Everything you need to know about Machu Picchu
The spellbinding scenery and perfect stonework of the Lost City of the Incas have fascinated historians, architects and tourists alike since the ruins were uncovered from the jungle over a century ago. To make the most of this unforgettable place, use our expert guide to Machu Picchu to plan your trip.
- Enjoy views of the Inca ruins and the forested peak of Huayna Picchu
- Visit the Temple of the Sun, perfectly positioned for seasonal solstices
- Ascend the staircase to Intihuatana, the most sacred site in Machu Picchu
- Climb Huayna Picchu and visit the Temple of the Moon
Discover Machu Picchu
Machu Picchu is perhaps the most sought-after destination in South America and an unforgettable experience. Part of the wonder of the site is the mystery that surrounds it. The ruins were first discovered in 1911 by Hiram Bingham, a young Yale archaeologist who inspired the character of Indiana Jones.
Historians can only speculate on the site’s original use, but most agree it was probably constructed around the time of Inca ruler Pachacútec in the mid-15th century, and perhaps served as a royal winter retreat from the Cusco cold. Its lack of military significance is probably why it was left untouched by the Spanish conquistadors and lay undiscovered for centuries.
Many photographers say that it’s impossible to take a bad photo of Machu Picchu, such is the magnificent panorama of the Inca buildings and horn-shaped, forested peak of Huayna Picchu. All the more reason to avoid a rushed day trip from Cusco and make the most of your time.
Planning Your Visit
There’s no escaping the fact that those calm moments of wonder you seek at Machu Picchu become harder to attain due to the sheer number of visitors — its estimated at 2500 visitors per day in the peak summer months. Unless you are determined to see the sunrise, note that lines are often very long before dawn and again for the midday entrance when day trippers arrive from Cusco. As tourists leave the site in the late afternoon you start to feel like you have it to yourself.
The least satisfying way of visiting Machu Picchu is a long, exhausting day trip from Cusco when you spend more time traveling and waiting than actually enjoying the site. It’s best to go down in altitude as soon as you arrive in Cusco (3,300 m) and visit the lower Sacred Valley and Machu Picchu over a few days; otherwise, you risk suffering from altitude sickness, particularly if you have arrived by plane. The best options are to spend the night in Ollantaytambo and take the early train or stay in the nearest town Aguas Calientes. It’s also preferable to stay in one of these towns after your visit, rather than rushing all the way back to Cusco.
When to Go?
The busiest time to visit Machu Picchu is from late June to the end of August. This is the driest, sunniest period coinciding with the busy school holidays. The rainy season peaks from January to March but the region can be rainy and misty at any time. The best times to visit are usually late April to mid-June, and September-October, just outside the rainy season but avoiding the summer rush. The subtropical climate at 2,400 m is generally comfortable though.
There is a certain amount of luck regarding how long you wait in line to enter the site. During the day, it’s often very busy at 6 am when visitors rush to enter the site for sunrise, then slows down an hour or 2 later. Lines usually peak again at 11 am to noon when the day trippers arrive from Cusco and quieten down by 2 pm.