Machu Picchu is an ancient Inca citadel in the Cuzco district of Peru. The citadel sits at a height of 2,400 metres above sea level, with Waynu Picchu mountain at just under 2,700 metres.
It’s thought that Machu Picchu was constructed as an estate for an Inca emperor around 1450 but abandoned it a century later at the time of the Spanish Conquest. Although known locally, it was not known to the Spanish during the colonial period and remained unknown to the outside world until American historian Hiram Bingham brought it to international attention in 1911.
It’s an extraordinary place sat high in the mountains and if you go there I would highly recommend getting the earliest (6am) entry time to see the place empty as the sun rises over the mountains. It doesn’t stay that way for long!
Our other tip would to get a guide to lead you through the citadel, there are lots of interesting things to learn about the site and they know the best places for photo opportunities too. It’s suggested it’s mandatory but we saw many people entering on their own, we found our guide at the entrance point but organised tours are also available.
There are three ticket types to enter, set entry times and set numbers are imposed to limit and manage the site. If you can, we would recommend getting the Citadel + Waynu Picchu tickets, although most sought after, its well worth the trek up the mountain side. It’s a pretty gruelling trek up stone steps and mountain side paths, admittedly some parts are a little tricky, but us two 56 year olds managed it in under an hour with stops to catch our breath and take photos. There is not a lot actually at the top but the views back down to the citadel are simply stunning!
There are a number of ways to get to Machu Picchu, the most common is to get to the small but bustling mountain town of Aguas Calientes and then take a 15-20mins bus ride to the entrance (tickets are available from a office in town the day before, there are lots of buses and no set times) although we saw some hardy souls doing the two hour trek up from town on foot. People start queuing for the buses around 60-45 mins before the entry time.
For early entrance times it’s sensible to stay in Aguas Calientes the night beforehand. Getting to Aguas Calientes requires a train journey from Cuzco or Ollantaytambo dependent on the time of year you are travelling, do check this as a bus or taxi may be needed for when the train doesn’t do the whole route from Cuzco.
More dedicated, fit or younger people (!) take the Inca trail which is a four day, three night trek through the hills, arriving at the Sun Gate entrance into the citadel. Those we met who did this loved it, and found it added value to the whole experience of Machu Picchu but be ready for basic camping and possibly wet days/nights and sore feet. Each to their own!
Undoubtedly one of the highlights of our six month trip to South America, if you go I hope you are as lucky with the weather as we were!