It was a professor in Latin American Studies from Yale University, Hiram Bingham, who rediscovered the site in 1911. Since then, what is left of the ruins has fascinated tourists from all over the world. Reasonably intact as far as ruins go, Machu Picchu was selected by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site in 1983.
UNESCO has ten criteria by which it designates cultural or natural properties as a World Heritage Site. Of these ten, Machu Picchu meets four. It bears a distinct testimony to the lost city, it serves as a particularly outstanding example of the creative genius of humans, it contains phenomena of profound natural beauty and aesthetic importance and it is a living example of evolution in progress.
The site is located at an elevation of roughly 8,000 feet (2,430 meters) in the Peruvian Andes. Oxygen levels can be thinner than what the body is accustomed to so the fitter you are before you get there, the more pleasant your visit will be. Some visitors have come home and reported that one good way to prepare is to walk up and down the stairs of a tall building near home. Expect a good five hours daily of that level of activity if you decide to go trekking in the Andes.
Experienced travelers suggest staying in a place like Cusco, at 11,000' elevation (3,399 meters) to become acclimatized to the altitude before tackling an excursion to Machu Picchu. Arm yourself with anti-inflammatories and use a hiking pole to protect your delicate knees. If you have asthma or other respiratory condition, or if you have known problems with your joints, you would do well to speak to your local doctor or nurse before making any ambitious plans.
Patriotic and proud, Peruvians love their country. They keep a good corps of national police on hand as a visible deterrent to those who would harass local tourists. Visitors have come back and reported that even when the Peruvians are protesting something, they are peaceful and polite as well as passionately, and loudly, supporting their cause.
Spanish is the main language, although Arabic, Chinese, French, Russian and English are also spoken here. The lost language of Quipu was invented by the Incas. Less a language than a system of record keeping, Quipu was a system of data recording that consisted of knots tied in various colors of cotton or wool thread. It has been hypothesized that it was used to monitor tributes.
Getting yourself and your travel party to Machu Picchu won't be cheap. Once you get there, however, feeding yourselves and finding a place to lay your head will not be too expensive. The best time to visit is probably in the month of either May or September. Although February marks the beginning of summer time, this time of the year it is extremely rainy. May is good because it should be comparatively free of other tourists and the merchants will be full of energy and eager to serve. Some say that planning your trip so that you complete the Inca trail during the night of a full moon will enhance your enjoyment of the experience.
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