Machu Picchu is a 15th-century Inca citadel situated on a mountain ridge 2,430 meters (7,970 ft) above sea level. It is the best known archeological site on the continent and considered to be one of the seven wonders of the world. This amazing ancient city was never discovered by the Spanish conquistadors and therefore unknown to the world until the early part of the 20th century. Despite the numerous tourists that visit the site every day, the area manages to retain the secrecy and uniqueness, and is a must for all visitors to Peru.
Where to stay near Machu Picchu
You want to come to the Machu Picchu as early as possible. There are incredible views, such as the sunrise over Machu Picchu and you can avoid the crowds. If you are serious about being one of the first visitors on the site it is worth considering to book a room in the only hotel nearby. Unfortunately, this experience comes with a price, as one night in the Machu Picchu Sanctuary Lodge will cost you around $1,000.
Your other option is to stay in the village of Aguas Calientes, nearby Machu Picchu and take an early morning bus to the ruins of Machu Picchu. If you are a hiking enthusiast it is worth considering hiking the path from the Aguas Calientes village to the ruins area, though the path can be quite hard if you are not physically fit. If you are riding the bus up plan on getting up really early as the line for the bus can get extremely long very fast.
How to get to Machu Picchu
The city of Cusco is the capital of the Incas and a base for traveling around the Andes. From Cusco, you can reach Machu Picchu by train or by trekking. A village of Aguas Calientes is the closest settlement to Machu Picchu, located in the valley below. It serves as the disembarking point for the train or a gathering place after you’ve completed the Inca Trail and descended from Machu Picchu.
From Aguas Calientes, you can reach Machu Picchu by bus or by trekking. The buses start early, that way you have a chance to experience Machu Picchu early morning.
Machu Picchu by Rail
Most people decide to travel to the Machu Picchu by train. Train journey from Cusco to Aguas Calientes lasts around 3 to 4 hours and is highly scenic. From the train, you can observe the amazing natural beauty of this part of Peru. You can observe the lush valleys, scenic hills, and the Urubamba River. It is worth considering dividing your journey to two parts and taking a day or two to explore the interesting places in between Cusco and Machu Picchu – like the famous Sacred Valley with all its famous archeological sites.
Machu Picchu by Foot
A trekking vacation is also a very popular option when visiting Machu Picchu. There are many possible routes for you to choose, ranging from the easier ones to the ones that require you to be in good shape and have some hiking experience. There’s also the most famous trek, the Inca Trail for which permits sell out notoriously far in advance. There’s a limit on the number of people that are allowed to trek the trail. If you want to take this trail, it is essential to plan your trip far in advance. However, there are many other scenic treks you can choose from. Two most popular are Salkantay trail or the Mountain Lodges of Peru route.
Where to eat at Machu Picchu
The Belmond Sanctuary Lodge is the only hotel next to the entrance of Machu Picchu. It offers a la carte lunch, buffet lunch, and carry-away items. Other eating options are located down the hill in the village of Aguas Calientes, where there are many restaurants and hotels located. You cannot eat in the Machu Picchu ruins.
The best time to visit Machu Picchu
One of the best times to visit Machu Picchu is during April and May when the rainy season has already passed. Crowds show up during July and August when local people visit for the Festival of the Sun at the end of June. Keep in mind that the Inca Trail closes every February for maintenance, but Machu Picchu still opens daily. From May to October, the weather is generally clear and dry, although cool at night. We visited in September and it was relatively dry and we missed the peak season crowds.
Tips for visiting Machu Picchu
- Keep in mind that Machu Picchu stands at around 2,450m above sea level and Cuzco at 3,400m. At these heights, there is around 20 percent less oxygen in the air, which means there is a good chance you will be one of those visitors that struggle with the altitude sickness upon arrival. In the vast majority of cases, symptoms of altitude sickness are very mild and wear off after a day or two, but it can make doing anything energetic feel like a struggle. It is a good idea to adapt to the change in altitude slowly, therefore spend a few relaxed days at your first high altitude destination.
- If you are trekking don’t forget to book through a company months in advance as they sell out quick. We recommend Inti Sun Trek.
- Do not forget to check if your travel insurance covers the activities on this altitude. It is possible to buy special trekking insurance for Peru only.
- Get there early to avoid the peak crowds. Also, late in the evening the crowd dies down as well.
Take a few minutes to relax and enjoy the view.
- If you are wanting an additional hike afterwards you can hike to the Incan bridge which has quite a nice view.
Machu Picchu highlights
The Intihuatana stone
Intihuatana is a ritual stone in Machu Picchu associated with the astronomic clock and calendar of the Inca. Its name is derived from the local Quechua language and it means “The Hitching Post of the Sun”. The stone is a wonder of their ancient technology. It’s a kind of clock that measures when it’s time to celebrate the winter solstice, called by the Incas INTI Raymi, one of the most important celebrations and rituals of the entire Empire. If you happen to be watching at noon on either equinox, you’ll notice the stone’s shadow disappear for just a moment, as designed by its creators.
The Royal Tomb
The Royal Tomb was the place where sacrificial and burial rituals took place. There were more than 100 skeletons excavated from the cave-like tomb. This Mausoleum is that is located just below the Sacred Plaza and is vertically aligned with the Tower of the Sun Temple.
Temple of the Three Windows
Located in the Sacred Plaza the temple has a sturdy rectangular walls that contain three windows that overlook the surrounding mountains of Machu Picchu.
Climb Huayna Picchu
Huayna Picchu is a mountain that rises over Machu Picchu. The Incas built a trail up the side of the Huayna Picchu and built temples and terraces on its top. The peak of Huayna Picchu is 2,693 meters (8,835 ft) above sea level, or about 260 meters (850 ft) higher than Machu Picchu. The reward for climbing the steep path comes as an amazing view from the top, which is said to be the best place to see Machu Picchu from above.