So you are visiting Peru? This Inca wisdom will prepare you for Machu Picchu

So you are visiting Peru? This Inca wisdom will prepare you for Machu Picchu

By Laura Rocha

Machu Picchu, often described as the world’s most important archaeological site, holds some of the most important secrets of the Inca empire. 

Machu Picchu was built in the mid-15th century and has survived thanks to the impressive engineering techniques, as archaeologists who have studied the site since it was rediscovered in 1911 have found.  Thousands of travelers come every year, in hopes to see this UNESCO World Heritage Site in person and walk around the ruins. Machu Picchu is a citadel and while the purposes for which it was built or how it was used are not perfectly clear, it is considered a sacred site. Historians and anthropologists have three theories of the purposes that the citadel may have held: it could have been a ceremonial site, a military stronghold, or a retreat for nobility, as explained by NatGeo

The Inca culture was complex and highly enriched by astronomy and remarkable myths. Understanding certain aspects of the Inca culture and cosmology can help enrich your visit and allow you to see beyond that perfect selfie spot. 

Inti – the god of the sun

The Inca had a polytheist religious system, meaning they worshiped multiple gods. At the top of the hierarchy stood Inti, the god of the sun, who according to the mythology bestowed power onto the emperors. Some historians and archaeologists believe that the main temple at Machu Picchu may have been built as a sacred temple for Inti. When you visit, be sure to ask your guide about it. 

In the Inca Empire, gods like Inti served two purposes, as they often do in similar mythologies: explaining natural phenomena -like solar eclipses, which happened when Inti was angered- and justifying the monarchy.  

Pachamama – Mother Earth

Pachamama was a goddess who is also known as Mother Earth. She is the goddess of fertility and her worship was closely linked to farming, especially of maize, which was the base of the Incan diet. 

While there are no specific links found in Machu Picchu to the worship of the Pachamama, as far as archaeologists have been able to tell, this is a great Incan diety to know about and to remember during your visit because she symbolized respect for nature, among many things. 

Part of the reason why the ruins of Machu Picchu remain in such great shape is thanks to the geography of where the citadel was built. It was covered by the jungle, which protected it for five centuries, and while thee neighboring communities knew about it, it was only until Yale professor Hiram Bingham was led into it that the outside world learned about its existence. It is as if the Pachamama decided to keep the site safe.

In any case, remember that this site is considered sacred. Be respectful –this includes being careful where you step and being mindful of taking care of the nature around you. 


The Inca life, as far as historians have been able to tell, was closely tied to the stars. In fact, Machu Picchu was laid out according to the sun and what the Incas saw as their main god’s transit through the sky throughout a year. Scholars have also found that the streets of Cusco were built in accordance with the constellations the Incas saw when they looked up at the night sky. 

The astronomical observatory in Cusco.

The Incas did not leave behind written records of their knowledge, so most of the relations between daily life and astronomy have been drawn from the remaining architecture and works in stone. Archaeologists and historians have found that the Incas used astronomy for farming purposes, as the changes in the stars allowed them to tell changes in seasons, for example. It has also been found that the Inca constellations were representations of the animals around them. They were not formed by connecting stars, but rather by the dark spaces between stars. 

The Incas saw a close relationship between nature and the stars and their religion was strongly linked to the heavens, as we saw above. Scientists and scholars have suggested that this indicates that their view of the Cosmos was one where everything was strongly linked together, which likely influenced their ways of life. Be sure to take a close look at the dial and try to find the different ways in which the sun aligns with the architecture as the day goes on.