Machu Picchu Travel Guide

By Admin | Last Updated August 28, 2019

High up in the Andes Mountain of Peru, Machu Picchu is the most important archaeological site of South America. The ancient sprawling 15th century Inca city is on a mountain ridge, 7,970 feet or 2,430 meters above the sea. It is above the Sacred Valley, 503 kilometers from Lima. It is stunning. Shrouded in mystery, mist, and lush vegetation all around, the steep escarpments are a must-see. The ancient city was forgotten for long, and was only discovered in the early 20th century.

Machu Picchu is a must-see in Peru. Together with the Amazon forest, Patagonia, and Rio de Janeiro, Machu Picchu is one of the most popular attractions in South America. Almost 10,000 tourists used to visit in a day, or close to 2 million a year.

However, recently, authorities have restricted the number of visitors to 5940 to ensure that the complex is not damaged from excessive tourism.

Machu Picchu is a symbol of the lost Incan Empire, and one of the most spectacular and famous ruins anywhere in the world. It will live up to every expectation. To this day, historians and archeologists are not sure why the Incas risked their lives to build a fortress in such a challenging and dramatic terrain. But many believe, the citadel was created as an estate for the Inca Emperor Pachacuti, and later abandoned after the Spanish conquest. Others believe it was a secret ceremonial center.

The ancient city of Machu Picchu is an UNESCO World Heritage site and Peruvian Historical sanctuary. It is ranked at #1 in many lists of famous historical sites.

Machu Picchu – 10 Quick Facts

  1. 15th century Inca city with terraces and many structures
  2. Forgotten and lost before Yale University professor Hiram Bingham discovered the site in 1911
  3. Located up in the Andes Mountains
  4. Altitude – 7,970 feet or 2,430 meters
  5. Machu Picchu is 503 kilometers from Lima and 74.7 kilometers from Cuzco
  6. Carved from a single stone slab
  7. There are 150 plus buildings, including temples, houses, baths, sanctuaries
  8. Three main structures – Temple of the Sun, Room of the Three Windows, Intihuatana or a stone that was an astronomical clock or calendar
  9. No one knows for sure why the Incas abandoned the city after 100 years
  10. Machu Picchu was connected to other Inca sites with 18,000 mile long trails.

Machu Picchu is one of the ‘New Seven Wonders of the World’. It is a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Machu Picchu Guided Tour from Aguas Calientes

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Top Reasons To Visit Machu Picchu

Architecture Machu Picchu is an engineering marvel. It’s a mystery how the Incas managed to create the city carving from a single slab of stone. Stone blocks were cut so precisely that no mortar was required. The stones are fit so tightly that even a blade cannot be inserted between them. The terrain itself is very challenging. The site has withstood torrential rain and earthquake damage.
Mystery Historians and archeologists are unsure why the Incas created Machu Picchu. Most believe it was for Emperor Pachacuti, but others feel the site was used for secret ceremonies. It is also a mystery why the Incas suddenly abandoned the city.
The Incas Marvel at the brilliant Incas and their culture. At its height, the Inca Empire included Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador, Argentina, Chile, and parts of Colombia. Incas had a profound impact. To this day, it is one of the most famous empires in the world.
Culture Machu Picchu and Cusco are both very rich culturally. See and learn about the Peruvian culture and Andean traditions, from the clothing they wear, to food, and lifestyles. The people speak both Spanish and Quechua.
Inca Trails For those who love adventure and nature. Machu Picchu was connected to other Inca sites with the trails running for more than 18,000 miles. Many of these trails are usable to this day. There is a 2-day, 4-day, and a more extensive 5-day Inca trail for tourists, passing over hills, Peruvian highlands, and wildlife reserves. You will see spectacular views along the trail.
Exotic Destination There is hardly a more exotic destination. It is in the ‘cloud forest’, where much of the day is covered in mist. Up in the hills, the terraces are steep with the buildings and temples in the side. There are tall hills all around and lush forests just below.

How To Reach

Most tourists to Machu Picchu come from Lima. They take the flight from Lima’s Jorge Chavez International Airport to the Alejandro Velasco Astete International Airport of Cuzco. The flight time is 1 hour and 15 minutes.

The town of Cuzco, once the capital of the Inca Empire, is at the base of the Andes. From here, you can trek to Machu Picchu or take a train to the small town of Aguas Calientes in a valley, which is just below Machu Picchu. It’s an ascent from here. It is best to spend a day here at least so that you can acclimatize with the high altitude. 

By Rail:

There are 3 rail companies – 

  1. Belmond Hiram Bingham Trains
  2. Peru Rail
  3. Inca Rail

Belmond is the luxury service. The compartments are wooden. Fine wine is served. The other rails are for budget travelers.

The train journey is between 3.5 hours and 5 hours. It’s a beautiful ride along the Urubamba River.

By Road:

 You can also take a bus or taxi. But the road goes to Ollantaytambo from Cusco, and not Aguas Calientes. There are regular buses from 5 AM in the morning. It’s a winding road through the hills.

In the Quechua language, Machu Picchu means ‘Old Mountain’ or ‘Old Peak’. In the western world, Machu Picchu is often called ‘The Lost City of the Incas’. This is Peru’s most visited site.

Tips For First-Time Visitors

  • Spend a night at Aguas Calientes – Many tourists visit Machu Picchu from Cusco on a day trip. With the train ride, you will arrive when the ancient town in buzzing with people. There will be hundreds, so you won’t get good photos. Spend a night at Aguas Calientes instead and you will be able to reach Machu Picchu early in the morning. Plus, you will acclimatize better as well.
  • Get the passport stamped – You can have your passport stamped for visiting Machu Picchu. The stamping is at the entrance from 9 AM. See the stamp at a table in the left. You can get it stamped yourself. This is going to be a beautiful stamp in your passport.
  • Get a guide – You won’t find explanatory signs in the compound. So it is best to hire a guide if you want to learn the history and understand what you are seeing. A 3 hour guided tour will cost around $6 USD.
  • Buy ticket early – There is a restriction on the number of people who can get into the complex every day according to an agreement between the Peru government and the UNESCO. Don’t buy a day before visiting. Get your ticket as soon as you have decided to visit Machu Picchu, just to be sure.
  • Hiking – Explore the hills around the site. There are many trails to choose from, including free hikes to the Inca Bridge and the Sun Gate. Montaña and the Huyana Picchu routes offer spectacular views. Montaña is more challenging for most tourists. It’s a 3 hour hike, while Huyana Picchu takes a couple of hours.


The ancient Inca site is located in a sub-tropical area. The rugged landscape gives it a very unique climate.

Rainy Season November to March. The mountains receive a lot of rainfall, often intermittently. The Inca trail is closed at this time. The days are warm and nights are cool.
Dry Season April to October. It is dry most of the time. The days are a bit warm and nights can be very cold. Often, it goes down to -2 degrees. September is spring here.

Best Time To Visit

The best time to visit is between April and October. The weather will be pleasant and dry. But there will be more tourists this time. Book your ticket quickly and reach early to avoid the crowds.

It rains between November and April, with February seeing the maximum rain. The Inca trail is closed as it will be muddy. But there will be a lot of orchids in the hills that start to blossom from October or November.

How To Visit Machu Picchu On A Budget

  • Book separately – Book your accommodation, flight and hiking trail separately. You may have to pay more if you book everything together. Cut the cost of the Inca trail by heading from Aguas Calientes.
  • Train – Belmond Hiram is the luxury service with panoramic windows, wooden compartments, and fine wine. But this will be costly. Also, the backpacker’s trains are a lot more fun, as you will be traveling with adventurers who are from different corners of the world.
  • Souvenir – You will surely want a souvenir of your visit. Don’t buy the regular stuff. Get a stamp of Machu Picchu on your passport. It will perhaps be the most exotic stamp you can get, and it is completely free too.
  • Hikes – Inca Bridge and the Sun Gate hikes are both fascinating and free to do. They are both easy trails for most tourists.