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MACHU PICCHU, PERU -
TOP TIPS FOR VISITING THE CITY OF INCAS
Planning your visit to Machu Picchu?
Here are my travel-tested tips for making the most of your visit to Machu Picchu!
Find out what to see. Read about how to get there. Learn how to buy the tickets.
Here is everything you need to know to make your visit efficient and memorable!
WHAT IS MACHU PICCHU
Machu Picchu is a 15th-century Inca fortress, imperial retreat and a ceremonial site. It sits on a 2,430-meter (7,970-foot) mountain ridge and covers an area of 80,000 acres (32,500 hectares).
WHERE IS MACHU PICCHU
Machu Picchu Inca City has the most awe-inspiring location. It is nestled upon a mountain ridge between the Huayna Picchu and Machu Picchu mountains and overlooks the Urubamba River.
Why did Incas select this location? I am sure it was not just for the breathtaking views. Machu Picchu sits much lower than the nearest city of Cusco, making it warmer than the the capital city of the Incas. In addition, Urubamba River helped with the irrigation and sanitation at the site.
Image Credit: Google Map data ©2020
WHEN WAS MACHU PICCHU BUILT
Machu Picchu is believed to be built starting 1450–1460.
Construction appears to be done under two Inca rulers, Pachacutec Inca Yupanqui (1438–1471) and Túpac Inca Yupanqui (1472–1493). Historians believe that it took around 90 years to complete the construction of Machu Picchu.
There is a consensus among archaeologists that Pachacutec ordered the construction of the royal estate for himself, most likely after a successful military campaign.
HOW WAS MACHU PICCHU BUILT
It is believed that the majority of the time spent on building Machu Picchu was actually devoted to careful planning, preparations and building the foundation.
A research excavation found that the rock and soil foundations go nine feet below the ground. Terraces were layered with stone chips, sand, dirt, and topsoil, to absorb water and prevent mudslides, landslides, soil erosion, and flooding.
Similar layering protected the large city center from flooding. Multiple canals and reserves throughout the city provided water that could be supplied to the terraces for irrigation and to prevent erosion and flooding.
All the preparation makes perfect sense given the fact that Machu Picchu was built atop two fault lines. Inca walls have many stabilizing features. For example, the doors and windows are trapezoidal, narrowing from bottom to top.
The central buildings use the classical Inca architectural style of polished dry-stone walls of regular shape. The Incas were masters of this technique, called ashlar, in which blocks of stone are cut to fit together tightly without mortar.
Interestingly, the Incas never used wheels in a practical way. The use of wheels in engineering may have been limited due to the lack of strong draft animals, combined with steep terrain and dense vegetation.
The approach to moving and placing the enormous stones remains uncertain, probably involving hundreds of men to push the stones up inclines.
A few stones have knobs that could have been used to lever them into position; the knobs were generally sanded away, with a few overlooked.
WHO LIVED AT MACHU PICCHU
It is estimated that about 750 people lived at Machu Picchu.
Besides the royal court, majority of the people who resided at Machu Picchu were servants, however, it is believed that there were religious specialists as well and skilled workers.
Archaeologists discovered that most of the servants who lived at Machu Picchu were immigrants from different areas. Information gathered from the analysis of their bones proves that some were from the coastal areas and their initial diets composed of corn, potatoes, grains and fish, while their later diet included mostly corn.
WHY WAS MACHU PICCHU ABANDONED
Machu Picchu City was used for approximately 80 years before being abandoned.
Why was Machu Picchu abandoned remains a mystery. Some theories suggest that it was due to the Spanish Conquest in other parts of the Inca Empire. Some hypothesis indicate that it is possible that most of Machu Picchu’s inhabitants died from smallpox brought by the Spanish conquistadors.
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WHY IS MACHU PICCHU CALLED THE LOST CITY OF THE INCAS
The Incas built the estate around 1450 and abandoned it a century later at the time of the Spanish conquest. Even though Machu Picchu was located only about 80 kilometers (50 mi) from the Inca capital in Cusco, the Spanish never found it. It remained undiscovered for almost four centuries.
Its location and inaccessibility saved Machu Picchu from plunder and destruction from the Spanish conquistadors.
Over the centuries, the surrounding jungle overgrew the site.
Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons
WHO DISCOVERED MACHU PICCHU
American historian Hiram Bingham brought Machu Picchu to international attention in 1911.
Hiram Bingham traveled the region looking for the old Inca capital and was led to Machu Picchu by a villager, Melchor Arteaga.
However, Bingham was not the first one to discover Machu Picchu. A name of Agustín Lizárraga and the date 1902 were written in charcoal on one of the walls. However, Bingham is considered the scientific discoverer who brought Machu Picchu to international attention.
In 1912 Bingham organized another expedition to undertake major clearing and excavation.
In 1981, Peru declared an area of 325.92 square kilometers (125.84 sq miles) surrounding Machu Picchu a “historic sanctuary”. In 1983, UNESCO designated Machu Picchu a World Heritage site, describing it as “an absolute masterpiece of architecture and a unique testimony to the Inca civilization”.
HOW TO GET TO MACHU PICCHU, PERU
Or, Machu Picchu is accessible by foot.
Roughly 80% of visitors take the train. Here is a detailed step-by-step guide on how to get to Machu Picchu by train and then a short ride on a bus.
HOW TO TRAVEL TO MACHU PICCHU FROM US
First of all, your destination is Cusco. However, there are no direct flights to Cusco from US. You are going to have to change planes somewhere.
I flew from Los Angeles to Panama City, and then from Panama City to Cusco. Moreover, on my return flight, I decided to change planes in Lima.
Once you get to Cusco, you need to take the train (or hike) to Aguas Calientes, and finally, you need to take a bus from Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu. Now, if you do not want take a bus, and you are up for a hike, then you can take Camino Peatonal Trail from Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu.
All in all, it is a long journey, however, believe me, it is all worth it!
WHAT TO SEE AT MACHU PICCHU CITY OF THE INCAS
The site is roughly divided into an urban sector and an agricultural sector, and into an upper town and a lower town.
The temples are in the upper town, the warehouses in the lower.
Following is an absolute 11 must-see things at Machu Picchu City of the Incas.
11 MUST-SEE THINGS AT MACHU PICCHU CITY OF THE INCAS
Image Credit: Google Imagery ©2020 CNES / Airbus, Maxar Technologies Map data ©2020
The Guardhouse, also known as the Caretaker’s Hut, was an important building for security and defense. Interestingly, it is a three-sided building, with one of its long sides opening onto the Terrace of the Ceremonial Rock.
The three-sided style of Inca architecture is known as the wayrona style.
Once you get to the Guardhouse, enjoy the spectacular views of Machu Picchu City of the Incas!
THE AGRICULTURAL AREA
Excavation and soil analyses showed that the terraces were built in layers. The bottom layer consisted of larger stones covered by loose gravel. On top of the gravel was a layer of mixed sand and gravel packed together, with rich topsoil covering all of that.
A study of the soil around the terraces showed that what was grown at Machu Picchu was mostly corn and potatoes.
THE MAIN GATE
A quarry, located near Machu Picchu Inca city, was used to craft the stones. The stones were cut, molded, and then dry polished in such a way that they specifically fit precisely one into the other. Some sections of the structures located at Machu Picchu Inca city are so perfectly constructed that it is almost impossible to get a blade of grass between them.
THE TEMPLE OF THE SUN
The Temple of the Sun is he only building in Machu Picchu Inca city with a rounded wall.
Inside the temple is a granite slab, carved from the rock beneath. It could have been used as an altar.
Next, find the trapezoid window. It is called the Solstice Window. It is aligned in such a way that the rising sun of the winter solstice casts its rays along the granite slab.
THE ROYAL TOMB
The Royal Tomb is a cave with beautifully carved step motifs, full of niches with superb stonework. It is an example of the best stonework in Machu Picchu Inca city. Although, Hiram Bingham found no human remains inside the cave, the quality of work led him to name it a royal tomb.
THE TEMPLE OF THE THREE WINDOWS
The Temple of the Three Windows (also known as the Room of the Three Windows) is situated on Machu Picchu’s Sacred Plaza.
The main wall of this sturdy rectangular building contains three windows that overlook the mountains surrounding Machu Picchu. The windows are aligned to the sunrise.
THE PRINCIPAL TEMPLE OF MACHU PICCHU CITY OF THE INCAS
Due to its large size and prominent location on the Sacred Plaza, many archaeologists believe that the Principal Temple was one of the main public temples at Machu Picchu, where large ceremonies would have taken place.
Due to soil movement and sinking, one corner of the temple has been damaged. Its huge stone blocks shifted out of place. Nonetheless, it remains an impressive structure.
Intihuatana is perhaps the biggest puzzle at Machu Picchu. It is a giant rock, named “the Intihuatana” by Bingham. It is situated on a raised platform that towers above the plaza.
Its purpose is a mystery, with recent research disproving the idea that it acted as a sundial. It may have been used for astronomical observations of some sort.
THE TEMPLE OF THE CONDOR
You need to step back a little to see the actual condor. It’s head and beak are carved out of the stone positioned on the ground. Behind it are two rocks that resemble the outstreched wings.
The cave inside the temple was likely used for rituals. The condor’s head may have served as an altar.
THE URBAN SECTOR
Mke sure to visit the Urban Sector. This is where the common people or the low class lived.
Here, houses are simple and built in groups of up to ten. The narrow streets end in a courtyard or small plaza.
THE CENTRAL PLAZA
The Central Plaza is like a green island right in the middle of all the stone buildings that make up Machu Picchu.
HOW LONG DOES IT TAKE TO VISIT MACHU PICCHU
You need a minimum of 3-4 hours to just see the highlights of the Machu Picchu City of the Incas. However, my recommendation is to spend a day at Machu Picchu the City of the Incas!
Next, you need to decide if you are going to hike Waynapicchu or Machu Picchu Mountain and if you are up for the hike, then, you need to account for additional time needed.
- Huayna Picchu (Waynapicchu)
To start with, Waynapicchu is 8,923 ft/2,720 m high. It is a steep mountain. Needless to say, if you decide to hike, then keep in mind that it is a strenuous hike and it should be only attempted if you are in good physical condition.
The number of hikers is limited to 400 per day. In addition, the entry is timed. The first group enters between 7 am and 8 am. The second group enters between 10 am and 11 am.
- Machu Picchu Mountain
Machu Picchu Mountain is 7,874ft/2,400m high. It is a much easier hike.
The number of hikers is limited to 800 per day. Just like Waynapicchu, the entry to the mountain is timed. The first group is allowed to start hiking between 7 am and 8 am and the second group may enter between 9 am and 10 am.
Finally, just take your time and soak it all in. And, take some pictures with llamas as well.
HOW AND WHERE TO BUY TICKETS TO MACHU PICCHU
- Buy Tickets to Machu Picchu in advance and online through Peru Ministry of Culture website
My recommendation is buy tickets in advance and online through the official website of Peru Ministry of Culture: Ministerio de Cultura del Peru. The process of buying the entrance tickets through the website of Peru Ministry of Culture is a little confusing. Make sure to read my post before you attempt to buy the tickets. It will save you a lot of time!
- Buy your tickets in-person in Cusco
Ticket to Machu Picchu can be bought in Cusco. However, as I stated at the beginning, tickets sell out well in advance. It is wise to purchase the tickets online and have them before you travel to Machu Picchu. All in all, in Cusco, tickets can be bought at the Ministerio de Cultura. The place is open Monday through Saturday from 7 am till 8 pm. The address is Casa Garcilaso on Calle Garcilaso. It is located just before Plaza Regocijo and near Museo de Chocolate. Remember to bring your passport and either a credit card or cash to complete your purchase.
- Buy tickets in-person in Aguas Calientes
You can purchase tickets Machu Picchu tickets in Aguas Calientes as well. Head to Machu Picchu Cultural Centre (Direccion Regional de Cultura Aguas Calientes Office). The address is Av. Pachacutec (just off the main square). It is open Monday through Sunday from 5 am till 10 pm. You must bring your passport and cash to finalize your purchase.
If you are going to be in Aguas Calientes for a couple of days, either waiting to get on a bus to Machu Picchu, or relaxing after a visit to Machu Picchu, then check out my about things to do in Aguas Calientes.
There are plenty of other websites that sell tickets to Machu Picchu. However, be cautious! Before you make a purchase make sure that these are legitimate places and check their prices. They are re-sellers so most likely, you are going to have to pay extra.
HOW MUCH ARE THE ENTRANCE TICKETS TO MACHU PICCHU INCA RUINS?
Following are the prices of the ADULT entrance tickets (ADULT means over 18 years old) to Machu Picchu as of September 2020. These prices are posted on Peru Ministry of Culture website:
- Machu Picchu 6 am -12 pm: 152 soles/$45 USD
- Machu Picchu 12 pm – 5:30 pm: 152 soles/$45 USD
- Machu Picchu + Huayna Picchu hike 7 am – 8 am: 200 soles/$59 USD
- Machu Picchu + Huayna Picchu hike 10 am – 11 am: 200 soles/$59 USD
- Machu Picchu + Montana hike 7 am – 8 am: 200 soles/$59 USD
- Machu Picchu + Montana hike 9 am -10 am: 200 soles/$59 USD
WHAT ARE THE OPENING HOURS OF MACHU PICCHU SITE
Machu Picchu is open every day of the year (including Sundays and holidays). The opening hours are from 6 am till 5:30 pm.
WHAT IS THE BEST TIME OF THE YEAR TO VISIT MACHU PICCHU
The best time of the year to visit Machu Picchu is during the dry season, which is from late April through early October.
During the dry season, you will mostly get clear blue skies and nice, warm weather.
However, a word of caution, even during the dry season, which is the best time to visit Machu Picchu, you need to be prepared for some heavy mists or fog (usually during early morning hours) that can obscure the views.
Needless to say, between late April through early October, expect lots of visitors to Machu Picchu. It will be impossible to find any kind of solitude at Machu Picchu Inca ruins. Actually, you will have some difficulty moving through the Sanctuary. You need to have a lot of patience and reserve additional time for your visit.
If you would rather skip the crowds and do not mind some occasional showers, then plan for the months of March or November.
WHAT IS THE BEST TIME OF THE DAY TO VISIT MACHU PICCHU
The best time of the day to visit Machu Picchu is either early morning or late afternoon. The hordes of tourists start arriving at about 11 am and hang out at Machu Picchu till about 3 pm.
My recommendation is to plan for being at Machu Picchu at sunrise. It is truly a magical.
WHAT TO PACK FOR A DAY TRIP TO MACHU PICCHU
- Passport and Entrance Ticket to Machu Picchu
Your passport and your entrance ticket are two of the most important items that you need to remember to pack with you for a day trip to Machu Picchu! First of all, you will not be able to enter the site if you do not have your passport. Second, your name, as it appears in your passport, must match the name that is listed on the ticket.
Besides, at the end of your visit, as a souvenir, make sure to get a stamp in your passport.
Don’t forget your camera. And, charge the batteries beforehand or bring extra batteries with you.
Unfortunately, tripods are not allowed at Machu Picchu site.
If you are going to use a locker to store your luggage, then you will need cash to pay for the locker. By the way, large backpacks are not permitted in Machu Picchu, all you can take with you is a daypack.
Also, there is a restaurant, actually it is more like a snack bar, at the entrance to Machu Picchu, if you choose to get something to eat there, then you will need cash.
Apparently, you cannot bring food with you inside Machu Picchu Inca ruins. Although, I have seen plenty of tourists snacking on food they brought with them. Play it by ear, if you are asked to throw away your snacks, so be it. If you manage to bring something to snack on, then be discreet about it and do not litter.
Also, right at the entrance, there are bathrooms. There is a small charge for using the bathrooms. And, yes, make sure to make a trip to the bathroom, because there are absolutely no bathrooms at Machu Picchu site.
Make sure to bring water with you! Remember that water in plastic bottles is not allowed. However, you can fill up a reusable, non-plastic container and take that in no problem. Trust me, you will need water. You will be outside in full sun for several hours, so water is essential.
- Insect Repellent
Insect repellent is a must. So get it and carry it with you everywhere and spray like crazy. I do not think there are a lot of mosquitoes at that elevation, however, be prepared for sand flies. I am not an epidemiologist, so I do not know what kind of sand flies these are. But, consider yourself warned! They are flying, biting, blood-sucking dipterans.
In addition, make sure to wear long pants, and socks up to your knees and a long sleeve shirt.
- Sun Protection
There is no shade at Machu Picchu site. The entire time you will be in the sun (weather permitting), so make sure to protect yourself. First of all, layer on some sunblock, wear a hat, long pants and a long sleeve shirt.
- Proper clothing
First of all, weather at Machu Picchu can be unpredictable, so be prepared. It is very cold in the morning (dry season), and then it warms up and gets to be very hot during the day. So, dress in layers.
Next, be prepared for occasional showers, so bring a poncho.
Finally, good, sturdy, waterproof shoes are a must.
DO YOU NEED A GUIDE FOR MACHU PICCHU
You do not need a guide for Machu Picchu. However, a good, knowledgeable guide can make a world of difference.
There are plenty of guides at the entrance to Machu Picchu. You can form a group and hire a guide as a group to share the cost. I have done it several times while visiting different sites in Peru.
Besides, you will get a map at the entrance, you can follow the map and take along my post which lists all the things you need to do and see and you will be set!
INTREPID SCOUT’S POINTERS FOR VISITING
MACHU PICCHU THE LOST CITY OF THE INCAS
- Buy your tickets in advance and online at Peru Ministry of Culture website.
- Bring your passport and entrance ticket. Make sure the name in your passport matches the name on your ticket.
- Get a good, knowledgeable guide to give you at least a 2-hour quick tour of Machu Picchu City of the Incas.
- Get to Machu Picchu for sunrise. It is a magical experience.
- Pay extra and hike to either Huayna Picchu or Montana Machu Picchu.
- Use the bathroom before you go in. There are no bathrooms at the site.
- Bring water in a reusable container. Plastic bottles are not allowed.
- Dress in layers and bring a poncho. Weather is unpredictable at Machu Picchu.
- Do not bring large backpacks. You will have to store them in lockers. Carry a daypack only.
- Plan your return trip accordingly. Lines start forming at about 3 pm and it might take up to 40 minutes to get on the bus.
- Finally, to help you with your planning process of your trip to Peru, make sure to check out my post: 1-Week Peru Itinerary (+BONUS: 3-Day Extension Itinerary to Peruvian Amazon Rainforest.
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