Framed by spectacular Andean peaks and surrounded by verdant jungle, Machu Picchu is an enticing tribute to the man in harmony with nature. Located high above the clouds, the city’s streets, temples, and stairways stretch along with a jungle-like mountain range that eventually plunges more than 300 meters into the treacherous waters of the Urubamba River. Everything within this city, from the intricate terraces and peaceful gardens to the complex system of aqueducts, was designed to promote and preserve the sacred relationship between man and nature.
Natural phenomena, such as the sun, moon, water, and earth, were sacred to the Incas and were the inspiration for much of the city’s design.
In addition to its impressive architecture and spiritual atmosphere, perhaps a fascinating aspect of Machu Picchu is its relative historical ambiguity. Since it was first translated into the modern world in 1911 by Yale archaeologist Hiram Bingham, this mountainous city has yet to reveal the purpose of its origins.
Some theories have circulated in intellectual circles, one that suggests that it was a boarding school where brainwashed the children of those conquered by the Incas.
Despite its enigmatic nature, Machu Picchu has become one of the most popular destinations in South America, drawing almost 5,000 people a day to its ancient grounds, high above the Sacred Valley.
What can Machu Picchu tours have organized in Cusco? The ticket office does locate next to the entrance to the ruins, where you will also find a luggage room, toilets, a shop, and a place to hire guides. The ruins are notorious for sandflies during the dry season, so pack bug spray and wear long clothing.
When to Go to Machu Picchu
To avoid the sprawling package tours and hordes of independent travelers descending on the ruins, you should avoid the peak months of June through August and instead opt to travel April through May or September through October. Also, try to prevent the Peruvian holidays from July 28 to August 10 and the days around Cusco’s Inti Raymi festival, which begins on June 24. In general, Sundays are the least busy because this is the day that most tour packages visit the Pisac and Chinchero markets.
You may also find fewer crowds on Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday. Another way to avoid the public is to spend the night in Aguas Calientes and arrive early in the morning before the train crowds arrive around 10 am. m. When Machu Picchu is the busiest at noon, explore other attractions like Huayna Picchu, the Temple of the Moon, or the Inca Bridge.
There are only two ways to get to Machu Picchu: The train and the Inca Trail. If hiking isn’t your style, you can take a train from Cusco (four hours), Urubamba (two hours and 10 minutes), or Ollantaytambo (one hour and 15 minutes). The parade will take you to the Machu Picchu Pueblo station (also known as Aguas Calientes), where you can catch a bus to the ruins.
Characterized by steep ascents that offer magnificent views of the Andean landscape and trails that wind their way through the cloud forest and past ancient archaeological sites, the Inca Trail is perhaps the most outstanding South American experience. While other courses in the Sacred Valley area and around Cusco offer the same spectacular scenery, it is the only Inca Trail that leads to the great gates of Machu Picchu, the highlight of any trekking experience. This world-famous trail is part of the Historic Sanctuary of Machu Picchu, an area of more than 32,000 hectares set aside by the Peruvian state to protect the vast amount of flora and fauna that flourish here. In 2001, in an attempt to restrict the number of hikers and damage the trail, the Peruvian government established new regulations requiring all Inca Trail hikers to be accompanied by a licensed guide.
Currently, 500 hikers are allowed on the trail per day. The regulations for obtaining trekking permits on the Inca Trail have recently changed. Please note: To secure your ticket, you must now provide your passport information no later than 90 days before your departure. So, plan, book early, and avoid the added stress. Please direct any questions regarding a tour company to KONDOR PATH TOURS.
The most crucial factor in planning your Inca Trail experience is giving yourself enough time to acclimatize to the high altitude before attempting the physically demanding trail. The best way to avoid soroche or altitude sickness is to spend a few days in the Sacred Valley, a little lower in altitude.
The first two days of the climb involve arduous ascents, so don’t attempt them if you’re not feeling well. In most cases, four days will ensure a comfortable trip, and you should set aside an extra day to see Machu Picchu after recovering from the hike.
The best month to make the Inca Trail is May, when the weather is good, and the sky is clear. From June to September, the trail is a busy stretch of a mountainside, with people from all over the world flocking to its rugged peaks and lush valleys. It is less crowded during the rainy season from October to April, but it is more humid for apparent reasons. Note: the trail is closed every February for cleaning and repair. For a truly unique experience on the Inca Trail, try to set off two or three days before the full moon.
The trail involves rugged ascents and unpredictable weather, so be prepared with the proper gear. Pack sturdy, waterproof shoes and warm clothing, food, water (no plastic water bottles, canteens only), water purification, insect repellant, plastic bags, a flashlight, and a durable sleeping bag; your tour operator will provide you with tents and cooking equipment.
The popular 4-day trek will take you along the ancient stone Inca Road, passing dozens of archaeological sites, rushing rivers, countless cloud forest views, and captivating mountain scenery.
Along this 43-kilometer trek, you’ll traverse three formidable mountain passes and cruise to a maximum altitude of 4,200 meters. The hike begins in Corihuayrachina near Ollantaytambo, often known as Km. 82 of the Cusco railway. Another slightly less intense version of the classic four-day trek is also gaining popularity. The two-day version of the Sacred Inca Trail, or “Sacred Trail,” is a good alternative for people pressed for time or with physical deficiencies. You’ll reach a maximum altitude of 2,750 meters along this journey, which involves less arduous ascents, but still leads to the beautiful mountain mecca of Machu Picchu. This mini-hike begins at Km. 104, just 14 kilometers from the ruins, and groups spend the night near the Wiñay Wayna ruins before leaving at dawn for the gates of Machu Picchu. There are also a limited number of permits for this trail, costing $100 per person, so like the 4-day Inca Trail, reservations are required. However, if you are looking for divine mountain scenery, then the four-day trek is your best option, as most of the best views and ruins do not include in the two-day hike.
We’ve put together a brief day-by-day summary of the trip to give you a better sense of the four-day trek.
Day 1 Total Distance:
10 to 11 kilometers. Arrive by bus at Km. 82. From the station, cross the pedestrian bridge that crosses the Urubamba River and begin the gentle ascent to the Inca ruins of Llactapata, where Bingham and his team first camped on their way to Machu-Picchu. Then the trail ascends, following the Cusichaca River, reaching Huayllabamba. To get to this small town, the only one on the road still inhabited, you must climb for three hours. Most groups spend the night here preparing for the arduous journey up Dead Woman’s Pass.
Day 2 Total Distance:
Eleven kilometers Although the same as the first day in terms of distance, day 2 is perhaps the most challenging day of the trip. From Huayllabamba, a steep hour-long climb awaits you to the ruins of Llulluchayoc (3,800 meters). Catch your breath and get ready for another 90-minute to 2-hour steep ascent through cloud forest to Llulluchapampa, an isolated village situated on a flat mountain meadow. Spectacular views of the valley below will keep your mind off the steep ascent. From Llulluchapampa, climb the quadruple incline to the Abra de Warmiwañusca (Dead Woman’s Pass), the trek’s first pass and the highest point (4,200 meters). The two ½-hour climbs are a mental and physical challenge, subjecting hikers to the killer sun on the way up and thin air and bitterly cold winds at the top. Don’t be surprised if snow or freezing rain greets you at the gathering. However, the mind-blowing views will inevitably distract you from the cold and physically demanding ascent that will numb your body. Be sure to shelter from the wind as you gaze out over the valley below. Between Huayllabamba and Warmiwañusca, there are three places to camp if you need to rest. The most popular among these is Three White Stones. The trail descends steeply down stone steps towards the Pacaymayo Valley (3,600 meters). This area also offers a great place to camp, and if you’re lucky, you might catch a glimpse of the ever-playful spectacled bears.
Day 3 Total Distance:
Fifteen kilometers About an hour’s walk to the next pass, Abra de Runkuracay, you will come across the intriguing ruins of Runkuracay. The name means “basket-shaped” and is a fitting title for the unique circular ruins found among those along the way. It is a steep climb of 45 minutes to an hour to the second pass (3,900 meters) from the ruins. On the summit, there is another camp, where you will find magnificent views of the Vilcabamba mountain range. Follow the trail through a naturally formed tunnel and up a spectacular stone staircase to the ruins of Sayacmarca (3,500 meters). These beautiful ruins include ritual baths and terraced viewpoints overlooking the Aobamba Valley. It is believed that this quiet area was once a resting place for ancient travelers traversing the Inca Trail. You can camp near the remains of an aqueduct that once supplied the old settlement with water. From Sayacmarca, the trail descends through a remarkably well-preserved Inca trail into a thick cloud forest. You will be amazed by exotic ﬂora such as orchids, bromeliads, and unique bird species. The trail meanders towards Conchamarca, another rest stop for the weary. Go through another Inca tunnel and follow the path up a gentle two-hour climb to the third pass and the ruins of Phuyupatamarca (3,800 meters).
This section of the trail, whose name translates to “Town Above the Clouds,” offers spectacular views of the Urubamba Valley in one direction and a great view of the snow-capped peaks of the Salcantay (Wild Mountain) in the other. The ruins include six small baths.
They are full of freshwater during the rainy season that runs constantly. There is a great camping spot here, where you can even watch wild deer feed. Also, keep an eye out for the massive rear of Machu Picchu Peak. From the ruins, the trail forks, and you have two options. Follow the 2,250 knee-bending stone steps to the terraces of Intipata, or head to the impressive Wiñay Wayna ruins. Discovered in 1941, the ruins of this ancient citadel, named “Forever Young” for the perpetually blooming orchids that flourish here include spectacular stone agricultural terraces and ritual baths.
Day 4 Total Distance:
7 kilometers the final stretch of this trip is about reaching Intipunku (Puerta del Sol) and Machu Picchu. Be prepared to wake up early as most groups leave camp at 4 am. m. to arrive at the ruins at 6:30 am—a vertical ascent to the ruins of Intipunku. The descent to Machu Picchu takes about 45 minutes. Upon arrival at the ruins, hikers must deposit their backpacks at the entrance gate and stamp their entrance passes. You can bask in the glory of completing the challenging journey to one of the world’s most fantastic attractions.
Despite the peace and tranquility that its stunning natural beauty evokes, Machu Picchu is a fervently protected place inhabited by numerous whistleblower guards who noisily herd unsuspecting travelers who have strayed from the main path. The best option to explore the ruins in peace is hiring a guide or buy a map of the specified routes. Enter the ruins at 6 am and watch the sunrise over the Andes. You will enter the south side of Machu Picchu from the ticket office through the Cuartel de la Guardia, now the modern entrance. From here, there are several ways to explore the ruins, all of which offer stunning views of intricate Inca architecture, Andean mountains, and terraced stairways.
Some of the must-see attractions of Machu Picchu include the Temple of the Sun, the Royal Tomb, the Temple of the Three Windows, the Princess Chamber, the Main Temple, Intihuatana, Huayna Picchu, the Temple of the Moon, and Intipunku.
Just down the steps of Intihuatana and across the Sacred Plaza is the Sacred Rock, a massive piece of granite in the curious shape of the Inca’s sacred mountain of Putucusi, looming on the eastern horizon. Little does know about this rock, except it serves as the gateway to Huayna Picchu. A guardian controlled access to the sacred summit from a kiosk behind the Sacred Rock.
The steep hike to the summit takes between one and two hours and includes a 20-meter climb up a steep rock slab using a ladder and rope. (Those afraid of heights may want to pass on this climb.) However, your physical labor will be rewarded with a spectacular panoramic view of the entire Machu Picchu complex and the Andean mountains and forests that cradle it.
Temple of the Moon
Located about 400 meters below the pinnacle of Huayna Picchu (about a 45-minute walk) is the Temple of the Moon, another spectacular example of Inca stonework. The temple consists of a large natural cave with five niches carved into a solid white granite wall. Towards the center of the cave is a rock carved like a throne, next to which are five carved steps that lead to darker corners where even more carved stones and stone walls are visible.
The temple’s name originates from how it radiates moonlight at night, but many archaeologists believe it was also symbolically aligned with the surrounding mountains. Steps on either side of the small plaza in front of the temple lead to more buildings and fascinating stone shrines below. You can take the other trail from the guardian’s kiosk behind the Sacred Rock for incredible views of Machu Picchu and Huayna Picchu. The thirty-minute climb to Intipunku, the main entrance to Machu Picchu from the Inca Trail, is slightly less demanding and a good option for anyone short on time or energy.
Suppose you don’t have the time or energy to climb Huayna Picchu and the Temple of the Moon. You may prefer to take the trail from the guardian’s kiosk behind the Sacred Stone to Intipunku, the main entrance to Machu Picchu from the Inca Trail. Intipunku, also known as the Puerta del Sol, consists of two large stones that correspond to the winter and summer solstices, and on these dates, the doors are illuminated with beams of light similar to a laser. In addition to their symbolic importance, the gates also provide remarkable views of Machu Picchu and Huayna Picchu.
A challenging two to three-hour descent from the Phuyupatamarca ruins, located on the Inca Trail, will take you to the spectacular Wiñay Wayna ruins. Originally a companion site to Machu Picchu, these ruins perched high above the Urubamba River likely served as a ceremonial and agricultural center. Like today, they may also have served as a rest stop for weary travelers on their way to the great gates of Machu Picchu. The complex consists of two architectural sections, with temples at the top and more rustic structures at the bottom. Up to 19 different springs bring water to various baths located at different levels along the characteristic Inca terraces. If you are willing to walk more (about 2 hours), you can take the well-marked trail from the ruins to Intipunku, the gateway to Machu Picchu, via the SHORT INCA TRAIL.