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The Historical Sanctuary of Machu Picchu

The Incan Paradise

In 1983, the UNESCO declared the citadel of Machu Picchu as Cultural and Natural Patrimony of the Humanity, acknowledging not only the value of the beautiful Incan constructions erected on the Urubamba Valley, but also the significance of its ecosystem and its diverse fauna and flora, with unique species and others that are about to extinct. A singular world of wild life surrounds the spectacular edifications of the children of the Sun, located at 112 kilometers from Cusco.

     It is a wonder of men and a jewel of nature, in where each wall and cultivation terrace dressed up with greenness conjugates with the endless exuberance of the forest brow, as if they were part of an ensemble, of a complex harmony of paved roads, captivating orchids and walls that seem to be just another decoration of the mountain.

     Everything fits perfectly, as if flora, fauna and the stone constructions were the pieces of an immense puzzle, assembled in complicity with the infinite and creative patience of the Andean huacas (the ancient gods of height) and the architectonic skills of those height men that proclaim themselves as children of the Sun.
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     Probably I am exaggerating, and you could think that it is just the delirium of a chronicler affected by the mountain sickness; but that's not it, in Machu Picchu you get to think that each stone grew up together with the amazing vegetation that surrounds and invades the magnificent Incan citadel, constructed at the top of a mountain flanked by mountains (2,400 m.a.s.l.).

     Everything is captivating here. The astonishing stone constructions, the petrous simplicity of walls, the energy of the Intihuatana or solar clock; the Incan roads that border the cliffs, cross high dales or flirt with the river's bed and that strange geography that conjugates the Andean nuances with the green avalanche of the forest.

     Machu Picchu: history and nature. Archaeologists trying to reveal the mysteries of the past - which Inca ordered the construction, was it a city or a temple, who inhabited it-; naturalists that get lost in the woods looking for flora and fauna species, some of which are unique in the world, and others which are in danger of extinction or in a vulnerable situation.

     And aiming at protecting so much beauty, the Peruvian State created, in 1981, the preservation unit of the Historical Sanctuary of Machu Picchu, so as to safeguard its natural and cultural richness. The cultural richness includes, in addition to the famous citadel, 34 archaeological complexes located at the Incan road. The total area of this zone is of 32,592 hectares.

     Two years later, the UNESCO declared the sanctuary as Cultural and Natural Patrimony of the Humanity, in order to protect its complex environment that gathers 10 life zones and more than one endemic species.

Land of orchids
     Some people say that Machu Picchu is the "paradise of botanists" due to its exuberant and diverse flora, courtesy of the uneven geography and the various ecologic layers that oscillate between 1,727 m.a.s.l. at the level of the Urubamba River and 6,271 m.a.s.l. at the summit of the Salcantay snow-capped mountain.

     You will find delightful views of roads with old alder trees (Alnus jorullensis), pisonay (Erythrina falcata) and queñuales (Polylepis racemosa), that shelter numerous epiphytic plants in addition to begonias, Bromeliaceae and ferns.

    However, in these lands dresses up in green, the orchids -with its incomparable beauty- seem to be colorful moles that break up the chromatic monotony of the dense and entangled woods.

     Machu Picchu is the land of orchids. There are about 30 genders and 200 species that blossom alternately during the year, both in open areas and in the middle of its dense woods.

     Unfortunately, the extinction danger threatens some species such as the beautiful waqanqi (Masdevallia veitchiana), which in Quechua means "you will cry", a beautiful flesh-colored orchid and one of the most related to Machu Picchu. Another orchid is the wiñay wayna (Epidendrum secundum) or "forever young" because it blossoms during a long period.

     In the sanctuary there are other beautiful flowers, such as the "iris flower", which can be found in the hillsides of roads; you must not confuse it with the nettle, which is also yellow, but whose beauty is deceitful because if you touch it, it will expel formic acid causing an irritating burning.

Birds, bears and reptiles
     The Historical Sanctuary of Machu Picchu shelters important fauna species such as the spectacled bear (Tremarctos omatus), the curious Chilean mountain goat (Pudu mephistopheles), a little deer of 30 centimeters high, both in danger of extinction; and the restless wildcat (Felis colocolo).

     Probably the birds are the most numerous. They have been registered 375 species, among them the cock of the rock or tunki (Rupícola peruviana) -the national bird -, the majestic condors (Vultur gryphus) -the largest birds of prey of the world- or the colorful Incan cockroach trapper (Tryothorus eisenmannii) that only lives in that area.

     There are more animals to see In Machu Picchu. Maybe you will be able to enjoy the jumps and hops of diverse genders of monkeys, such as the Cebus sp., Saimiri sp. And the Lagothrix sp., this last one in danger of extinction; or you will feel scared in front of excessively poisonous reptiles such as the jergón bothrops (Bothrops atrox) or the coral micrurus (Micrurus sp.).

     Insects are more harmless and numerous and constitute other of the great natural attractions of the sanctuary. Its beautiful butterflies of vivid colors are the best sample of it, having registered about 400 species.

     There are no doubts about it. Visiting Machu Picchu is a great adventure, not only due to the indescribable spectacle offered by its stone constructions but because of its landscapes made of mountains and forest, which add another attraction to its magical beauty.

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