‘Machu Picchu’ is the Wrong Name for This South American Icon

A recent paper in an Andean archaeology journal indicates that Machu Picchu is a misnomer for the famous UNESCO World Heritage Site in Cusco, Peru.

The ancient peoples that built the citadel actually called it “Huayna Picchu” or, simply “Picchu”, after the recognizable peaks overlooking the area.

View of the Incan citadel Machu Picchu - Cuzco, Peru

Photo: Jersson Tello


Coming to ‘Huayna Picchu’

Donato Amado Gonzales of Peru’s Ministry of Culture and Brian S. Bauer from the University of Illinois looked at maps and documents from the 17th and 19th centuries. They also studied U.S. explorer Hiram Bingham’s notes after his 1911 rediscovery of the site. Reportedly, Machu Picchu never appeared in those records. Instead, Bingham’s sources informed him that the ruins were called Huayna Picchu.

Aerial view of the wonderful Inca Machu Picchu, Peru.

Photo: Bruno M. Photographie


Further accounts from 16th-century conquistadors also refer to the area as Huayna Picchu.

Don’t expect the findings to lead to an official name change. As Natalia Sobrevilla, a professor of Latin American history at England’s University of Kent told the Guardian, “Machu Picchu is an established brand very linked to Peruvian identity, so what would be the point of changing it?”

Jilli grew up in the rural southern Colorado mountains, later moving to Texas for college. After seven years in corporate consulting, she was introduced to sport climbing. In 2020, Jilli left her corporate position to pursue an outdoor-oriented life. She now works as a contributor, an editor, and a gear tester for ExplorersWeb and various other outlets within the AllGear network. She is based out of Austin, Texas where she takes up residence with her climbing gear and one-eared blue heeler, George Michael.

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