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Adventure Blog

The Anniversary of Machu Picchu’s Rediscovery

Buzz Poole
06/28/2011 - 00:00

Did you know that we’re approaching the 100th anniversary of Hiram Bingham III’s rediscovery of Machu Picchu? I didn’t, until I stumbled across this great list of Machu Picchu facts compiled by Los Angeles Times Travel Editor Catharine Hamm (and then saw this New York Times article).

Abandoned in the mid-sixteenth century for reasons unknown and thought to be a vacation spot for royalty, this remarkable reminder of the Incas was recognized as UNESCO World Heritage site in 1983 and counts among one of the world’s most popular destinations for adventure travelers.

Along with plenty of factoids about Machu Picchu, Hamm reveals quite a bit about Bingham, a professor at Yale who later became Connecticut’s governor and then a US Senator ( he was even censured by the Senate in 1929 for employing a lobbyist). According to Hamm: “Critics say, somewhat disdainfully, that Hiram Bingham, who was a history professor, lacked the proper training to excavate Machu Picchu”; “Bingham’s collection of Peruvian artifacts . . . was criticized as haphazard”; “Bingham didn’t really discover Machu Picchu; the residents knew it was there, and a local Quechua-speaking guide, Melchor Arteaga, is said to have led him there.”

I’ve never been to Machu Picchu but my wife went a few years ago. The altitude took a toll on her, complicated further by the fact that she’d picked up a stomach bug, but it didn’t at all diminish her raving about how the entire experience was amazing. She approached the ruins via the Salkantay trek, which is not as crowded as the Inca Trail. Not only did this route afford amazing mountain views and starry nights but she also got to spend some time in villages before arriving at the main attraction for a glorious sunrise viewing.

As Hamm points out in her list, there are scores of different ways to reach Machu Picchu, depending on your budget and just how rugged you want to go. For all the places my wife has been, and all the places we still want to visit, she tells me that she’s open to a return trip to Peru because no matter how you get to Machu Picchu, it’s worth it.

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