Update: New rules per 1 July 2017
Machu Picchu is very popular amongst tourists. In order to regulate the access, there are is some regulation set in place per 1 July 2017. Every visitor has to abide to these regulations:
1. The opening hours have been extended to 17.30 hrs instead of 16.00 hrs
2. There are two ‘shifts’ available for visitors: the morning shift is from 06.00 hrs till 12.00 hrs and the afternoon shift is from 12.00 hrs till 17.30 hrs. As a visitor you can choose which shift you want to take
3. Everyone has to go with a guide; regardless whether you visit individually or with a group.
– Regel vooraf ook een toegangsbewijs hebt voor Huayna Picchu; de heilige berg. De beklimming is voor veel bezoekers het hoogtepunt van hun trip.
The city of Machu Picchu was never discovered by the Spaniards, but parts of the Inca Trail were. The Incas laid out about 20,000 kilometers of pathways in total.
The mountains of the Andes have long kept Machu Picchu out of world history. The Spaniards frantically searched for the ‘city of gold’, but without success. Because of this, it is the most important remnant of the Inca civilisation, but it has also left many questions unanswered. For instance, about the role of the city and why it was built in this particular spot. This is also the region of one of the most well-known hiking trails in the world, the Inca Trail.
The location is almost unreal. Between the steep mountains with the splendid names Machu Picchu and Huayna Picchu lies a complete city, neatly draped across a couple of hills, at an altitude of 2,438 meters. It is situated between lavish vegetation, with the Urubamba River flowing down in the valley.
In the middle there is a large, 40 hectare block of houses, temples, storage buildings, irrigation terraces and stairs. It is a human masterpiece and standing on the Huayna Picchu you can see that the whole was built in the shape of an enormous condor, the largest bird in the world. At least, this is what some people claim.
The name speaks for itself: Machu Picchu means ‘Old Mountain’ in ‘Runa Simi’, a language referred to as Quechua by those who don’t speak it. The Incas proved they had vision, building the city in the mountains the way they did. At the time, Machu Picchu could only be reached by way of a 160 kilometer pathway out of Cuzco, the Inca capital. The path runs straight through the mountains, which is why the Spaniards believed it to be just a connecting route.
In fact, this is understandable, because in those days, the Incas had over 20,000 kilometers of hiking paths, running through the mountains, across the plains, along the coast and through parts of the dense rain forest. The paths ran through an enormous region connecting Colombia, western Brazil, Bolivia, Ecuador, Peru, central Chile and northern Argentina with each other. An unprecedented achievement.
For a long time it was believed that American historian Hiram Bingham was the first human being after the Incas to have seen the city, during an expedition in 1911. Bingham studies the Inca trails in the city’s surroundings and stumbles on it by coincidence. At first, he doesn’t realize this is a city, as everything is overgrown with plants and grass. The find of what possibly is the ‘Lost City’, becomes instant world news and places the Inca civilization on the map, all in one go.
However, the story appears to be different. In June 2008, an American amateur archeologist claimed that not Bingham was the first human after the Incas, but the German gold-digger and trader Augusto R. Berns. According to the archeologist, it is apparent from both American as well as Peruvian documents, that Berns discovered the city in 1867. In fact, the German plundered it, surprisingly enough, with the consent from the Peruvian government. The civil servants did demand ten percent of the winnings, though. Scientists are surprised, this possibly means that the city was much richer than was initially thought. Nothing is left.
Scientists assume the city stems from the 15th century and that this area was inhabited until the arrival of the Spaniards in 1532. It’s not clear what really happened to the city and why it was eventually left behind, deserted. Scientists disagree on the purpose the city served, but considering its location at high altitude in the mountains, it probably wasn’t just an ordinary city.
The most accepted theory is that Machu Picchu served as a kind of leisure estate for royalty and nobility and that the blood-thirsty Spaniards indirectly destroyed the city by killing all the people in high positions. The city is sometimes also seen as a religious place where the gods were worshipped. Some believe this to be the Lost City, about which many legends arose through the ages, a city of gold. But where is all that treasure?
Others claim this was a fort that served to protect the Inca Empire. However, because of the location, this is almost impossible. The city may also have been the terrain of workers who cultivated coca leaves here; it is surrounded by many age-old plantations. Still, the question remains: why was it deserted? Recent research proved that the city had been one huge observatory, possibly for the Sun-Worship, although it might just as well have been for the three essential components of life (Sun, Water and Earth). Scholars have not come up with much more than that.
Scientists continue to look for evidence. All things considered, it is also very well possible the city was not inhabited for more than 100 years and that it was rather insignificant. Possibly, the entire Inca civilization did not even exist for over 100 years. What does this say about all that the Spaniards destroyed on their raids through South America? Or will there be more remarkable discoveries in the future?
Machu Picchu consists of two parts, each of them lying around a hill. One part was probably used for residential purposes, while the other was intended for ceremonies. Many tourists come here with a guide, to try and understand the complexity of the city, but also to experience its riches. Machu Picchu is often included in a tour of Peru, where it is often scheduled for just half a day, while you actually need a full day at least. In fact, you really should see a sunset and/or sunrise here.
See the sunrise from Intipunku
If you walk the Inca Trail, you will pass Intipunku, the Sun Gate. From here, you have a sublime view of the city and the surrounding mountains. However, if you don’t walk the Inca Trail you can still walk to this lookout post. You will see the sun lift the city out of the dark in the early morning. Try to capture this with your camera.
Search for the shape of the condor
Some scientists believe the Incas were capable of building Machu Picchu in the shape of a condor. This, despite the extremely difficult location and the differences in altitude. The figure of an enormous bird of prey with wings spread out, including the neck and head is only visible from higher locations.
One of the best locations is the top of Huayna Picchu, but it is also visible from the Intipunku. You decide for yourself whether this is a coincidence or not. Keep in mind that the Inca capital Cuzco, has the shape of a mountain lion …
More information: www.csun.edu/~hcgeo007/machupicchucondor1.html
Experience the solstice on December 21
When the sun rises over the mountains in the morning of December 21, the rays drop precisely in the windows of the Temple of the Sun. Is there anything better than waiting for this moment, while the landscape awakens? This phenomenon is becoming more and more popular, so slowly more people are joining this.
Get a different view of Machu Picchu
The Putucusi (‘happy mountain’ in Quechua language) is one of the mountains around Machu Picchu. The mountain is not easy to climb, so tourists aren’t lining up here. You will have an intense feeling of fulfillment when you get up there and the old Inca town unfolds before your eyes.
It will take about two and a half hours of tough climbing, of which one section is by rope ladder. The mountain is directly across from the Machu Picchu Sanctuary Lodge. Inquire about the path when you are there.
Dive into a hotwater spring at Aqua Calientes
After a long day on the Inca Trail, or wandering around Machu Picchu, a swim in a hotwater spring is just wonderful. Aqua Calientes is a village at 6 kilometers from Machu Picchu. The name means Hot Waters and refers to the hotwater springs, which were discovered by the Spaniards, according to the stories. You can ask about the springs in the village, although you can hardly miss them.
Wander through Machu Picchu at night
Officially it is prohibited, but guests of the Sanctuary Lodge are able to visit the great city at night. After all, the city is at walking distance, so sunset and sunrise are easy to experience from here. Besides, it will be less crowded. When the sky is clear, the moonlight will give the city its very own atmosphere. It is more than worth the costs of the luxury hotel.
Experience the jungle around Machu Picchu
Not everybody knows that Machu Picchu lies in the middle of a tropical lowland forest. And Eco-tourism goes hand in hand with the Inca culture. Besides the monumental city, you can also discover the surrounding jungle. Animals like the spectacled bear live here, an endangered species.
You will come across many birds and butterflies. If you stay here, part of your money will be used to set up a large nature reserve at Machu Picchu to protect the flora and fauna. This Eco-hotel is just outside the village of Aqua Calientes and provides nature lovers with numerous possibilities to explore the jungle and its inhabitants.
More information: www.inkaterra.com
The dry season runs from April to October. In fact, this is the only time to visit the city. Throughout the rest of the year you can expect so much rain that roads are blocked and the area is inaccessible. There will also be limited visibility due to the constant clouds.
The months April and May are relatively quiet when tourists are concerned. July and August can be extremely busy. However, during these summer months you stand the best chance of having nice weather. Which means the best views. In September it is again quieter at Machu Picchu.
Take your time during your visit. Many tourists come here for just a day, even half a day. It is a huge complex to explore and sunrise and sunset are extraordinary sightings.
The area surrounding the city is also worthwhile to explore and it will give you a better understanding of the Inca people, their lives and their traditions. You will also learn why scientists find it so hard to explain this city.
Do not forget to bring your suntan lotion, sunglasses and cap, even when it is overcast. Clouds can disappear rapidly here and the sun is powerful enough to colour your skin, even from behind the clouds.
It can become really crowded around the ruins. Busloads of loud tourists coming down the paths don’t do this place justice. The only way to avoid this, is by traveling early in the season and then plan your visit at the start of day.
You can also stay overnight in a nearby hotel, so you can witness the sunrise. The directions on the Inca Trail are really clear, the guide knows the way by the back of his hand and he also knows where the accommodations for overnight stays are. Tell him your interests and what you prefer, so he may keep this into account.
How do I get there?
The distance to Cuzco is approximately 80 kilometers by road. Some centuries ago Machu Picchu was in an isolated location, between the mountains; nowadays big buses can park near the ruins. Every day, buses and also trains will travel from Cuzco to Machu Picchu and back.