Book Review - Turn Right at Machu Picchu by Mark Adams

Turn Right at Machu Picchu: Rediscovering the Lost City One Step at a Time is a perfect blend of the author’s personal travelogue from trips taken in 2009 and historical information of the “discovery” of Machu Picchu by Hiram Bingham III. Written with a keen eye for detail and in humourous fashion, this is must read for anybody considering hiking the Inca Trail or visiting Machu Picchu, as it also provides a wealth of information not just on Machu Picchu itself but also on other surrounding archaeological sites and trails.

Approaching middle age while working for National Geographic Adventure Magazine and concerned that he was never going to do anything, Adams decides that he needs to retrace the route taken by Bingham when discovering Machu Picchu in 1911, despite never actually having been camping. Figuring that “Machu Picchu, for travel magazines, is like Megan Fox on the cover of GQ”, he recruits self-taught Machu Picchu expert, John Leviers to guide him to the spectacular Machu Picchu. Assembling a team of muleteers, Adams and Leviers first travel along lesser known Inca trails, during which they visit Chocquequirao, Vitcos and Espiritu Pampa before returning to Peru and hiking along the famous Inca Trail (with a capital T) .

Through the course of their journeys, Adams provides historical context on the man who discovered Machu Picchu (by Westerners), Hiram Bingham III. Bingham has been credited with influencing, if not being entirely responsible for the creation of the fictional character of Indiana Jones. In real life the Yale Professor Bingham was a controversial and single minded figure who thankfully brought Machu Picchu to the attention of the wider world, so that it could be preserved before ongoing looting and destruction wiped this magnificent place from the map. Bingham’s background story provides a wonderful counterpoint to the journey that Adams himself undertakes, although the real “star” of the book is the Australian John Leviers, who literally has poured his heart and soul into researching, understanding and protecting the amazing Inca empire and its ruins.  Turn Right at Machu Picchu wonderfully details the growing bond between Adams and Leviers, which provides another subtle layer to this sublime book.

In writing Turn Right at Machu Picchu with relatively short chapters, Adams ensures that the story proceeds at a good clip and avoids getting too bogged down with the considerable amount of Inca, Spanish conquistador and “Machu Picchu discovery" history that it imparts. This is an adventure tale guaranteed to have you digging out your fedora hat and whip and charging off to the Inca Trail to go see this most magnificent of sites yourself.

4 and a half stars out of 5

Banner Credit: Hernan Irastorza