Machu Picchu in Peru is a unique Inca ruin that survived the ages almost unscathed. Hidden deep in the Peruvian Hinterland, it now counts as one of the New 7 Wonders of the World. It is also a UNESCO World Heritage site. Above all, it is beautiful beyond belief. Each year almost a million tourists visit the forgotten Inca citadel that Hiram Bingham made famous after his rediscovery in 1912.

A brief introduction to Machu Picchu

Machu Picchu as seen from the peak of Huanya Picchu

Machu Picchu is a 15th century Inca citadel built on a mountain ridge some 2,430 meters above ground level in the Urubamba valley in Peru. Construction started under the rule of the Inca emperor Pachacutec around 1450 probably.

Even though Machu Picchu is located only 75 kilometers away from Cusco, it remained virtually unknown until the American archeologist Hiram Bingham discovered it in 1912. This is why it is often referred to as the “Lost City”. Machu Picchu means old peak. It is the name given by younger generations. The original name has been lost.

Following the Spanish invasion, the Inca probably abandoned the estate around 1570 for unknown reasons, but a smallpox epidemic seems to be the most likely explanation. As a result, Machu Picchu was never discovered (or plundered) by the Conquistadores. Until today, the ancient ruins remain in a pristine shape and attract thousands of tourists each year.

Tourism & the modern Machu Picchu

The central plaza of Machu Picchu with tourists milling about

Machu Picchu is a magical place. No other city or building is so readily associated with the Inca civilization. The spectacular setting, along with its historic significance, lead to its recognition as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983. Before that, in 1981 it was declared a Peruvian Historical Sanctuary, and in 2007 people around the World voted it among the New Seven Wonders of the World.

When Hiram Bingham first set eyes on Machu Picchu, little but overgrown walls remained. After he made the ruins famous again, reconstructions started almost immediately. By 1976 almost thirty percent of the ruins had been restored. Today Machu Picchu still looks like a ruin, while giving the spectator a good impression of what it must have looked like. With a few exceptions, no roofs have been restored. The terraces, once fertile with crops, are now adorned by impeccable lawn.

Every day some 2,500 tourists are allowed to enter the ruins, totaling to almost a million each year. The UNESCO has been long in criticizing these numbers, claiming that the structural integrity of Machu Picchu was put to danger, especially considering the high risk of landslides and earthquakes in the region. Official tickets can be bought on the website of the Ministry of Culture.

Tickets for Machu Picchu
Adult: 128 Soles ( 37 USD)
Student & Children: 65 Soles (19 USD)

This is the standard ticket. You will be able to see ALL the ruins, but you will not be able to climb any of the mountain around Machu Picchu.

Tickets for Machu Picchu + Huayna Picchu
Adult: 152 Soles (44 USD)
Students & Children: 77 Soles (22 USD)

Huayna Picchu is the impressive mountain behind Machu Picchu. With this ticket you will see the ruins and be permited to climb the “young peak”. Also gives u access to the temple of the moon.

Tickets for Machu Picchu & Machu Mountain
Adult: 142 Soles (41 USD)
Students & Children: 72 Soles (21 USD)

Less popular than Huayna Picchu, but also less busy; Hiking Machu Mountain takes longer and there are no ruins at the top.

Ways into Machu Picchu

Hikers along the Inca Trail (Camino Inca) to Mahcu Picchu at the begining of their 4 day journey

The town of Aguas Calientes (named after its hot springs) is located some 400 meters below the Inca ruins and functions as a buffer for the ever increasing amounts of tourists wanting to see the citadel. The only motorized way to reach Aguas Calientes is by train, either from Cusco or from the closer Ollantaytambo. A bus will take all tourists to the actual ruins from here; though hiking the last meters is an option for those budget sensitive travelers as well.

In the 1990ies helicopters used to land directly inside Machu Picchu, bringing in tourists from Cusco. After increasing safety and environmental concerns, a flight ban has been issued by the government in 2006.

Today, the most popular way to reach Machu Picchu is also the oldest one: With a total length of 107 kilometers, the Inca Trail (also known as Camino Inca) has become a backpacker’s Holy Grail. Once the Inca themselves hiked the narrow road into the sanctuary, though they probably took less than the 4 days modern tourists are accorded. Due to its popularity, the Peruvian government had to regulate this part of Machu Picchu as well. Only 500 people are allowed to hike the Inka Trail, including porters and guides.

Machu Picchu by bus
Starting from 5:30 am buses leave from Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu. The ride takes about 30 minutes. This will cost 24 USD for a round trip.
Hiking into Machu Picchu
From Aguas Calientes there is hiking trail up Machu Picchu. This option is for free and will take you 60 to 90 minutes covering 400 meters of altitude.
Taking the Inca Trail
There are many treks into Machu Picchu. The classic Inca Trail takes 4 days (25 km) and will cost you around 500 USD depending on the agency you choose. You need tickets!

Significance of the ruins

Archelogists reconstruting a wall of a house inside Machu Picchu Machu Picchu is not only beautiful but also quite significant in a history context. For example, Machu Picchu is home to the only Intihuatana stone that has not been destroyed by the Spanish. This stone served as a precise astronomical clock and a ritual site. On March 21st and September 21st the pillar of the Intihuatana stone (the stone to hitch the sun) will cast no shadow. It is believed that Inca celebrated these two equinoxes with grand festivals and important ceremonies. Machu Picchu features palaces, temples, houses, baths, storage rooms, workshops, graveyards, and farmland. It was, all things considered, a self-sufficient city housing an estimated 1,200 people, and gives an intimate glance of what life in the 15th century for the Inca nobility must have been. Sadly no written records of the city remain today, as the Inca relied for the most part on an oral tradition that was lost with Spanish Invasion. Quipu, colorful strings with knots, were used to record tax obligations, census records or military data. Still, what littles cues remain, tell of wonderful high culture.