Many people visit ancient ruins and feel that after a couple of hours, they’ve had their fill of looking at “rocks” (I know, can you imagine?). They miss out on so much because they take neither the time nor energy to actually learn what it is they are looking at. They may just be “rocks” in today’s time but thousands of years ago, each and every one of these ancient rocks had a story and a purpose.
Before going to Machu Picchu, I went back and forth on what to do in terms of being educated about all that was there. While guidebooks I had been looking at certainly had a couple of pages devoted to the ruins, ones with their history, some with extensive illustrated maps, I knew that I wanted more. I had read that it was extremely simple to hire a licensed guide at the ruins (and as I would discover, they’re just waiting out in front of the entrance gates). Many guidebooks advised the following “unofficial” protocol to follow when hiring a guide-be sure to agree upon a price, find out if the price is for one person or multiple, how long the tour will last, etc. Although I knew a guide would offer a wealth of information (well, at least in theory), the one sticking point for me was the whole time issue. I have been to Chichen Itza and Teotiahuacan ruins in Mexico and both of those visits were on guided tours in which my time actually spent at the ruins was not nearly enough. My visits were somewhat rushed and I didn’t get to do all that I wanted. Although I knew that obviously I could stay inside the ruins for as long as I wanted (tickets are good for that entire day), there’s a significant amount of walking involved and so I didn’t want to go on a tour, walk/hike/climb the entire length of the ruins only to end up back at the entrance and have to do it again myself if I wanted to see more. So that’s where The Machu Picchu Guidebook: A Self-Guided Tour comes in.
I forget how I first learned about this book but I’m glad I did. Although it was originally published in 2001 ( a revised edition was published in 2004), not too much has changed for the ruins. The book’s authors are Ruth Wright, a water engineer whose company was actually granted a permit to conduct ongoing studies at Machu Picchu from the Instituto Nacional de Cultura de Peru, and Dr. Alfredo Valencia Zegarra, a professor of anthropology and archaeology as well as a professional archaeologist. So when I say you’re probably reading some of the most credible and informative literature in the industry, you truly are.
The book is broken down into four parts-the Western Urban Sector, the Eastern Urban Sector, Various Sights on the Way Out, and Side Trips (there’s also a brief section on the Birds of Peru for anyone with interest). Each of the two sector parts are broken out into the various sights that are found there (e.g. the Temple of the Sun, the Sacred Rock, the Intiwatana). The amount of information on each of the spots of interest is amazing-Wright and Zegarra provide both historical backgrounds on the areas of focus and cultural information on the Inca as well.
Besides the level of detail offered, I also loved all of the photographs that were included. I’ll admit, just looking at some of the stones won’t necessarily trigger a person to know what its purpose or meaning was, but being able to read that guinea pig hutches were built into the stairway of a particular building (number 15 for anyone who is interested) was pretty cool.
While I wasn’t always able to immediately match up where we were with what was in the book (I suppose we didn’t explicitly follow Wright’s and Zegarra’s routes), I’d still say the book was a great substitute to an actual guide. The end of the book also contains an amazing fold out map which on one side features an archaeological map of Machu Picchu and on the other, a reproduction of an artist’s rendering of the June 21 solstice in the year 1530, which was at the height of the Inca Empire. It’s truly striking.
I ordered the book too near to my trip to have it read in its entirety beforehand, but it definitely would be fascinating to read before going and get you excited for it too.
And now that it’s all said and done, I definitely don’t regret not hiring a guide. I liked just being there and going at my own speed and in my own way.