If there was ever a beaten path to take, it’s that of the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu in Peru.
Often referred to as the Lost City of the Incas, it consists of more than 150 buildings and is steeped in mystery, as no one can quite agree on what it was and why it was abandoned.
Re-discovered by historian Hiram Bingham on July 24, 1911, Machu Picchu is now one of South America’s most famous tourist attractions, with about 1.2 million visitors a year.
Here are 26 photos that show why the ancient Incan city has remained one of the most popular tourist attractions in the world for over a century.
It's recommended that you hang out in town for a few days (common starting points are Cusco and Ollantaytambo) before attempting the hike in order to get acclimatized to the altitude.
The Inca trail actually consists of three overlapping trails, each of which varies in duration and level of difficulty.
Be prepared for two to seven days of intense climbs, potential altitude sickness, and cold, cold nights -- as well as incredibly rewarding views.
If you're not into hiking, a new luxury train (the Orient-Express Hiram Bingham train) will also take you from Cusco to Machu Picchu.
The train also boasts amazing views, and can be done as a day trip or overnight excursion, as it's a 6-hour round trip.
No matter how you get there, you'll never forget that first glimpse of the Lost City of the Incas, on the eastern slopes of the Andes.
Some believe that the massive ruins were built as a royal estate for the Inca emperor Pachacuti and his nobles.
No one knows why it was abandoned either. Historians agree that it must have been built when the Inca empire peaked, which was in the 15th and 16th centuries, before they were more or less eradicated by Spanish invaders around the 1530s. Allegedly, over 1,000 people lived here at some point.
People say that it was abandoned only 100 years after being built. Some think it was due to the Spanish, but others, who point out that there's no proof that the Spanish made it up to Machu Picchu, claim that a smallpox epidemic is to blame.
Whatever happened, the majestic complex sits 8,000 feet above sea level and is spread across five miles.
It contains 150+ buildings -- baths, tombs, temples, and burial grounds -- and more than 3,000 steps that connect different sites and levels.
Machu Picchu contains terraces and gardens, granite temples and limestone houses, even staircases and aqueducts that are cut into the hillside.
And whatever Machu Picchu was intended to be, it has some pretty advanced examples of engineering and agriculture, as well as intricate stonework and progressive irrigation systems.
The buildings are renowned for fitting together perfectly, without the need for mortar, and without as much as a crack.
Machu Picchu was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983, as well as one of the 'New Seven Wonders of the World' in 2007.
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