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Machu Picchu

In Peru, an ancient city of the Inca Empire remains a marvel in stone.

Machu Picchu
Photo credit
Photo: Sean Caffrey/Lonely Planet Images
Photo caption
Machu Picchu became a World Heritage Site in 1983.

Spanish conquistadores searched high and low for the most magnificent city in the Inca Empire, but apparently they never combed the clouds. Perched at roughly 8,000 feet atop a ridge in the Peruvian Andes, Machu Picchu (Old Mountain) escaped detection—its temples and terraced fields remained untouched by the invaders—even after it was abandoned in the late 16th century.

In 1911, Yale archaeologist Hiram Bingham arrived at the site and promptly crowned it the Lost City of the Incas. Many have long argued whether Machu Picchu functioned as a defensive citadel, a royal retreat, or even the home of the Virgins of the Sun cult, but one thing is certain: The “lost city” has decidedly been found. Most of the half-million annual visitors arrive from Cuzco, 50 miles to the southeast, by train and then bus, but some hardy types spend four days trekking up the Inca Trail to play king of the mountain.

This article was first published in January 2011. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.