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A Modern Mystery at Machu Picchu

I’m beginning to have a contentious relationship with Machu Picchu, and I’ve never even seen it. But at least I’m not the only one.

For the last few months, I’ve been trying to decide on the location of my next trekking trip, and because some friends and I ended up with flight vouchers to South America (long story), the Inca Trail was at the top of my list. Then I met some people who had opted for the “other Machu Picchu,” Choquequirao, and my eyes wandered. It seemed like maybe I could get the thrill of hiking to a legendary lost city with less crowds. And so it’s gone, back and forth, with a few other possibilities (Llamas! Jungles! Volcanoes!) thrown in for good measure.

Photo courtesy of IgoUgo member pietropecco

Now it seems the entire world is questioning Machu Picchu—or at least the man credited with “discovering” it, Hiram Bingham. Documents have surfaced that suggest other explorers uncovered the ruins decades before the National Geographic- and Yale-funded Bingham arrived. And now Peru is laying claim to the artifacts that Bingham brought back to Yale in the early 1900s.

It made me wonder about Bingham, and about the story of the Inca city’s rediscovery, so I did a little more research. I learned that Bingham later served as governor of Connecticut and a U.S. senator, for one thing. I can also confirm that he was indeed quite handsome (every single article I read about the recent spats mentioned this, so I had to verify). But I’m still not sure which way I lean on his Peruvian heroics, or on visiting the site myself, though I am newly curious because of this archaeological intrigue.

Has anyone ever visited the site? What are your impressions of the latest developments?


My name: Michelle Doucette

How I earn my keep: I'm an editor at

Favorite way to get around: Some of my favorite trips involved renting cars in foreign countries and driving through the countryside, stopping on whims. You get a feel for the culture away from the big cities and meet interesting people on the road, including, I must admit, an embarrassingly high number of local policemen. I suppose it would be prudent to learn all of the traffic laws ahead of time.

Best meal I've had while traveling: Since a succession of gelato cones probably doesn't count as a meal, my favorite must have been a fresh crabmeat lunch prepared by a St. John sailboat captain while we took a break from snorkeling in the Caribbean. Sharing baklava as the sun came up over Paros, Greece, (while, once again, not technically a meal) was also memorable.

Travel ambitions: Since climbing Mount Kilimanjaro, I've figured out that I'd like to keep trekking while traveling. I've got my eyes on epic hikes in Nepal, Bhutan, and Peru.



I was lucky enough to go to Machu Picchu a few years ago, and even ater seeing all the pictures and reading about all its mysteries, there really is nothing quite like standing amid the ruins and seeing them in person. The shifting clouds, the precipitous views, and the sheer impossibility of it all –The site literally hangs on the steep side of a mountain, so how in the world did they build all this without modern equipment? It really is wondrous and worth discovering for yourself, no matter who “discovered” it for the history books.


I visited Machu Picchu in 1996 when I was a teenager. I echo Rachel here: despite seeing photos and reading histories, it was life-changing to climb to the Temple of the Sun and look through the valleys as the spired mountains blot out the sun and you try to understand how civilization could unfold in such a remote place.
Steps have since been taken to limit tourism’s impact on the site, which may be a necessary evil. Better that fewer people see it than to have nothing to show anyone in a matter of years.


I’m torn on Machu Picchu. I want to hike and experience it, but I don’t want to be seen as somebody who is “ruining the ruins” in the process of visiting it. What is the most responsible way to go about visiting Machu Picchu? Airline tickets to Lima (from Los Angeles for example) are usually on the low end as well ($500 range), so a Mich Pichu visit is definitely viable for me.


Glad I stumbled onto this blog – and this post about Machu Picchu. My girlfriend and I are contemplating a trip there next summer, but am definitely still in the R&D phase. Any general advice anyone could toss out would be great.
I hear you have to go with a tour guide company. Are they all legit, or is there 1 or 2 companies that rise above the rest?
Is it better to fly into Lima or Cusco when going to Peru?
What is the weather like in June-July-August?
Overall, what are prices like for eating, lodging, transportation in Peru?

any help in the “general” category would be greatly appreciated.

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