Historic Adventurers: Hiram Bingham and Machu Picchu

Tom Malone/Adventure Tribune
In 1911, Yale historian Hiram Bingham trekked through the jungles of the Andes Mountains near Cusco, Peru. Led by a local Quechua-speaking farmer, Hiram Bingham and his crew of seven came across a city that had been lost to the jungle for over 400 years: the legendary Machu Picchu.

Hiram Bingham was born in 1875 in Honolulu, Hawaii to Christian missionary parents. Not wanting to follow in his father’s footsteps, Bingham ventured to Yale University, where he studied history, specifically that of Latin America. He then studied for his Ph.D. at Harvard University.

In 1911, as a member of the Yale history faculty, Bingham traveled to Peru where he sought to find Vilcapampa, the lost capital city of the Inca. Following in Simon Bolivar’s footsteps, Bingham utilized Spanish and Quechua translators to investigate the possible location for this legendary lost city.

“This took Bingham and his party of seven to Cuzco and from there by mule and on foot to a small settlement called Mandor Pampa, near Aguas Calientes, where they encountered a local farmer named Melchor Arteaga,” according to History Today. “Through Bingham’s policeman-interpreter, Arteaga told him that there were extensive ruins high in the mountains nearby at what Arteaga in his native Quechua called Machu Picchu, meaning old mountain.”

A boy who lived in a village near the top of the mountain showed Bingham’s crew where the old ruins were. Bingham trekked deep into the jungle to find the lost city of Machu Picchu’s immaculately preserved stone buildings atop the cloud-forests of the Andes.

Though Bingham thought that he had found the legendary lost city of Vilcapampa, modern historians believe that Machu Picchu was a different city altogether and may have been “a mere country retreat for aristocracy—and not a major center of Incan life at all.”

Hiram Bingham is credited with bringing the “lost” city of Machu Picchu to the world, though other explorers may have encountered it before him. Some say that he may have been an influence for the quintessential adventure character, Indiana Jones. Bingham’s daring journey into an unfamiliar jungle to find a mythical lost city embodies everything that is adventure.


Tom Malone is the Editor-In-Chief of The Adventure Tribune and author of adventure novels, like Across Americana. He is based in Denver, Colorado, where he adventures through the Rocky Mountains while not traveling abroad.
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