Explore Machu Picchu
Machu Picchu is one of the 7 New Wonders of the World and one of the most visited travel destinations in Latin America. Images of this majestic place have circled the world attracting travelers from different nationalities and cultures.
This ancient city in Peru’s Sacred Valley is located 7,972 ft. (2,430 m.) above sea level and it is an architectural masterpiece of the Inca ancient civilization. It’s hidden between lush green surroundings and misty mountains.
Visiting Machu Picchu during a Spanish immersion trip in Peru is top notch for gaining appreciation of the language while enjoying the marvelous culture and unique architecture.
Keep reading for a full breakdown on why Machu Picchu should be on your list of places to visit.
¡Nos vamos a Perú! (Let ‘s go to Peru!)
About Machu Picchu
Machu Picchu was built around 1450 in the heart of the Peruvian Andes and it’s highly likely it was occupied for nearly a century.
The Inca built this marvelous site by order of their first ruler, Pachacútec. The site’s strategic location hidden between the mountains of Machu Picchu and Huayna Picchu was ideal for agriculture due to the geography and weather conditions. It was also close enough to Cusco, the capital of the Inca empire.
They divided the city into an urban and residential area. It also had an area for religious purposes and worship. The purpose of the agricultural system was the production of choclo (maize), and a variety of potatoes native to the region.
The productive area was made of terraces on the mountain side and its advanced irrigation systems even continue to function today. Machu Picchu shows great planning and administration given its small population. People believe it was inhabited by nearly 4,000 people.
As the Inca civilization weakened with the arrival of Spanish conquistadors, all major cities were colonized.
Inca temples and sites of worship were replaced with Christian churches for being considered pagan. Nevertheless, Machu Picchu lacks any proof of Christian colonization in its structures. The remoteness of its location was an advantage in keeping the site a mystery from the conquistadors.
The city hid within thick vegetation and clouds. In the nineteenth century, it became a legend among scholars and explorers. Hiram Bingham, a South American History Professor from Yale, was captivated and embarked on the journey to find it.
Led by a local guide, Melchor Arteaga, the explorer made it to Machu Picchu on July 24th 1911. He dubbed it “The Lost City” due to its uncharted location.
Supported by National Geographic, Yale, and the Peruvian government, the city was thoroughly excavated and studied. They sent over 46,000 pieces to museums in the United States and sold them illegally. Many of these valuable cultural pieces were repatriated to Peru between 2011 and 2014.
In 1981 Machu Picchu became a historical and natural sanctuary. It also became a UNESCO world heritage site in 1983.
The remoteness, steep structures, and complexity of this mind blowing hidden city attracts 1.5 million annual travelers from all over the world.
Reasons to Visit Machu Picchu
Machu Picchu is one of the iconic destinations of Latin America. This ancient city survives today as one of the best preserved Inca sites in Peru. It’s a perfect example of the advances and legacy of the ancient civilization.
The manpower it took to build the citadel shows advanced engineering and design skills. The city has 196 different squares, temples, water fountains, residences, monuments, and walls. The displays of ancient architecture in mountains are a scenery any photographer would dream of.
It coexists in harmony with a challenging altitude and with a large biodiversity. Machu Picchu’s privileged location is between the Andes and the Amazonia, allowing multiple ecosystems to thrive.
Due to its location off the beaten path and altitude, getting to Machu Picchu is an adventure in itself. It makes up for an experience like no other.
Hiking ancient trails, climbing steep mountain steps, admiring hidden temples, and experiencing the wonders of the Inca civilization makes visiting Machu Picchu a must for intrepid travelers.
Fun Facts and Curiosities
- The Quechua meaning of the name Machu Picchu is “Old Mountain.”
- Machu Picchu is an astronomical observatory where it’s possible to admire two yearly equinoxes where the sun touches specific points in the city.
- It has a solar clock named Intihuatana that is presumed to irradiate energy.
- The discovery of Machu Picchu by Hiram Bingham is disputed. The city was known to locals long before his arrival.
- The stones used to build the city weigh from 23 kg (50 lbs) to150 tons each.
- The manpower for building Machu Picchu stands out, as there’s no evidence of the use of wheels or their existence.
- The structures of the citadel are so carefully built into each other, not even a blade can fit between stones.
- There are over 100 different flights of stairs in Machu Picchu.
- More than 50% of Machu Picchu’s buildings, sewage, and water channels remain underground.
- Machu Picchu is home to 420 bird species, 15 types of amphibians, 25 species of reptiles, different sized mammals, and 370 species of orchids.
- There’s belief that Machu Picchu endured two earthquakes which transformed the construction techniques used at the moment.
- There’s a restriction to fly over Machu Picchu’s air space by Peruvian authorities.
- The city was declared one of the New 7 Wonders of the World in 2007.
- The popularity and heavy influx of people in Machu Picchu forced UNESCO to establish a limit of visitors per day.
- It’s the most visited destination in Peru.
How to Get There
Flights to Perú are available with multiple international airlines. If you arrive in Lima, you have the possibility of taking a local flight to Cusco and exploring the Sacred Valley of the Inca.
Cusco’s surrounding sites are ideal pit stops on your way to Machu Picchu. You can explore other places such as Pisac, Chinchero, Ollantaytambo, and Moray using different means of transportation or hiking.
If you’re a slow traveler you can take your time and connect between villages using the local vans known as combis or hiking. This option allows you to experience the indigenous culture, markets, and well-renowned flavors of Peruvian cuisine.
Your ultimate goal is to arrive from Cusco to the town of Aguas Calientes. This small village serves as headquarters to those who are exploring Machu Picchu. The town is packed with different category hotels, tour operators, international and local restaurants, and even hot springs for relaxing after those long hikes.
There aren’t any cars that will bring you to Aguas Calientes so your only options are taking a train or hiking through the Sacred Valley.
Taking the train to Aguas Calientes is the fastest and most comfortable option. There’s different trains available from two large railroad companies, Inca Rail and Peru rail.
If you’re not an experienced trekker, taking the train is probably the best option for you.
The train departs from the stations of Ollantaytambo, Urubamba, and Poroy. The tickets range from $55 to $900 per person. There’s even private trains you can charter with large groups that go up from $5,000 to $9,000 per group.
Bus and Trekk
This is one of the most affordable alternatives for getting to Machu Picchu. However, it requires you to combine taxis, combis, and ultimately hiking from 2 to 3 hours along the train tracks. The hike has spectacular views and is great training for what’s up ahead.
The Inca trail is a 40 km trek for outdoor explorers and nature enthusiasts. It’s a four day experience in ancient Inca pathways and roads that connect several other Inca sites. It’s believed it was the path used by the Inca to get to Machu Picchu.
Taking the Inca trail isn’t for everybody. The altitude and varied weather can make it a challenge. My advice is you do it with a professional and well researched company to ensure you go prepared with the proper equipment and care. Prices vary from $500 to $1,500 per person.
Salkantay trek is a longer, less-known alternative for fearless adventurers.
The hike is 37 miles (60 km) and is done in 5 to 7 days. Daily trekking time is from 6 to 7 hours a day the first three days. Trekking reduces to 3 hours a day on the last part of the hike.
Salkantay Trek costs from $250 to $900.
Visiting Machu Picchu
Daily tourist buses from Aguas Calientes take you straight to Machu Picchu’s entrance, or if you’re feeling brave there’s always the option of hiking to the entrance from town. The hike takes approximately 1 hour and 30 minutes. If you do decide to hike, keep in mind you still have plenty of hiking to do once you’re inside.
Hiking the mountain of Huayna Picchu is one of the most popular activities inside. Tickets sell in advance and assign you a specific time for your visit. Huayna Picchu is steep and difficult. Its paths are hidden between cliffs and walls, it can take you up to 3 hours.
Other hot spots of Machu Picchu such as Inti Punku (the sun gate) and the Inca bridge, are spectacular hikes you can do once inside. There are even llamas and alpacas grazing in Machu Picchu’s grounds.
Things to Consider for Your Visit
- The best time to visit is Peru’s dry season between April and October.
- Since the dry season is also high season, I recommend you buy your tickets to Machu Picchu, and especially Huayna Picchu, at least 3 to 6 months in advance.
- In order to buy your tickets to Machu Picchu you’ll need a valid passport.
- if you’re not going through a licensed, well-known travel company, Purchase your tickets at the official website.
- If visiting during dry season isn’t an option, keep in mind you’ll have the risk of overcast skies and cloudy views. Nevertheless, the mystique and lush, green vegetation in the area makes your visit just as valuable.
- If you plan on taking the train you should buy your tickets in advance online. You can also purchase tickets in Lima and Cusco.
- There’s three types of entrance fees to Machu Picchu depending on what you wish to explore of the citadel. Choose wisely and according to your experience.
- The tickets to Machu Picchu are divided into 9 groups with a specific schedule assigned. This ensures a proper flow of visitors without disrupting the charge capacity of the site.
- The site opens at 6am and allows visitors to remain inside for 4 hours.
- Since 2019 it’s mandatory to enter the site with a local authorized guide.
- The buses from Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu start at 5:30am and take 30 minutes to get you from town to the entrance.
- If you’re set on trekking to the entrance, the best time to start is before sunrise.
- There aren’t any bathrooms inside Machu Picchu. Your ticket allows you to exit the site twice for using the facilities outside.
- Prepare yourself with comfortable clothes and trekking gear to truly enjoy your experience and explore as much as possible.
- Water and food is only for sale outside of the entrance. Come prepared with essentials.
- Be mindful and prepare for large crowds—a place this incredible appeals to a wide audience.
- Take as many photos and memories as you can! Machu Picchu is the type of place you may only visit once in a lifetime, so you might as well make the most of it!
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Speaking Spanish will make your expedition in Machu Picchu flow smoothly and pack it with authentic experiences. Being able to communicate with locals will give you the confidence to use public transportation with ease, order at restaurants, shop for souvenirs, and mostly meet new people.
Engage in meaningful conversations with native speakers and take your Spanish to next level greatness in this millenary city.
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