Machu Picchu lives up to its reputation as one of the world’s most impressive archaeological sites. Hoards of travellers make the trip each day, meaning that visiting Machu Picchu can be a hassle. The solution? Stay in Machu Picchu Pueblo and beat the crowds.
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 Fact File
The pictures are true: perched in a valley between two mountains, Machu Picchu’s setting alone is impressive. It sits at 2,430 metres above sea level, meaning you can see the surrounding peaks, many of which are covered in cloud forest. Further off, you can also spy the iced caps of the Salkantay mountain.
Machu Picchu is one of the most well preserved Inca ruins still existing in the modern day. It was previously an ancient Inca fortress under the emperor Pachacuti. The Spanish conquistadors didn’t know about the kingdom and it was virtually forgotten for centuries until it was rediscovered by Hiram Bingham in 1911.
Because Machu Picchu was forgotten about for so many years it is incredibly well preserved. When visiting Machu Picchu, you should take a guided tour or a very detailed guidebook to help you distinguish the different buildings and find out about their history. You should also make sure that you have time to wander around the ruins in your own time at sunrise soaking up the (relatively) peaceful atmosphere.
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 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 the a large ceremonial stone in the centre of the round building.
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.
Over recent years the popularity of Machu Picchu has mushroomed. Places for the Inca Trail sell out up to six months in advance and train-loads of tourists arrive daily to Machu Picchu Pueblo, the nearest town, set on visiting Machu Picchu from there. It would take a lot to detract from the magic and the beauty of the ruins. That being said, the endless dodging of large groups led by speaker-phoned guides and constantly sidestepping people’s photos can prove a challenge.
Machu Picchu Pueblo
Machu Picchu Pueblo (previously called Aguas Calientes as it is still commonly known) is sometimes overlooked by those looking to go to the ruins. It used to be a sleepy outpost most famed for its thermal baths that gave it its name. A train links the town with Cusco and there are plenty of accommodation options for all budgets.
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 the quality low – until you find Inkaterra.
Inkaterra Hotel, Machu Picchu Pueblo
Inkaterra Machu Picchu is an eco-hotel perched on the edge of Machu Picchu Pueblo. 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.
Insider 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.
Visiting Machu Picchu is not to be missed, but the experience can be ruined by the huge crowds of people. If you haven’t managed to book onto a trek but have your heart set on going to Machu Picchu, avoid the rush, stay in the town and get the first bus to the site so you can soak up the magic of this historical wonder.