From ancient ruins to historic cities, get an insider look into the must-see destinations of Peru.
Of all the countries in South America, Peru is home to the largest collection of ancient ruins, with some of the world’s most spectacular historic sites, including Machu Picchu, (one of the Seven Wonders of the World), scattered throughout its Sacred Valley. The remnants left by these fascinating civilizations are a testament to the advanced thinking and technology that was practiced here. On our recent FP Escapes retreat to Peru, we were fortunate enough to explore these sacred sites with our friends at Yogascapes and yogini Ashleigh Sergent.
We began our journey at an oxygen-challenging 11,000 feet above sea level in Cusco, the historic capital of the Incas. Built by the 9th King of the Incas, Pachacutec designed the city to be shaped like a Puma. The Puma, along with the Condor and the Serpent, are highly revered and continue to stand today as the 3 most sacred animals in Peruvian culture. With the city center making up the animal body, the head of Puma lies at Sacsaywaman. Lying on the northern outskirts of the city, Saksaywaman has puzzled scientists for years. The remarkably large stones that were used to construct the site are cut to fit together without mortar, exhibiting a precision of fitting that is unsurpassed in the Americas. What is even more astounding is that the angles and positioning of the stones are believed to correspond to astronomical alignments.
Through the power of great observation of the sun and moon, the Incas were able to predict the position of eclipses and convert the astronomical values into angular values, which were then incorporated into their architecture. This technique was used not only at Saksaywaman, but also at numerous ancient sites throughout Peru.
One of the best examples of Incan city planning is the charming village of Ollantaytambo. Home to two massive Inca ruins, the town has been continually inhabited since the 13th century. With some blocks weighing over 50 tons, the mysterious megalithic stonework of Ollanta was placed with mind-boggling precision; you cant even slide a single piece of paper between two stones! Specialists claim that, even with the most current technology available, we could not reproduce these remarkable sites with the skill and precision used by the ancient magicians who built Ollantaytambo.
By far the most famous historical site in all of South America, Machu Picchu is the apex of any journey to Peru. Built in the 15th century on a mountainous ridge high above the raging Urubamba River, Machu Picchu’s space among the clouds lends a feeling of transcendence to its visitors. Inhabited for only a hundred years before being abandoned during the Spanish conquest, the city remained a secret until 1911, when the American explorer Hiram Bingham rediscovered it. Because the Inca had no written language, there is no record as to why they built the site or how it was used. With 700-plus terraces, the site’s magnificent engineering blends naturally into the stone cliffs that it is built on. Situated at the heart of a network of related sites and landmarks, Machu Picchu’s complex of palaces, plazas, temples and homes appear to align with astronomical events.
The Inca Empire disappeared almost as quickly as they built these sacred sites. With such a sophisticated understanding of the cosmos, one is left wondering what universal secrets they might have unlocked had they been around for another 100 years.