The lost city of Machu Picchu is the most famous archaeological site in Peru and all of South America. The UNESCO World Heritage-listed collection of temples, terraced hills, and plazas was once the mountaintop citadel of the ancient Inca empire under Pachacutec and Tupac Yupanqui. It may now be world famous, but Machu Picchu still hasn't revealed the mysteries behind construction, function, and eventual demise. The spectacular remains are thought to date from around 1450.
As one of the New Seven Wonders of the World, Machu Picchu sits at the top of many bucket lists. Visitors are required to enter with an official tour guide in small groups of up to 16 people. Entry is permitted in either a morning or afternoon time slot and is limited to four hours. To stay a full day, travelers must purchase two entrance tickets.
Those pressed for time often visit the ancient ruins on a day trip by train from Cusco, but the four-day trek along the legendary Inca Trail is another popular option. Some multi-day tour options also visit other regional highlights, such as Lake Titicaca and the Amazon rain forest.
Things to Know Before You Go
- This is a must-visit site for history buffs and adventure travelers.
- Entry tickets sell out early, especially in the Peruvian winter (May–September). Book well ahead of time.
- All travelers must visit with a licensed guide.
- Selfie sticks, tripods, and strollers are not allowed at Machu Picchu.
- The Incan ruins offer little shade, so remember to bring sunscreen and a hat.
- One of the most iconic views of Machu Picchu is seen from the top of Huayna Picchu.
- Expect a full day tour from Cusco to last upwards of 13 hours.
How to Get There
The quickest way to Machu Picchu is by train (PeruRail or IncaRail) from Cusco or Ollantaytambo, followed by a short bus ride or steep hike from the town of Aguas Calientes. For some, hiking the Inca Trail is as much a part of the Machu Picchu experience as the ruins themselves. This busy trail isn’t the only trekking route; others such as the Salkantay trek or Lares route provide off-the-beaten-path alternatives.
When to Get There
In high season between late May and early September, the Lost City of the Inca allows a maximum of 2,500 people to visit each day. June, July, and August are the busiest and driest months, while January is the wettest and February sees the closure of the Inca Trail. Spring and fall strike a nice balance between pleasant weather and manageable crowds.
Tips for the Inca Trail Hike
If your dream Machu Picchu experience includes hiking the Inca Trail through the Sacred Valley, book well ahead of time, as the number of hikers is limited to 500 per day (including guides and porters). This difficult trail requires a fair amount of physical fitness, particularly given the high altitude in the Andes mountains. Give yourself at least two days in Cusco to acclimatize, and buy some coca leaves to help with any altitude sickness. Pick up a pair of walking sticks—you’ll be glad you did.