Llactapata to Machu Picchu

Machu Picchu is a big deal. The feature piece of Inca architecture, it was designed with strong connections to nature. We will talk about this in our next post, but one major point we picked up is that the Inca's beliefs strongly influenced not only the design of their cities, but the relationships between the cities.

The ruins of Llactapata provide a classic example of this. Situated on an opposing ridge, Llactapata has been designed to have structures that align with both the solstice line and key buildings in Machu Pichu.

The reasons behind the alignment with the solstice line are speculation, but the solstice would likely have been a major event for people that worshiped the sun. At this time of year the sun is closest to the earth and the Incas probably staged major rituals in their sun temples and around their intihuatana stones.

Looking out over the train lines and power station. Llactapata is located on top of the ridge in the background. The intihuatana stone is at the bottom of the valley. This photo was taken from the western edge of Machu Picchu.

Several clues suggest that this is the case. In Llactapata a stone corridor has been built in alignment with the solstice line. Mark Adams notes that when the sun rises during the solstice it's light runs straight down the corridor. In Machu Picchu, Mark was the first to establish that during the solstice light shone directly through a window in a major building, the Torreon (also known as the Room with Three Windows and other variations), and is thought to have lit up a golden statue of Pachacutec inside.

The last clue is the placement of the intihuatana stone near the hydroelectric train station. This can be found about 10-15 minutes walk uphill in the direction of Machu Picchu. The word intihuatana literally translates in Quechua as 'hitching post for the sun'. It is thought that the Incas wished to stall the suns passage, possibly to ensure a good harvest. Such stones are present in Pisac and Machu Picchu, however there were many more before the Spanish destroyed them.

Mark and the intihuatana stone. You can see the remains of the broken gnomon to the left of Mark.

Armed with this knowledge we decided to try a different way of getting to Machu Picchu. We had already been put off by the cost of the traditional hike and there was also the issue of not knowing when we would be passing through Peru (our haste to get to Brazil in time for Lollapalooza had put us off booking events too far in advance). So, with the help of the kind folk at the South American Explorer's Club and the handy Trail Blazing Guide (which contains a map of Llactapata), we decided to go the back route…

This consisted of catching a local bus to Santa Teresa, which lies north west of Machu Picchu. From here it is possible to catch a taxi south to the western side of the ridge where Llactapata is situated. We intended to stay a night in Santa Teresa and then tackle Llactapata in the morning. The plan was to then walk down the eastern side of the ridge to the train station, where we would catch the train to Aguas Calientes (you can also walk along the train line if you can be bothered, but we wanted to squeeze in more beer drinking time).

All this was well and good until we were struck with food poising during our night in Santa Teresa. Terrible timing! We were guttered as we had been looking forward to this for months. Our main worry was missing Machu Picchu, so we hedged our bets and bailed on Llactapata. This, fortunately, was the only compromise we needed to make for this leg of the trip. We still visited the intihuatana stone (which we had to ourselves) and despite feeling somewhat sorry for ourselves, there were no 'incidents' on the train.

We highly recommend this approach to getting to Machu Picchu. The trip on the local bus was very scenic, amazing views. We would however recommend taking a tour to Santa Teresa if the budget affords – the van will travel at a reasonable speed and you won't be packed in like sardines. Our driver was an asshole with a death wish. Several passengers were car sick (literally throwing up in plastic bags on their laps and he refused to stop or slow down) and we had several close calls on the windy mountain roads. The worst stint we've had, and we've had some bad trips.

That aside, the trip is great, as is the section through to Aguas Calientes. You can actually see Machu Picchu from the train and the intihuatana stone, which gave us goose bumps. The landscape is lush with tropical forest and you'll have to resist the temptation to jump into the Urubamba.

Machu Picchu from the intihuatana stone at the hydroelectric power station.

Getting to the Intihuatana Stone

We found our books to be a bit vague on the stone's location so perhaps our advice may make it easier. To get there walk about 10 minutes in the direction of Machu Picchu. Keep an eye on your right hand side for an unmarked dirt path that runs up the hill. Follow this path to a little house (ignore the carved rocks), where the path hooks left beside the house. Carry on as the path hooks right again and takes you to another railway line. Head along the tracks towards Machu Picchu and you should see a path to your left. There may be a sign but don't count on it. Head downhill and within seconds you will see the stone.

We found the scrappy remains of 'Caution Do Not Enter' tape around the ruins so it may be that the Government doesn't want people visiting. If you do go please don't climb on the intihuatana stone and do your best to leave it as you found it. It was really interesting and worth a look if you have the time!

Cheers,

Mark and Saskia

 

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