Machu Picchu, Peru Travel Guide
Machu Picchu Summary
- Breathtaking views of the ancient ruins and surrounding lush peaks
- Crowds on Huayna Picchu and Inca Trail are limited by government caps
- Great hiking opportunities and wonderful wildlife spotting -- specifically: llamas
- A UNESCO World Heritage site and one of the New 7 Wonders of the World
- Tourists can get their passports stamped here
- Hotels for all budgets are just a short bus ride away in Aguas Calientes
- From trains to multi-day hikes, there are numerous ways to arrive
- Guides and strictly enforced trails are being instituted in 2017 to preserve the site
- Unexpected rain and fog can happen regardless of the season
- Strict daily tourist caps prevent foot traffic, but make advance booking necessary
- The ruins complex can still get crowded, despite ticket restrictions
- Altitude sickness may be an issue (though is more likely in Cusco)
What It's Like
Named one of the New 7 Wonders of the World, Machu Picchu can't help but ignite a sense of wonder even before it's seen in person. Tucked high amid an imposing mountain ridge, these ancient Inca ruins are undoubtedly one of Peru's major draws. Constructed in the 15th century, the ruins were unknown to all but local communities until 1911, when indigenous workers gave Hiram Bingham a major assist in revealing the landmark to the the rest of the world. These days, it’s safe to say that the secret has been spilled. In fact, more than one million tourists cross this iconic attraction off of their bucket list each year.
There are a few different ways that tourists can experience this archaeological marvel today. Many travelers opt to follow in the footsteps of the Incas and take the 26-mile Inca Trail to reach the sacred site. This multi-day trek involves camping in the Andes, enduring steep climbs at high altitudes, and often braving extreme weather conditions. However, experiencing the gorgeous mountains and lush jungles of the Andes throughout the ordeal is a worthy reward. After a few days, the trail ultimately leads to the Sun Gate, which was once the main entrance to Machu Picchu. For travelers planning on making the journey, it's crucial to note that the number of hikers allowed on the trail is restricted by the government; additionally, a permit is required in advance. Those who prefer a less adventurous route (or are strapped for vacation days) can take the train from Cusco to Aguas Calientes, followed by a half-hour bus ride to Machu Picchu.
The weather can be unpredictable, with fog and sporadic rain showers, but once the sun shows its face, you’ll be met with stunning views of stone terraces, lush peaks, and even the occasional friendly llama. Keep in mind that exploring the sacred site involves a lot of steps, so wear your comfiest (and sturdiest) kicks. Other highlights within the complex include the Temple of the Condor as well as the Temple of the Three Windows.
It's worth noting that tickets into Machu Picchu are limited to to time windows as of July 1, 2017, and you'll need to enter with a guide (group sizes are capped at 16). Additionally, set trails will be introduced and visitors will no longer be able to freely roam the site, in order to preserve its cultural heritage intact. In addition to navigating the ruins, some bold travelers choose to tack on a hike of Huayna Picchu to score legendary, postcard-worthy shots overlooking the Machu Picchu complex (yes, you've probably seen this view already, but it's still mind-blowing). Narrow and steep, the trip to the top is nothing short of arduous. It's made even more precarious by the fact that there’s nothing but a slim rail between trekkers and a terrifying drop into the green abyss below. The equally steep descent isn’t for the faint of heart either -- hikers are required to walk down a set of uneven, vertiginous stone steps. Remember that limited passes are issued daily to hike this mountain during two morning time slots. Check ahead on whether guides are required, as laws and regulations are changing.
The less harrowing ascent of Machu Picchu mountain also requires treading on stone steps, and can take anywhere between 45 minutes to two hours to reach the summit. The prize for your hard work comes in the form of breathtaking views of the green valley and towering peaks. And while the whole place can be busy, and it takes a lot of work and planning to reach, it’s around this time that you’ll realize that everything about Machu Picchu absolutely lives up to the hype. Again, guides may be required as of mid-2017, so check ahead.
Where to Stay
If embarking on a multi-day trek along the Inca Trail doesn’t sound like your idea of fun, you can take the train from Cusco to Aguas Calientes. This small town is mainly used as a launch pad for reaching Machu Picchu, so don’t expect much in the way of nightlife or entertainment, though there are numerous restaurants, hostels and hotels, and shops that cater to tourists. Sprawled across 12 acres and dotted with stone pathways, whitewashed adobe casitas, terraced hills, and colorful flora and fauna, Inkaterra Machu Picchu Pueblo Hotel is a somewhat removed retreat, tucked away from the town's hubbub. Features include a pool, spa, and restaurant. To top it off, the spacious rooms come equipped with fireplaces, perfect for warming up after a long day of hiking outdoors. Casa Andina and El MaPi are more casual, affordable options.