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- Historical sightseeing
- Arguably one of the World Wonders
- Iconic sight of Inca civilization
- Opportunities for trekking
- Breathtaking views
- High altitude
- Multi-segment travel
Why visit Machu Picchu?
Machu Picchu is arguably one of the Wonders of the World. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, an icon of Inca civilization and one of the most visited and photographed sites in South America. The views are breathtaking! It is sometimes called Lost City of the Incas. However, it was more of an estate village or a citadel. The real Lost City in Peru is Vilcabamba. It is hard to imagine how Machu Picchu was built on such a high mountain with such steep slopes with simple tools. It is believed that Machu Picchu was built for the Inca emperor Pachacuti around 1450 but soon abandoned during the Spanish Conquest. The Spanish did not know of its existence during the colonial times. It was rediscovered for the Western civilizations by the American historian Hiram Bingham in 1911.
Where in the world?
Machu Picchu is in the Cordillera mountains (Andes) in Peru, South America. The citadel, or village is built on a high mountain with steep slopes and is remote from modern cities.
The closest city with an airport is Cusco (Cuzco). It is approximately 80 km (50 miles) from Machu Picchu. You would need to fly first to Lima (LIM), capital of Peru, then take a domestic flight to Cusco (CUZ). There are direct flights to Lima from several large cities in North and South America, while travelers from other destinations may need a stop. Flight time is about 8 hours from Toronto or New York. Flight time between Lima and Cusco is 1.5 hours. Cusco is at a higher altitude (3,400 m /11,200 ft) than Machu Picchu (2,430 m /7,972 feet). Most people will feel the altitude in Cusco. Travelers need to take a train from Cusco to Machu Picchu. There are at least two railway companies serving the route at the time of writing: Inca Rail and the Belmond Hiram Bingham train. We arranged our trip through GalapagosIslands.com and had the entire itinerary babysitted by the guides, including sightseeing in Cusco, airport and train transfers. As you probably suspected, we combined the trip to Machu Picchu with our visit to Galapagos Islands.
There are also trail hikes to Machu Picchu. The trails are of different duration and difficulty. It is not a walk in the park! You need to be able to to do a multi-day mountain hiking at high altitude. Many untrained and non-acclimatized people have visible trouble negotiating stairs in Cusco and Machu Micchu. So, gauge your abilities and fitness level before you sign up. The most popular hike is along the old Incan road. Several tour operators offer Inca Trail hikes to Machu Picchu for this trail. The Trail is closed in February for maintenance.
The power supply in Peru is 220 Volts 60 Hz, a combo Euro and North American plug with two round and flat openings.
Spanish but there are many English speaking guides and staff communicating with tourists speak English.
Peruvian Sol, ~0.3 USD. Local bank machines dispense Sols but we encountered low daily limits, so may need to draw a bit every day.
Vaccination and infections
According to CDC, in addition to the routine vaccination established in most countries (subject to your country of origin and your personal vaccination), typhoid , yellow fever and hepatitis vaccines are recommended. There IS a risk of malaria in some parts of the country, especially in the Amazon areas. Please consult with a travel clinic for possible prophylactic medications if you plan to go to these areas. Prevent yourself from insect bites to avoid insect transmitted infections. Yellow fever is also required for entry if you come from an endemic area. Rabid dogs are commonly found, but treatment may not be available. Please see updated information for health at the CDC site or health authority in your country.
People from most countries in the Americas and Western Europe do not need a tourist visa to enter Peru. You can check if you need visa here.
When to go?
Winter is reverse to travelers from the Northern hemisphere. It gets chillier between April-October, but it also rains less during this time. You will really appreciate clear skies for best photographs of Machu Picchu. The trick is to visit when it is not rainy and not too cold, which appears to be two windows: April and September-November. May-August will have the most sunshine but it may get chillier, especially at night.
Where to stay?
We selected Palacio del Inka for our package. It is a historical building that exceeded our expectations. The hotel now is owned by the Marriott group. There are also other hotels in historical buildings, such as Aranwa Cusco Boutique Hotel and others. Most of local attractions and restaurants are around the central square, therefore we would recommend using map options on the booking sites to select your hotel.
There is also a hotel in Machu Picchu, high on the mountain: Belmond Sanctuary Lodge. You can do Machu Picchu as a day trip from Cusco or stay for one or more nights in the Lodge, just book well in advance. It is theoretically possible to bypass a stay in Cusco but Cusco is a tourist attraction on its own, so it makes more sense to spend at least a day there. The only reason to avoid a stay in Cusco would be the altitude symptoms. Cusco is significantly higher than Machu Picchu or Aguas Calientes village at the base of Machu Picchu. If you know that you get sick above 3000m/9000ft you may want to limit your time in Cusco.
Where to eat?
There were few restaurants with different cuisines on the central square. We wanted to try authentic Peruvian food and the restaurant at our hotel offered few ethnic dishes. There are few specifics, for example guinea pigs (Cuy) are a food item in the Andes. The animals actually are native to the area and have been exported to other parts of the world. Cuy used for food are of different breeds, not like those used as pets. Cuy are almost size of a small rabbit and have been traditionally raised for special occasions. In fact, guinea pig is painted on the Cusco version of The Last Supper in The Cusco Cathedral. Cuy is a regular food item in Peru and Bolivia. They are much easier to grow and move around in the harsh conditions of the Andes.
In Machi Picchu, there is a restaurant at the Belmond Sanctuary Lodge, right on the mountain.
What to do?
We had a tour of local attractions included in the package. There are some interesting ruins of a citadel Sacsayhuaman just outside the city. The guide stopped at an alpaca shop on the way back. Alpaca wool is a local specialty. In the city, the main attractions are the Cathedral and the Plaza de Armas. The Cathedral is interesting by its paintings. The was a Cusco School of art. Taleneted local artists were taught to paint catholic paintings and they developed a specific style, Cuzqueño art. There is also a Museum of Pre-colombian Art that is worth a visit if you have time. A new attraction is Montaña de Siete Colores. It is a unique natural phenomenon of multi-color stripes running across mountain slopes. The place is even at a higher altitude than Cusco, 5,200 m/17,100 ft and you do need to walk uphill for some time. Make sure you understand what it means if you have not been at such altitudes.
After arrival at the base village Aguas Calientes you will need to take a shuttle bus to Machu Picchu. The road is on a steep slope and the bus zig-zags 14 times or so. You will need a guide to enter Machu Picchu. There are local guides available at the entrance. The crowds accumulate between 11AM and 3PM. If you want to see Machu Picchu without crowds and in sunset light it is better to stay at the lodge. When we visited there were few people without crowds, but we went there during the rainy season.
The ruins are largely restored. As it was never discovered during the colonial times the citadel stayed more or less preserved. At least the stones remained where they fell. There are several high spots from which you can see the entire site. These are the best spots for photographs. They are not in the citadel, but above it. You will need to break your visit into two sessions: one for the photographs and views and one for exploring the site. The slopes were used for terraces to grow crops. The terraces are on both sides of the ridge and they add to the views. Try to explore both sides as they have different views. Inside the village there are few steps here and there. Take your time, enjoy the view and avoid exhaustion at the altitude. There are some special and ceremonial buildings as well as simple dwellings. You can also climb to the peak of the Machu Picchu mountain that gives you a larger traditional view. It will take at least 2 hours of physical work at a significant altitude. There is also a separate access to the rounded mountain, Huayna Picchu, which is in front of the village in the traditional views. You will need to buy a separate ticket. There are some companies that specialize in the trekking, however we have not used them and cannot comment on their services. Please research further
We have no affiliation with any booking agency/site, attraction companies or resorts. We simply share our experience and opinions. Some information may be outdated, please check with primary sources.