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National Geographic Expeditions
. July 2011 .  
National Geographic Expeditions .
100 Years Ago Today: Hiram Bingham Discovered Machu Picchu
On July 24, 1911, explorer Hiram Bingham was led by Peruvian guides to the mountaintop citadel of Machu Picchu—a discovery that brought this extraordinary Inca site to the attention of the world. "It fairly took my breath away," Bingham said of the magnificent ruins set amid soaring Andean peaks. The following year, the National Geographic Society provided Bingham with a grant to excavate the site, and our connection to this ancient wonder has continued ever since.

Join us in celebrating the centennial of one of the greatest archaeological discoveries of the 20th century. Chose one of three ways to travel with National Geographic to Peru and explore the legendary ruins. For a unique perspective, read our interview with archaeologist Peter Frost, a National Geographic grantee who meets with travelers on our Peru: Land of the Inca expeditions and our Machu Picchu: Inn to Inn adventures.
In the words of Hiram Bingham
In the Words of Hiram Bingham.
Read the article from the April 1913 issue of National Geographic in which Hiram Bingham recounts his rediscovery and excavation of Machu Picchu. Bingham was the first recipient of a National Geographic Society archaeology grant.

View the photo gallery from the
1913 magazine article.


Peter Frost   Writer, photographer, archaeologist, and National Geographic grantee Peter Frost has been exploring the Andes and the Amazon for 35 years. Peter shares his insights with travelers on our Peru: Land of the Inca expeditions and our Machu Picchu: Inn to Inn adventures. On this centennial of Hiram Bingham's rediscovery of Machu Picchu, we spoke with Peter about this world wonder and the people who built it.

Q: You've devoted many years to the study of Machu Picchu and the Inca, and you've taken a number of National Geographic travelers to the site. Could you give us some highlights of what you share with them?
A: I'll start out with what we know: Machu Picchu was the royal estate of an Inca king, Pachacuti, the ninth Inca ruler and the first who could really call himself an emperor. He began the expansion of the Inca Empire.
.Why he built it where he did is open to interpretation and dispute. I'll give you the two main theories: the first, which I and many scholars subscribe to, is that this was a sacred religious site. It's remote, far away from the center of the Inca Empire, off the main axis, off to the east in the mountains. The reason I believe they built it here is that it's special in terms of its spiritual connections.
.If you were an Inca, you were looking at the snowcapped peaks and the sacred rivers. It stands at the end of a ridge that connects it with a peak bordering on 21,000 feet. Today we call the nearby river the Urubamba, but the Inca called it the Willcamayo—literally "sacred river." It goes all the way around the site, nearly surrounding it. Machu Picchu sits right in the neck of the bend.
.These two things, plus many others, suggest there's something very special about the place. The rival theory: Pachacuti built Machu Picchu so he could move his court to a warmer place during the winter months in Cusco. The main square of Cusco is at 11,150 feet. The center of Machu Picchu is at 7,500, more or less, so at lower elevation and warmer.

Q: What's the legacy of Machu Picchu?
A: I think it's huge. Machu Picchu is the only Inca site we have that's still relatively intact. It was something extraordinary that they built, not everyday by any means. It's a place where there's still much to learn; it's complex and fascinating in so many ways—still open to discovery in that sense. It changed the perspective of Peruvians themselves on their own past and their achievements. It's a symbol of national pride and national identity, and it's incredibly important.

Click here to read the entire interview on our blog.

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More Ways to Discover
Peru with National Geographic:

Photography Exhibit.
Machu Picchu: A Lost City Uncovered .
Photographs from the Hiram Bingham Expeditions 1911–1915. Through September 11, 2011
10 a.m.–6 p.m. daily at the National Geographic Society in Washington, D.C.

Peru on Film.
Peru: Sacred Geography .
Tuesday, July 26, 12:00 p.m.
Free screening at the National Geographic Society in Washington, D.C.

More on Machu Picchu
Check out National Geographic's interactive website to learn more about Peru and Machu Picchu. Delve into Andean culture, view stunning photographs and videos, take a quiz, and more!
Peru: Land of the Inca
Peru: Land of the Inca.
8 Days | 2012: Expeditions depart every other Saturday
8 Days | 2012: and Sunday.
Spend the night among the ruins of Machu Picchu and discover its stunning labyrinth of terraces, temples, and staircases. Explore the Sacred Valley of the Inca with Peter Frost and attend a private demonstration of Andean weaving by a National Geographic grantee.  View the itinerary.
Galápagos and Peru
Galápagos and Peru.
16 Days | 2011 & 2012: Expeditions depart every other Friday
16 Days | 2011 & 2012: and Saturday.
Discover the natural wonders of the Galápagos Islands and the cultural treasures of Peru. Swim, snorkel, walk, and kayak among the abundant wildlife of the Galápagos and explore the archipelago's volcanic origins. Then delve into the ancient fortresses of the Sacred Valley of the Inca and watch day break over the mountaintop citadel of Machu Picchu. View the itinerary.
National Geographic Adventures: Peru: Machu Picchu Inn to Inn
National Geographic Adventures:
Peru: Machu Picchu Inn to Inn
10 Days | 2011 Departure Dates: Aug. 29, Sep. 25, Oct. 22
10 Days | 2012 Departure Dates: Apr. 29, May 21, Jun. 11, Jul. 13,
10 Days | Jul. 22, Aug. 15, Sep. 1, Sep. 30.
Trek from lodge to lodge through the lush cloud forests and snowcapped peaks of Peru's Cordillera Vilcabamba. Encounter dramatic landscapes and lesser-known Inca ruins along a route that culminates with a spectacular vista of Machu Picchu. Spend a full day and a half exploring Machu Picchu's magnificent ruins. Along the way, explore lesser-known Inca sites and relax in cozy mountain lodges set amid breathtaking scenery. View the itinerary.
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