Machu Picchu lives up to its reputation as one of the world’s most impressive archaeological sites. Here’s what you need to know for your trip.

You know that you have found something special when a place looks just like it does in the pictures. When it doesn’t need to be digitally tweaked or transformed to stop you in your tracks.

There aren’t many places that can do this but Machu Picchu is one of them.

Machu Picchu at Sunrise

The pictures are true: perched in a valley between two mountains, Machu Picchu’s setting alone is impressive – from a height of 2,430 metres above sea level, you can see the surrounding peaks, many of which are covered in cloud forest, and further off, the iced caps of the Salkantay mountain. 

Previously an ancient Inca fortress under the emperor Pachacuti, Machu Picchu is one of the most well preserved Inca ruins still existing in the modern day. Unknown by Spanish conquistadors, the kingdom was virtually forgotten for centuries until it was “rediscovered” by Hiram Bingham in 1911. 

Because the site was forgotten about (well, not by the locals) for so many years, Machu Picchu is incredibly well preserved.

Planning Your Visit

Terraces at the ancient site

Although a tour with a guide or a guidebook is almost indispensable to help you distinguish the different buildings and find out about their history the experience of Machu Picchu is most enjoyable when you take the time to wander around the ruins in your own time at sunrise soaking up the (relatively) peaceful atmosphere. 

Should You Do the Inca Trail, Take the Train from Cusco or Stay in Machu Picchu Pueblo?

Ancient houses at Machu Picchu

Over recent years the popularity of Machu Picchu has mushroomed, places for the Inca Trail sell out up to six months in advance and trainloads of tourists arrive daily to Machu Picchu Pueblo, the nearest town to get their slice of the cultural action.

Although it would take a lot to detract from the magic and the beauty of the ruins, the endless dodging of large groups led by speaker-phoned guides and constantly sidestepping people’s photos rises to the challenge quite well. 

You have a few options here: to do the Inca Trail, do one of the alternative trails like Lares or Salkantay, take the train from Cusco and head to Machu Picchu or overnight in Machu Picchu Pueblo and go early in the morning.

Until recent years, Machu Picchu Pueblo (previously called Aguas Calientes as it is still commonly known) was largely overlooked by those looking to go to the ruins.

Linked to Cusco by train, Machu Picchu Pueblo used to be a sleepy outpost most famed for its thermal baths that gave it its name. But the town is experiencing significant growth and savvy travellers who haven’t done the trail have figured out it is the only way to get to the ruins before the huge crowds arrive on the first trains in the morning. 

Even so, there are problems. Because the town has experienced such significant growth in such a short period of time, prices can be high and quality low but I think it’s your best option if you don’t want to hike.

Where to Stay?

Inkaterra Hotel, Machu Picchu Pueblo

Wondering where to stay when visiting Machu Picchu? I recommend Inkaterra Machu Picchu, an eco-hotel perched on the edge of Machu Picchu Pueblo.

I stayed here and it is the perfect base for visiting Machu Picchu and discovering the beauty of the surrounding valley. Spread over 12 acres, the hotel is a destination in itself. Its grounds contain its own tea and coffee plantations, herb gardens and a diverse ecosystem supported by the cloud forest setting.

Stepping into the hotel, the first thing to strike visitors is the peace and quiet. It’s a stark contrast after the touts and market sellers in the busy town outside.

The hotel is so quiet that you can really appreciate the location – the sound of the river and hummingbirds zipping from place to place. Guests stay in large, comfortable villas, all of which have their own fireplace and are perfect for resting after a long day at Machu Picchu.

Top Tip

Book in for the nature tour within the hotel grounds. It’s surprisingly informative and the guide explains the different types of flora and fauna that can be found in the unique cloud forest that covers the hotel and the surrounding areas.

Top Sights at Machu Picchu

The Temple of the Sun

The Temple of the Sun

If there is one thing you have to do while at Machu Picchu, you should visit the Temple of the Sun. This is an ancient building dedicated to the Incas most eminent deity, the sun god Inti.

The Temple is a prime example of Inca stonemasonry and one of the most impressive buildings in the site. When sunlight shines through the central window during the winter solstice, it falls straight onto a large ceremonial stone in the centre of the round building

Wayna Picchu

Wayna Picchu
Wayna Picchu

Why not also climb Wayna Picchu (limited numbers per day), the peak overlooking the site? As it is 330 metres taller than Machu Picchu, Wayna Picchu offers a spectacular alternative view to those found within Machu Picchu itself.

If you can make it up before sunrise, it’s a breathtaking introduction to the beauty of the area.

The mountain was previously the residence of the high priest and the local virgins, along with the Temple of the Moon, a ceremonial temple carved out of rock on the side of the mountain.

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