In the world of travel, Machu PIcchu, the famed "Lost City of the Andes", occupies an increasingly-high position. Currently, more than 1,000,000 tourists a year are visiting this enchanting city of the 15th century Incas. To place that figure in perspective, consider that such outstanding destinations as Australia receive far less than 1,000,000 tourists a year. How many other archaeological sites receive a like number?
Getting there is currently made easier by the decision of a number of airlines to operate direct flights into Cusco, the jumping-off place (via train and bus) to the excavated city. Visitors are warned, however, that if they frequently suffer from altitude sickness, they should arrive in Cusco a full three days ahead of their trip to Machu :PIcchu, in order to accustom themselves to the altitude. (I've heard, but can't confirm, that sticking a wad of cocoa beans into your jaw, and chewing them for a few hours, will also make the transition easier).
It is absolutely necessary that you prepare for the trip through advance reading, usually of the best-selling book of Hiram Bingham, the Yale historian, who claimed to have been the first to discover Machu Picchu (others are now disputing that assertion) just a few years longer than a century ago, in 1911. Bingham's lyrical, triumphant work is exciting to read, but reaches conclusions that a great many current archaeologists dispute. In actual fact, the libraries are full of subsequent books, and whole armies of archaeologists are still actively at work in excavating further portions of Machu Picchu to discover relics and ruins that explain the position of this magnificent, ancient, urban center.
The lanky, bone-thin Bingham (who became the model for Hollywood's Indiana Jones) believed that he had discovered a city purposely built high in the mountains to keep it a secret from enemies of the Inca Empire. This is directly disputed today by modern professors who state emphatically that Machu Picchu was like the "Camp David" of ancient times, a country estate for the Emperor of the Incas, who would repair there to relax and breathe the good mountain air for a few months a year. That theory seems to be confirmed by the fact that in the area around Machu Picchu are many other imperial resting homes, estates and resorts (some like medium-sized cities) that obviously served a relaxing function for the Emperors.
These other cities in the immediate vicinity of Machu Picchu are partially obscured from view by vegetation, but are now being excavated by archaeologists from around the world. Some of these are so impressive that when fully excavated (and the work will surely require additional decades), they may eclipse Machu Picchu in their impressive appearance!
All in all, the brilliant architectural design of Machu Picchu and its neighbors, the remarkable roads build by the Incas, the superb suspension bridges that they maintained over vast crevises and ravines, the fascinating (but as yet indecipherable) knotted strings that are said to be the heiroglyphics of the Incas, the paintings and other designs, the magnificent stonework, should greatly increase our admiration for these people, and cause us to realize how advanced were many earlier cultures. By visiting Machu Picchu, you gain a certain humility about our own civilization, and a better response to various issues of the day. Once again, travel makes us broader-minded people.