When someone says Peru, the first thing you think about is Machu Picchu, one of the most famous archaeological sites in the world and one of the New Seven Wonders of the World. This citadel, surrounded by steep mountains, must and vegetation is the main symbol of the Inca empire and it’s so worth a visit.
Below you can find some info about the history of this place, but if you want to skip to our adventure, click here.
A bit of history…
The name Machu Picchu comes from Quechua, where Machu means old and Picchu”meaning mountain.
Although local people knew about this site for hundreds of year, Machu Picchu was officially discovered by an anthropologist 1911 , who shared this discovery with several organisation and the Peruvian government that started the study and exploration of the citadel.
What they found out was that between 200 and 300 people used to live in this place that was a centre of worship and a place for astronomical observation and the place where Inca emperor Pachacuti – the ninth Sapa Inca of the Kingdom of Cusco, which he transformed into the Inca Empire – lived.
The mountains of Machu Picchu
Located about 80 Km Northwest of Cuzco, Machu Picchu is in the heart of of the Peruvian Andes, on the Sacred Valley above the Urubamba River. There are several beautiful mountains here and you can hike them all if you want. All these mountains were scared to the Inca and this is probably one of the reasons why the decided to build this very important site right where they did.
There are 2 main mountains surrounding the site:
The mountain Machu Picchu is a bit over 400 meters above the Inca city and it’s one of the most popular and easiest hike here, as it gives an incredible view of Machu Picchu, with the mountain Huayna Picchu in the background, and it’s the perfect spot to see the sunrise from. Usually, the hike to this mountain is included in your standard “Machu Picchu + mountain” ticket.
Do you know that huge rock you see in the background of all the Machu Picchu pictures (the “nose” of the Inca face)? That’s Huayna Picchu! This mountain goes up to 2,720 m above sea level, and once on top you can get an aerial view of the archaeological site. The hiking paths in this place were built over 500 years and on the side of the steep walls of the mountain, so people told us that when you walk through it, you will find yourself between the vertical walls, having to use your hands to climb up, making it one of the most challenging hikes here. To be able to do this, you need to book a separate ticket, “Machu Picchu + Huayna Picchu“.
Our Macchu Picchu Adventure
You have several options if you want to reach Machu Picchu, but the two I was considering where the 4-day classic trek or the Inca Jungle Trek, which consists of different activities like cycling, hiking, rafting and zip-lining. Even though I hadn’t been on bike since 1999, I decided to give the latter a try, as the agency we booked the tour with assured me that I could have done the cycling part on a van.
We used Peru Coca Travel, but we heard that Marvellous Tours are good too. We paid $160 for the 4 day trip with meals, accommodation, entrance to the site and guides included. To find out more about booking your trip, click here.
Day 1 – Cycling from Cusco to Santa María (55Km)
The first day of the trek was the one I was very worried about, since like I said, I hadn’t been on a bike for a very long time. We left Cuzco early, at about 7 am, and I though I was going to stay on the van for the whole day, together with the other people who didn’t feel like cycling on the side of a very steep mountain. However, once at the starting point, I thought I wanted to try and that if I didn’t I would have regretted…after all, it’s a once in a life time experience and you don’t go to Machu Picchu every day!
The 55km are all downhill and most of it it’s on asphalted road. You need to be careful with cars coming behind you and there are a few water streams to pass, but even though I arrived in the Santa María pueblo almost 30 minutes after everybody else, I did it all cycling!! Unfortunately there are no pictures to witness this achievement.
Some furry friends we made along the way
In the afternoon, we were supposed to go rafting, but note that usually between January and March you won’t be able to do it, because of the heavy rains that would make it too dangerous.
Day 2 – Hike from Santa María to Santa Teresa (25km)
Day 2 was my favourite of all. The second day started early to and we started our trek to Santa Teresa. On the way we passed some of the most incredible landscapes I have ever seen, a coca plantation, parts of the Inca trail and a coffee farm. The first part of the hike was a bit hard, as you go up some very steep hills and the humidity levels are very high, making it hard to breath.
At the end of the trek, you can go in (do it!!) the natural thermal baths of Cocalmayo, for an extra 10 soles. It’s just the perfect way to end the trek.
Day 3 – Zip Lining and Hike from Santa Teresa to Aguas Calientes (16km)
The first part of the day was so much fun, as we did several zip-lining, including some upside down and we crosses a Tibetan bridge.
The second part of the day included a trek from Sanata Teresa to Aguas Calientes. The trek was beautiful and once again we could look at an amazing landscape all around us. The only problem was that the tour agency told us someone would have brought our backpacks to the destination in a van, which was true only for the first day, but on the second day, we ended up walking for almost 20km with about 20kg on our backs, which made it harder than it should have been. So if you have the chance, leave your stuff at your hotel in Cuzco, and only bring what you need for the 4 days.
Aguas Calientes is such a cute town, and if you can arrange it, I would spend one extra night here. In the evening, we had dinner all together and even went dancing – which is not a great idea when the next day you have to get up at 3am to start your hike to Machu Picchu!
Day 4 – Machu Picchu and back to Cuzco
On the fourth day, you have two options: you can walk up Machu Picchu or get a bus up. In both cases you have to get up at 3am and be at the entrance by 4am. I injured my knee the day before so I had to get the bus for $12, but if you can really walk up the steps and enjoy this last challenge.
Best sunrise ever
Once there, as we had tickets for the first turn, which starts at 6am, we had the chance to see the sunrise from the ruins. For the first two hours, our guide walked around with us, and after that, you have free time, when we hiked some of the surrounding mountains.
If do the full Machu Picchu trek, you’ll see the Inca Bridge, that used to be the Inca trail entrance to the site in the past. You can get very close to it, but you can’t actually cross it.
After this, we went down the stairs and walked back to Aguas Caliente, from where you can either do the 16km trek back to Santa Teresa or get the train to Hidroelectrica. I got the train back because of my knee injury and because I would have had to carry my 20kg backpack with me again, but I was happy it worked out that way because the train is another icon experience, which is part of the trek. It costs $33 and it seems like you are going back in time…very worth the experience.
Booking you tour
There are few things it’s useful to know before you book your Machu Picchu trip:
Machu Picchu isn’t closed in February – First of all, as I said in some of my previous posts, some people believe that it won’t be possible to visit Machu Picchu in February, so we rushed to get there before then, but this isn’t true. In fact, only parts of the Inca Trails are closed in February, due to the heavy rain, but you will still be able to visit the site and use alternative paths.
You don’t need to book your trip in advance – It is true that, in an attempt to protect the site, there is a limit of 400 visitors per day, but usually agencies book tickets in advance, so they will have them for you. We booked our trip 4 days before and we still got a spot on the day we wanted.
Don’t book your trip online – As I said above, we paid $160 for the whole trip, but a guy that was on the same tour as us booked it online 6 months earlier through the same agency and he ended up paying $900. We heard of other people who booked it online in advance and paid around $600, so I would really recommend booking it once you are already in Cuzco.
What to bring – You will really need mosquito spray for this trip…a lot of mosquito spray! You should also bring sunscreen, swimming gear and a hat. What not to bring? Your backpack! Most hostels in Cuzco will allow you to leave it there, so just bring a small backpack with you with a change of clothes and something warm for the evenings.
Have you ever been to Machu Picchu? Or are you planning a trip to it? Let me know 🙂
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