The Inca Road to
An Ancient Power
By Ted Rose
Perched precariously on the saddle of a dramatic Andean
ridge in Peru, I gaze out at the sea of mountainous peaks. It's a perfect
time: the afternoon clouds are rolling back, revealing an extraordinary
panorama. Laid out below me are ancient pieces of rock, cracked and
weathered, set in an organized jumble. The terraced land looks like
stratified rock. An imposing granite tower lords over it all. And below,
3,000 feet straight down, the Urubamba River curls around the rock, its
Class V rapids pounding so hard I can hear them from above.
Above the ruins: Get an
eagle's-eye view from the Inca Trail
Welcome to Machu Picchu, the ancient Incan ruins that
make up South America's best-known archaeological site. While the
pyramids of Giza lie on a flat desert floor and Angkor Wat is spread out
on a jungle carpet, Machu Picchu is blanketed by thick Andean jungle and
surrounded by peaks. It requires a bit more perspective and a bit more
effort to reach. In fact, it's perhaps the rainforest that prevented the
Spanish Conquistadors from discovering Machu Picchu and kept it a
avoid the crowds? Spend the night there.
Despite efforts to study Machu Picchu, it has a hazy
provenance. American Hiram Bingham, who found the ruins in 1911, originally
thought little of them. Later, he ginned up an argument that he had
discovered Vilacamba, the legendary last stronghold of Incas on the run from
the Spanish Conquistadors, but other archeologists squashed that theory.
Some believe Machu Picchu was a secret Inca capital; others claim it was a
religious retreat. Archaeologists presume the complex was built in the 15th
century. While stones testify to the building prowess of the Incas and the
crop terraces reflect their agricultural skill, the mighty Inca
civilization, which rose and fell within a short 100 years, had its flaws.
First and foremost, the Incas never invented writing. For that reason, if no
other, Machu Picchu may always remain a mystery.
And that mystery draws hordes of visitors. There are
numerous ways to get to Peru's number-one tourist attraction, including
efficient and comfortable trips by helicopter or train. I chose a third
option: hiking there on a reconstructed stone path called the Inca Trail.
When all of the traffic converges at Machu Picchu, the crowds can get
overwhelming. The key to avoiding those crowds? Spend the night on the high
cliff: In the early morning and late evening, I had the site almost to
And that's when I felt Machu Picchu's power.
Inca Trail trekking