Photo by Pablo Porciuncula Brune/AFP/Getty Images

Machu Picchu is a hiking destination for many individuals. It’s on their bucket list to visit the Incan citadel [fortress] set high in the Andes Mountains in Peru. Discovered on July 24, 1911, people have been fascinated by the Incan settlement ever since the discovery. But how did they uncover the settlement in the first place?

Always a secret

Machu Picchu is a large fortress. It should have been easy to find, right? However, the ancient Incan settlement, built in the 15th century, is tucked away in the rocky countryside northwest of Cuzco, Peru. In the 16th century, the Incan civilization was wiped out by Spanish invaders. Afterward, no one knew about the settlement. Only nearby peasants knew of its existence, but everything changed when a team of explorers discovered it in one of the best findings of all time.

Searching for lost cities

During the summer of 1911, American archaeologist Hiram Bingham was on a mission with a small team of explorers to search for the famous “lost” cities of the Incas. They slowly made their way from Cuzco into the Urubamba Valley. Thankfully, a local farmer mentioned some ruins located at the top of a nearby mountain. The farmer kept referring to the mountain as Machu Picchu, meaning “Old Peak” in the native Quechua language.

The following day, Bingham and his team bravely climbed the mountain’s ridge in cold and rainy weather. They were worried they wouldn’t make it to their destination, but luckily, they met a small group of peasants who agreed to lead the group up to the mountain. That’s when Bingham first saw Machu Picchu.

Spreading the word

When Bingham saw the stone terraces marking the entrance to Machu Picchu, he could hardly believe what was in front of him. He knew he had to tell the world. He spread the word about his discovery in his now best-selling book, Across South America: An Account of a Journey from Buenos Aires to Lima by Way of Potosí, with Notes on Brazil, Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, and Peru.

The news inspired eager tourists to visit Peru. To this day, more than 300,000 hikers visit Machu Picchu every year. They can’t get enough of the towering stone monuments of the “Sacred City,” admiring the marvelous man-made wonder.