If you’re like me and when you hear “Oh, I went and saw Machu Picchu!” you’re probably thinking, “Yeah, that one place with all the cool ancient ruins and a funny name in Peru.” But if you saw it in person, you will instantly understand what your friends were getting hyped about. Today’s post is a guide to Machu Picchu in Peru.
When I went on my adventure to Machu Picchu, I developed a new love and admiration of the insane history and respect of the preservation behind it all. If you have a chance to ever go to Peru, GO. SEE. MACHU. PICCHU. And if those bold letters don’t convince you, everything below will!
Guide to Machu Picchu
For my trip to Peru, I booked the tour through G Adventures and it was a wonderful experience. I don’t regret taking this trip!! It is a company that offers travellers the opportunity to experience a world outside their own. These are affordable, small-group tours, safaris, and expeditions that can take you nearly anywhere in the world. Brendan and I did the Inca Discovery trek which included a stop in Machu Picchu.
History of Machu Picchu
Machu Picchu is the most visited historical site in the world – still can’t believe I was able to see it with my own eyes! Not only is it one of the New 7 Wonders of The World, but it is actually a sacred religious site for many people. Built around 1450 AD, it is believed this was supposed to be a summer home for the Inca ruler and his family. However, it was totally abandoned when the Spanish came to colonize the area. Strangely enough, they never found the landmark of Machu Picchu.
The name “Machu Picchu” comes from the old language of Quechua (the people’s language of the Incan tribes) meaning “old mountain.” Which is true at this moment in time! Although Yale professor and archaeologist Hiram Bingham (who later was the muse behind the Indiana Jones movies) discovered and brought to light the extraordinary land of Machu Picchu in 1911, it had already been discovered by a local farmer who had been living there for nearly a decade prior.
A special thank you to Brendan Williams for joining me on this trip and taking photos.
Getting to Machu Picchu
The one thing that is comparable to the unshakable beauty of the site of Machu Picchu itself is the train ride from a small archaeological town Ollantayambo up to the base of it. What you need to know about the train travel is to make sure you book in advance to not only secure your date, but also save a little bit of cash in doing so. There is also the option to hike from Ollantayambo to the base, buuuut that will take you between 2 to 4 days to do so. I say just stick with the train ride. Since my trip was booked through G Adventures, they took care of booking this for us.
Once you get to the base of Machu Picchu, you do have the option to do a 45 minute hike up to it or wait for a bus to take you all the way. However, depending on the time of year, you may be waiting up to a couple of hours to get on a bus. And I highly recommend the wait if you are not both acclimated to the altitude just yet or not used to hiking a moderate trail. Either way that you take to get to the rest of Machu Picchu, you are in for some more spectacular views before you hit the pièce de résistance.
Check out my Peru trip vlog below or directly on YouTube for better quality.
Best Time to Visit Peru
There are some times of year that are more ideal than others to go and visit alongside nearly a million other tourists. If you’re not sure if you would enjoy being around a ton of people, planning on doing a lot of hiking, and seeing what Peru looks like in the rain, you might want to take this advice.
Because of the lesser chances of rain and bad weather, people tend to visit more frequently between May through September. Nonetheless, summers can be humid. If you plan on visiting from October to April, you should be warned that these months are rainy and the trails may not be entirely too safe to hike. I did my trip in November and only had light rain the whole trip. However, there was still at least 3000 people right in the morning.
We went first thing in the morning and found Machu Picchu fogged in. However, we waited and the fog did lift (thankfully!). Be patient ias I have heard this happens a lot.
On a side note and this is a big thing once you go down you CAN NOT come back up. They are very stern on rules and have a lot of them, it is a ancient site so be aware of your surrounds.
But, if you are a history junkie and appreciate all things involving the summer solstice and such, you might want to plan on going June 21. This is when the sun will be perfectly aligned with the window in the Temple of the Sun. It is, though, the busiest day of the year. But, honestly I’m sure it would totally be worth it!
Machu Picchu Highlights
When it comes to visiting Machu Picchu, you don’t just get your Insta-worthy pic of the place and take off. No no. There are a whole list of highlights you need to make sure you don’t miss out on while you’re there.
For the hiking enthusiast, you might want to consider taking a hike up the trail to Huayna Picchu. It is by far the most famous hike, where you will be captivated by the mass forested mountain that lingers just above the rest of the site. This hike can only be done in the morning – making for a very chilling adventure. Because it is very popular, the nearly 2 hours long hike must be booked in advance since you will be given extra time beyond the morning time slot. Tack on another hour to visit the nearby Temple of the Moon, a structure dedicated to the night sky under an overhanging rock.
As you are first entering the site, you will see Watchman’s Hut. Don’t disregard this as some little shack on the tip of the mountain. Take a look around and see the magical view it gets to witness.
Inside the Temple of the Sun, you will find it is probably one of the most advanced astronomical observatories to exist in ancient times. In the days of the Incan people, they also offered sacrifices so there are rooms dedicated to that, as well, but all depending on the time of year.
Because of their highly integrated stone channelling system, water still trickles from the fountains. It is believed that the 16 baths were filled to be used for purification and ritual ablutions – but no one is for sure. Regardless, it is amazing that after all this time water still goes through.
Machu Picchu Tips
When I found out I would be travelling to Peru and Machu Picchu, I knew it couldn’t be some easy walk in the park. I did my research and found some really helpful tips that helped me survive my time there. Also, I included a few things that I wish I had taken more seriously / known before arriving. Hopefully my mistakes can help you have a flawless trip!
- Taking the train from Ollantaytambo to Machu Picchu rather than from Cusco – it will help decrease some costs.
- Water is not available inside of Machu Picchu, so bring one or two large water bottles along for the ride. There are very overpriced bottles of water for sale just outside the site, but only if that is a last resort for you. Food is not allowed inside (for preservation purposes) so eat before entering.
- Weather is unpredictable sometimes so be ready for strong sun and/or rain. You will need anything from sunblock, hat, rain attire, good hiking shoes and bug repellent. Packing along a small umbrella will probably be in your favour.
- Only smaller pieces of luggage is permitted on the train, so pack just the essentials.
- Did you know that you can get a Machu Picchu stamp in your passport? All you have to do is ask for it on your way out.
- There are no services inside Machu Picchu. Not even bathrooms. However, there are restrooms right outside the main entrance, but you are only allowed to re-enter ONCE. So plan accordingly.
- GET ACCLIMATED FOR A FEW DAYS. I go more in depth about that below, but please please please take this seriously!
What to Bring to Machu Picchu
Although I named a few things in the tips, there are still a couple of things that you will need to bring before arriving at Machu Picchu.
- Please make sure you have your passport and have it safely stored with you at all times. You will need this to prove your identity with your tickets.
- Make sure you have your water. Bring snacks for the trip going up if you want to (although you can’t bring them in) but you are allowed to bring in water.
- Ensure your battery in your phone and cameras are charged and bring a wireless charger with you if you’re prone to running your battery dead.
- If the sun disappears, you will get chilly. Make sure you have layers or a durable jacket for yourself.
- One word: SUNSCREEN. That is all.
- You – and I cannot stress this enough – need comfortable, yet durable hiking shoes. Your feet will thank me later. Don’t take your old gym shoes that may have a small tear in them – you will not be a happy camper.
Acclimating to the Altitude in Peru
You may have heard that you have to spend some of your time in the city of Cusco before heading off to your trip to Machu Picchu. Well, you heard right and do not take this lightly. People experience different health issues when they don’t take the time to allow their bodies to get with the new altitude. It’s harder to breathe with so high in the mountains. Allow yourself a day or two of rest before heading up to the site.
One of the ways to also help with altitude is drinking lots of water. You may also think about getting a prescription for Diamox from your doctor. I did and found that it really helps with altitude sickness.
Cusco stands at around 11,000 feet while Machu Picchu is around 8,000 feet. It is recommended to start in Cusco first for the simple fact of getting adjusted there will help you be more than easily adjusted while you’re hiking and running around Machu Picchu. While in Cusco, it is advised that you take it easy and not drink alcohol or be too physically active while getting acclimated to the thin air.
It may sound like a lot of work just to get up to one of the most sought-after sites in the world. But, that just makes it that much more worth it when you arrive and it is all forgotten once you’re up there with the beauty and history that is Machu Picchu. If you ever have the opportunity to go or have ever even been remotely interested in going – GO FOR IT! You won’t be disappointed, even if the fog does cover the view for a few minutes. I hope you enjoyed this guide to Machu Picchu.