed the same laborious and refined methods of construction reserved only for the most important buildings of the city. You can see some of this construction in the pictures we took in and around the palace; click on the thumbnails below to have a look:

The building clearly had a very special place in Incan civilization; the house was planned to house the most important members of the aristocracy of the city, including, anthropologists believe, the Priestess- the highest social status woman. But the house is large enough that it probably also housed the princesses who would form part in the rituals of the Inca culture. The building occupied two floors with very fine construction. Although there appears now to be a door leading to the Temple of the Sun, archaeologists believe that this was actually a window (based on construction similarities elsewhere on the site). There were, of course, the same wonderful views from the outside of the structure.

Our visit to the Palace of the Princesses completed our tour through all of Machu Picchu's urban sector. What remained was to see the terraces up close and make our way back to the entrance pavilion.


The Terraces of the Agricultural Sector

From the royal houses, we descended a bit along the Street of Fountains until we could find an access to one of the walkways that led east across the terraces to the far side, and the last stairway and buildings as we returned to the entrance station. We saw a sign directing us to the exit, and so we followed the marked path.

It led us a short ways down the Street of Fountains and then off to our right (east) towards the terraces. Just before we reached the open area of the terraces, we passed the entrance to a cave-like structure built into the hillside. This was not the underground of the Palace of the Princesses, but seemed to be some sort of storage structure.

Just after that, we came to a wooden walkway that led out onto the terraces. Before we cross them, you can take a look at some of the pictures we took getting to this point; just click on the thumbnails below:

Apparently, the park did not want tourists walking across all the terraces willy-nilly, so one of them was marked as the crossing point and the wooden bridge led to it. So that was the level that we took across to the far side.

Crossing the Terraces

We headed out across the wooden walkway that took us onto the particular terrace with the marked path across it. Ahead of us, we could see, on the far edge of the agricultural terraces, a series of buildings stair-stepped up the hillside at the edge of the terraces. Obviously, these had been restored, since they had thatched roofs in place.

When we got to the bottom one, our path led around below it, and on the far side we found a long stairway up the hill that ran right beside these buildings. So as we climbed the stairs, I could photograph the buildings and even look inside them. Use the thumbnails below to see some of the pictures we took as we climbed the stairway:

This stairway turned out to be the same one that we'd seen when we first entered the Machu Picchu site. At the top of the stairway, we found ourselves on the same paved walkway that led into the site originally, and from which we had turned up the hill to the viewpoints and the Watchman's Hut hours and hours ago. So all we had to do was follow the walkway back to the entrance station and lodge.

We did not see Greg and Yoost at the bus stop, so I took a look inside the restaurant and, sure enough, they were there having a buffet lunch. They were not done, so we told them we would go on back down to Aguas Calientes, tour the town on our own, and meet them at the train station ahead of our departure for Cuzco. That's what we did, bringing our amazing day at Machu Picchu to and end.


The Town of Aguas Calientes

The bus brought us back down to the town of Aguas Calientes, and it let us off right across the street from where we picked it up. This was right beside the Alcanota River, just where it flows into the Vilcanota and continues north. Right at that point there is a railroad bridge where railroad cars and engines can be taken from the station, through town, and north to a railyard.

The town we know as Aguas Calientes is officially named Machupicchu, and is the seat of the Peruvian district of the same name. There are many hotels and restaurants for tourists, as well as natural hot baths which gave the town its colloquial Spanish name. The baths were destroyed by floods several years ago, but have been rebuilt.

I know that it's not important to record our exact route through town; indeed, some of the pictures in this section were actually taken when we first arrived, before we went up to Machu Picchu.

Suffice it to say that we spent all our available time wandering around this quirky mountain town, realizing all the while that everything we saw was either built right here or brought in by train from outside. As I said before, there is no road that leads out of Aguas Calientes to the rest of Peru; although it doesn't seem apparent when you walk around (since there are cars and truck son the narrow streets), the town is completely isolated save for its rail link to Cuzco.

On the aerial view at left, I have marked the location of some of the places we stopped where we took pictures. I hope this will help you get a feel for what wandering around the picturesque town was like.

One of the first items on our agenda was to get some sort of snack; after all, we had not eaten since the small breakfast on the train six or seven hours ago, and there wouldn't be anything else until the train ride back a couple of hours hence.

We wandered about for a bit, checking out the menus at a couple of restaurants, before going up onto the pedestrian bridge we'd crossed from the station early this morning. I recalled that I'd seen some eating places as we crossed the bridge and came down to where we could get the bus.

Right where the bridge came into town from the station we found the Boulangerie de la Paris- basically, a little bakery with sandwiches and baked goods. We settled for one of the largest cream puff pastries I'd ever seen and some bottled water. We got a little table and sat down to relax and have our snack. It was a very good pastry, and also good to be sitting down after five hours of walking around Machu Picchu. We also had an excellent view of the bridge over the Alcanota that led over to the shopping stalls by the station (the ones we'd had to work our way through after we'd gotten off the train).

After we'd finished, we went off to just wander around the town to see what we could see. The first thing we did was to walk back out on that pedestrian bridge so I could get a couple of pictures; you can use the thumbnails below to have a look at a couple of them:

Earlier today, just before we boarded our bus, I'd noticed an interesting fountain just ahead of where the buses (which you can see at right in the first of the two picture above that I took from the pedestrian bridge); it is obscured by the parked buses in that picture. So, we next walked down to the railroad bridge to have a look at it. The three-tiered fountain had an Incan warrior and a condor as its centerpiece. This fountain was located right at the corner of the road we took to Machu Picchu and the "street" down which the railroad tracks led northwest out of town to the rail yards that we could see from up at Machu Picchu. You can see the fountain and that street here, and, after we'd walked a bit down that street, another view of it here.

Fruit and Vegetable Vendors

We walked a ways down that street and then up some stairs to our right to a building that housed one of the kind of food markets we've seen before in Europe- an enclosed market comprised of small stalls selling everything you might usually find in a grocery store (except that there were very few "prepared" or "convenience" foods. Apparently there was not enough space inside (or perhaps there is a fee that some are not willing to pay) for there were some women selling vegetables outside. The market also had stalls where cooked food was sold, and outside there was a woman selling something deep-fried (although I couldn't tell exactly what it was).

And while we were walking along here, we were serenaded by an impromptu musical group; I made a movie of them, and you can use the player below to watch it:

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We walked through the market and then down a narrow street to what seemed to be the town square of Aguas Calientes.

In the Square in Aguas Calientes

The northwest side of the rectangular square was occupied by the Aguas Calientes municipal building, a large, four-story building with an incongruous digital clock on the front. The other main building was on the northeast end of the square- the Church of Aguas Calientes. This small Catholic church was built some thirty years ago out of stone quarried locally. While nominally a Catholic church, it apparently holds services for other denominations as well- probably because the town is simply not large enough to support multiple churches and multiple church buildings.

It was fun to wander around the square, and we took a number of interesting photographs. You can use the clickable thumbnails below to have a look at some of them:

Machupicchu was settled by a few farm families in 1901, and remained a sleepy mountain hamlet almost unknown- until the arrival of Hiram Bingham in 1910. Shortly after Bingham made the existence of Machu Picchu public, tourists began arriving- although in very small numbers because there was no way to the town save an exhausting trek along the Inca Trail. In the mid-1920s, the tiny settlement was transformed into a busy railway worker's camp called Makinachayuq (a Spanish name that literally translates as "the one with a little machine") during the construction of the railroad to the town. The town was the central hub for worker lodging and their equipment up until the railway was finished in 1931; after that, tourists began arriving in droves, and the town became the tourist town that it is today.

The Alcanota River in Aguas Calientes

From the town square, we walked through some of the city streets and back to the railroad bridge across the Alcanota River, just below the railway station. We found that below the railroad station shopping area, there were a few fountains, some in the shape of carved animals- including a bear and a snake.

I took a picture of a young woman doing needlework and we took a few more around the area that you might enjoy seeing. Click on the thumbnails below to have a look:

About a half-hour before we were supposed to board our train for the return trip, Fred and I went into the railway station to wait for the train- and for Greg and Yoost to show up.

Actually, the railroad station had a nice little garden with benches and such where we could sit down to wait and enjoy the beautiful afternoon. Much better than a sterile waiting room, and with great views of the mountains to boot.

Actually, we were getting a bit concerned about Greg and Yoost, particularly when the announcement was made for train boarding and we had not yet seen them. Fortunately, they'd been having a drink somewhere nearby, and showed up just at the time we decided we'd better go ahead and board.

We boarded the train about 4:45 ahead of an on-time departure back to Cuzco right at five.


The Train Ride Back to Cuzco

Getting back to Cuzco was, of course, just a matter of taking the same train ride backwards. The biggest difference was, as you might figure out, that it was dark most of the way; it got darker not far out of the Aguas Calientes station. So, we only got a few pictures of the Vilcanota River alongside the train, and those we did get were repetitive. About the only shot worth including was one I took of Greg and Yoost.

We had dinner instead of breakfast on the train and, after the meal, to keep people occupied (since there wasn't any visible scenery to look at) the crew put on a kind of fashion show (with the inevitable spate of items available for sale afterwards) and also a bit of entertainment, in which a couple of crew dressed up in colorful costumes and there was much music and dancing in the aisle.

For the final movies of the day, use the players below if you want to watch two short movies of one of the most colorful of the crew:

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And for the final pictures of the day, there are thumbnails below for four of the best of the many pictures we took of the crew performance:

Our taxi driver was at the station as he had promised to pick us up when the train arrived about 10PM, and by 11PM we were back in the apartment. Tomorrow, we will have a full day to walk around Cuzco.

You can return to today's index or continue with the next section below.

November 19, 2014: A Day in Cuzco, Peru
November 17, 2014: From Quito, Ecuador to Cuzco, Peru
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