Peru, South America, Machu, Picchu, geology, travel, blog, adventure, hiking, exploring, earth, science, rocks, nature, geomorphology, Inca, Andes, mountains, culture, civilization, lost city, city ruins, places to visit, fault, earthquake, granite, Inca trail, what to do, visit, Huayna Picchu, Cerro Machu Picchu, photography

The rocks of Machu Picchu and other Inca sites to see in Peru

Peru, South America, Machu, Picchu, geology, travel, blog, adventure, hiking, exploring, earth, science, rocks, nature, geomorphology, Inca, Andes, mountains, culture, civilization, lost city, city ruins, places to visit, fault, earthquake, granite, Inca trail, what to do, visit, Huayna Picchu, Cerro Machu Picchu, photography

Intro: When in Peru, do what the tourists do, right? Well, most tourists aren’t on the tail end of a several week intensive geology short course on ore deposits and mines of Chile and Peru I guess… but I still had to do it. Machu Picchu is considered one of the 7 Wonders of the World, and it is consistently on the top of any travel’s list. While the unprecedented preservation of the Inca culture’s architectural icon is mostly a lure on itself, there is a neat geological underpinning to this lost city. This blog post is about the rocks that make the famous stones of Machu Picchu and the geologically unstable faults that bound the city ruins! Plus, a list other spectacular Inca site that are definitely worth the visit while in the Cusco and Lima area of Peru.

Peru, South America, Machu, Picchu, geology, travel, blog, adventure, hiking, exploring, earth, science, rocks, nature, geomorphology, Inca, Andes, mountains, culture, civilization, lost city, city ruins, places to visit, fault, earthquake, granite, Inca trail, what to do, visit, Huayna Picchu, Cerro Machu Picchu, photography

Overlooking the mountains at Machu Picchu, Peru

Science Spiel: Seismic faults and tight fit (Geology, Geomorphology)

Peru, South America, Machu, Picchu, geology, travel, blog, adventure, hiking, exploring, earth, science, rocks, nature, geomorphology, Inca, Andes, mountains, culture, civilization, lost city, city ruins, places to visit, fault, earthquake, granite, Inca trail, what to do, visit, Huayna Picchu, Cerro Machu Picchu, photography, map, location

Map of Machu Picchu, Peru

Machu Picchu is located high in the Peruvian mountains. The underlying rocks are ~246 million year old granite (Lancelot et al., 1978), with local dyke bright-green serpentine that outcrops along the Inca trail. The well-developed crystals within the granite (derived from its slow-cooling history as a magma) makes it an ideal rock for carving, hammer and making monumental Inca cities out of! The craftsmanship of the Incas was so good that the stones of granite fit together without any cement or binding agent.

Peru, South America, Machu, Picchu, geology, travel, blog, adventure, hiking, exploring, earth, science, rocks, nature, geomorphology, Inca, Andes, mountains, culture, civilization, lost city, city ruins, places to visit, fault, earthquake, granite, Inca trail, what to do, visit, Huayna Picchu, Cerro Machu Picchu, photography, stone buildings, construction

Perfectly-fit granite stones (without cement or binding agents) used for building Machu Picchu, Peru

Peru, South America, Machu, Picchu, geology, travel, blog, adventure, hiking, exploring, earth, science, rocks, nature, geomorphology, Inca, Andes, mountains, culture, civilization, lost city, city ruins, places to visit, fault, earthquake, granite, Inca trail, what to do, visit, Huayna Picchu, Cerro Machu Picchu, photography, map, location, graben

Cartoon of the down-dropped “graben” and faults that bound Machu Picchu.

The lost city of Machu Picchu is positioned between two large mountains known as Huayna Picchu and Cerro “montaña” Machu Picchu (both of which are great 1 – 3 hour day hikes from Machu Picchu that give you stunning views of the city). The position where the Machu Picchu is in-between these two taller mountains is a large down-dropped block of the mountain-side known as a graben. This is because there exists two parallel faults proximal to the two surrounding mountains, and seismic activity has lead to the wedge-like subsidence of the block where Machu Picchu is located (Carlotto et al., 1999; Carlotto and Cárdenas, 2001; Vilímek et al., 2006).

Peru, South America, Machu, Picchu, geology, travel, blog, adventure, hiking, exploring, earth, science, rocks, nature, geomorphology, Inca, Andes, mountains, culture, civilization, lost city, city ruins, places to visit, fault, earthquake, granite, Inca trail, what to do, visit, Huayna Picchu, Cerro Machu Picchu, photography, map, location, graben

Machu Picchu between the two mountains “Machu Pichu Cerro” and “Huayna Picchu”. Note the elevation where Machu Picchu city ruins are!

The Inca’s were smart, however, and appeared to have constructed the granite-stoned building and walls in such a way to withstand seismic activity! The region isn’t extremely seismically active, but historical there have been earthquakes in the region near Cusco (USGS, 2015).

Peru, South America, Machu, Picchu, geology, travel, blog, adventure, hiking, exploring, earth, science, rocks, nature, geomorphology, Inca, Andes, mountains, culture, civilization, lost city, city ruins, places to visit, fault, earthquake, granite, Inca trail, what to do, visit, Huayna Picchu, Cerro Machu Picchu, photography, stone buildings, construction

Temple of the three windows (note the perfectly-fit granite blocks) – Machu Picchu, Peru

Peru, South America, Machu, Picchu, geology, travel, blog, adventure, hiking, exploring, earth, science, rocks, nature, geomorphology, Inca, Andes, mountains, culture, civilization, lost city, city ruins, places to visit, fault, earthquake, granite, Inca trail, what to do, visit, Huayna Picchu, Cerro Machu Picchu, photography

Overlooking Machu Picchu city ruins from the Machu Picchu Cerro “montaña” side

Outside of Machu Picchu, there are plenty of other Inca ruins that are well-worth a visit. These include MoraySal MinasOllyamtamboPisacSacsayhuamanValley de Sur, and Pachacamac:

  • Moray (Cusco region), spectacular circular Inca agricultural sites. The surrounding landscape is made of salty evaporate rocks, so these circular depressions are sinkholes caused by the dissolution of soluble rocks. The Incas utilized these depressions in the landscape and sculpted stunning symmetrical circular agricultural terraces where growing temperature vary up to 15°C from top-to-bottom!
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Moray circular Inca agricultural terraces – near Cusco, Peru

  • Sal Minas (Cusco region), hundreds of salty water pools that, when the water evaporates, residual salt is harvested.
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Sal Minas (salt mines) near Cusco, Peru

Peru, South America, Machu, Picchu, geology, travel, blog, adventure, hiking, exploring, earth, science, rocks, nature, geomorphology, Inca, Andes, mountains, culture, civilization, lost city, city ruins, places to visit, fault, earthquake, granite, Inca trail, what to do, visit, Huayna Picchu, Cerro Machu Picchu, photography, sal mainas, salt mines, cusco

Sal Minas (salt mines) near Cusco, Peru

  • Ollanyaytambo (Cusco region), an ancient Inca military city with strategically high-built royal buildings and walls overlooking the town.
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Ollyamtambo “Sacred Valley”, near Machu Pichu, Peru

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Ollyamtambo “Sacred Valley”, near Machu Pichu, Peru

Peru, South America, Machu, Picchu, geology, travel, blog, adventure, hiking, exploring, earth, science, rocks, nature, geomorphology, Inca, Andes, mountains, culture, civilization, lost city, city ruins, places to visit, fault, earthquake, granite, Inca trail, what to do, visit, Huayna Picchu, Cerro Machu Picchu, photography, ollyamtambo, sacred valley

Ollyamtambo “Sacred Valley”, near Machu Pichu, Peru

  • Pisac (Cusco region), a site of large Inca agricultural terraces northeast of Cusco city.
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Agricultural terraces of Pisac – near Machu Picchu, Peru

  • Sacsayhuaman (Cusco), one of the best examples outside of Machu Picchu of the wonderfully-carved stonemasonry of the Incas.
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Sacsayhuaman – near Cusco, Peru

  • Valley de Sur (Cusco region), a pre-Inca historic site with city streets that go on for miles!
Peru, South America, Machu, Picchu, geology, travel, blog, adventure, hiking, exploring, earth, science, rocks, nature, geomorphology, Inca, Andes, mountains, culture, civilization, lost city, city ruins, places to visit, fault, earthquake, granite, Inca trail, what to do, visit, Huayna Picchu, Cerro Machu Picchu, photography, Valley de Sur

Valley de Sur (south valley) – near Cusco, Peru

  • Pachacamac (Lima region), buildings and temples to the sun-god, built before the Inca Empire, but maintained during their reign. These buildings are made out of mud-bricks, and the brick themselves are made of mudstone!
Peru, South America, Machu, Picchu, geology, travel, blog, adventure, hiking, exploring, earth, science, rocks, nature, geomorphology, Inca, Andes, mountains, culture, civilization, lost city, city ruins, places to visit, photography, Lima, Pachacamac, mud, mud-brick, mudstone

Pachacamac Inca sun-temple near Lima, Peru

Peru, South America, Machu, Picchu, geology, travel, blog, adventure, hiking, exploring, earth, science, rocks, nature, geomorphology, Inca, Andes, mountains, culture, civilization, lost city, city ruins, places to visit, photography, Lima, Pachacamac, mud, mud-brick, mudstone

Mud-bricks (made of mudstone) for the walls of Pachacamac – near Lima, Peru

Final Thoughts: It’s hard to imagine anyone being disappointed in a visit to Machu Picchu. No matter which direction you look, everything is truly awe-inspiring! The Incas were very smart and had an understanding of the geology. They built their lost city in a hidden place, aided by the graben geomorphology, but knew about the seismic activity in the area… thus, they skillfully constructed their buildings with carefully-carved granite in order to withstand small tremors. Machu Picchu fully deserves its spot as a Wonder of the World, and it, along with the many other areas I mentioned, are true testaments to the lost Inca civilization and well-worth traveling to. Cheers!

-Stephanie

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Peru, South America, Machu, Picchu, geology, travel, blog, adventure, hiking, exploring, earth, science, rocks, nature, geomorphology, Inca, Andes, mountains, culture, civilization, lost city, city ruins, places to visit, fault, earthquake, granite, Inca trail, what to do, visit, Huayna Picchu, Cerro Machu Picchu, photography, cusco, llama

Llama overlooking Machu Picchu, Peru

Peru, South America, Machu, Picchu, geology, travel, blog, adventure, hiking, exploring, earth, science, rocks, nature, geomorphology, Inca, Andes, mountains, culture, civilization, lost city, city ruins, places to visit, fault, earthquake, granite, Inca trail, what to do, visit, Huayna Picchu, Cerro Machu Picchu, photography, cusco, water pool, astronomy

Astronomical water pools – Machu Picchu, Peru

Peru, South America, Machu, Picchu, geology, travel, blog, adventure, hiking, exploring, earth, science, rocks, nature, geomorphology, Inca, Andes, mountains, culture, civilization, lost city, city ruins, places to visit, fault, earthquake, granite, Inca trail, what to do, visit, Huayna Picchu, Cerro Machu Picchu, photography, Cerro Machu Picchu, montaña Machu Picchu, Peru

View from Cerro Machu Picchu (i.e. montaña Machu Picchu), Peru

Peru, South America, Machu, Picchu, geology, travel, blog, adventure, hiking, exploring, earth, science, rocks, nature, geomorphology, Inca, Andes, mountains, culture, civilization, lost city, city ruins, places to visit, fault, earthquake, granite, Inca trail, what to do, visit, Huayna Picchu, Cerro Machu Picchu, photography

The Inca city of Machu Picchu, Peru

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8 Comments

  1. Oli

    Machu Picchu is just one of those amazing place you will never forget, so much energy and incredible stories behind. Love your page, it shows lot of picture and interesting facts about the Machu Picchu´s geology as well as other historical places.

    • Hi Oli! Yes I agree, Machu Picchu is truly an amazing place. I’m glad I was able to share of bit of its geology and sights 🙂 Thank you very much for the compliments and for following along with my blog.
      Cheers,
      Stephanie

  2. Blanca

    I really enjoyed your article. I had the chance to visit Peru last summer and it was powerful. Thank you.

    • Thanks, I’m glad you enjoyed the article 🙂 Awesome that you had the chance to visit last summer, it is indeed a very humbling place. Cheers!

  3. Billy

    Awesome place! I have to go there! The video is really good and makes me want to travel now!
    Best wishes!