What is Macchu Picchu?
Machu Picchu is one of the most popular attractions in South America. The ruins of Machu Picchu were first discovered in 1911 by a young archaeologist who inspired the character of Indiana Jones. It is thought that the site was constructed during the time of Inca ruler Pachacutec in the 15th century. It might even have served as a winter retreat from the cold weather of Cusco, and probably lay undiscovered for centuries due to its lack of military significance, which explains why it was left untouched by the Spanish conquistadors.
When is the best time to visit?
Machu Picchu is inundated with visitors and hikers from late June to the end of August as this is the dry period. The rainy season runs from January to March with the best times to visit being late April to mid-June and September to October. For warmer temperatures with light to heavy rains, November to March is also ideal.
Accessing Machu Picchu
I flew into Peru’s capital city, Lima before I took another 1h 15m flight to Cuzco. Now Cusco is a delightful town that sits at the base of the Andes mountains in Peru. It was the capital of the Incas, and it is your starting point for the trip to Machu Picchu and the Sacred Valley — the heart of the Inca Empire.
There are many ways to see Machu Picchu, the least recommended being a day trip from Cusco, which can be quite exhausting given the high altitude. It’s best to get accustomed to the altitude in Cusco (which is approximately 10,800 feet, or 3,300 meters) before attempting the visit to Machu Picchu.
So how do you access this mysterious site? It is only accessible either by hiking or by train. It is highly recommended to stay overnight at Machu Picchu or the small town of Aguas Calientes if you want to get up early to experience the ruins at first light. The nice thing about Aguas Calientes is that the town has a great range of hotels and is located in the valley right below Machu Picchu. If you travel by train, this is the disembarking point; if you’ve hiked to Machu Pichu and completed the Inca Trail, this is where you will gather after the descent from Machu Picchu. If you decide to stay here in Aguas Calientes, know that the buses leave early enough that you can arrive just before the gates open and well ahead of the visitors that come by train.
Machu Picchu by Train
The train journey runs from Cusco to Aguas Calientes, and you will have the opportunity to see some fantastic scenery through lush valleys, rugged peaks, and the Urubamba River. People choose to stop and stay overnight at Ollantaytambo in the Sacred Valley before continuing onward to Aguas Calientes. Ollantaytambo used to be the administrative centre for the Incas and you can still see the remnants of a fortress, with terraces.
Machu Picchu by Foot
Hiking to Machu Pichhu is an immersive way to fully experience the various landscapes of snow-capped mountains, lakes, and slopes around you. There are different ways to get to the site, so your experience really depends on the number of days you want to allot to the hike. The treks can range from one to 12 days and you have to get a permit as there is a limited number of walkers who can walk the Inca Trail. Only 500 people, including porters, are currently allowed to walk on the trail, and as permits sell out fast, it’s important that you plan this out well in advance.
Machu Picchu is located around 8,000 feet (2,450 meters) above sea level, while Cusco is at 11,150 feet (3,400 meters). While some people experience altitude sickness, there are many ways of helping yourself acclimatize ahead of the trek.
What to eat in Machu Picchu
Aguas Calientes has many restaurants to choose from, and the slow-cooked chicharrones (hog roast) is a popular item. Aji de gallina (spicy chicken stew) is also commonly found in restaurants, while lomo saltado (stir-fry beef) and chupe (fish stew) are also staples on the menu. Vegetables are also available as side accompaniments to these dishes.