Machu Picchu Guide 2021

*Updated on 29 Nov 2020

Ten thousand years of history and the prestigious legacy of the fabulous Inca empire are the first calling card of Peru, a country rich in archaeological evidence and remains of ancient civilizations. There are many things to see: from Cuzco, south of the Peruvian Andes, capital of the pre-Columbian empire of Tahuantinsuyo, to the wonders of Machu Picchu, the ancient city on top of a mountain and considered the most extraordinary example of landscape architecture in the world.

Passing through the archaeological complex of Chavín, the Huascarán National Park at 6,000 meters, the Amazon forest and the historic center of Lima. Peru, however, also has an extraordinary naturalistic heritage, with one of the richest biological diversity in the world, made up of different climatic regions to which correspond as many landscapes: from the desert to the forests to the snow-capped mountains in a very short time.

There you can meet people who speak more than 50 native languages, which are expressed through dances and music played with ancient instruments and a rich and tasty local gastronomy. A fascinating destination from a historical point of view, Peru is also an ideal place for trekking and climbing enthusiasts – who love the slopes of the Andes – and for surfers, who can enjoy riding the waves of the Pacific.

A brief history of Machu Picchu

Machu Picchu, in all probability, was built by order of the Inca emperor Pachacútec around the year 1440. Inhabited until the conquest of Spain in 1532, it was completely abandoned for over four centuries. From recent archaeological studies, it is presumed that Machu Picchu was destined to be, since its conception, a sort of summer residence for the emperor and the Inca nobility. In fact, despite its discreet extension, the city, during its maximum splendor, should not have counted more than 750-800 inhabitants. These fell further during the rainy season. In addition to this purpose, according to more recent theories, the site was also to serve as an astronomical observatory and center of worship.

Machu Picchu was abandoned immediately after the fall of the Inca Empire, due to the Spanish invasion, and remained intact until its discovery in 1911.

Best time to visit Machu Picchu

Machu Picchu enjoys an oceanic climate with dry winters. So temperatures are almost constant throughout the year, except for the winter season when it is particularly cold at night. The sky is often clear and allows a wonderful sun exposure all year round, except in winter. It should be noted that the seasons, which are reversed compared to those of the northern hemisphere, are difficult to distinguish.

Climate of Machu Picchu in winter

As in Arequipa, the austral winter runs from June to August, and during this period of the night it is quite cold, with weather conditions favorable to snowfall. On the other hand, during the winter season, the rains, which become rare, give way to beautiful sunny days, already adorned with pleasantly mild air. However, it is recommended to wear heavy clothing because of the wind, which can accentuate the perception of cold.

Climate of Machu Picchu in spring

From September to November, temperatures are rising slightly, but this increase is mainly to the benefit of night-time temperatures, which are becoming milder and milder. In fact, during the day, there is still a warm atmosphere due to the constant daily temperatures. It should be noted that in spring it rains more and more often.

Climate of Machu Picchu in summer

The summer season, which runs from December to March, also coincides with the rainy season. In fact, the climate of Machu Picchu is relatively rainy, unlike that of Lima which remains dry during the same period. The weather is changeable because it may snow during the night and there may be thunderstorms at the end of the afternoon.

Climate of Machu Picchu in autumn

Autumn, which is a rather short transition season, allows you to enjoy the rarity of rain and mild night temperatures. As for the rest of the year, daily temperatures are pleasant and in addition, sun exposure remains acceptable in April and May.

Where And How To Buy Machu Picchu Tickets?

It is possible to buy the access ticket at the Cusco visitor centre before going to the archaeological site, or directly online on the official website of the Ministry of Culture of Peru, by visa credit card. Don’t forget to print the ticket to present it at the entrance in paper format. Be wary of any other local site or agency, so you will avoid paying unnecessary commissions.

Once inside Machu Picchu you can reach the summit of the two mountains located exactly at the opposite ends of the site: Montaa Machu Picchu and Huayna Picchu. We had opted for the latter by communicating it already at the time of booking the Salkantay Trek, as it is necessary to buy an additional ticket at the standard entrance.

Machu Picchu allows entry to 2,500 people a day in two shifts, from 6 a.m. to 12 p.m. and from 12:00 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., while for Huayna there are only 400 daily admissions exclusively in the morning and are divided into two time slots: with entry from 7 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.

There are 800 entrances for Montaa Machu Picchu and there is only one shift, from 7 a.m. to 11 a.m.

How to get to Machu Picchu

From the center of Cusco you can reach the train station of San Pedro. Then get on the train of the Cusco-Machu Picchu Pueblo line. The rails are the only way to reach the last inhabited center before Machu Picchu which is precisely Machu Picchu Pueblo. This small town already existing with the name of Aguas Calientes is the logistic base for the management of the tourist influx. Therefore, there are hotels, restaurants, hostels, internet points and stores with typical products of the area.

The journey time from Cusco to Aguas is about 4 hours and the ticket (valid only for that train, that place and that time) must be purchased in advance.

Once in Agua Calientes there are two ways to reach the ancient Inca city. On foot, with a journey time of about 2 hours, or the less demanding climb with the minibuses perfectly connected with the arrivals and departures of the trains.

Travel to Machu Picchu by bus

So to get to Machu Picchu from Lima, you have to get to Cusco first.

Cusco is separated from Lima by the Andes as you can see on our map. On top of that, Cusco is located almost 10,000 feet above sea level. This means that altitude problems often affect tourists who go directly to Cusco and mountain sickness is very common… some more severe than others. Experts recommend taking a bus to Cusco (stopping along the way) while the climb to Cusco is more gradual and recent statistics launched by the Peruvian Tourism Committee have shown that bus travelers are 3 times less likely to be affected by altitude than those traveling by air.

Travel to Machu Picchu by plane

There are some airlines that offer the option of flying from Lima to Cusco, but the best, by far, is LATAM. Peruvian Airlines and Star Peru are local airlines that operate routes from Lima to Cusco, however they are known to cancel / delay flights a lot in bad weather as their planes are not equipped for these conditions.

If you are nervous about flying, then it is best to avoid Lima in Cusco by plane. Since the flight has to cross the Andes and then land in Cusco, which is over 10,000 feet above sea level, turbulence is very common. This mixed with the rain in Cusco and the stormy weather makes some moments nervous, although Latam’s safety record is absolutely excellent.

If you are planning to travel by plane, book well in advance, but at least try to make some day trip from Lima to see other parts of Peru, because it would be a shame to come to Peru and see “only” Machu Picchu!

Travel to Machu Picchu by train

Train enthusiasts may be disappointed when visiting South America because there are no more trains running here than in Asia, Europe or North America. Although rare, there is a way to at least take part of the train journey.

Ferrocarril Central Andean is a tourist train that leaves once a month, yes, you read right … Once a month. The company only travels from Lima to Huancayo and back and it takes about 14 hours to get there. Huancayo is about a third of the way from Lima, so from there you should take the local buses and finally join the Abancay-Cusco route. The train costs at least 42€ in Huancayo.

Another possibility is to take the south route through Arequipa to Puno and take the train there to Cusco. The train from Puno to Cusco is the Andean Explorer, a luxury tourist train that will take about ten hours to get to Cusco on a panoramic day trip. The fares are quite expensive: a one-way trip costs at least 188€ is a very luxurious experience.

What to do in Machu Picchu

Machu Picchu is simply spectacular, every space within it is fascinating, and no matter where you look, you will be amazed. But within the Inca city there are attractions that stand out from the rest, whether it is for its architectural beauty, its natural beauty, or the intense desire that is generated by wanting to be in them. The following is a list of the most spectacular attractions of Machu Picchu

Terraces

The terraces or platforms are representative structures of the Inca Empire, were a very significant advance for the agriculture practiced by the Incas, which managed to generate microclimates at different levels of the mountain slopes where they were usually built. Machu Picchu had to be a self-sustainable city, so an agricultural sector was assigned in the Inca city, here is where you can see the beautiful terraces next to some Colcas (warehouses).

Fountain Stairs

Water is fundamental for the functioning of any city. Machu Picchu has a whole system of fountains that provided the city with fresh water and that are still in operation today. Within all of these, the Fountain Staircase stands out, an amazing work of hydraulic engineering, consisting of 16 carefully carved and shaped artificial waterfalls, located between the Temple of the Sun and the Royal Palace.

Putucusi Mountain

When you visit the Inca city of Machu Picchu, you can see a mountain that joyfully stands at the side of Machu Picchu, is the mountain Putucusi or happy mountain. This attraction is very little known by the visitors, due to the difficulty that implies to make the route until its summit and the time that it demands, but once there the views are incredible and Machu Picchu can be observed from a different angle. Unlike the other mountains of Machu Picchu, no special ticket is needed to climb the Putucusi; yet. The climb is demanding so it is an adventure not suitable for everyone.

Temple of the Condor

The Temple of the Condor is one of the most striking and surprising in Machu Picchu, the Incas accommodated a natural rock formation that was carved in the form of wings along with another sculpted stone that forms the head and neck of a condor. This construction is a three-dimensional representation of the sacred bird of the Incas, symbol of power and fertility, and is part of the Inca trilogy of the condor, puma and snake.

Royal Palace and the Acllahuasi

In the residential sector of Machu Picchu you can observe two enclosures that are built in a special way. The Royal Palace is a house made of fine masonry and is the largest in the place, besides having a preferential place. The Acllahuasi was probably a place where virgins dedicated to religion lived, it is an enclosure of various blocks constructed with much detail and with the particularity of having only one access to it, in one of the blocks of the place you can find the Mortar Room where two circular vessels also known as Water Mirrors are carved.

Machu Picchu Mountain

It is the mountain on which the citadel of Machu Picchu is located, a walk through it will allow you to observe unparalleled landscapes of the entire sanctuary, and once at its summit you will be able to see in a unique way the Inca city and its surroundings. You need the Machu Picchu + Mountain ticket to visit it. Although it is a somewhat exhausting walk, it can be done by everyone, since its trails are wide and not very steep. This mountain is the ideal alternative for those who do not dare to climb the Huayna Picchu mountain or for those who could not get a place for it.

Temple of the Sun

The Temple of the Sun is a colorful structure with a circular tower located in the religious sector of Machu Picchu, it is made of granite built in the imperial Inca style. Inside the temple there is a ceremonial altar carved in rock, on its walls there are two windows from where you can observe the sunrise during the summer and winter solstices in an exact way. Inside the temple there is a rectangular patio where you can observe 9 niches with a door with security rings. The tower of the Temple of the Sun has as its base an enormous rock in which there is a small cave covered by fine masonry, it is believed that it was a mausoleum, where the mummy of the Inca Pachacuteq could have even been.

The Sacred Square

In this place you can find two of the most outstanding structures of Machu Picchu. The Main Temple, which is an enclosure framed by three walls with finely carved blocks and is thought to have been the most important temple in the city. And the Temple of the Three Windows, a beautiful lithic structure consisting of three polygonal walls, constructed with enormous lithic pieces perfectly assembled with great art and mastery, three beautiful trapezoidal windows and two niches, one on each side, stand out, the three windows would have been located there for a magical-religious motive.

The Intihuatana

The Intihuatana is the best known lithic piece of Machu Picchu and without doubt the most enigmatic. It is a solar clock, this sculpted in a single piece, and in its different faces it projects shades, in relation to the movement of the sun and the different stations of the year, with this artifact the Incas made precise observations and measurements on the climate. Many of the visitors come to it to fill themselves with the energy that emanates from it.

Huayna Picchu

The Huayna Picchu mountain is without a doubt the most desired and popular attraction of Machu Picchu, it is the singular mountain that is seen in all the classic photos of Machu Picchu, climbing it is an incredible adventure. When you see the mountain from below it looks very steep and climbing it can generate intense vertigo, but reaching its summit can mean the greatest moment of your life, the sensations from there are many and the views will be fabulous and unforgettable.

And it is not the only thing, since in the mountain Huayna Picchu you can also find the Temple of the Moon, besides several Inca constructions from where you can contemplate the whole sanctuary. Remember that to climb this incredible mountain you must purchase the Machu Picchu + Huayna Picchu ticket, but you must do so at least two months in advance, since it is in great demand.

15 interesting facts about Machu Picchu

Machu Picchu was missing for many years

Machu Picchu was built in the mid-1400’s, but it wasn’t until 1911 that it ceased to be an unknown to society when it came to the attention of archaeologist Hiram Bingham. On July 7, 2007, Machu Picchu was named one of the new 7 wonders of the world and has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1983.

The Spanish never found Machu Picchu

Machu Picchu is usually referred to as “The Lost City of the Incas”, thanks to the belief that the Spanish conquerors never found the city when they conquered the Inca Empire in the 1500s.

An effort has to be made to get there

Machu Picchu is located in the province of Urubamba in Cusco. This unique construction was made in a ravine, with a drop of 400m from where you can see the Urubamba river. Take a look at our Cusco travel guide and make sure you explore the most important points and don’t miss any of the hidden gems.

It is believed that there are ghosts

One of the most interesting curiosities of Machu Picchu is the following: Every day a layer of fog covers all of Machu Picchu until noon; this creates a sensation of floating among the clouds. However, at night, it is known that the spirits rise from the earth and try to scare people away. This has caused many of the caretakers to sleep with a mirror or a shiny piece of metal underneath them. Stay alert!

This is what it means in Quechua

The Incas spoke a dialect called Quechua, which many inhabitants still speak to this day. Machu Picchu in Quechua means “Old Mountain” or “Old Peak”.

The skills needed to do something like this are incredible

The stone used to build Machu Picchu has an amazing weight of approximately 55 tons. Another of the “Machu Picchu Curiosities” is the following: either hundreds of men climbed the stones with their own hands up the great mountain or it was carved directly from the mountain. The technique used is called ashlar; which refers to the carving of stones with perfect precision that doesn’t even need mortar. The stones are so well suited that not even a knife or razor would fit between them.

How many people lived in Machu Picchu?

Archaeologists found evidence that the area where Machu Picchu was built was used for agriculture in 760 B.C. According to historians and archaeologists, Machu Picchu had an estimated population of 300 to 1,000 people during the 1400’s. These people were considered to be the highest class by the Incas, so they were called “llactas”.

The reason why it was abandoned by the Incas remains a mystery

The Incas left no written record, so the reason why Machu Picchu was abandoned is a matter of debate. The Incas only lived here for 100 years, after which the city was abandoned (around the same time as the Spanish invasion). Some people believe that Machu Picchu was abandoned by the Incas due to an outbreak of smallpox.

It’s not as small as you think

Of all the “Machu Picchu Curiosities”, this is the one that will surprise you the most. Machu Picchu is made up of 150 buildings; among which there are temples, sanctuaries, baths and houses. You can also find 100 flights of stairs made of stone. If you want more information about Machu Picchu, click here.

The battle of Peru against Yale University

Peru was in a great controversy with Yale University, in the United States for 5,000 objects that were collected by Bingham during his exploration. Peru claimed that they gave the pieces as a loan, while Yale insisted that they belonged to them. The dispute ended in 2011, when after a trial, Yale agreed to return the objects; putting an end to the controversy.

It is not at risk of collapse.

To prevent the structure from collapsing on one side of the mountain, the Incas built about 600 terraces. The structural engineering was incredible for the time.

How many tourists visit Machu Picchu annually?

Unfortunately abusive tour operators and an excess of tourists have damaged the routes, produced accumulations of waste and uncontrolled campsites. The site is known to exceed the maximum limit recommended by UNESCO of 2,500 visitors per day.

In 2005, the Peruvian government placed a seasonal limit on the number of how many tourists which visit Machu Picchu are allowed to walk the path. Furthermore, every February the route is closed to allow cleaning and maintenance operations.

Part of the structure works like clockwork

Archaeologists have been able to differentiate 3 main parts of Machu Picchu. The Temple of the Sun, the Temple of the Three Windows and the Intihuatana – a stone that was created by the Incas to be used, as a calendar or as an astronomical clock.

It is more prepared for an earthquake than California.

To attack the fact that Peru is a seismic country, all the buildings constructed by the Incas in Machu Picchu are antiseismic; completely resistant to earthquakes. It is said that when there is an earthquake, the stones of Machu Picchu dance.

Machu Picchu is also a movie star.

Last but not least, Bollywood shot a movie called “Robot” at Machu Picchu. This was one of the few films that got permission to film in the citadel. The result was that a crane damaged part of the site, which was a complete scandal!