100 facts for 100 years of Machu Picchu: Fact 100

Los Angeles Times Travel Editor

This is the last installment of “100 Facts for 100 Years of Machu Picchu.” On July 24, 1911, Hiram Bingham III, a Yale professor, came upon the vine-covered ruins of the ancient Inca city, which the Spanish had overlooked for three centuries.

To commemorate the anniversary, look for staff writer Christopher Reynolds’ story on his recent trip to Machu Picchu,  T. Craig Ligibel’s story on his father-daughter trek  through the Vilcabamba Mountains and Sarah Karnasiewicz’s article on the solitary wonders of Colca Canyon. You can also view Reynolds’ photo gallery and videos.

For the 100 days leading to the anniversary, we’ve been publishing a fact a day. Here’s a look at the site’s country, history and players. Read from the bottom up. And thanks to all who have been reading these factoids.

100. But how do you sneak a crane into this place? Yet another mystery of Machu Picchu.


99. The damage to the sundial at Machu Picchu apparently was inflicted by a crane, for which officials said the company did not have permission.

98. Unfortunately, the sundial at Machu Picchu was chipped during the filming of a beer commercial some years ago.

97. With one notable and outrageous exception: the sundial at the Intihuatana stone, called the “Hitching Post of the Sun.” At the spring and autumn equinoxes, the sun shines overhead and casts no shadow, another of the wonders of Machu Picchu.

96. The stones at Machu Picchu are in remarkably good shape.


95. Most of the buildings at Machu Picchu had thatched roofs once, but time and weather ate those away.

94. It’s unclear how these heavy stones were moved to Machu Picchu nor is it known how the stone cutters worked with such precision. That is part of the wonder.

93. Notice how the architectural features of the buildings at Machu Picchu (there are about 200 on the 5 square miles) seem to mimic the geography around them.

 92. While you are looking around Machu Picchu (we recommend hiring a guide), llamas sometimes appear as if out of nowhere.

91. The layout of Machu Picchu is highly organized. Its agricultural areas (upper and lower) are separated from the urban areas (divided into east and west) by walls.

90. Actress Susan Sarandon was on hand for the re-opening of the railroad line to Aguas Calientes.

89. The rainy season can cause some problems. Machu Picchu was closed in early 2010 for two months because heavy rains washed out the railroad line to Aguas Calientes.

88. Hiram Bingham said of the weather, “The climate seems to be excellent. We noticed growing sweet and white potatoes, maize, sugarcane, beans, peppers, tomatoes and a kind of gooseberry.”


87. The crowds are smaller at Machu Picchu, however, during the rainy season.

86. The rainy season inPeru is October through April.

85. Remember, Machu Picchu is below the Equator, so our summer is their winter. But it’s not exactly arctic  in winter in this subtropical climate.

84. Many of Machu Picchu’s structures had religious significance or agricultural importance.

83. As many as 1,000 people lived at the royal complex of Machu Picchu, which was abandoned perhaps as late as 1572.

82. The Urubamba River surrounds the Machu Picchu complex on three sides, about 1,500 feet below.

81. Machu Picchu was built at the behest of Pachacuti (“He Who Shakes the Earth”), the ruler of the Incan Empire, between two peaks -- Machu Picchu and Huayna Picchu.

80. Hiram Bingham’s missionary grandparents, the Rev. Hiram and Sybil Bingham, were among the first group of missionaries to arrive in Hawaii in 1820. Rev. Bingham was a member of the committee that founded Punahou School, which was founded in 1841 and opened in 1842. They were not there to see it: Sybil Bingham’s health declined, so they returned to the States the year before the school opened.


79. What do Hiram Bingham, President Obama and actors Buster Crabbe and Joan Blondell have in common? They are alumni of Punahou School on Oahu, a private, co-educational prep school in Honolulu.

78. Hiram Bingham’s father and grandfather were missionaries.

77. Hiram Bingham’s love of adventure may have been preordained. He was born in Honolulu in 1875, more than 20 years before Hawaii became a territory.

76. Some say Hiram Bingham was the model for Indiana Jones, the swashbuckling adventurer of movie fame.  (Yes, but did Bingham hate snakes?)

75. Hiram Bingham was rich in many senses of the word. (He was married to an heir to the Tiffany fortune, whom he later divorced.) He had seven sons.

74. Hiram Bingham died June 6, 1956, and is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

73. President Harry Truman established the Civil Service Loyalty Review Board to show that he was not soft on communism. Hiram Bingham was a board member from 1951-53.

72. Hiram Bingham served on the Civil Service Loyalty Review Board. The board was established in 1947 by President Harry Truman. From the order establishing the body: “There shall be a loyalty investigation of every person entering the civilian employment of any department or agency of the executive branch of the federal government.”

71. Hiram Bingham lost his 1932 reelection for the U.S. Senate.

70. According to the Biographical Dictionary of the U.S. Congress, Hiram Bingham was “censured by the Senate in 1929 on charges of placing of a lobbyist on his payroll.”

69. Hiram Bingham took the Senate seat, made vacant by the suicide of Sen. Frank B. Brandegee, and won reelection in 1926.

68. Hiram Bingham was offered a U.S. Senate seat, made vacant by the suicide of Sen. Frank B. Brandegee, soon after Bingham assumed the governor’s mantle.

67. In 1924, Hiram Bingham became governor of Connecticut. But even that wasn’t enough.

66. A decade after Hiram Bingham’s expedition toPeru, he was elected lieutenant governor of Connecticut. But he had more in mind.

65. Hiram Bingham’s reputation apparently didn’t suffer in the United States, which was helpful because he had political ambitions.

64. Hiram Bingham’s reputation is said to have suffered -- at least among those who criticized his methods of gathering  the treasures.

63. Hiram Bingham’s collection of Peruvian artifacts, however, was criticized as haphazard.

62. Hiram Bingham III brought back more than 5,000 artifacts fromPeru on an expedition funded by National Geographic and Yale University.

61. Critics say, somewhat disdainfully, that Hiram Bingham, who was a history professor, lacked the proper training to excavate Machu Picchu.

60. Some say that, like the Spanish, Hiram Bingham took what wasn’t his on his trips toPeru.

59. Spain was, arguably, the wealthiest and most powerful country in the world at one time. Its coffers surely benefited from the infusion of riches fromPeru.

58. Spain called its conquered lands the “Viceroyalty ofPeru,” ruling for 300 years.

57. It’s unclear why Machu Picchu was abandoned, but some say it may have been because water was scarce. (That seems unlikely, given the attention to engineering and hydrology at the site, as evidenced, partly, by the irrigation system.) Others blame the Spanish conquest.

56. Machu Picchu was abandoned in the mid-16th century.

55. No one is certain exactly when Machu Picchu was built, but best guesses suggest it was some time around the mid-15th century.

54. Machu Picchu, it’s postulated today, probably was a vacation spot for royalty.

53. Later research showed that the remains found at Machu Picchu were not all women, and the idea that it was a sanctuary of sorts for the Virgins of the Sun was discarded.

52. The Virgins of the Sun were an elite group who took a vow of chastity. They were not of noble blood, but their leader, a high priestess, was.

51. The early explorers, led by Hiram Bingham, were unclear about the purpose of Machu Picchu. Remains found at the site allegedly were all women, leading some to believe it was the sanctuary of the Virgins of the Sun.

50. Machu Picchu is hard to see from below. It is in a cloud forest (note to visitors: Mornings are often foggy) and has been overgrown.

49. If the Spaniards failed to find Machu Picchu, perhaps it’s because they were distracted by their desire for the spoils of war, which is partly what led to disagreements between Diego de Almargo and Francisco and Hernando Pizarro.

48. Francisco Pizarro was killed by the son and supporters of his partner, Diego de Almargo, who had been executed by Pizarro’s brother, Hernando.

47. Francisco Pizarro easily took over the city of Cuzco. Two years later, he founded Lima, where he died in 1541.

46. In 1533, Atahuallpa was executed, and explorer Francisco Pizarro began his march to Cuzco.

45. Amazingly, Francisco Pizarro’s men, who numbered less than 200, overcame 4,000 or so Incans and captured Atahuallpa, the Incan ruler.

44. In November 1530, Francisco Pizarro and Atahualpa, the Incan ruler, were to meet in Cajamarca, an Incan city in northernPeru. Pizarro told Atahualpa to give himself to Christ and the Spaniards, and when he refused, Pizarro decided to attack.

43. The governor of Panama  thought the expeditions foolish, so Francisco Pizarro went to Spain to speak directly with the emperor, who said yes. Off Pizarro sailed.

42. Pizarro and his partner, Diego de Almargo, and a priest, Hernando de Luque, sailed down the west coast of South America twice.

41. Francisco Pizarro seems an unlikely player in that drama. He was a bit of a puzzle. Once, the explorer was marked as unambitious, but after a stint as mayor of a city named Panama (in, not surprisingly, Panama), he turned his attention to South America.

40. Where once there was an Incan empire, now there was a Spanish empire that endured for 300 years.

39. The conquistadors played a huge role inPeru, of course. Led by Francisco Pizarro, they claimed the land for Spain in the 1500s.

38. Did the Spaniards know of Machu Picchu? Hiram Bingham didn’t think so. “Yet so far as I have been able to discover, there is no reference in the Spanish chronicles to Machu Picchu. It is possible that not even the conquistadors ever saw this wonderful place.”

37. Hiram Bingham continued, “Surprise followed surprise until we came to the realization that we were in the midst of as wonderful ruins as any ever found inPeru.”

36. And what, really, could be? Here’s what Hiram Bingham wrote in Harper’s Monthly in 1913 about coming upon Machu Picchu. "... Suddenly we found ourselves in the midst of a jungle-covered maze of small and large walls, the ruins of buildings made of blocks of white granite, most carefully cut and beautifully fitted together without cement.”

35. Hiram Bingham found Vilcabamba, but he dismissed it because it wasn’t as grand as Machu Picchu.

34. Today, historians think the real Vilcabamba is close to Vitcos, an archaeological site, in the eastern Andes. Another swashbuckling explorer, Gene Savoy, came upon it in 1964 at a place called Espiritu Pampa.

33. Hiram Bingham thought he had found Vilcabamba, the true “Lost City of the Incas,” which was said to be where the Incas took refuge from the Spaniards.

32. Columbus, of course, thought he discovered Asia; Hiram Bingham thought he discovered the “Lost City of the Incas.” Both were wrong.

31. Here’s something Hiram Bingham and Christopher Columbus have in common: Both thought they had discovered some other place.

30. Like many explorers, Hiram Bingham didn’t know exactly what he found.

29. Hiram Bingham said in his Harper’s Monthly story, published in 1913, that a “local muleteer” may have been in Machu Picchu in 1902, based on scrawls he found on a wall. It seems clear that even if the Spanish didn’t know it existed, others certainly did.

28. Hiram Bingham may not have been the first European to find Machu Picchu. Some say it was a German named Augusto Berns who came upon it in 1867.

27. Hiram 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.

26. Machu Picchu was, not surprisingly, declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1983.

25. When you enter Machu Picchu, you’ll see why it’s been designated one of the best-preserved pre-Columbian ruins in the world.

24. You can go to Machu Picchu and return to Cuzco in a day, but you’ll have more of it to yourself if you plan to stay a night or two. Day trippers usually leave by 2 p.m.

23.  Aguas Calientes, which has grown haphazardly as tourist crowds have grown, offers accommodations, some basic and others more luxurious, and is the starting point for the ascent (by bus, if you wish) to the Incan citadel.

22. The train deposits you at Aguas Calientes, at the foot of Machu Picchu (which you’ll see spelled as Machupijchu).

21. In March and April, however, train travelers have been taking a bus from the Wanchaq Station in the Cuzco area, to Ollantaytambo and then taking the train to Aguas Calientes because of maintenance projects with the line.

20. Depending on the level of luxury you desire, your train trip to Machu Picchu could cost as little as $96 from Cuzco (for the Expedition train). It’s $142 for the VistaDome and $668 for the Hiram Bingham.

19. You have three choices of train travel to Machu Picchu: the Expedition, or backpacker train (basic), the VistaDome train (which has lots of windows, but if it’s warm outside, you may feel as though you are baking in a terrarium) and the Hiram Bingham, a luxury train operated by Orient Express.

18. Most visitors take the narrow-gauge train to Machu Picchu from the Cuzco area (usually departing from the Poroy station).

17. The five days’ journey from Cuzco refers to hiking to Machu Picchu, which you can still do today on the Incan Trail, a three- to six-day trip that requires good stamina.

16. Hiram Bingham wrote in Harper’s Monthly in 1913: “It seemed almost incredible that this city [Machu Picchu], only five days’ journey from Cuzco, should have remained so long undescribed and comparatively unknown.”

15.Cuzco, with a population of about 300,000, is the gateway to Machu Picchu, but don’t let the word “gateway” confuse you: Machu Picchu is 50 miles beyond Cuzco near the town of Aguas Calientes, far below the Incan ruins.

14. The symptoms of altitude sickness don’t generally occur until you’re at 8,000 feet. Depending on which yardstick you use, Machu Picchu may be less than that (or more). Some say it’s at 7,100 feet; others say 9,000. Bottom line: Cut yourself a little slack.

13. To help cope with the altitude, make sure you don’t get dehydrated and avoid drinking alcohol.

12. Some hotels provide oxygen for visitors; others offer coca tea, and it’s not unusual to find packets of coca leaves for sale. These can be chewed and are said to help relieve altitude issues. And yes, cocaine is produced from the leaves, but the amount of the alkaloid you’d ingest from the tea or chewing the leaves is small.

11. Among the problems AMS can cause (if you’re coming from sea-level California, be aware of this): headaches, shortness of breath, fatigue and/or nausea or vomiting. Consult a doctor before you go if you think you may have a problem. Symptoms usually disappear in four days, but in some cases, AMS may be fatal.

10. At 11,150 feet,  Cuzco requires acclimation. Some people develop altitude sickness, also known as acute mountain sickness, or AMS.

9. Cuzco, sometimes spelled Cusco, means “navel” or “center” of the Earth. It certainly was the center of Inca civilization high in the Andes Mountains.

8. Legend has it that Manco Capac, the son of the sun god, and Mama Ocllo, daughter of the moon, established the seat of what would become an empire at Cuzco in the 11th or 12th century.

7. Much of what we know -- or think we know -- about the Inca society is hazy and often mixes fact with myth.

6. Because the Incas had no written language system (or one that we have yet figured out), the spellings of original words vary widely. Inca, for example, may be spelled Inka, Ygna or Inga.

5. The Incas, who created incredible architecture and political systems, had no known written system of language, although some scientists suggest khipu may also have served that function.

4. The Inca used khipu (spelled “quipu” in Spanish), a series of knots that functioned as a sort of counting system.

3. About half the population ofPeru is Quechua, a South American Indian group. The group’s native tongue is also called Quechua. A dialect of that language was spoken by the Incas.

2. Peru shares borders with five countries: Ecuador, Brazil, Bolivia, Chile and Colombia.

1. At 496,218 square miles, Peru, in western South America, is about the size of three Californias. California, however, has about 8 million more residents than Peru.


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