Archaeologists Discover Astronomical Observatory At Machu Picchu

Archaeologists excavating at the famous Inca site of Machu Picchu in Peru have discovered the remains of an astronomical observatory.

The Peruvian-Polish team cleared away an unexcavated building of the well-preserved Inca retreat, now the most popular destination in the country, and found that the stones of the structure have astronomical alignments.

The team used 3D laser scanning to map the building, dubbed “El Mirador”, so as to get precise locations and alignments. They found that the edges of many stones lined up with important celestial events on the horizon of the surrounding Yanantin mountain peaks.

The Inca were well-known as astronomers who took careful note of the movements of the heavens in order to plan their agricultural and religious calendars. This was common in many ancient civilizations and the field of archaeoastronomy, which studies who ancient societies examined with the sky, is a growing field of research.

The Polish researchers have been working at Machu Picchu since 2008 and have been focusing on the site’s archaeoastronomical significance. They presented their findings earlier this month at the International Conference of the Societe Europeenne pour l’ Astronomie dans la Culture in Athens.

How Far Can You Get On Three Wheels? Piaggio Ape Adventures

Taurinorum Charity Rally 2012 – APEMAYA Official trailer” from Taurinorum Travel Team on Vimeo.

On my recent trip to Italy, I fell hard for the tiny Piaggio Ape (say AH-peh, means bee in Italian, for its pleasant hum), a glorified Vespa scooter with a truck bed or a back seat attached. In Italy and India, you see the adorable vehicles everywhere, outfitted as delivery trucks or touristy rickshaws. With its small footprint to park nearly anywhere, high fuel efficiency and low city speeds, I think the Ape might be the perfect car for a New Yorker who just wants it for IKEA runs and those times you find a really amazing coffee table on the street.

Researching the viability and legality of these cars outside of Italy (maybe okay in America, if you don’t take it on the highway), I found the Taurinorum Travel Team, a group who has been raising charity funds with some incredible adventures. They started in 2009 in West Africa, touring in a comparably large Fiat Panda. The first Piaggio Ape trip was in 2011, from Quito, Ecuador, to Machu Picchu, Peru, for the centennial celebration of the ancient city’s discovery and to support biodiversity (watch the little trike car make it over 4,000 kilometers here). The ApeMaya trip last year went through Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras and Belize, ending in Chichen Itza to combat violence against women. The 2012 trip was designed to coincide with the end of the world as prophesied by the Mayans, but the tuk-tuk survived the 3,000-mile trip. Check out more of their beautiful footage here.

No news yet on their 2013 trip, but I hope they can stop by Brooklyn so I can take it for a test drive.

Video: A Few Weeks In Peru

Peru is one of the best adventure travel destinations in all of South America, if not the world. With its interesting mix of culture, history and natural wonders, there truly is something for everyone. Whether trekking the Andes, exploring the Amazon or visiting Machu Picchu, travelers seldom go home disappointed with everything the country has to offer.

All of that is captured perfectly in this beautiful video that was shot by filmmaker Cole Graham during a recent visit to Peru. The short film gives us a glimpse of the people and landscapes that make it such a special place.

a few weeks in Peru.” from Cole Graham on Vimeo.

Win A Trip To South America With Richard Bangs

South America is a land of diverse cultures, stunning scenery and breathtaking adventure. Travelers can climb to the highest peaks of the Andes, experience unique wildlife, explore the biodiversity of the Amazon and indulge in a variety of wonderful cuisines. The continent truly does have something to offer nearly every kind of traveler and now television personality Richard Bangs wants to take you there on an adventure of your own choosing.

Bangs, who hosts the PBS travel show “Adventures with Purpose,” has teamed up with LAN to bring us the Only In South America sweepstakes. The contest, which runs through January 18, will allow one lucky winner to select one of four destinations as their dream trip to South America. Those destinations include Machu Picchu in Peru, the Galapagos Islands of Ecuador, Iguazu Falls along the border of Brazil and Argentina or the remote Easter Island off the coast of Chile. While on their excursion, the winner will be joined for dinner and a private tour with Bangs, who will share in their adventure. The prize includes airfare, ground transportation, guides and accommodations for two.

To enter the contest, simply click here and fill out the online form. You’ll provide basic contact information, answer a few demographic questions and select the destination that you prefer. With any luck, your name will be drawn in January and you’ll be whisked off on an unforgettable adventure to South America.

And if you’re having any trouble deciding which of the four trips you would prefer, the site provides excellent videos, like the one below, to help you choose. They’re all very well done, however, and viewing them may actually end up making the decision even more difficult.

[Photo Credit: Martin St-Amant via WikiMedia]

Peruvian Government Announces Plans For New Airport Near Machu Picchu

According to press reports, Peru’s President, Ollanta Humala, has announced that his government has committed some $460 million towards the creation of a new airport near Cusco to boost tourism in Machu Picchu. Humala said that the current airport in Cusco is inadequate and expressed hope that a new facility would bring more tourism dollars to the country.

In recent years, Peru has moved to limit the number of tourists who can visit the Inca ruins of Machu Picchu to 2,500 per day, so the new initiative to attract more visitors is sure to draw criticism from those worried about preserving the site.

I asked Mark Adams, the author of Turn Right at Machu Picchu, what he made of the plans for a new airport in the town of Chinchero, and he said that the move appeared to be a change of direction for the Peruvian government.

“A new airport – especially one built near Chinchero, which is a bit closer to Machu Picchu than Cusco is – is a move in the opposite direction, and will only encourage more people to come,” he wrote. “One of the reasons that Machu Picchu is as well preserved as it is, is that it’s hard to get there – you need to fly through Lima and take a long train ride. The inconvenience acts as a filter. If this new airport leads to the construction of a new road to Machu Picchu (you can’t drive there directly right now), the numbers of people who visit could explode. And that would be a disaster.”

[Photo by Szeke on Flickr]