Updated: Feb 23
The most iconic landmark in Peru is one of the Ancient Wonders of the World - Machu Picchu. Built nearly 2,500 metres above sea level in misty peaks of the Andes in Sacred Valley of the Incas, Muchu Picchu is one of the most amazing sites you will ever lay your eyes upon. The Lost City was built in the mid fifteenth century and abandoned about one hundred years later, during the time of the Spanish Conquistadors. The ruins were left uninhabited until an American Historian re-discovered the site, covered in overgrown vegetation with the help of a young local boy.
Machu Picchu is an ancient Inca citadel located in the Andes Mountains in Peru. It's one of the most famous and popular tourist attractions in South America, and it's recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage site. Here are some interesting facts about Machu Picchu:
Machu Picchu was built in the 15th century by the Inca Empire, but it was abandoned during the Spanish conquest in the 16th century. It was rediscovered in 1911 by American archaeologist Hiram Bingham.
The citadel is located at an altitude of 2,430 meters (7,970 feet) above sea level, and it's surrounded by steep mountain slopes and the Urubamba River.
Machu Picchu is known for its impressive stone architecture, which was built without the use of mortar. The stones fit together so perfectly that it's hard to insert even a knife blade between them.
Machu Picchu is divided into two main sections: the agricultural sector, which consists of terraces and buildings used for farming and food storage, and the urban sector, which includes the temples, palaces, and living quarters of the Inca elite.
Machu Picchu is known for its stunning views and unique location, which can only be reached by hiking or taking a train. Visitors can also climb Huayna Picchu, a steep mountain peak that overlooks the citadel.
Machu Picchu attracts over a million visitors each year, and the Peruvian government has implemented measures to limit the number of visitors and preserve the site's fragile ecosystem.
Visiting Machu Picchu is an unforgettable experience, and it's a must-see for anyone interested in ancient history and archaeology.
One of the most common question I receive regarding South America, is what is the the best way to get to Machu PIcchu?
There is a number of options depending on your circumstances; whether it is time, price or fitness level so don't stress - you will be able to find an experience that suites you!
All international flights to Peru land in the Peruvian capital, Lima. There are multiple options to commence your tour in either Lima or Cusco, and numerous daily flights between the cities so we chose to head to Cusco which is the closest city to Machu PIcchu.
A large number of people opt for the Classic Inca Trail Trek which lasts 4 days and cost $700-800. This needs to be booked in around 6 months in advance and is close in February every year for maintenance. On a rare occasion you may get lucky enough to sneak on a tour last minute, by just arriving in Cusco and asking if there have been any cancellations. The trek is physically demanding but you can pay a porter an additional fee (approx $60USD for ten kilograms to carry your bags/camping gear up the hill).
Most bigger international tour companies also off alternative hiking trails which follow scenic paths through the mountains but they are roughly around the same price as the Classic Inca Trail Trek and usually also offer extended experiences to other parts of Peru, including Lima, Ica and Manu National Park which is a gateway to the Amazon.
If you are short on time, there are also options for a single day/overnight trips to Machu Picchu form Cusco. These trips can be easily organised on the ground through a local travel agency or even your hotel.
If you do not want to join a tour, you could make you own way to Aguas Caliente by bus/train which can all be organised on the spot in Cusco. Aguas Caliente is a small town located at the base of the Machu Picchu Mountain, approximately a hour 3 hike to Machu PIcchu's front gate or a 20 minute bus ride which cost $10USD each way.
Alternatively we had organised a 3 day/4 night adventure tour instead of solely hiking the trail for four days.
This is tour with variety of extreme sports which will give you on of the most action packed experience you can find. The tour includes, downhill mountain biking, zip lines, white water rafting along with hiking a section of the inca trail.
The tour can be organise through most tour agencies in Cusco for approximately $200-$240USD.
Most young travellers find there way to one of Cusco's two infamous party hostels; 'The Wild Rover' or 'The Loki'. Both hostels are extremely fun, always busy and have a their own in-house travel agencies, so if you are travelling solo, I would recommend making your way to one of these places and booking the tour - odds are you will end up linking up and travelling with someone you meet while staying here!
So when selecting your tour, I found the final option suited us better, its cheaper, you can organise it once you arrive in Cusco and most importantly - it is more fun!
The tour itinerary is below :)
Day 1 - Cusco To Santa Maria
The tour departs Cusco between 6-7am nearly every single day. You can leave your bags in the luggage storage at the hostel and only take a day pack with a few changes of clothes!
The first stop at the top of Abra Malaga, where you will jump on a mountain bike and ride mostly down hill for approximately three hours, ending in Alfamayo. After lunch and some time to relax there is also a White Water Rafting (which is an additional $35 - and highly recommended) followed by a short trek.
Day 2 - Santa Maria To Santa Teresa
After breakfast you will start to hike a small but scenic section of an authentic Inka Trail, with views over the valley, walking through and stoping at some local houses for food and refreshments, and there is also some extra time to lounge in some hammocks. After lunch the trek continues along the surging Urubamba river, crossing it at one point in a cart and pulley (safe yet thrilling!). Your day of trekking (around 16km) concludes with a visit to the immaculate Santa Theresa hot springs.
Day 3 - Santa Teresa To Aguas Calientes
Zip Linning, 150 meters above the ground through the valley and over river. You can go single or tandem, upside down or even naked - it is a lot of fun! After Zip Lining everyone will head to Hidrolectrica station for lunch before continuing to trek another three hours along the train tracks alongs side to Urabamba River, which brings you to the tourist town of Aguas Calientes. I would recommend an early night, as you will also have an early start the next morning to commence your hike up to the ruins of Machu Picchu.
Tip: We stopped for lunch along the way and started talking to the boys who worked there, turns out they had a hidden soccer pitch in the jungle behind the lodge! We played there for an hour or so - It was awesome!!
Day 4 - Machu Picchu / Huayna Picchu To Cusco
The Machu Picchu climb begins before the sun is up. Personally, I hate lining up and standing in queues so I would recommend an early start so you don't get stuck behind a big group of people walking up. The hike should take about 45 minutes back along the river to the entrance at the base of the mountain, the after your ticket and passport have been checked you can, now commence the steep hike up the trail which is another 30 - 60 minutes depending on your speed. I am not going to lie, it is physically demanding and definitely the hardest part of the tour. Half way up, we had our tops off soaking ourselves in water. An alternative is to get the bus up to the top for around $10USD each way. The first buses depart at 5am but you must get there a lot earlier if you want to be at the front of the line.
After scanning your tickets and showing your passports a second time at the top of the trail, you will receive a 2-hour guided tour of the sacred site. After the tour you have the option to climb Huayna Picchu or Machu Picchu Mountain for an even more incredible view of the ruins and the surrounding sheer cliffs of the Andes, I definitely recommend climbing up Huayna Picchu, the climb is a bit more adventurous and views back over Macchu Picchu are incredible - photo below.
Take your time exploring the wondrous ruins and get that perfect picture before making your descent back to Aguas Calientes. Your return time to Cusco will depend on which transport option, or return train you select when originally organising your tour.
Hope that helps uncover some of the mystery around organising a Machu Picchu tour!
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