Visiting Machu Picchu is at the top of every traveler’s list. The ancient Incan Citadel is a UNESCO World Heritage site and currently represents one of the New 7 Wonders of the World. It’s a long been one of the top tourist destinations in South America, and by far the most popular attraction in Peru (which has many great places to visit!!!). So, with all the tourism attention, gorgeous pictures, and throngs of visitors…is Machu Picchu a “Must or Bust”?
Absolutely, 100%, no questions asked, visiting Machu Picchu is a MUST!
It is a truly magical place that needs to be seen to be believed. Perched precariously atop the Andes mountain range, it sits nearly 8,000 feet above sea level. The city fortress is an impressive feat of architecture, and testament to the intellect of the Incan civilization. Archeologist date the city back to circa 1450. Experts suppose it was built as an estate for Inca emperor, Pachacuti. It’s believed to have been inhabited for around 100 years before being vacated during the time of the Spanish Conquest of Peru.
From the interlocking stone structures to the crop terraces that cling to the side of the mountain, Machu Picchu is a something out of a storybook. If you consider yourself an adventure traveler, you’d be completely remiss in your duties not visiting Machu Picchu.
Visiting Machu Picchu
There are a few different ways to get to Machu Picchu. You must have a reservation to visit the site beforehand. The site only allows 5,200 visitors per day. The nearby town of Aguas Caliente is the closest settlement and the tourist jumping off point for the ruins. To reach Aquas Caliente, take a train up from Cusco. There are a few train operators that vary in quality and price. Some visitors hike varying lengths along the Inca Trail. This is the most popular way to reach the ruins among those able to handle the hike. Be aware that Peru limits the number of trekking permits per day (approx. 220) to protect the trail from degradation. Therefore, be sure you arrange for your permits before your trip.
We visited with a big group of friends. Some of our friends hiked for 4 days along the Incan Trail. They visited a number of archeological sites and camped along the trail with their team of porters and guides. Kari did the 2 day Inca Trail hike with her girlfriends. I booked my trip last minute and was unable to obtain a hiking permit.We all had different experiences of different difficulty levels, but they were all spectacular. One benefit that only those who hike the trail gain is access to Machu Picchu for sunrise. And it is the most spectacular sunrise any of us have ever experienced.
What if you Don’t Hike the Inca Trail?
Since I couldn’t get a permit to hike the Inca Trail, I embarked on an adventure of my own. While my friends were hiking, I continued directly to Aguas Caliente on the train. Since it was winter and thus the low season, I was able to easily make a hotel reservation for one night. I cruised around the local markets of the small tourist village. There’s plenty to keep you busy for an afternoon within Aguas Calientes.
The most noteworthy thing to do in Aguas Calientes, in my opinion, is a short hike to the a mountain called Putucusi. The trail is rather challenging as you must climb up some rickety wooden ladders to overcome some sheer rock faces en route to the peak. Give yourself a couple of hours to reach the peak and make your way back down. Once you’ve reached the top, you’ll get instant gratification for braving the network of ladders. The vantage of the Machu Picchu archeological site atop Putucusi is stunning. It’s a view most visitors to the area probably never get to see. So, even though I wasn’t on the Inca trail with Kari and our friends, I was able to make the most of heading to straight to Aguas Caliente.
Visiting the Machu Picchu Archeological Site
No matter how you get there, the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow is visiting Machu Picchu. I was lucky in that the hiking group’s guide was able to get me early morning access to the site with the rest of my friends. Via bus, we climbed up switchbacks for about 30 minutes to reach the entrance of the site. Pro Tip: GO EARLY! Arriving as early as possible will ensure you beat the crowds, but more importantly it allows for an unforgetable sunrise. It seemed we had the site to ourselves for those early morning hours. At first we were surrounded by clouds. Our guide kept telling us to wait for it. Then all of the sudden, like a broadway curtain dropping, the clouds parted to dramatically reveal the ancient site to us. It was simply amazing! Hiking up the Huayna Picchu peak was an incredible way to end our day in the ruins. The path clings to a very steep mountain side. It’s a tough climb, but well worth the climb!
Don’t think twice about visiting Machu Picchu. Pictures and words hardly do justice to describe the amazing experience of visiting Machu Picchu. So, do not hesitate when considering a visit to this incredible destination. It truly is a wonder of the world and deserves your patronage. Visiting Machu Picchu is an absolute MUST!