About Machu Picchu
As one of the best-known archaeological sites on the continent, Machu Picchu is a must for all visitors to Peru. Situated on a mountain ridge above the Urubamba River and surrounded by tropical forest, the Inca city enjoys a truly spectacular setting. Believed to have been built as an estate for the Inca emperor Pachacuti, the site was abandoned at the time of the Spanish Conquest though remained unknown to the Spanish, perhaps explaining the city’s surprising state of preservation. Since its discovery in 1911, many of the outlying buildings have been reconstructed to give visitors a better idea of the grandeur of the structures.Read More
Built in the classical Inca style with polished dry-stone walls and terraces that seem to have been crafted naturally from the rock escarpments, Machu Picchu is a spectacular testament to the greatness of the Inca civilisation. The ruins are divided into the Urban and Agricultural Sectors with features ranging from terraced fields and water fountains to storage buildings, guardhouses and religious temples as well as bridges on the trails leading out of the citadel.
The ultimate way to experience the Inca city is by trekking along one of the ancient trails that lead you to the Sun Gate in time for sunrise when the mists rise up from the mountains to reveal the enigmatic ruins illuminated by the first light of day. Many tourists visit Machu Picchu as a day trip from Cuzco so in order to make the most of this incredible site, spend a night in the nearby town of Aguas Calientes and give yourself a full day to explore some of the lesser-visited areas of the ancient city.
Machu Picchu Tours
Here are some popular itineraries that include a visit to Machu Picchu. Alternatively, if you would like to include a visit to Machu Picchu on a bespoke touring itinerary to Peru, take a look at our tailor-made holiday planning section.
Best sites to visit in Machu Picchu
Temple of the SunView on map
The Temple of the Sun is one of Machu Picchu's most distinctive sights thanks to its semi-circular tower known in Spanish as the Torreon. It's a fine example of the skill of Inca stonework with smooth walls, seamless joins and numerous trapezoidal window niches. Like many buildings within the citadel, the temple is built around natural rock formations with the tower centred around a large granite boulder into which steps have been carved. At this temple the sun deity of Inti would have been celebrated, as seen in the way a particular window has been positioned so that on the day of the winter solstice, the sun falls directly on a large ceremonial stone.
The Sacred PlazaView on map
Sat atop a natural elevated section of Machu Picchu's urban sector, the Sacred Plaza is one of the most enthralling parts of the citadel ruins due largely to the Three-Windowed Temple providing impressive views of the Vilcantoa Valley and mountain range. The plaza is also flanked by the Principal Temple with its outstanding stone walls, and the Priest's House, the only building still standing with all four walls. Beside the plaza are deep terraces that would have been used to accommodate spectators rather than for agricultural purposes as most Inca terraces in the region would have been used for.
Temple of the CondorView on map
Crafted from a giant natural rock formation, the Temple of the Condor is yet another example of how skilled the Inca stonemasons were. The granite outcrop has been shaped to resemble a condor in flight, with outstretched wings and the head of the sacred bird carved into a rock set within the ground. The condor was considered a sacred animal by the Incas for its ability to soar above the earth, representing a higher consciousness and closeness with the heavens. It's believed that sacrifices were made at this temple and one might wonder whether the unfortunate citizens held in the prison located behind the temple met their fate at the sacrificial altar.
Huayna PicchuView on map
Possibly one of Machu Picchu's most photographed features thanks to its position directly behind the Inca citadel, the prominent peak of Huayna Picchu offers a mini trekking challenge and rewarding bird's eye view across the site. Accessed by stone steps original carved into the mountainside by the Incas, the peak of Huayna Picchu is home to a collection of temples and terraces where the high priest and local virgins are believed to have resided. Only 400 people are allowed to climb the sacred mountain each day and permits must be booked in advance. The climb up takes roughly an hour with just two timed slots available.
Inca BridgeView on map
Built as a secret entrance to Machu Picchu, the Inca Bridge is a remarkable example of Inca engineering. Reaching the western side of the citadel, a stone path follows the side of a steep mountain with a twenty-foot gap cut into the cliff face. It's this gap that's known as the Inca Bridge with planks of wood laid across the chasm providing access across the two sides of the trail. These planks could be removed at anytime making the gap impassable for intruders with a 580 metre drop below. The entrance to the trail leading to the bridge is well signposted within Machu Picchu and it's roughly a 30 minute walk from the checkpoint to the bridge in the shade of the mountain with incredible views of the Urubamba Valley.
Eating out in Machu Picchu
Tinkuy Buffet RestaurantView on map
Those planning to spend a full day at Machu Picchu will no doubt find themselves famished half way through their sightseeing excursion and here's where the Belmond Sanctuary Lodge excels for it's the only hotel located next to the citadel with a choice of two restaurants - buffet lunch at the Tinkuy restaurant or a la carte menu at the Tampu restaurant. As the entry ticket to Machu Picchu allows you to leave and re-enter the site a maximum of two times in one day, it's possible to leave for a leisurely lunch at the Belmond Sanctuary Lodge and return through the gates once fed for further sightseeing.
Transport links in Machu Picchu
By RoadView on map
Shuttle buses run back and forth between the town of Aguas Calientes and Machu Picchu throughout the day with the first buses departing from Aguas Calientes at 5:30am and the last return bus departing from the citadel at 5:30pm. The journey takes 20 minutes following a winding road up to Machu Picchu with around 25 buses operating the route at any one time, however, expect long queues during the high season especially, and allow at least 30-40 minutes to get a bus back to Aguas Calientes if leaving Machu Picchu between 12pm-2pm when everyone's keen to get lunch. At other times during the day the queue for the bus may be shorter.
Best Time to Visit Machu Picchu
The climate of Peru can generally be divided into the wet season and the dry season with the latter being the best time to visit Machu Picchu. The month of June heralds the beginning of the dry season, which lasts until September, and during this time rainfall is minimal and the skies are usually sunny and clear. Temperatures hover around the 20 degrees centigrade mark during the day though the mercury drops considerably when the sun disappears. Due to Machu Picchu's location on the edge of the rainforest, fog and mist is possible at any time of year and particularly likely first thing in the morning.