Tour Machu Picchu – Every Step of What You'll See in Peru
Have you always wanted to visit Machu Picchu? The ancient Incan city is estimated to have been built in the 15th century under the reign of King Pachacutec, and then, the "Lost City" was rediscovered in 1911 by explorer Hiram Bingham. Today, the bucket-list destination attracts half a million visitors every year.
But it's not an easy trip to take. Only 2,500 people are allowed in on a daily basis, with permits for the hiking trails limited to 500 per day. You'll ride planes, trains and automobiles for hours to see this UNESCO citadel. Or you can follow along on this step-by-step tour of what a visit to Machu Picchu really looks like.
Your first stop in Peru will most likely be its capital city, Lima. Here, is where most flights from the U.S. arrive. And while you'll need to hop on a plane again to get to Cusco, it is recommended you spend the night in Lima to acclimate, due to the extreme changes in elevation.
In this city, the highest point is 1,312 feet.
Not that you'll mind: Lima is a beautiful city with many sights and attractions to check out as you rest from your already-long travels south of the equator.
Visit Lima's birthplace, the Plaza de Armas de Lima, and its baroque Basilica and Convent San Francisco de Lima. You can also explore ruins that pre-date the Incans at Huaca Pucllana — the clay pyramid is more than 2,000 years old!
Next, you'll take a flight to Cusco, which climbs to 11,151 feet. Altitude sickness is a common occurrence, and hotels here offer oxygen tanks.
It is advised you spend the night again to acclimate to the elevation change before heading to even greater heights in Machu Picchu.
Plaza de Armas
The heart of Cusco, the Plaza de Armas, is a large plaza of gardens, statues and fountains surrounded by restaurants and shops with views of the city's cathedral.
Take a tour inside the cathedral, and see a reproduction of Leonard da Vinci's "Last Supper" painting. Because guinea pig is a popular dish in Peru (known as cuy), it's actually painted on one of the plates!
From the Plaza, stroll along the cobblestone streets of the San Blas District.
Here, you'll find artisan shops, may spot a llama and can follow along an Incan-built road, known as Hatunrumiyoc.
To get from Cusco to Machu Picchu, you can take one of two trains that climb to the ruins: Inca Rail or PeruRail. Although you can take a bus instead of a train, the journey is very bumpy and not entirely safe so train travel is the recommended choice.
The trains travel between Cusco and Aguas Calientes and provide spectacular views of the Peruvian countryside during the just-over-three-hour journey.
The town located just outside Machu Picchu may be referred to as Machu Picchu Pueblo, but its name, which means "Hot Waters," is a tribute to the thermal waters found here.
The town was built in the early 1900s for the workers who were building the railroad. Today, with nearly 1,500 travelers arriving by train daily, it is filled with restaurants, shops and inns to accommodate the tourism influx heading to the ruins.
Many visitors choose to spend the night here before taking one of the first busses to Machu Picchu at 4 a.m. in time to watch the sunrise.
There is only one road in Aguas Calientes, and it leads directly to Machu Picchu. (It's also made of dirt.)
It will take 40 minutes via a bus shuttling travelers back and forth between the town and the ancient citadel. The drive includes six hairpin switchbacks on narrow roads and could make the weary get a little woozy.
First, you will be dropped at the bus stop.
You will not step off the bus and be blown away by the beauty of Machu Picchu. You'll still have a bit more work to get to the views.
Then, you'll have to present your ticket to get in. Tickets need to be purchased in advance since they are limited.
This map shows the layout of Machu Picchu, which is nearly 126 square miles in size.
The site is divided into two sides, separated by a staircase, wall and moat.
You'll need to climb the stairs to reach the sites of the lost city.
The stairs were restored by the National Archeological Park of Machu Picchu — no easy feat considering there are 1,600!
To farm the mountainous land, the Incas created agricultural terraces.
These terraces also worked to reduce mudslides in the rainy atmosphere.
The House of the Guardians
You still are not inside the ancient city when you reach the first structure, a building that housed those who protected the community.
From the House of the Guardians, you can take in the magnificent views of the citadel and its mountainous backdrop.
Funerary Rock symbolizes the entry into Machu Picchu's cemetery.
It is also evidence of Incan studies and practices. The Incans practiced mummification, and this rock is considered to be the space where the practice was carried out before burial.
You won't see grave markings in the field that was once the cemetery for the people of Machu Picchu.
This space was used for ceremonial practices.
Follow the stairs through the main entrance into the city.
The City Gate is the official end to the 26-mile Inca Trail.
Machu Picchu was led by Incan royal descendants. In the time of Machu Picchu and the Inca Empire, Atahuallpa was the ruling emperor. He was also the last.
Called the Royal Ayllus, the king was referred to as Panacas, the queen as Colla, princes as Pallas and princesses as Nustas.
Archeologists discovered that this space connected to the Temple of the Sun belonged to women, thus it has been deemed the Nusta's bedroom.
Temple of the Sun
The Incas worshipped many gods, the creator of which was Viracocha, the god of the sun.
The most sacred temple in the city, Templo Del Sol, was built in a semi-circle with windows facing the north and the east that allowed the sun's rays to shine through on the summer and winter solstices.
In the center is an altar carved from rock.
Directly below the temple, and only accessible via it, is a cave carved into the rock that served as the tomb of the royal family.
If the buildings in the mountains aren't indicative of the elaborate architectural ability of the Inca, the Staircase of Fountains should be. Sixteen fountains bring water down the mountain 85 feet to basins that would pool the water for the citizens.
They are called Sacred because water was considered sacred.
Temple of Three Windows
The windows of this temple represent the three parts of the Inca world: Heaven (Hanan-Pacha), the underworld (Uku-Pacha) and present world (Kay-Pacha).
The largest of the temples in Machu Picchu, the Principal or Main Temple is where large ceremonies were thought to have taken place.
Otherwise known as the Gate of the Sun, this carved stone is thought to be a sundial or calendar.
The sun's shadows are the longest and shortest on the winter and summer solstices.
As a thriving city, Machu Picchu was built around a large public space where people could come together.
The city was divided by classes, and this square separated the aristocrats from the workers. It also separated the temples and buildings by significance. The high sector was known as Hanan, and the low sector was Hurin.
The Sacred Rock, called Wank'a, resembles the mountain in the distance and is flanked by two shelters with open walls overlooking the rock.
Wank'a were considered guardians of the land.
Houses of Factories
The homes of the common people and businesses amazingly still stand erect nearly 500 years later.
The roofs of that time would have been thatched.
At the opposite end of the main city gate is the industrial zone where business and agriculture thrived.
It's far from the royal family and would have been the loudest area of the city of the lowest class.
Of course, the prisoners of Machu Picchu were kept removed from citizens in dungeons and jails near the Industrial Zone.