Bucket List: Machu Picchu

Hard choices, easy life. Easy choices, hard life.
— Jerzy Gregory
Inside Machu Picchu

Inside Machu Picchu

The Bucket List: Machu Picchu - What is it?

Machu Picchu is a 15th-century Inca citadel located on a mountain ride 7,970 feet (2,430 meters) high above the sea level. Known as the ‘Sacred Valley’ which is 80 kilometers (50 miles) northwest of the Peruvian City of Cuzco, the Sacred Valley follows the Urubamba River into a deep canyon connecting both Machu Picchu and Peru’s second largest city.

Most archaeologists believe that Machu Picchu was constructed for an Inca Emperor known as ‘Pachacuti’ who lived from 1438 to 1472. Machu Picchu is also commonly mistaken as ‘The Lost City of the Incas’ but the city is thought to have been built in 1450, and was later abandoned during the time of the Spanish Conquest in the mid 16th-century. Although it was known locally, it was not found out by the Western World until the colonial period, and American explorer, Hiram Bingham, brought it to the world’s attention in the year 1911.

Machu Picchu is filled with dry-stone walls and has three primary structures within it known as the: Temple of the Sun, Room of the Three Windows, and the Intihuatana. As it is, most of the three outlying buildings have been reconstructed in order to show tourists how they may have originally appeared and by 1976, almost 30% of Machu Picchu had been restored. It is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site (dedicated in 1983) and has been a Peruvian Historic Sanctuary since 1981.

Also, in 2007, Machu Picchu was voted as one of the new Seven Wonders of the World in a global internet poll. In the Quechua language, machu means “old” or “old person,” while pikchu means “pyramind, pointed multi-sided cone” which translates into something like “old mountain” and where the name Machu Picchu most likely originates.

The “Old Cone”

The “Old Cone”

More Info & Background

Machu Picchu as we know it today is as well preserved as any of the New Seven Wonders of the World. While Peru has a ‘dry’ and a ‘rainy’ season, Machu Picchu has been relatively well-kept for the last 500 years after it was built around 1450 for one of the Inca’s great rulers, Pachacutec, who likely ordered this religious estate t be built for himself after a military campaign. It was only after Pachacutec’s death that another Inca ruler, Yupanqui, claimed Machu Picchu as his estate for the following several decades.

Although it was only used for about 80 years before the time of the Spanish Conquistadores, Machu Picchu served as a villa for about 750 people only. Those people most likely being support staff for the Emperor, religious characters and temporary specialized workers such as tribal doctors and more.

During the rainy season, full-time staff were only expected to be around 100 people and many of the skeletal remains examined from various archeological sites determined these peoples origins were from different parts of the world, estimating that they may be slaves. Oddly enough, animal remains or Llamas, Alpacas (who normally live at 13,000 feet), Guinea pigs, and dogs were all found in and around Machu Picchu as well. While the dogs were buried in positions next to royal family members, and assumed to be companions of the living and the dead, the other animals were used for meat, pelts and other necessary items by those living in Machu Picchu.

Now, even though Machu Picchu is only located about 50-miles from what was the capital of the Inca civilization, Cuzco, the Spanish never found it and were never able to plunder or destroy it, as they did to many other religious sites in South America. The Conquistadores had notes of a place called, ‘Piccho’ - although no record of a Spanish visit exists. Unlike other locations, sacred rocks often defaced by the Conquistadores remain untouched and unscarred at Machu Picchu.

After the Conquistadores came through to South America, Machu Picchu has been credited of being discovered (from the Western World at least) by German businessman, Augusto Berns. Some evidence indicates that a German engineer, J.M. von Hassel, discovered it earlier, but this has not been proven.

However, it is in 1911 that American Historian & Explorer, Hirman Bingham III, traveled to the region looking for the old Inca capital and was led to Machu Picchu by a local villager, Melchor Arteaga. Bingham found the name Agustin Lizarraga etched in the walls with a date of 1902, and although Bingham was not the first to visit the ruins, he is considered the scientific discoverer who brought Machu Picchu to international attention. An expedition was undertaken in 1915 to undertake major clearing and excavation.

How To Get There

Millions of people travel to Machu Picchu every year and while getting to the Lost city of the Incas is not cheap, it does involve some unusual logistics if you want to see the agricultural terraces, and incredible stone formations.

Here’s what you need to know for the trip in terms of getting from Cusco to Machu Picchu.

The easiest way to get from Cusco to Machu Picchu is to take the train to Aguas Calientes (the town located just a few miles from Machu Picchu). From Cusco, it is about a 3.5 hour train ride with panoramic windows that runs right along the Urubamba River in the heart of the Sacred Valley.

Now, there are three train companies to choose from: Inca RailPeru Rail, and the Belmond Hiram Bingham train. The Hiram Bingham service is on a gorgeous train gleaming with brass and polished wood and includes a white tablecloth meal with wine during your journey. It’s also much more expensive than Inca Rail or Peru Rail, both of which offer comfortable passage on different types of trains—including ones designed with extra windows for an additional fee.  

And if you want to opt for the third option, you can be like these two hipsters down below and ride in glorious fashion! Don’t worry, we won’t judge ya…..it actually looks pretty awesome.

How To Get There (Continued)

Whichever train you choose, book as far in advance as possible, as tickets will likely sell out weeks ahead, and in some cases, months….hop on PeruRail.com and gets yours before they sell out, or click the links above for the more luxurious option.

Either way, if tickets are sold out, there’s still hope. You can buy a ticket to Aguas Calientes that departs from the town of Ollantaytambo in the Sacred Valley. Taxis and mini vans between Ollantaytambo and Cusco are bountiful. Plus, take some time to check out Ollantaytambo, as it still features Incan architecture, street layouts and many buildings from centuries ago….either way, make sure to arrive early so you don’t have to wait in line for the mini vans.

The Other Way to get to Machu Picchu

The other way to get to Machu Picchu from Cusco is to walk the trail as part of a multi-day Machu Picchu tour (this is what VoyEdge RX will do on our tour) and in our minds is the REAL way to see, live and breathe the Inca trail….back in the day, the Incas built hundreds of roads as the empire expanded into South America (remember, it was once the largest empire in the world!) and dozens of different tour operators offer Inca Trail hikes to Machu Picchu with varying durations and levels of comfort. Most of the trails are open for at least 10 mounts out of the year and most often all of them close during the month of February, which happens to be the rainy season. If you want to check out the Inca Trail Hike we are doing, read here!

The VoyEdge RX 4-day, three-night hike includes, hiking, downhill mountain biking, zip-lining and a hot spring tour as part of the trek to Aguas Calientes and Machu Picchu. For those interested in doing that tour, please see our full itinerary here!

The Other OTHER way to get to Machu Picchu

If you want to drive to Machu Picchu from Cusco, you can. There is a town of Hydroelectrico (yes, that’s the real name because there is a hydro electric plant there), that you can park at and then hike three hours up to Aguas Calientes, and then onto Machu Picchu. Many tour companies in Cusco offer this route as a one or two day trip using private vans. Just remember, you still need passes to get into Machu Picchu! If you are going with a tour company, they will provide this, just be sure to ask!

Hungry? Alpaca lunch!

Hungry? Alpaca lunch!

When To Go

While Machu Picchu is open year-round, you won’t want to plan a trip from October through April as that is typically the rainy season for most Peruvians. While it can rain at any time in Machu Picchu, you will want to probably tour the area from around May through September. Keep in mind, though - July through August is peak season and you can expect the most tourists to be there each and everyday, especially on Sunday, as that is usually the most sacred day to visit Machu Picchu. It’s also the day that people who live in the Cusco province can get in for free.

Keep in mind, there is only a daily quote of people allowed to visit Machu Picchu on a given basis and that number is 5,200.

Ideally - the best time to go is during the week, and if you’re looking to avoid the crowds, go in May or June. However, if you plan on going in ‘peak season’ make sure you are going with a group, guide, or already have your purchased tickets from the Peruvian government.

Morning? Afternoon? Both? Your ticket allows you to enter the citadel multiple times between from 6 a.m. to 4 p.m. (the site closes at 5 p.m. when everyone must exit), but there is no perfect time to visit Machu Picchu. These days the site is crowded at all hours and weather is unpredictable. However, during the rainy season the mornings are most likely to be foggy. Depending on your disposition, fog ruins the view or adds a patina of mystery to it. Afternoons can be slightly less crowded as day-trippers return to the train station for their trip back to Cusco.

Machu Picchu at 6 am

Machu Picchu at 6 am

How To Get Acclimated

If you area heading into Machu Picchu, you are probably flying into Peru’s second largest city, Cusco, to prepare for the journey. Cusco, as it is, is at an elevation of 11,000 feet, and Machu Picchu is at 8,000 feet in elevation. Chances are, wherever you are coming from is probably much lower in altitude. That’s why we typically recommend staying a night or two in Cusco before attempting to migrate over to Machu Picchu, even though it is at a lower altitude.

If you are intent on getting to Machu Picchu right away, you can take the train nearest to Machu Picchu, known as, ‘Aguas Calientes’ which sits at about 6,700 feet and can spend the night there. This will help ease the altitude sickness of Cusco which typically can include, headache, fatigue, nausea, loss of vision, balance, dehydration and more.

Some tips for easing into the altitude: Avoid alcohol, physical exertion, drink as much water or hot tea and rest often.

Welcome to the Peruvian Andes

Welcome to the Peruvian Andes

What To Know

If you are traveling independently and want to purchase Machu Picchu tickets for yourself, you can do so here. It is roughly about $45 per person, and there are official ticket offices in Cusco and Aguas Calientes, but if you are going anywhere near peak season, it is just better to buy them online as oppose to in country where you run the risk of it already being sold out for the day you wish to go.

Now, here’s what to bring….

  • Plenty of water

  • Rain Jacket

  • SPF sunscreen

  • Insect repellent

  • Hat

  • Local currency * Peruvian Soles*

  • Passport

  • Machu Picchu ticket

Walking or hiking at altitude will require plenty of water and snacks for the journey. Additionally, it can rain at anytime and the sun above the Peruvian Andes is compromised meaning the sun is much stronger at these altitudes. Wear plenty of sunscreen, bring a hat, and insect repellent if you are hiking as well. Peruvian currency, your passport and your Machu Picchu ticket will be required for you to use the SOLE bathroom outside of the Machu Picchu sanctuary. You will have to leave and then re-enter by showing your passport, ticket and more.

Do not bring

  • Drones

  • Umbrellas

  • Walking sticks or trekking poles

All for obvious reasons! Also be aware….just outside the gate entrances there is a barely marked station where you can get a novelty Machu Picchu stamp in your passport….don’t miss the opportunity!

Once you get there in the morning…..head for the Guard House (marked) instead. This area of Machu Picchu is slightly above the main part of the site and is less crowded and provides more of an overview of the citadel and will help you decide on where to go next.

Huayna Picchu peak: You’ll need a separate ticket to climb this peak at the site, and you need to book in advance—there are a limited number of tickets. The view looking down on the Incan ruins is a highlight for many but be aware that some sections of this strenuous trail are very narrow and steep. You’ll have the choice of starting your climb at 7 a.m. or 10 a.m. Go at 10 a.m.; there’s a better chance any clouds will have lifted by then (48 soles/$15 per person).

Machu Picchu peak This also requires a separate ticket and good knees. The trail is almost entirely stairs. You’ll have the choice of starting your climb at 7 a.m. or 9 a.m. (48 soles/$15 per person).

Free hikes at the citadel: Though Huayna Picchu and Machu Picchu both require additional tickets, anyone can walk up to the Sun Gate (about two hours round trip along a relatively gentle trail with few stairs) for fantastic views of the overall site. You can also make the short walk to the Incan Bridge (less than an hour round trip along a mostly flat trail) to check out a precarious section of trail, now closed, which the Incas built along a rock face.

Guides: Machu Picchu can certainly be seen with just a detailed guidebook. But don’t underestimate what a good guide can add: local perspective, as well as all the historical, architectural, and biological info you’d expect. If you’re not on an organized visit with your own guide, you can book a guide in town, or find one at the entrance to the site.

Stay for lunch: There’s a casual café and bar with a lovely deck just outside the entrance gates, but the Sanctuary Lodge’s buffet lunch is your only sit-down-restaurant option. It’s very good, if pricey ($40 per person).

Information via: Travel & Leisure ^^

Why You Should Do It

Look, I’m gonna level with you here…..Peru is a bucket-list destination for people all over the world, and Machu Picchu is visited by millions of people a year. It’s not too often you get to visit one of the New Seven Wonders of the World and beyond the mystique of this place…why wouldn’t you want to go?

Hike for four days through the Peruvian Andes? How awesome does that sound? Visit one of the remaining sanctuaries of one of the biggest civilizations in the world? Man….absolutely…where do I sign up?

All of these questions come into play when thinking about a potential Peru tour, and here at VoyEdge RX, we strive to create these types of bucket-list itineraries for you to test your fitness levels. Yes, you can take a luxury train and then a bus up to the peak, but if you are yearning for more and truly want to experience something while testing your physical and mental limits, then come with us on our tour here.

Not only do we do Rainbow Mountain, Cusco & Lima, but we also mountain bike, zip-line and relax in hot springs on the way to Machu Picchu. Yes, it is about getting that one epic Instagram pic (admit it), but more than that, it is about the journey. From my perspective, I see so many people obsessed with FOMO (fear of missing out) that they become distraught with just wanting to be there, too….

No, that’s not what life is about. It’s about the journey. And that is why we chose to do the four day hike through the Inca trail. So that you can envision about what it must have been like to live 500 years ago and trek through the same trails that others did while on their way to this sanctimonious site.

Peru is awesome, Machu Picchu is exemplary, and besides being there….what kind of journey do you want to have in life? The easy one? Or the hard one?

That’s up to you.

Let me know your thoughts, questions, comments and concerns down below. Hope to see you in Peru in 2020.

~ Cam OUT (cam@voyedgerx.com for questions, inquiries and more)

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