Wonders of Machu Picchu, Peru

Nestled high in the slopes of the Andes Mountains, the ruins of Machu Picchu continue to reveal the mysteries of the Inca Empire. It is located above the Sacred Valley and Urubamba River, in the Machu Picchu District and in the Cusco Region (50 miles northwest of the town of Cusco). In such a spectacular location, it’s the most famous archaeological site in South America, a must for all visitors to Peru. Machu Picchu receives over half a million visitors a year, more than 2,500 every day.

Hisory of Machu Picchu

Built in the fifteenth century, Machu Picchu is believed to have been a royal estate or sacred religious site for Inca leaders. Following a meticulous plan, the city is divided into a lower and upper part, separating the farming from residential areas, with a large square between the two. Machu Picchu was abandoned when the Inca Empire was conquered by the Spaniards in the sixteenth century. It was not until 1911 that the complex was made known to the outside world by the American archaeologist Hiram Bingham. To this day, many of Machu Picchu’s mysteries remain unresolved, including the exact role it may have played in the Incas’ sophisticated understanding of astronomy and domestication of wild plant species.

Machu Picchu was declared a Peruvian Historical Sanctuary in 1981 and a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983. In 2007, Machu Picchu was voted one of the New Seven Wonders of the World in a worldwide Internet poll.

Getting to Machu Picchu

Every year, millions of people visit the impressive and mysterious Incan citadel of Machu Picchu in Peru. However, getting to the massive intricate stone constructions and glorious hilltop views of this Wonder of the World isn’t cheap and takes some time to get there. Here is a rough layout of how much we spent getting to this breath taking site.

  • Flight from Lima to Cusco (round trip)- $140 per person
  • Train tickets from Cusco to Aguas Calientes- $175 per person
  • Entry fee to Machu Picchu- $50 per person + $15 Machu Picchu Mountain climb
  • Round trip bus from Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu- $24 per person

In total we paid around $800 dollars for the both of us to get from Lima to Machu Picchu and back.

LIMA TO CUSCO: Lima is the capital of Peru and the only international airport near Machu Picchu. Most people flying into the country will most often either stop in Lima for a day or two or have a quick layover through the Lima airport heading to Cusco. Either way you decide to travel to Cusco is all in all up to your travel budget and time availability.

  1. FLYINGto Cusco from Lima is the quickest way of travel but is also the most expensive.
  2. The only other option to get to Cusco from Lima is by the most popular way of travel- BUS. Although traveling this way takes longer than flying, it can be an unforgettable experience.

****We recommend staying a day or two in Lima as it is full of museums, shops, art galleries and TONS of history.

CUSCO TO AGUAS CALIENTES: Once you are in Cusco, the gateway to Machu Picchu, there are three different ways to get to the site from here.

  1. The first option is the easiest and fastest but also the most expensive- TRAIN. There are 3 major train companies running from Cusco to Aguas Calientes everyday at different time slots. The train station in Cusco is located on the outskirts of the town (In Poroy) and will require a cheap taxi to get there (20-30 min ride). These train tickets must be purchased ahead to time as they do sell out quickly months in advance. ALSO, the ride includes day bags ONLY, no over sized luggage for this journey. We recommend to leave your larger bags at your hotel in Cusco (they will hold for you) and pack a smaller bag for this trip to MP. The train ride from Poroy station to Aguas Calientes takes around 3 hours, stopping in a couple towns on the way and also serving a light meal and drinks.
  2. The second option from Cusco to Machu Picchu is by TREKKING. This is probably the most unforgettable way to get to Machu Picchu but also will take time (up to 4 days) and physical stamina. There are many different companies out there to make your experience an excellent journey (make sure to research reviews before purchasing). This option will offer beautiful scenery and amazing views along the way.
  3. Lastly, if you are on a very tight budget and time being no concern you can take a BUS to Aguas Calientes. Starting from Cusco you can take a bus to Quillabamba, get out at Santa Maria and proceed onward with another bus to Santa Teresa. From here you will have to take a local TAXI to the Hydroelectric plant near Santa Teresa for a few soles. Hidroelectrica is the closest road to Machu Picchu, from here you will have to WALK, following the train tracks for about 4 miles till you get to Aguas Calientes.

****We recommend taking a day or two to stay in the city of Cusco as there is so much to do and see!

AGUAS CALIENTES TO MACHU PICCHU: Whether you traveled by train, bus or by foot, you will reach Aguas Calientes. There are two different options from here to get you up to your final stop in this long journey. ALMOST THERE!! Machu Picchu sits up on top of a mountain ridge 1,300 feet above the town of Aguas Calientes.

  1. The BUS from Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu operate everyday and take about 25 minutes to reach the top. The first bus leaves the town around 5:30 am and the last bus departs at 3:30 pm. You need to buy your tickets before you get on the bus (cannot pre book, must buy at the bus office near the station) and wait in line which gets EXTEMELY LONG EXTERMELY EARLY!!!
  2. If you want to save the money on the bus ticket, you can take the option to HIKE up to Machu Picchu. It will take about 90 minutes to reach the top with a scenic view along the way.

Tips for visiting Machu Picchu

Entrance tickets: If you’re traveling to Machu Picchu independently, you can buy entrance tickets here. There are also official ticket offices in Cusco and an office in Aguas Calientes where tickets can be purchased in person the day before you wish to enter.

• Bus: GET TO THE BUS STATION EARLY!! The line for the buses going up to Machu Picchu from Aguas Calientes start VERY EARLY (get there at 4 am to get a decent spot in line). Learn from our mistakes as we ended up super far, way back in the line.

Bring: What to bring with you up to Machu Picchu

  • Water
  • Small snack
  • Hat
  • SPF sunscreen
  • Rain jacket (even if it looks like a beautiful sunny day. Umbrellas NOT ALLOWED)
  • Insect repellent
  • Coins (to access the bathroom)

• Don’t bring: all prohibited at Machu Picchu. 

  • Drones
  • Umbrellas
  • Walking sticks/ trekking poles

• Morning or Afternoon? Your ticket allows you to enter the citadel multiple times between 6 a.m. to 4 p.m. There is no perfect time to visit Machu Picchu, recently the site is crowded at all hours and weather is always unpredictable. Usually in the mornings there is more fog, whether that ruins your pictures or just adds an extra magical touch to them.

• Don’t miss: Just outside the entrance gates, there’s a barely marked station where you can get the novelty Machu Picchu stamp in your passport.

How to get acclimated: Spend a night or two getting used to the altitude of Aguas Calientes, at about 6,700 feet, then explore Machu Picchu, at about 8,000 feet. Avoid alcohol and physical exertion while acclimatizing and drink as much water or tea as you can stand to help your body slowly adjust to the thinner air. This will help minimize the unpleasant or even dangerous effects of altitude, which commonly include headache, fatigue, and nausea.

When to go: Machu Picchu is open all year, while peak season is July and August, you should always just expect crowds. October through April is the official rainy season, but it can rain at any time really. Sundays can be the most crowded because that is when people who live in the Cusco province are allowed to visit the site for free.

LLAMAS!!! Make sure to look out for the local llamas that graze through these terraces. Either get a selfie with one or make sure to capture a picture of Machu Picchu with the llama in it for the ultimate photograph. These mammals have been native to these mountains for almost 4,000 years now.

Climbing Machu Picchu’s peaks

The high level of preservation and the general layout of this ruin is just remarkable. Machu Picchu is perched above the Urubamba River valley in between two sharp peaks, Machu Picchu peak (old peak) and Huayna Picchu peak (new peak). Huayna Picchu is the tall peak that sits directly behind Machu Picchu and Machu Picchu Mountain is located at the opposite end of the site. Both are possible to hike to enjoy panoramic views from the top. While both hikes are difficult, arguably making the decision of which mountain to climb is the biggest difficulty of all. While Huayna Picchu is a more dramatic and popular hike, Machu Picchu Mountain is at higher elevation and offers just as incredible views from the summit. As the mountains are facing one another, both hikes offer similar views of the surrounding landscape and incredible views of the citadel. You have to keep in mind that for both mountains there is a cut off for how many daily tickets sold. Therefore, it is recommended to make the reservation as early as possible.

• Huayna Picchu peak: At 8,923 feet above sea level with a 950 foot ascend from Machu Picchu, this peak is the most popular of the two hikes. The climb is very steep, narrow and there are some parts where you need to use your hands for balance and climbing. However it is the more dramatic hike with the infamous stairs, interesting tunnels and Inca ruins along the route. 400 tickets are sold daily for hike, split up into two separate time slots -7 a.m. or 10 a.m. Average time needed for this hike is 3 hours in total. (48 soles/$15 per person).

• Machu Picchu peak:  10,042 feet above sea level with a 2,037 foot ascend from Machu Picchu, this peak is twice as tall as Huayna Picchu. This hike requires good knees, as this trail is almost entirely stairs the entire way up to the top. Arguably this peak provides better views from the top, looking down towards Machu Picchu and Huayna Picchu and of the area surrounding the ruins, especially the white Urubamba River winding around Machu Picchu like a snake (INCREDIBLE). 800 tickets are sold daily for hike, split up into two separate time slots – 7 a.m. or 9 a.m. Average time needed for this hike is 3-4 hours in total. (48 soles/$15 per person).

What to do in Agua Calientes

Peru’s most incredible attraction, Machu Picchu is located in a small town called Aguas Calientes which translates to “hot waters.” While the main attraction in Aguas Calientes is Machu Picchu, there are some fun activities to keep you busy while you’re waiting to explore the incredible ancient ruins.  What else is there to do in this small tourist town? We have highlighted out favorite sites.

• Hot Springs: The town is named after the natural hot springs that are a popular among travelers. For a small fee you can unravel and relax in the soothing natural hot spring pools. The locals say that the minerals in the water promote bone health. Additionally, After exploring Machu Picchu all morning, this will help your body rejuvenate and unwind. You will need a swimsuit, towel, and sandals to enter

• Waterfall: A 40-minute stroll northwest along the train tracks from Aguas Calientes leads you to this little slice of paradise. Los Jardines de Mandor is a family owned project for nature conservation where they work to restore the habitat of beautiful species of wildlife. Spend a few hours exploring the tropical rain forest, bird watching, picnicking or take a dip in the cooling waterfall. This is by far the most peaceful located near Machu Picchu.

• Massage: Another way to relax after a long day of hiking is to visit one of the many massage parlors throughout the town. You will see many women advertising them in the streets. You can find incredible deals here like 30 soles ($10) for a one hour massage. This kind of deal is unheard of in many countries and you’d be a fool not to take them up on this AMAZING offer.

• Shop: Immediately after getting off the train on the way to our hotel we walked through the market area that was packed of vibrant eye appealing souvenirs and gifts to take home with you. This small town is flooded with interesting gift shops to browse when you have some down time. Find yourself a baby alpaca sweater, blanket, gloves or hat or maybe some key chains, magnets or post cards. You are bound to find something special to take home with you.


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