Five “Myths” About Machu Picchu

I was explaining to someone about the tendency of guides at Machu Picchu to to tell myths (lies?) to their tourist clients in order to garner larger tips (i.e., more outrageous stories make the visit more interesting even if they’re not true). This gave me the inspiration to write this post about some of the craziest things that are shared not only by guides, but by YouTube videos which receive hundreds of thousands of views despite being completely false.

(These are not in any particular order as it’s hard to choose which is more false than any other.)

“Hiram Bingham “Discovered” Machu Picchu”

To be honest, most people know by now that Bingham didn’t discover Machu Picchu, but most of the details aren’ well known.

First, he didn’t come happen to stumble across the site when he asked a hungover Melchor Arteaga at Mandor Pampa if there was anything nearby. The truth was that he was told to talk to Arteaga by the Pennsylvania-born head of the university in Cusco, Albert Giesecke, who had been told about the ruins from Arteaga earlier in the year, but since it was the rainy season decided to return later when the weather was more favorable.

Also, besides the fact that there were families actually living and farming on the site when Bingham arrived, he wrote in his notes that on the walls of what is now known as the Temple of the Three Windows was written “Augustin Lizarraga, 14 de Julio 1902.”

In 1902, Augustin Lizarraga formed an expedition to search for farm lands in the Vicanota (Urubamba) Valley. The next year Lizárraga started planting corn and other vegetables on the site’s terraces. He left Toribio Recharte, to tend the plantation with his family.

Bingham also wrote in his notes “Agustín Lizárraga was the real discoverer of Machu Picchu; he lives on the San Miguel Bridge.” , Bingham later omitted any reference to this as the extremely ambitious explorer likely recognized that it would depreciate his reputation as Machu Picchu’s “discoverer”.

The Large Stone in the Sacred Plaza was the Site of Human Sacrifices

This is the latest of the stories that has recently been created and shared amongst Machu Picchu guides. I’ve heard them describe to their attentive clients that this was where people were sacrificed just as the Aztecs did in Mexico.

Of course, there is absolutely zero evidence that this ever happened anywhere in Machu Picchu. In fact, while human sacrifices were sometimes done by Inca priests, Machu Picchu was definitely not the kind of place where they took place.

In fact, the stone itself was in the process of being moved to another location as evidenced by the small “rolling” stones which can still be seen underneath. These were used in a common process by the Incas when dragging heavier stones to the intended locations.

I’ve talked with some of the staff and they just shake their heads saying that they’ve heard all kinds of crazy stories like this told by lying guides to gullible tourists.

Machu Picchu is only the Site Between the La Montaña Machu Picchu and Huayna Picchu

The truth is that Machu Picchu is far, far more than the site that millions of visitors have visited. The Historical Sanctuary itself covers about 125 square miles (over 32,00 hectares).

Machu Picchu is the central portion of a vast complex of interconnected sites that covers much of the surrounding mountains and jungle. In the immediate area are at least three Inca bridge foundations and multiple Inca roads leading up into the mountains on the opposite side of the Rio Urubamba. There are some major ruins connected to Machu Picchu in the neighboring mountains. Some of these have only recently been explored and some have yet to be fully explored. There are a LOT of small sites still buried in the jungle including rumors or relatively large sites in places that are virtually unknown.

The main Machu Picchu site has many carved arrows that point to related sites and geographic features. There are windows and doors that open directly to other distant sites. These were not coincidences. They are part of the design of Machu Picchu that makes the site far more special than any guide knows.

One interesting example are the windows and door at the Int Punku (“Sun Gate”) high above Machu Picchu where travelers on the famous Inca Trail get their first view of the site when the weather cooperates. You would think that the two windows, the door on the road, and the large carved arrow would all be aimed at Machu Picchu itself. Everything actually opens and points to San Miguel Mountain on the opposite of the river and a little to the left of Machu Picchu itself.

The reason for this is unclear, but San Miguel has a significant ceremonial site on top that is almost unknown. The mountainside is also unexplored despite the fact that there was an Inca bridge that crossed the Rio Urubamba directly below San Miguel. One long-time local resident has told me there are some ruins up in the mountains that no one visits and has hinted that there might even be a forgotten Inca road on her side of the mountain. (I’m pretty sure that two months ago I found where it begins near the river, but didn’t have the equipment needed to hack through the jungle and explore where it might go.)

Anyone who has spent time in the jungle near Machu Picchu understands that it’s often impossible to see Inca walls even when you’re standing right next to them. I’ve spent more time in the jungle below Machu Picchu than almost anyone in the past few years and many times I’ve found small (and large) sections of walls just a feet away from where I’ve already walked many times before.

Even archeological studies have missed some things. In one particularly important site perhaps the only major research survey mapped all the buildings and constructions nearby, but somehow missed a significant wall I found only about 20 meters away that was hidden in the jungle. (I have a feeling that there is even more in this site, but haven’t yet been back to explore. The last time I was there I photographed a particularly unique curved wall that even the owner of the property didn’t know existed only about 100 meters from her home.)

Machu Picchu Exists in its Original State

This is one of the funnier ones that are shared by guides and even some of the more well-known YouTube “experts”. What they fail to admit is that Bingham took photos — LOTS of photos during his 1911 and 1912 expeditions. By comparing these photos with what exists now, it is clear that extensive reconstructions have been carried out.

I remember listening to one guide explain to a small group of tourists about the different style of construction when the Inca engineers began using mortar between the stones on a wall bear the main entrance to the site. I don’t know if it was intentional lying or just ignorance, but he neglected to point out that the mortar was modern and a technique used no where else.

That’s because reconstruction of the site was begun in 1934 when the Peru government allocated money to clear the site (which had been retaken by the jungle) and clean the buildings, create a road, and build a small hotel. In the 1940s Machu Picchu experienced significant restoration. Many standing walls were dismantled and rebuilt using modern mortar. The reason proposed was to strengthen the site against further deterioration from the jungle and landslides. Very few of the present buildings did not experience some reconstruction, but poor record keeping makes it difficult to know which.

Making things even more difficult is the fact that construction of the site continued for many decades and was never complete. A number of engineering construction techniques were used in various sections of the site over time. It always amazes me that there are con-men who say that the different examples of construction are evidence that the Incas did not build the site. There’s a level of ignorance there that is hard to comprehend.

Machu Picchu Was Built By An Ancient Megalithic Civilization

At least the guides don’t waste time telling this incredibly fanciful piece of garbage. The “proof” that is provided to back this up is, in reality, non-existent, but if the people listening don’t bother to fact-check, it doesn’t really matter. I guess there’s always a place for snake-oil salesman in any age.

One person likes to say that the differences in construction techniques as mentioned above is proof that the Incas were not the original builders of Machu Picchu. As mentioned above, he seemingly forgets to mention that the areas of “lesser quality Inca construction” are actually reconstructions done by 20th century government workers.

Another of the same con artist’s claims are that the Inca engineers and workers did not have the technology to the do the incredible stonework exhibited in Machu Picchu and other Inca sites.

Apparently, he didn’t bother to do real research and just visit a museum or two where examples of the tools that were used are in full display. These tools were not only found by archeologists and researchers — people who spend their careers actually out in the field studying what is really there in stead of walking around with cheap video cameras throwing out lies — but were used by Inca workers themselves after the Spanish came!

Also ignored are the actual Inca tools which have been found sealed up for centuries inside some of the massive walls which the charlatans claim where made by these ancient “lost” civilizations.

Another point that seems to be forgotten when these frauds make claims that no one knows how the Incas did the things that they did is that the Incas themselves built many of the original colonial buildings!

Another false claim is that the Incas had no material strong enough to break and work the mostly granite stones that were used in Inca constructions. I’m not a geologist, but minimal research of basic geology shows that the Incas had access to hematite which would allow them to work the stones despite the claims of the fake YouTube creators.

The last point that’s overlooked — probably because it’s doesn’t fit the fake claims — is where is the other evidence of these “megalithic civilizations”? If they were so great thousands of years ago, why is there zero evidence that they existed. Basic anthropology 101 says that a great civilization must leave more evidence than some big rocks.


So what do you think? Obviously I get fired up about lies that people share because they’re too lazy to do anything except watch YouTube videos while sitting on their butts in their nice, comfortable homes unlike people who dedicate their lives to doing real research and study out in the hot, rainy, insect infested jungle.

There is lots more to share. Should I write another post about more myths (and lies) about Machu Picchu? Please comment and let me know what you think.



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4 thoughts on “Five “Myths” About Machu Picchu”

  1. Thanks for providing yet another interesting and captivating read. I honestly did not know that tools thought to have been used in the construction of MP have been found and are on display somewhere – maybe at the Coricancha?

    Another tidbit about Hiram Bingham is that he was on a mission to do something “important” somewhere – as his main goal was to become a US Congressman. The publicity he generated about “finding” MP helped him reach that goal. He was from the US Northeast (Connecticut?) and that is how Yale University became the recipient of the artefacts he removed and took to the US.

    That large stone you refer to (assuming I am thinking of the same one you are talking about)….at the times I visited MP, it seemed to me perhaps the stone had been placed in a position (inclined) and within an area that could have facilitated skywatching/stargazing. Knowing the Incas knew the movement of the sun, moon. and at least some of the planets so well, it seemed they had trained skilled observers within the residents of MP.

    YES..please write more on this topic of MP…whatever you want to share. You have garnered quite abit of information already and it is very interesting to read.

    Best wishes always

  2. Definitely! I’ve often wondered why plenty of guides seem to delight in making things up when there’s so much incredible info about the site that researchers have discovered. Johan Reinhard did some exploration and investigations on Cerro San Miguel and found a ceremonial platform on the summit, other small ruins in the area and the remains of an Inca road on the side of the mountain. He also found the peak had astronomical alignments with MAPI’s Intihuatana. I don’t know if anyone has done any further studies on the mountain, which was obviously a significant peak for the Incas. As you say, there’s still a lot to be discovered in the area!

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