Located high up on the slopes of the Andes mountains is Machu Picchu, the ancient city of the Inca civilization. One of the wonders of the world, it is believed to have been built in the 15th century by the Incas and considered as their most notable feat.
Machu Picchu is situated in the Machupicchu District within Urubamba Province. There is no direct way to reach there and you might have to change transport. Take the train from Cusco to Aguas Calientes (now called Machu Picchu Pueblo) which is the closest town to the site. If not Cusco, you can also depart from Ollantaytambo. From Aguas Calientes, the site is 8 km away and you can either take the bus or walk there. Another option is to trek all the way from Cusco through one of the many trails.
Note that there is a limit to the number of people allowed per day to visit the site. The restrictions change often and it is best to book your tickets well in advance. Currently, the limit is 1116 people per day.
November to March is the rainy season and July to August is the peak tourist season. Given the popularity of the site, you can expect a crowd throughout the year. With a thinner crowd and moderate weather, May and June are the ideal months to visit.
Though it is known that the Incas built the city, its purpose still remains debatable – it must have been a royal citadel or a pilgrimage centre. Surrounded by thick jungles and mountains, the city was hidden and unknown to the rest of the world until it was rediscovered by Hiram Bingham, an American historian in the early 20th century. Following this, the site garnered immense international attention and gradually became the tourist hotspot it is today.
Machu Picchu is made up of an upper town, which has temples and a lower town, which has warehouses. It also consists of distinct urban and agricultural sectors. The most impressive aspect of Machu Picchu is the dry-stone architecture that is evident in most of the structures; the walls are constructed by fitting perfectly cut stones together, without the use of any adhesive. However, you will also find some walls which have mud holding the stones together.
The Sun Gate (Inti Punku) is where the Inca trail stops and the views of the valley from this spot are incredible. You will reach the site’s main gate after walking further from here. First lies the Hut of the Caretaker of the Funerary Rock, one of the highest spots on the site and it gives you excellent views of the agricultural terraces below. The Temple of the Sun, the only circular building on the site which features intricate stonework, will be your first stop after entering from the main gate. After this, you will find a series of stone terraces and 16 connected ceremonial baths. From here, a flight of stairs will lead you to the Sacred Plaza which has a viewing platform that offers stunning sights of the valley and the mountains. Next lies the main sector of the site which contains the Temple of the Three Windows, Principal Temple and the Sacristy. Behind these structures, you will find the Intihuatana, a carved stone pillar that is often mistaken for a sundial. It is believed that the Incas used this stone to predict solstices based on the angles formed by the rocks. Further along, you will find the Artisans’ Wall and the Sacred Rock which was used for ceremonial purposes. Your last stop will be at the Temple of the Condor which has a sculpted bird figure that is worshipped by the natives even today.
At the southern end of the site is the Huayna Picchu, a towering peak that often serves as the backdrop of Machu Picchu pictures. Trekking here is absolutely thrilling and you will be rewarded with panoramic views of the ruins and the valley. If you take a short detour from this path, you can also visit the Temple of the Moon in the Great Cave complex.
As there are limitations on the number of people allowed and it is mandatory for tourists to book with tour agencies, it is best to get your tickets booked well in advance. This trail is also closed every February for maintenance purposes.
Make sure you pack suitable trekking wear and gear, water bottles, food, chargers and other necessities. You will also need camping supplies in case the tour operator does not provide them. Some of the treks will lead you through high altitude places, so it is best to avoid alcohol, maintain a suitable diet and ensure you are physically fit.
Visiting the mysterious Incan site is not cheap and reaching here is not an easy task. BUT, it is completely worth it. Walking around the ruins of this ancient city surrounded by a stunning natural setting is an experience you will never forget.
Follow our blog for your daily dose of travel inspiration, information and tips. We try to publish atleast one article each day. Check this space for all the latest posts.