When Hiram Bingham searched for theLost City of the Incas in 1911, he traversed"mighty precipices, passes 3miles high, granite canyons morethan a mile in depth, glaciers and tropical forests, aswell as dangerous rapids." What the Yale professorand a National Geographic explorer found has becomethe most acclaimed tourist attraction in SouthAmerica. "Machu Picchu," says his grandson of thesame name, "was for my grandfather, ‘a bridge betweenheaven and earth.'"
Crossing the Bridge
Northwest of Cusco, Peru, the ruins of MachuPicchu still exist, having perhaps a greater impact onvisitors today than it had on Bingham. Bingham hadbrought in an army of workers to remove the junglethat shrouded the incredible work of man. And now,exposed for all to see, the ruins sprawl before touristswho stand in awe. It is an experience that meets everytraveler's expectations—photographs published of theruins years ago made many the traveler they are today.Ecologists are now concerned that the flood of touristspassing through will damage the park—but who isgoing to turn away those wide-eyed romantics? Thetransportation infrastructure is being improved to supportsuch an increase in people: the train system fromCusco, the ancient Inca capital, is better developed;there are now about 600 tourist beds in the villageitself; and the bus system from the village 2 milesbelow the ruins runs more efficiently—though it stilltakes half an hour for the buses to claw their way upthe twisting road to the ruins.
A Room with a View
The choice of accommodations for most Americansis between the Machu Picchu Sanctuary Lodgelocated at the ruins, originally built for the archaeologistsand run by the Orient Express (800-237-1236;www.monasterio.orient-express.com/web/ocus/ocus_c3a_lodge.jsp), and the Inkaterra MachuPicchu Pueblo Hotel (800-442-5042; www.inkaterra.com/mpph/index.html). The Machu PicchuSanctuary Lodge has all the advantages and disadvantagesof being at the entrance to the ruins.While the location, convenience, and view areamazing, there are crowds all day, and it is veryexpensive. Currently, the cost of a double occupancyis $715, which includes three meals plus a 19%service charge—rooms with a view of the ruins runaround $935.
Travel & Leisure
The Inkaterra Machu Picchu Pueblo Hotel, ahaven of rest, is a much better buy; the March 2006called it "The #1 best value hotel inLatin America." A double is currently $414, whichalso consists of three meals and only a 10% servicecharge already included, and suites are currently$559. Many services are complimentary, such asassistance at the railway station—only a 3-minutewalk from the hotel. The Inkaterra grounds are aconservationist's delight, with gardens devoted toorchids, butterflies, and humming birds. While it ishalf an hour from the ruins, its distance gives touriststime to reflect on the mystery of Machu Picchu.
The village itself is a bargain hunter's delight. Thereare countless booths with brightly colored clothingand artifacts, interesting restaurants—some still using600-year-old Inca walls for support—and of course, avillage church, which defies its age in magnificence.And when the magic of Machu Picchuis spent and travelers return to Cusco,they're still heading for an adventure: awalking city—the 11,000-foot-highancient capital has its own air of history,mystery, and intrigue.
LAN CHILE/PERU offers a magnificentservice to Lima, Peru, fromJFK, LAX, and Miami airports. Flighttimes are such that passengers can flyin from the United States, catch a connectionto Cusco, and get transportationto the village below MachuPicchu before dark the next day.
If you are planning to go, avoidthe wet season, which is Novemberto March. The wet season can becold, and while visitors should dressaccordingly, you'll have manychances to warm up if you attemptthe many, often quite steep steps atthe ruins. But the experience isworth the effort and surely createslong-lasting memories