Traveling to Machu Picchu
What is the first thing that you think about when you hear the word Peru? That’s right! what comes to mind when thinking about Peru immediately is Machu Picchu. This ancient city is perhaps one of the most incredible places made by man, a true marvel that combines the greatness of Inca architecture with nature in a way that will leave you staggered once you put your eyes on it.
Just in 2018, it received a staggering 1,578,030 visitors (up 12% from the 2017 number of 1,411,279); the busiest months are July, August, and September, being December, January, and February the months with the lowest activity.
Where is Machu Picchu located?
Located between the Huayna Picchu and Machu Picchu Mountains at the end of the Sacred Valley of the Incas.
Although the city itself did not survive the collapse of the Inca empire due to the Hispanic invasion, the whole citadel was almost untouched until rediscovered later by American archeologist Hiram Bingham in 1911. Today, the site is on the United Nations’ list of World Heritage sites and was voted to be part of seven wonders of the world.
Machu Picchu Elevation
Machu Picchu height: Sitting at 7,970 feet (2,430 meters) above sea level on the eastern slope of the Andes, this majestic landmark overlooks the Urubamba River hundreds of feet below.
When should you go to Machu Picchu?
If you want to the lost city of the Incas for the first time you might wonder when is the best time in the year to a visit to one of the most exciting and marvelous places on the planet.
This archeological complex is open year-round, but you should be aware that the heavy rainy season starts in October, all the way through April. Do not expect much change outside this period though, because in this area it can rain at any time.
Another thing to take into consideration is that peak season for visitors is between July and August so, if you plan to visit Machu Picchu in these months, you should always expect crowds of visitors, not only at the citadel but in the towns surrounding the place.
Although the citadel itself is open during the entire year, if you planning to make the Inca trail to Machu Picchu, is valuable to know that this trail is closed once a year, during February.
But, where should I go first?
Cusco will be your first stop on your way to Machu Picchu. Usually, travelers make an overnight stop here before departing either by train or trail. This little and fuzzy town is filled with restaurants, archeological sites, and museums that will let you have a glimpse of all the Inca civilization before and making the trip to Machu Picchu.
Cusco is currently known as the cultural capital of the country, but its significant history goes back much further. As the oldest living city in the Americas, Cusco has been inhabited continuously for over 3,000 years. It was the historic capital of the Inca Empire from the 13th to 16th century until the Spanish conquered the territory and now is a major tourist destination- receiving nearly 2 million visitors per year.
Another exciting feature about Cusco is that its location puts this wonderful little city a few miles away from numerous archeological sites, natural sites like waterfalls and mountains, as well as various villages and little towns where ancient Andean communities lived through hundreds and hundreds of years.
How likely am I to suffer from altitude sickness?
Cusco is located at 3,400 metres (11,200ft) above sea level, and it is common for many tourists to experience some altitude sickness symptoms in CuscoAltitude sickness can affect anyone in Cuzco, regardless of age or fitness levels. Don worry usually in 1 day you will get over it, we suggest you eat light meal and no alcohol. There are also pills you can take for this. The locals drink coca tea for altitude sickness, which is widely available in Cusco.
What to do in Cusco?
Cusco offers a lot of things to do without leaving the city; you can walk through its intricate streets to see the Inca walls or the 12 – sided stone or you can pay a visit to the Inka Historical Museum to see ancient and rare archeological Inca pieces.
You can also delight yourself with Peruvian food in the hundreds of local restaurants in the city, where you will have a taste of one of the most trendy and delicious cuisines on the planet. Cusco also offers you the chance of visiting various communities and ancient archeological right outside the city borders.
Taking a tour around Cusco would be great if you want to see first hand the richness of its culture and history. You will have the chance of witnessing the Hispanic architecture of its imposing cathedral and the main square, as well as checking out the impressive ruins of the Incas’ Qorikancha temple, besides doing some shopping in the traditional San Pedro Market.
Sacsayhuaman Archaeological Park and Cusco Sites
Visiting the fascinating ruins of Qenco, the sacred temples of Puca Pucara and the amazing main Cathedral is a must when in Cusco. Admire the exquisite architecture of the city, a mixture of Hispanic and Inca constructions that will give you an incredible insight into Peru’s alluring history.
Tour through the Sacred Valley of the Incas
The first stop is the Sacred Valley of the Incas routing via Pisac, the colonial town. The first thing that will catch our attention is going to be the traditional native market, where you can get your hands in beautiful handcrafted goods and souvenirs made with local raw materials.
After exploring the town at your own pace your next destination should be the Pisac Ruins, beautifully carved into the top of one of the mountains. Following Pisac, you have Calca and Urubamba, both little communities in which you can have a taste of the local food, as well as getting to know a little bit more about Andean traditions and costumes.
The next step in the journey is the little village of Ollantaytambo, with its Inca Archeological site being its main attraction. This tiny village was first built and inhabited about 500 years ago and until this day its original structures remain in pretty good shape.
Best places to stay in Cusco
Cuzco offers a wide variety of places where you can crash overnight preceding your trip to Machu Picchu. From big hotel chains like JW Marriot or the Hilton Garden Inn Cusco, to more traditional yet up to date and top options like the Belmond Hotel Monasterio and the Beldmon Palacio Nazarenas, or the Inkaterra La Casona Relais & Chateaux.
On route to Machu Picchu
Once you are in Cusco, the next step in your journey will be making the trip through the Sacred Valley of the Incas, ending in Machu Picchu. Getting from Cusco to Machu Picchu can be an easy trip either by train or doing a hiking trail through the Sacred Valley that will put you in touch with all the Andean ancient communities living along the way.
How do I get from Cusco to Machu Picchu?
If you prefer comfort over anything else, going by train is your best choice. This is the fastest and most comfortable way to get to Aguas Calientes, a little town right outside the citadel.
There are two different companies offering train services from Cusco to Aguas Calientes: Inca Rail and Peru Rail. They both offer services of great quality and comfort that will give you a pleasant ride while being able to enjoy the beautiful landscapes that surround the railroad through the valley.
Inca Rail train to Machu Picchu
The first of these companies, Inca Rail, offers up to 4 different types of services: the first one, The Voyager package, offers panoramic views to the valley, as well as snacks, cold and hot drinks, and traditional ambient music.
The second package, the 360°, offers broader and wider panoramic windows to get a more detailed look of the journey, with a car that has a full 360° view so you don’t miss anything. It offers lunch, as well as hot and cold drinks and an infotainment system so you the little ones can be entertained during the trip.
The first class package offers more room and customer service while being able to enjoy the view of the trip through a balcony at the end of the train. It offers a gourmet menu, as well as access to an open bar, live traditional music and a private bus to the citadel.
The Private package offers the exclusivity of a private car for you and your family or friends, being as well able to enjoy all the options from the previous packages: from the gourmet menu, to access to the open bar and of course, a private bus ride from Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu.
Peru Rail to Machu Picchu
This company offers a variety of services to different destinations across the Cusco province, being Machu Picchu the most attractive of their destinations.
The vistadome package offers a variety of hot and cold drinks, as well as several stretch stops in towns like Poroy and Ollantaytambo before making it to Machu Picchu.
The expedition package offers hot and cold drinks, as well as alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks, candy, snacks and a chance to buy souvenirs and traditional local goods on board.
The best of the packages offered by this company is the Hiram Bingham. Named after the man who first discovered and studied Machu Picchu, it offers several luxury services, from gourmet meals, non- alcoholic, cold and hot drinks, admission tickets to the citadel as well as a guided tour and other services.
The last stop before you can enjoy the citadel is a little town right at the bottom of the mountain called Aguas Calientes.
Aguas Calientes, also called Machu Picchu Pueblo, is the nearest town to the citadel of Machu Picchu, with this being presumably the main feature of it. Being its origins related to the old construction of a railroad to link the city of Cusco with the Santa Ana municipality, Aguas Calientes gained its size and early urban development.
Right after the citadel and the whole Machu Picchu archeological complex were included in the list of the UNESCO World Heritage as a wonder of the world, the town of Aguas Calientes became one of the most important touristic towns in Peru and the world.
With its 9 kilometers of distance to the citadel, Aguas Calientes will be your last stop before you enter the mountain to get to the citadel.
Being this close to the citadel has brought great urban and economic development thanks to the high volume of tourists that visit Machu Picchu throughout the year and stay in the town overnight before making the ascent to the citadel.
Aguas Calientes weather
the weather of Aguas Calientes is TEMPLADO, with average yearly temperatures of 16 degrees celsius. It has two seasons, being the rainy season from November through March, and with the sunny season being in full swing the rest of year only being interrupted once in a while.
What to do in Aguas Calientes?
The name Aguas Calientes is Spanish for Thermal water, being the main attraction of the town. These thermal baths are nearly one kilometer away from the town.
The Mandor waterfalls are another touristic venue that is located just 3 kilometers away from the town; besides this natural attraction, you will be able to visit the Manuel Chávez Ballón Museum, right on the way to Machu Picchu.
Want a different experience? Try hiking to Machu Picchu.
If you are more of the adventurer type you will be the option of the trail to Machu Picchu as the most attractive option to get to the place you have been waiting for. There are essentially two ways to do it: via the Inca trail or the series of alternative trails that lead to Machu Picchu.
The Inca trail is the most popular of the trails that lead you to Machu Picchu, following original trails that the ancient Incas would have taken all through the sacred valley to the citadel of Machu Picchu. This trail offers you some of the most amazing archeological and natural sites, as well as stunning views and a piece of the path that the ancient Incas followed. This trail is limited to 500 trekkers a day, so booking the trip in advance is a must.
Besides the Inca trail, you will have the opportunity of enroll other variants of the trail like the Salkantay, the lares, the Choquequirao or the Vilcabamba, all of which offer you different things and opportunities to get in touch with Andean communities and discover a lot more about the people and the ancient culture and traditions that built this marvelous territory.
Written by: Agnys Orellana