People have this on their bucket list: hiking up the 15th-century Inca citadel, located in southern Peru, on a mountain ridge 2,430 m above sea level. A unique sight with strong energy and ancestral legacy, the place is something that will stay in your mind…
Situated above the Sacred Valley, which is 80 km northwest of Cuzco, the Machu Picchu Wonder is best to be visited early in the morning (get there right by the opening hour of 6 am – so you can also enjoy the sunrise) or later in the afternoon, nearing the closing time, when it is not crowded.
The most familiar icon of Inca civilization, declared a Peruvian Historic Sanctuary in 1981 and a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983, Machu Picchu was voted one of the New Seven Wonders of the World in an Internet poll. And when you see it, you understand why.
The Incas built the royal estate around 1450 but abandoned it a century later at the time of the Spanish Conquest. By 1976, thirty percent of Machu Picchu had been restored and restoration continues.
The Quechua language name of the site is often interpreted as “an old mountain” or “an old pyramid”. There are freely running llamas and alpacas at the site and eager hikers can choose from many different trails to hike up the surrounding Andes Mountains. The place is known for its rains and it is usually partially hidden in clouds which intensifies the mystic and magical atmosphere of the place.
The beautiful sophisticated terrace fields, the Inca Bridge, the Temple of the Sun and the Intihuatana stone (one of many ritual stones in South America arranged in order to point directly at the sun during the winter solstice) are just a few of the frequently pictured sights.
The energy of the place is strongest when you perceive it standing on one of the surrounding mountains. When you are walking through the ruins as such, you are stuck among crowds of people, all of you following the same path, trying to get – in vain – some pictures “without tourists”. There are 2,500 tickets available to enter Machu Picchu every day and they do generally get sold out. Even now, when the pandemic is still raging in some parts of the world, many come to the reopened Wonder to enjoy it “while it is less busy”.
Machu Picchu is recognised as one of the spiritual centres of the world, already chosen among the 10 best spiritual destinations on the planet. The energy of Machu Picchu comes from a very powerful “energy vortex” of the Mother Earth – “Pachamama” for the Incas. It can undoubtedly be perceived even by those who are not very sensitive to electromagnetic fields.
How to Get There
1. Inca Trail
There are several options of getting to Machu Picchu. The more adventurous and well-organized ones would take the Inca Trail and hike for four days (with the necessary permit and with a local agency) via the Andes from Cuzco to Machu Picchu. Only about 200 people are allowed on the trail daily and the permits are usually sold out for the year within a couple of weeks; the price is currently around 600 dollars. The trail means no showers, sleeping in a tent, very cold temperatures and eating very basic meals prepared in the kitchen tent.
2. Salkantay Trek
A great alternative to the Inca Trail, this hike takes you to some beautiful places such as Laguna Humantay, The Salkantay Mountain, Llactapata Inca Ruins and Cocalmayo Hot Springs before reaching Machu Picchu. It covers 5 days and no special permits are requiered. The fee to enter Salkantay is around 500.USD. The maximum altitude reached during the Salkantay trek is 4630 meters or 15190 feet above sea level at “Abra Salkantay” or Salkantay Pass. Machu Picchu itself is located at 2430 meters or 7972 feet above sea level. The trek was named among the 25 best Treks in the World by National Geographic Adventure Travel Magazine.
3. Tours, Taxis, Trains
There are one day tours leaving from Cuzco to Machu Picchu, but it comes to the same thing (yet with having more time on your hands) if you go on your own, using a taxi or a taxi colectivo from Cuzco or Pisac to go to Ollantaytambo and then getting the expensive but comfortable PeruRail trains via the Urubamba River canyon to the town of Machu Picchu – from which there are buses going to the citadel. The 38-kilometer train journey costs approx. 60 dollars in one direction. Do not forget to book your train ticket and ticket to Machu Picchu well in advance.
4. Cheaper Options
If you are on low-budget, you can get a taxi colectivo to Santa Teresa and another one to Hidroelectrica (the stop is called after a hydroelectric plant). It is much cheaper and you are not limited by the time schedules of the PeruRail. The only thing is that from Hidroelectrica you need to hike for circa 13 km as the road finishes here.
You can also get a private taxi to Hidroelectrica which gives you a chance to stop at some interesting spots on the way. If there is a few of you travelling at once, definitely use the private transfer. You can stop at the viewpoints, several Inca monuments, for lunch and in some thermal baths. You can do it all in one day and it will still cost you less than the train.
5. One Day Inca Trail
There is also One Day Inca Trail (some call it Short Inca). If you want to take that one, you will disembark the train at what will appear to be the middle of nowhere, the stop KM 104. The 15 km hike from there will take you into the Andes Mountains and scale you up, down, and around this mind-blowing mountain range. It is an intermediate hike that can take anywhere from 5-8 hours. There are plenty of steep climbs and tight curves, but they are all worth the stunning views.
There are also other hiking options, such as Lares Trek, Inca Jungle Trek, Choquequirao Trek, Lodge Trek, Vilcabamba Trek and many more. Check out the local tourist info points and agencies for more information.
How to Get to the Archaeological Site
There will be local people (bus drivers) persuading you that you have to buy a bus ticket to get from the town (which some call Aguas Calientes and others Machu Picchu – the oficial train stop is called Machu Picchu) to the citadel. If you feel like it, however, you can hike up; just know that it is a pretty steep road up there… The bus takes thirty minutes and costs 24 dollars one way. You can buy just one way up on the bus and then go down by foot – or the other way around if you wish.
We started at 2:30 am from Pisac, taking a private taxi (120 soles, as at this hour there are no taxi colectivos, they usually run from 6 – 7 am to 8 – 9 pm) to Ollantaytambo, then the train (best to buy the ticket in advance online, but remember to also pick up your tickets in one of the PeruRail offices) to Aguas Calientes (which is no gem at all, in fact very crowded, grey and expensive), arriving there around 7am (the train ride is about an hour and a half long). The train has windows that scale to the roof of the train, allowing you to fully absorb the beauty of it curving through the crevices of the Andes Mountains.
About 200 m away from the train station there are buses waiting and the drivers will gladly direct you to the bus office where you buy your tickets to go up to the site.
It is essential to buy your entrance ticket in advance too (the basic one costs 45 dollars, if you want to do the Huayna Picchu hike or Montana, you pay ten dollars more), again, you can do that online and print it out. The tickets are for morning and afternoon times, but the specific times are not too strict.
So far, the discussed rule that you can only visit the site with a certified guide has not been put into effect, so you can easily go without one or get one by the entrance to the site.
We needed circa six hours to really enjoy some short hikes within the complex of the archaeological site and the surrounding mountains, such as Intipunku Sun Gate (amazing at sun rise) and Puente Inka – Inka Bridge. If you want to hike up Machu Picchu Mountain, don’t forget you need to buy a ticket which includes the entrance to this one and add two hours at least to your time within the complex gates.
When you walk through the ruins as such you inevitably need to be ready to be walking slowly, following the backs of many of the people in front of you – that is just the way it is and it does not matter what time of the year you get in.
It is not allowed to use umbrellas in the complex, so bring your raincoat. It is officially not allowed also to eat or drink in there, but in those respects the guards are less strict. The only toilets are located by the entrance.
We finished our exploration of the site around 2 pm. Having eaten a simple veggie soup for 8 soles at the local market back in the town (the only place where you can eat for less than 40 soles, the restaurants are crazily overpriced due to the flux of tourists in the area) we boarded the train back to Ollantaytambo where we got a taxi colectivo to Urubamba, then another one to Calca, and one more to Pisac, arriving at 7 pm to our homestay.