This year marks the 100th anniversary of the rediscovery of the city of Machu Picchu. Designated one of the Seven Wonders of the World in 2007, the city is an architectural and aesthetic marvel, especially considering that the construction began in 1450 AD, without the benefit of modern transportation or tools. Perched on an narrow, 8000 foot ridge in the Andes Mountains of South America, the ruins of this once self-sufficient city show that it had palaces, baths, temples, storage rooms and approximately 150 houses, most of which are still in extraordinarily well-preserved condition today.
For those interested in history, Machu Picchu holds a very real appeal; it was constructed as an estate for Inca Emperor Pachacuti, and continued to function well after the rest of the Inca Empire collapsed due to its remote location. In the end, it was simply abandoned, to be rediscovered almost 500 years later by Yale professor and explorer Hiram Bingham.
Machu Picchu also contains a spiritual element for travelers… this region is considered a sacred one, and the Intihuatana stone there (where the Incas held a number of ceremonies) has been shown to be an accurate marker of the date of the May and September equinoxes and other important celestial periods. Legends say that when someone touches their forehead to the Intihuatana stone, it clarifies their vision to the spirit world; a theory tested by many who visit the site.
As such, this out-of-the-way city is a sought after expedition site, and The National Chamber of Tourism has predicted that 650,000 tourists, (mostly from the US and Latin American countries), will visit Machu Picchu in 2011.
There are a number of ways to visit Machu Picchu, of course, and one of them is via a cruise. (Mark Adams, of National Geographic recently did a great article on traveling to Machu Picchu, you can read about some of those options here, as well. It mainly details how to approach the site once you’re in the general vicinity.)
I am, of course, a fan of Lindblad Cruises, and the itineraries they have set up through National Geographic. They’re currently offering an 16-day voyage (see full information here) that begins in Ecuador, travels to the Galapagos Islands, and then visits the Sacred Valley of the Incas and Machu Picchu before ending in Lima, Peru.
Avalon Waterways also offers a 17-day itinerary (see info here) that begins in Lima, then visits the Sacred Valley, Machu Picchu, Cuzco, Quito, the Galapagos and the Amazon.
Both itineraries offer an absolutely fantastic collection of stops, in my opinion- visiting some of the most beautiful and awe-inspiring places in the southern hemisphere.