Hi everyone! Now that we have shared all of our tips for how to plan a trip to Machu Picchu, it’s time we talked a bit about why you should go there. Here are our top 5 reasons for visiting this world wonder.
Machu Picchu is one the greatest examples we have of Ancient Incan civilization remaining today. It was built in the 15th century, only to be abandoned a little over a 100 years later in the 16th century, when the Incas were conquered by the Spanish. Today, there are over 200 structures you can admire when visiting this historic sight. Many of them were used for housing, religious ceremonies and communal gatherings.
It is evident the Incan’s had quite the architectural skill the moment you start walking through the ruins. They were wise to keep their city hidden from the rest of the world, with only one road in and one road out. (Except for a hidden bridge that allowed them to come and go in secret).
After it’s abandonment, Machu Picchu was only recently discovered in 1911. Today, it is a protected and well preserved World Heritage Site, where visitors can step back in time and learn about the Incan way of life.
There are a few various hikes you can do while visiting Machu Picchu. The largest and longest hike would be the Inca Trail, which ends at Machu Picchu. This trip can span anywhere from 1 week to 3 days depending on where you begin. If you’re not as adventurous as that, there are four other hikes you could do too. The first two involve hiking up the mountains around Machu Picchu: Huayna Picchu & Machu Picchu. In order to do this, you have to purchase a specific type of ticket in advance. It typically takes 3-5 hours to hike up and down one of the mountains (depending on your pace) so it will take a large part of your day. (Keep in mind Machu Picchu’s altitude will force you to move slower than you normally may). One difference to note: Huayna Picchu is steeper, and may involve using your hands to climb certain parts, but Machu Picchu is double the elevation of Huayna Picchu.
The third option would be the shortest hike (about 1 hour), but potentially most dangerous would be to the Inca Bridge (pictured previously). This is not for the faint of heart since the paths are very narrow and some areas involve a steep drop off. You have to check in at a warden’s hut by signing your name and time you started the hike, as well as sign back out afterwards (if that gives you a little insight to how steep this hike is).
If you are looking for something less time consuming and risky, I recommend hiking to the Sun Gate when you first arrive to Machu Picchu. This was the original entrance to the city and will take you about 2-3 hours up and back. This was one of the hikes we chose to do (along with the Inca Bridge), mostly because we wanted to have plenty of time with the ruins itself.
The path for this hike is relatively clear, with a moderate incline. There are no horribly steep drop offs like the Inca Bridge height so it feels a bit safer. The views of Machu Picchu and the surrounding mountains are incredible. It’s also interesting to see the ruins of the old entrance and how tiny the city looks from that far away.
Machu Picchu sits 7,972 ft (2,430 m) above sea level along the Eastern part of the Andes. It is in the middle of a tropical mountain forest, which makes an incredible back drop to the ruins while visiting.
The architecture of the ruins looks like it’s been naturally cut into the rock and landscapes of the mountain perfectly. Like I mentioned in a previous post, it’s best to go to Machu Picchu for the first entry time at 6am to catch the sunrise. The early morning fog sets an eerie tone when you first arrive, then the sun eventually burns away the grey to make the green mountainside glow. Everywhere you turn feels like it could be a postcard.
When visiting Machu Picchu, you make your way through Aguas Calientes, the town at the base of the mountain. This is the only access you have to get to the ruins but it’s worth noting as well. Part of the adventure for us was staying in this small town and soaking in the tropical landscapes.
After first arriving to the town, we visited the Hot Springs that are said to have mineral healing properties. It’s about a five minute up-hill walk from the city center, but very easy to get to. For ~$3 you can go inside and soak in the baths, varying by temperature. (Don’t be alarmed by the green colored water, it’s because of the minerals from the hot Spring). If you don’t have a towel to bring with you, you can actually rent one from the few stands leading up to the entrance for about a $1. They hold on to your ID to ensure you return the towel back to them so don’t forget on your way out! There are lockers for you to store your bags for safety at the baths as well but towels are not provided so make sure to bring one or rent one.
We had read mixed reviews about this place but were eager to check it out ourselves. They have a bar and a server that will take your order and bring you drinks while soaking in the baths. There are showers and changing rooms to clean off afterwards as well. The one recommendation we have when visiting would be to go during the day, either morning or early afternoon. The baths tend to get very crowded around 3-4pm when everyone is returning from their adventure at Machu Picchu and looking for a way to relax. We thoroughly enjoyed our afternoon there and would recommend it for anyone who has a little extra time in Aguas Calientes.
Last, but certainly not least, are the animals that call Machu Picchu home. If you are visiting this World Wonder, it’s impossible not to come across a llama or alpaca. They are the only inhabitants of Machu Picchu nowadays and wander freely throughout the area. You are not supposed to feed or pet the animals so be sure to respect them in their home. The chances of seeing an alpaca or llama are higher if you go in the morning. By afternoon, many have scattered to more remote areas to avoid the crowds.
We were lucky enough to come across a few fluffy friends while visiting and snapped some pretty great pictures with them.
Overall, Machu Picchu should be on your list of places to visit. It offers travelers a chance to learn more about Incan history, take in the mountain vistas, enjoy the beautiful hiking trails and even hang with some furry friends. It (quite literally) will take your breath away.
Stay tuned for a post about our time in Lima!