Machu Picchu is one big marketing myth. At least, that’s how our guide, Leo, puts it as we wander the breathtaking fog-shrouded Inca ruins. First off, he says, the 600-year-old city wasn’t hidden: Otherwise, why would there be seven gates to get in? Second, it was hardly the last remaining Inca citadel: You can see two others with the naked eye from Machu Picchu when the weather is clear, if you know where to look. Despite the mist, we spot one in the distance.
As we walk through the maze-like ruins, Leo continues his impassioned rant. The Peruvian government doesn’t know how to safeguard its resources, he says, pointing to a sundial called Intihuatana—“the hitching post of the sun” in Quechua, the local indigenous language. In 2000, a television crew chipped it while shooting a beer commercial. After that, Leo explains, the government recognized that it needed to regulate the country’s most famous heritage site before it could begin promoting any others. It took 17 years. Meanwhile, an expansion of infrastructure brought ever-larger hordes to this single, barely protected spot.