The lost city of the Incas, Machu Picchu, is one of the most visited destinations in South America. The Incan Empire built the stone fortress, surrounded by surreal natural beauty and incredible history.
The perfect stonework of the lost city, while still encompassed by mysteries, attracts historians, archaeologists, and tourists alike.
Machu Picchu is perched atop mountain hills at an altitude of 7,900 feet. The endless terraces set against the greenery and the sight of stone temples make this a magnificent place to visit. It offers a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and an experience that remains unforgettable.
Here is a quick guide to help fellow travellers plan their trip to Machu Picchu:
The best season to visit
Machu Picchu is at an intersection, which means a mild subtropical climate provides warm days and cooler nights. Throughout the year, the weather at the site remains unpredictable. It also has dry and rainy seasons, similar to other high-altitude places in Peru.
The dry winter seasons in Machu Picchu start in April and go on until October. The wet summer season takes place from November to March.
The busiest or peak season to visit the site is from late June to late August. These months coincide with the dry seasons, where sunny weather is favourable. However, many consider late April to mid-June as the best time to visit.
In the rainy season, September and October are perfect for those looking to avoid the summer rush. The low season is from November to February, when crowds are lower but the probability of rain is higher.
How to get to Machu Picchu
Travelling to Machu Picchu is an adventure on its own. The site is located in a remote region of Peru, and thus, transportation choices are limited. Here are some of the options to access Machu Picchu:
Visitors can fly to Machu Picchu from Lima with a particular carrier and then transfer to local flights to Cusco. A rail connection is available to Aguas Calientes, a town in the Urubamba River Valley, that lies at the foot of the ascension to Machu Picchu.
Most travellers opt for train rides to Machu Picchu for convenience and comfort. The rail connections that run to the site are Inca Rail, Peru Rail, and Belmond Hiram Brigham trains. Belmond is a luxury train that offers exclusive services for those wanting to enjoy a lavish scenic train ride to Machu Picchu.
Inca and Peru Rail are ideal for standard and economical travellers, although they also have other services available.
There are different stations to board the train for Machu Picchu. In Cusco, the trains depart from the Poroy station, while in the Sacred Valley, Ollantaytambo is the main station. Below are the routes and travel times to reach Machu Picchu.
- Cusco to Machu Picchu: 4 hours
- Ollantaytambo to Machu Picchu: 2 hours
There is a limited weekly departure train that runs from Urubamba to Machu Picchu and takes 2 hours to reach. It is perfect for those wanting to view the gorgeous Urubamba River as part of the train ride.
By bus from Aguas Calientes
The nearby town of Aguas Calientes is situated just 9 kilometres from Machu Picchu. The bus stop is located 5 minutes away from the Aguas Calientes train station. Buses take passengers up and down the steep mountainside, between the town and the ruins.
Trekking to Machu Picchu is perfect for adventurous and adrenaline-seeking travelers. Tour organisers typically arrange trekking packages for trekkers, such as the well-known 4-day Inca Trail. The journey takes you through high Andean passes, lesser-known sites of Machu Picchu, and directly through the Sun Gate.
However, those tight on schedule can opt for a 2-day trial that demands less walking. Other alternative trekking packages take you past mesmerizing landscapes of Machu Picchu.
Highlights of Machu Picchu
- Sun Gate, or Inti Punku: The Sun Gate is the main entryway leading up to Machu Picchu and an important feature of the site. Seeing the sunrise from the Sun Gate is one of the most recommended things to do.
- The Inca Bridge: This bridge was built as a secret entrance for the Incan army. However, instead of looking like a proper bridge, it appears as a stone path carved out of the cliff rock.
- Huayna Picchu: Climbing Huayna Picchu offers the most rewarding views of the site from atop the mountain. It is also considered to be the best place to see Machu Picchu from above. The towering mountain has a straight climb and does not require technical ability, although you will have to pay extra for the climbing permit
- The Temple of the Sun: To observe the finest stone works of Machu Picchu, the Temple of the Sun is the ideal place to visit. The temple was possibly used as an astronomical observatory and contains niches where offerings were placed.
- The royal tomb: Also called the palace of the princess, the cave-like building is thought to be a place where burial or sacrificial rituals were performed. To the left of the tomb lie a series of ceremonial baths designed intricately.
- The Intihuatana stone: The carved pillar of Intihuatana is the most recognisable location and remains a testament to Inca knowledge. The Incan people used the pillar as a sundial to predict solstices. Till today, the Intihuatana stone accurately indicated the position of the sun.
Where to stay at Machu Picchu
There are no hotels in Machu Picchu, but the nearby town of Aguas Calientes is the best place to stay. The only accommodation located near Machu Picchu is the Machu Picchu Sanctuary Lodge, which saves you travelling time.
Aguas Calientes has a range of hotels that vary from luxury to budget-friendly accommodations. Moreover, staying in the local town helps travellers familiarise themselves with the site of Machu Picchu and its culture.
Things to remember while traveling to Machu Picchu
- The weather is unpredictable in Machu Picchu, so it is best to carry layers to add or remove depending on the conditions. During the wet season, carry a poncho or an umbrella for unexpected showers
- Bring along water bottles, as water is not available at the site. Eating is also not allowed inside Machu Picchu, so it is better to have a meal before entering.
- The sun is extremely strong at the site’s high elevation, especially during the dry season. It is suggested to use sunblock to protect the skin, a hat, and sunglasses.
- Only small backpacks are allowed inside Machu Picchu. Heavy luggage can be stored inside the hotel’s complimentary luggage storage. There are storage lockers at the entrance of Machu Picchu as well.
- Trains only permit small luggage, so it is suggested to pack essentials in a small backpack.
Machu Picchu is a spectacular destination to visit, whether you’d like to learn about the Incan empire or capture the beautiful Peruvian landscapes. Don’t miss out on this stunning site the next time you plan your vacation to South America.
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