There’s so much to see in South America, it’s hard to decide where to spend your time. However one spot stands out as a must-see destination: Peru’s Machu Picchu. The ruins are deservedly recognized as one of the wonders of the modern world and images of dawn clouds rising over the citadel has been seared onto the imagination of would be Indian Jones adventurers for decades.
The following guide helps explain Machu Picchu’s significance as one of the world’s top travel destinations.
Through the 1911 searching of Hiram Bingham, the Yale scholar believed that he’d found the lost city of the Incas when he stumbled across Machu Picchu. Although this later was found to be incorrect, there’s no question that this was an extremely important site to the Incas. The exact purpose of the citadel is still unknown but it’s believed to have been built by one of the greatest Inca rulers, Pachacutec. One theory is that it was a sort of retreat for the ruler and his nobles.
The site sprawls over a large area on top of a mountain in the high jungle not far from the city of Cusco. Through trekking or using the train it is quite simple to get there. To get from the beginning to the end on the train it takes around four hours. Among the treks that you can take are the Classic Inca Trail, the 2 Day Inca Trail and the Salkantay Trek.
The architecture is truly impressive and there is so much there that it is easy to imagine having lived in this citadel in the ancient past. It’s believed that it had great religious significance as well as potentially being a place where the Inca and his family went to relax in a climate that is milder than that in the capital of Cusco.
If you are going by train, it’s a good idea to go the night before and plan your tour of the site for early the following morning. This will allow you to appreciate the place before the bigger crowds start coming. If you are going along with few people, this takes the experience to a completely new level.
There are a number of hotel options available in the nearby town of Aguas Calientes, also called Machu Picchu Pueblo. There are a few luxury options and then a great many in the moderate or budget category. If you’re not staying more than a single night, it may not be worth paying for a luxury hotel if you’re just going to get up by 5:00 am to make the first bus up to Machu Picchu.
Most tours last around 2 1/2 hours and cover the most important areas of the site. Afterward, you will have typically have time to wander around the citadel on your own. Another option that many take advantage of is hiking up to the top of a nearby peak, Huayna Picchu. From this advantage, you can get a great view of Machu Picchu and many of the best photos are taken from this spot.
Note that only a limited number of people are allowed into Machu Picchu each day and less are allowed onto Huayna Picchu. Tickets for Huayna Picchu must be purchased at the same time as the entrance to Machu Picchu and should be purchased online, from an agency or in Cusco.