Machu Picchu is a must-visit when traveling to Cuzco in Peru, and it is probably on most people’s bucket list. It is also known as the lost city of the Incas and it is considered as one of the seven wonders of the world. It was an Inca citadel located at a spectacular location in the mountains of southern Peru at an altitude of 2430m. It was probably built around 1450 and it was in use for about 80 years before it was abandoned, most likely because of Spanish conquests in other parts of the Inca Empire. However, the Spanish conquistadors never discovered the site, and it was completely overgrown and covered in vegetation when it was re-discovered by the American historian and explorer Hiram Bingham in 1911.
The only ways to arrive to Machu Picchu today is either to walk there by following the Inca trail for about 4 days and 3 nights (this requires an expensive, organized tour with porters and a guide) or to take the train from Ollantaytambo or Poroy (about 30 minutes from Cuzco.) We took a bus for 2 hours from Cuzco to Ollantaytambo and afterwards the train with Inca Rail from Ollantaytambo to Aguascalientes where we spent the night. The next morning, we took a bus from Aguascalientes up to the ruins of Machu Picchu.
Tickets to Machu Picchu are sold out weeks in advance, and we were in fact not able to get the standard entrance tickets to Machu Picchu. However, we were able to get tickets that permitted us to ascend Machu Picchu mountain, which is the highest of the peaks that overlooks the ruins (the mountain on the other side of the ruins is called Huayna Picchu).
We started at the base of the ruins and we climbed ancient Inca stairways for about 2 hours to arrive at the top of Machu Picchu mountain at 3061m above sea level. The hike, although being a bit tiresome, offers spectacular views to the ruins of Machu Picchu from numerous lookouts along the trail. After ascending the mountain, we descended down 600m of altitude to explore the ruins at 2430m above sea level.
The whole citadel was built with the same kind of Inca walls as can be seen in Cuzco, where stones are cut to remarkable, polygonal shapes that integrate perfectly with each other without the need for mortar. Machu Picchu is divided into a residential and an agricultural sector and it also has a number of temples, the most famous one being the temple of the sun. There were probably around 500 inhabitants in the residential sector in its peak period. Making it habitable also required leveling the site, channeling water from nearby mountain streams and building agricultural terraces for corn, potatoes and coca.
After exploring the sites, we took the bus down to the nearby town of Aguascalientes, where we could also get a Machu Picchu stamp for our passports. Afterwards we took the train with Peru Rail from Aguascalientes to Poroy (about 4 hours), and finally a taxi back to Cuzco (about 30 minutes).
Even though it requires some time and money to travel to Machu Picchu, it is a totally amazing site that should not be missed when visiting Peru. We will for sure remember it for the rest of our lives. We can also really recommend to buy the ticket that includes the ascent of Machu Picchu mountain, as it is a great hike that offers spectacular views over the area.
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How to visit Machu Picchu from Cuzco
- Make sure to order your entrance tickets as early as possible, because they sell out weeks in advance. Tickets are best purchased from the official ticket site at https://reservas.machupicchu.gob.pe/
- We can recommend buying the tickets that include the ascent of Machu Picchu mountain. There are also regular entrance tickets and tickets that include an ascent to Huayna Picchu. Note that the hike to Machu Picchu mountain involves 2 hours climbing of old Inca stairways. The hike to Huayna Picchu is only a 45-minute hike, but we heard that the trail is steeper and parts of it can be regarded as dangerous. Also, we heard that the hike to Machu Picchu mountain offers the best views over the area
- When you have ordered tickets to the site, proceed to order train tickets. There are two companies that offer the trip from Cuzco to Aguascalientes (at the base of the Machu Picchu ruins):
- Peru Rail offers direct trains from Poroy station (30 minutes from Cuzco) to Aguascalientes. They have departures to Aguascalientes in the morning and returns in the late afternoon
- Inca Rail offers a combination ticket including a bus from Cuzco to Ollantaytambo followed by train from Ollantaytambo to Aguascalientes. They also have departures from Cuzco in the afternoon which arrives to Aguascalientes in the evening.
- We recommend spending the night in Aguascalientes and getting up as early as possible the next morning to go to the ruins. For that reason, we ended up using Inca Rail from Cuzco to Aguascalientes and we returned using Peru Rail (at around 4pm after climbing Machu Picchu mountain and visiting the ruins). Note that you buy tickets to Machu Picchu to enter the site at a specific time (e.g. between 8am and 9am), and that is part of the reason why we recommend going to Aguascalientes the day before.
- For the bus from Aguascalientes to Machu Picchu, you have to go to the ticket office in the center of town and stand in a line for 10-20 minutes.