It’s one of the most visited archeological sites in the world. And it provides some of the most awe-inspiring views of the surrounding Peruvian landscape. The iconic ancient Incan ruins of Machu Picchu are most definitely a must see for those travelling to Peru. But what exactly is Machu Picchu? And how do you go about getting there and exploring this impressive destination?
You’ll find the ruins of Machu Picchu in the northwest corner of Cuzco in the Peruvian Andes Mountains. The site is believed to have been a sacred religious spot or perhaps a royal estate built during the Incan Empire. Although its exact purpose may never be known, Machu Picchu is vast and imposing sight to behold.
Machu Picchu is a massive archaeological site. It spans an area of over 32,000 hectares. Walls, moats, staircases, terraces, and various building structures like temples and baths can be found while you’re exploring. And don’t forget about the altitude. Machu Picchu is located on a 7,000 feet high hilltop in the middle of the Andes!
Getting to Machu Picchu can prove to be a bit of a challenge. It’s definitely a more isolated Peruvian destination. But the journey there and the experience of seeing it firsthand will be worth it. Let’s take a more in depth look at how to make the most of your Machu Picchu adventure…
When to Visit:
Is there a best time to visit Machu Picchu? Yes and no. The site sees heavy visitor traffic all year round since it never closes. So you’re probably always going to be in the midst of other travelers.
With that being said, peak season is typically from June-August. So there will likely be more crowds around during that span of time. Sundays also tend to be the busiest day for visits as well. Keep in mind that the rainy season is usually from October-April. However it can rain at any time. You’re just more likely to get wetter if you decide to hike the trail during the rainy months.
Getting to Machu Picchu depends on how adventurous you are. There is a hiking option that takes the famous Inca Trail. It’s one of the most challenging way to see the ruins. The hike is typically a 4-day/3-night outing. Independent hikes aren’t allowed though. That means you must hike with a sanctioned tour group or agency.
If you’re not up to hiking, you can take a train. Your best bet is to take the train from Cuzco to Aguas Calientes. This small Peruvian town is just a few miles from the Machu Picchu site. The train ride is around three and a half hours. But the scenic views and dramatic canyon walls will be worth it.
Be sure to book your train ride well in advance. Tickets can sell out weeks to even months ahead. If you find yourself out of luck securing tickets from Cuzco to Aguas Calientes, you can try the train that departs from the town of Ollantaytambo, located in the Sacred Valley. The town is actually a pretty cool place to explore if you have extra time too. There are still quite a few remaining Incan-built streets and buildings.
Machu Picchu is pretty high up in altitude. In fact it’s located just shy of 8,000 feet above sea level. And the town of Cuzco is even further up (11,000 feet) so altitude sickness could come into play if you’re not careful or are prone to it.
A good way to avoid the altitude sickness is to acclimate yourself. If you plan on staying overnight in Cuzco, you may want to spend a day in Aguaus Calientes next. It’s the closest town to Machu Picchu and is lower in altitude. From there, explore Machu Picchu before returning to Cuzco. This can help minimize any unpleasant side effects that can come with altitude sickness. It’s also a good idea to avoid alcohol and stay hydrated with water. The more hydrated you are, the better you body can get better adjusted to the thinner air.
So you know you want to go to Machu Picchu. But what type of tour should you take? Well that depends on what type of adventure you’re looking for. It also depends on what difficulty level you’re up for too.
Hiking the Incan Trail is the most popular way to see Machu Picchu. The trails are actually a system of roads that were built by the Incans. There are quite a lot of tour options for the hike. Keep in mind, however, that all hikes do require camping.
There are several other hiking options other than the Incan Trail. These hikes may prove to be more strenuous. But…they also tend to be less crowded and offer a wider array of Peruvian mountain views. One of these treks takes you around the Salkantay Mountain in order to reach Machu Picchu. It stands at an imposing 20,570 feet and definitely requires physical endurance.
If you’re interested in the archaeological aspects of Machu Picchu, there are some great tours that offer insight into nearby archaeology. Look into the Choquequirao tour with the Machu Picchu extension. You’ll have a tough hike along the steep Apurimac Canyon. But the exploration of the Choquequirao archaeological site as well as Machu Picchu will be worth it.
If you’re looking for an all around adventure tour, there are several options there too. Tours such as the Inca Jungle Tour offers a combination of biking, rafting, zip-lining, and hiking to Machu Picchu. This one is a great way to mix things up if you’re a bit of an adrenaline junkie.
What to Bring:
If you’re a seasoned hiker, you’ll probably already be prepared for your Machu Picchu trip. If not, don’t worry. We’ve got you covered. Of course, you definitely can’t forget a comfortable yet sturdy pair of hiking shoes/boots.
Bring a jacket. It may look like a beautiful, sunny day out on the trails. But rain can sneak up on you at any given time. And speaking of rain…don’t forget to bring plenty of bottled water for the long trek. It’s also a good idea to bring sunscreen. The sun can get pretty strong with the high altitude.
There’s no perfect time of day to visit Machu Picchu. It’s a heavily visited site daily. But if you want to avoid the crowds flowing into the main structures at opening, opt for the Guard House. It’s located above the main site. It’s also typically less crowded so you can enjoy your views with a bit less of a bustle.