The celebrations in Cusco this month to mark the 30th anniversary of the status of Machu Picchu as a Cultural and Natural World Heritage Site are a reminder of the fact that those planning to visit this legacy of Peru’s Inca past should expect much more than a “lost city”.
At the same time, Trip Advisor announced this month that Machu Picchu has topped its poll of the world’s most important historical travel destinations.
Thirty years ago this month, in 1983, UNESCO declared Machu Picchu both a Cultural and Natural World Heritage Site. This rare honor acknowledges the fact that Machu Picchu offers visitors to Peru much more than a unique and spectacular archaeological site.
This month also saw Trip Advisor announce that Machu Picchu has topped its poll of theworld’s top historical tourist attractions. The readers’ poll placed the Inca city ahead of other historical monuments around the world, including Angkor Wat in Cambodia, the Taj Mahal (India), Petra (Jordan) and the temple of Karnak in Egypt.
Visitors walking around the Machu Picchu ruins
Surrounding the Inca city, the Machu Picchu Historical Sanctuary covers an area of around 326 square kilometers in the transition zone between the Andes and the Amazon. This is an area of densely forested mountains, and the Incas settled this land which was so different from the highlands of Cusco sometime in the 15th century, as they sought new territory where they could plant crops to support the growing population of their empire.
Those who hike the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu will be able to appreciate many of those settlements established by the Incas, as the trail passes imposing archaeological sites such as Llactapata, Phuyupatamarca and Wiñay Wayna before the city discovered in 1911 is reached.
Hikers will also be able to enjoy the incredible biological diversity of the Machu Picchu Historical Sanctuary. The extraordinary altitudinal range of the sanctuary, from the summit of MountSalkantay at 6,271 meters (20,572 feet) to the Aobamba Valley (1,725 meters or 5,628 feet), means that it is home to several ecosystems and an unprecedented variety of fauna and flora. These forests are home to more than 400 species of birds, and over 200 species of orchids, while the largest mammal in the forests around Machu Picchu is the spectacled bear, South America’s only species of bear.