Ultimate Travel Guide to Machu Picchu

Table of Contents

About Machu Picchu

Machu Picchu sits at an imposing 8000 feet above sea level, nestled in the slopes of the legendary Andes Mountains. This ancient Inca fortress above the clouds is the picture-perfect ingenuity between mankind and nature.

Brave the winding mountain path and you’ll be rewarded with the natural beauty of the Andes interlaced with human civilization with stories to tell. The dramatic landscape will leave an imprint in anyone’s mind and is a must for any bucket list.

Built around 1450 AD, Machu Picchu, also known as The Lost City of the Incas, is a symbol of the Ancient Inca Empire at its peak. In 1983, it was presented the honor of being a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Over the years Machu Picchu continued gaining worldwide recognition until 2017, it was officially known as one of the new Seven Wonders of the World.

Machu Picchu History

machu picchu entrance peru

Brief History

Machu Picchu’s name means Old Peak or Old Mountain in the Quechua Indian language. It is believed to be a royal estate and the secret ceremonial center of the famed Ancient Inca Empire.

Against the common belief and its nickname, Machu Picchu is not actually the Lost City of the Inca.

In 1911, Hiram Bingham III set out on an expedition in search of the Lost City of Vilcabamba but accidentally discovered Machu Picchu instead. This undiscovered city was previously used as an escape route by the Inca Emperor after the Spanish conquistador in 1532. Even at the time of his arrival, there were three families of farmers living on-site.

Interesting Facts

  • Machu Picchu is made up of more than 150 buildings including baths and houses, temples and sanctuaries.
  • The compound of Machu Picchu has more than 100 different flights of stairs and were carved from one slab of stone centuries ago in 1450.
  • Each stone used in construction weigh more than 50 pounds and were transported to the city without the help of wheeled transportation. It is believed that the stones were pushed by hundreds of men up the steep mountainside.
  • No mortar and metal tools were used to bind the stones together. In fact, the stones were cut with such precision and wedged so closely together that you can’t even slip a credit card through it! This technique is known as ashlar.
  • Machu Picchu was built on two faulty seismic points. In case of an earthquake the stones were known to dance — they will bounce through the tremors and fall back into place.

How Much Does Machu Picchu Cost?

machu picchu, peru

Tickets to Machu Picchu must be purchased in advance and costs about $65 USD per person. Keep in mind, entry to the city is limited to 2500 people per day and there are only two timing slots to visit Machu Picchu.

Machu Picchu Travel Tips

Intihuatana sundial, machu picchu
  • Plan your trip at least six months in advance, especially during high tourist season.
  • If you are willing to pay extra to hike the famous mountains, you will be assigned a specific time range when you can begin your hike. If you are planning a small trek, consider hiking to the Sun Gate and the Inca bridge.
  • Visit Machu Picchu in the morning. There are two time slots available — try to schedule your visit during the 6:00 AM to 12 PM slot.
  • There are no washrooms beyond the main entrance. Just outside the main gates of Machu Picchu, you’ll find a small snack bar, restaurant and washrooms.
  • Bring your passport. You’ll need to present your passport with your ticket to enter.

What to Bring & What to Wear

sacred doorway, machu picchu

Machu Picchu is very hot during the daytime, even in the winter because the sun is strong and there is little shelter due to high altitude. Here are a few things to keep in mind to make the most out of your trip:

  • Since Peru is a high altitude destination, it can get chilly even during summers so bring some heavier layers.
  • It could be extremely cold before the sunrise but when the mist is gone, the scorching sun can grill you — sunscreen is recommended year-round.
  • Mosquitos in the area are quite common — bring bug spray and wear long breathable pants in place of shorts.
  • If you are hiking the Machu Picchu trail, be sure to bring multiple layers of clothes and comfortable hiking shoes.
  • Bring an extra set of clothes — there are no showers and you’ll have to reuse the clothes you have on hand for several days.
  • Bring a 20-25 liter backpack if you are not carrying your camping equipment. This is a good size to carry all your belongings and reusable water bottles to keep you hydrated.
  • Be sure to bring a plastic pouch to protect your belongings from getting wet during the night.
  • Walking sticks are not allowed nor is it needed as the main ruins are fairly compact and easily accessible on foot.

What to See at Machu Picchu

Temple of Condor

Here are some of the must-visit places you can explore in Machu Picchu. Although hiring a tour guide is not necessary, guided tours provide a deeper insight into the history of this ancient city and further information regarding the various geographical features of this destination.

Enlisting the help of a tour guide can help give insight to spots like:

Sun Gate

This is the first point to visit if you are trekking to Machu Picchu. Otherwise, you can backtrack from the ruins along the trail and up the hill. This gate offers a breathtaking view down the valley.


This ritual stone was used as a sundial and astronomical purposes by the ancient Incas. The stone is carved with such precision that when the sun rises, a certain shadow is cast.

Moon Temple and a Great Cave

If you’re fit you can choose to climb up to the Moon Temple and Great Cave. Walking up to several ladders, you can reach to the sides the temple and cave, where you can find unexpected wildlife.

How to Get to Machu Picchu From Cusco?

temple of the sun

The easiest way to get to Machu Picchu from Cusco is to take the train to Aguas Calientes, a town located few miles from the site.

The train ride is approximately 3.5 hours each way and runs along the Urubamba River in the sacred valley. It’s a great way to enjoy the dramatic canyon walls on either side.

From Aguas Calientes, you can opt to take a round-trip bus to Machu Picchu.

Map of Machu Picchu

Final Thoughts

Machu Picchu is a place that should be experienced at least once in your lifetime.

Many people around the world have some idea of what the Inca ruins of Machu Picchu are, but not everyone knows quite what to do to prepare for a visit.

We hope this guide will help you experience this bucket list destination to the fullest!