The best known archaeological site on the South American continent is anything but boring. If mountain trails, panoramic views and peaceful retreats are your cup of tea, head for Peru this summer to experience the magic of Machu Picchu.

This 550-year-old city is a gem of the Inca civilization, presumably used as a sacred, ceremonial place, tucked so cleverly in the nearly 8000 ft. high Andes mountains that it’s impossible to see from below. The city takes its name from the Inca words for ‘old mountain’, suggesting that it probably even predates the Incas.

The ruins of Machu Picchu were rediscovered in 1911 by Hiram Bingham, a Yale archaeologist. They’re considered to be among the world’s most ‘beautiful and enigmatic ancient sites’, and are protected by UNESCO.

This amazing city built on dizzying heights, was completely self-sufficient, watered by mountain springs and fed by crops grown on terraces cut into the steep rocks. The palaces, public baths, temples, granaries, and over a hundred houses are remarkably well-preserved. The structures are built of dry stone, but the fascinating thing is that there’s no trace of any kind of binding mortar or cement, yet the blocks are so well-aligned that not even a knife can slip through. Sitting on a mountain ledge or walking around the cloud-shrouded ruins is like entering a mysterious doorway into the past, that is till a llama (or two) break your reverie by strolling by.

The Machu Picchu ruins can be reached by a hike via mountain trails, or for the less athletically-inclined, by trains that run through the Urubamba River valley. Either way, it’s a journey you’re not likely to soon forget.

Image credits: knicket.com