Lost in the Andes

When it comes to ancient ruins of the Andes, most people immediately think of the famous Machu Picchu. By 1911, when archaeologist Hiram Bingham “officially” discovered the ruins, they were hidden in dense forest and morning mist, high on a hill above the thundering Urubamba River. Thought by the Inca ruler Pachacuti to build Inca Yapancui, the shrine of Machu Picchu covers an area of 5 square kilometers. It is part of the greater heritage of Machu Picchu, which covers an area of 32,600 hectares and contains many archeological wonders and a multitude of beautiful flora and fauna.

Reaching the ruins is not small and is 10 km longer than the trek to Machu Picchu on the famous Inca Trail. It is a partly strenuous trek, with 8km of endless switches to reach the campsite near the ruins. Despite being larger than Machu Picchu, only about 30% of the ruins were unearthed, revealing some uniquely competent features. Decorating the sides of some terraces, there are whitewashed rocks that create the shape of a llama. Elsewhere, the flaws are used to create the shape of a woman.

While about 3,000 tourists flock to Machu Picchu every day, other ruins, no less beautiful, lie abandoned; of little visited and unknown of many. One of these is the Choquequirao, which is said to have once housed about 150 people and was full and self-sufficient in terms of food and water. A wide terrace includes the ruins surrounding the side of the Capuliyochill, the top of which was aligned by the Incas to create a flat platform 30 to 50 m wide.

In the northern part of the country, almost 1000 km from Machu Picchu, stands another unknown hero, the Citadel Fortress Kuelap. This massive complex measures 110m x 600m and consists of hundreds of stone buildings in different stages of the ruin. With its characteristic tall yellow-walled entrance and green grass shining in the sunlight, it sits at an altitude of 3000 m and looks down over the Urubambadal valley below. Arriving at the ruins does not require endless miles of ascending pace; well, not if you take the tour bus. The Peruvian government plans to make this a ‘second Machu Picchu” and if it plans to install a lift into the ruins, as in Choquequirao, it will happen soon.

In addition to master builders of terraces, the Incas are also gifted in hydro-engineering and the 3500m high Tipón is all about respecting water and the life it gives. With spring water high up on the mountain, the engineers of Tipón built 12 terraces with stone-clad aqueducts to fall a total of 130m altitude, from 1. 35km away. A path to the stairs was laid along the aqueducts, and steep slopes were wound in places with a 30% gradient. These ruins are remarkably peaceful with a quiet serenity.

The ability to use ancient Peruvian water was not entirely limited to agriculture, and although these are not actually considered ruins, they are certainly an incredible sight and are said to possibly belong to the Inca Empire. At the end of a distant dirt road near the town of Moras hundreds of kilometers from the sea, at an altitude of 3800 m, lies a whitewashed mountain. Hundreds of terraces favor the hills, built just to take advantage of salt. Each salt pond is about 30cm and measures 2 × 2 meters. Narrow funnels channel water from one pond to the other along the mountainside. The ponds are individually owned by about 600-700 families and the salt is collected by hand in large bags, where it is carried upwards and transported to the nearest town by donkeys.

Myriads of ruins lie across the Andes, from southern Chilean center of Peru, far no less beautiful than the popular Machu Picchu. Everyone gets a point on a massive roadmap that includes a vast empire that once ruled the Andes. For the Inca people, many of their secrets are still buried in the cloud forests, waiting for an opportunity to reveal their secrets.

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