About Machu Picchu
Built atop a ridge in the Peruvian Andes, 1600 feet above the river valley below, is the 500-year-old mysterious engineering wonder, Machu Picchu. The city has over 600 terraces, more than 170 buildings, thousands of steps, several temples, and 16 fountains.
The Incas built the city utilizing thousands of stones, some of them really massive. Mercifully, they didn’t have to travel far to find building material because in close proximity is this massive clutter of white granite which served as the main quarry in the time – the Incas used the huge granite rocks to build the awe-inspiring city of Machu Picchu.
The legendary stonework of the Incas is evident in important buildings which exhibit a precision in stone fitting that almost defies logic. So good was the quality of work that even today, after 500 years, a knife blade can’t be inserted between the stones.
In the absence of sophisticated metal tools, the Incas achieved remarkable precision by using a rock to shape rock. Yes, the river stones are some of the hardest rocks available in the region and it was these stones that served as tools for the Incas to carve the granite and build the city.
In addition to the city’s stonework, another distinguishing feature of Machu Picchu is the terrace system which basically served two purposes during the Inca civilization. In the absence of large stretches of flat ground, the terraces were used for cultivation.
More importantly, the terraces played a crucial part in preventing the city from sliding off the mountain. They are the secret behind the site’s well-preserved and intact condition despite 400 years of neglect under the forest.
The Incas built the terraces to deal with the 79 inches of yearly rainfall which could cause destructive landslides. Without the terrace system, the buildings would have come crashing down the slopes long ago.
While modern science and research may have answered many of the
questions that have bewildered people, Machu Picchu continues to be shrouded in mystery.
Ever since it was discovered in 1911 by Hiram Bingham, an American historian, Machu Picchu has been one of the most visited tourist attractions in South America and the most visited site in its home country, Peru, drawing a growing number of visitors every year.
From 400,000 tourists in 2000 the numbers crossed the one million mark for the first time in 2012 which further grew to 1.2 million in 2014. Tourism continues to be in the ascendancy despite the limit of 2500 visitors a day as agreed upon by the Peruvian authorities and the UNESCO in 2011. It was an attempt to lessen the impact of tourism on the UNESCO World Heritage Site.
As appealing as it is to tourists, getting to those beautifully engineered terraces, remarkable buildings, the great temples in the Incan citadel and the breathtaking mountaintop views can take a good chunk out of your savings.
Ideal Time to visit Machu Picchu
Machu Picchu is open to visitors all through the year. However, October to April is the official rainy season and should be avoided – though it can rain anytime in Machu Picchu.
The peak season for tourism activity includes July and August but crowds can be encountered at any time of the year. Sunday is always the most crowded day of the week because locals from the Cusco province are exempt from the entry fee – that’s in addition to the daily quota of 2500 paying tourists. Together they make up quite a crowd on Sundays.
As maximum tourists, if not all, would be visiting from much lower locations than Cusco (11,800 feet) and even Machu Picchu (7970 feet), acclimatization is essential and highly recommended.
In order to avoid or minimize the chances of altitude sickness, it is advised that one gets used to the relatively low altitude of Machu Picchu before spending protracted time on the higher altitude of Cusco.
On arriving in Cusco, catch the earliest train to Machu Picchu Pueblo, locally known as Aguas Calientes, the nearest town to Machu Picchu. The idea is to avoid an overnight stay in the 3800 feet higher Cusco unless you are absolutely required to.
Before you start exploring the mysteriously beautiful Machu Picchu, spend a couple of days getting used to the conditions to avoid the chances of altitude sickness which can be potentially dangerous. Maximize body hydration by drinking plenty of water and tea.
Refrain from alcohol and excess physical activity before you get used to the thin air – two days of acclimatization can prevent the trip from becoming an unpleasant experience, if not a dangerous one.
How to get to Machu Picchu
The recommended way to get to Machu Picchu is to take a train from Cusco to get to Aguas Calientes which is a few miles away from the site. For those on a tight budget or looking to economize the Peru Rail (http://www.perurail.com/) or the Inca Rail (http://incarail.com/) are good options.
You can choose from different types of available trains both the services have on offer. At an additional cost, you can opt to journey in one designed with extra windows.
The third option is the luxurious Belmond Hiram Bingham train service which is very expensive indeed – as they say, luxury comes at a price. With meticulously polished brass and wood finish and white tablecloth meals with wine, it gives you the works.
Accommodation in Aguas Calientes
Again accommodation will depend on what your budget is. One of the two hotels listed below is fairly expensive and the other a lot easier on the pocket.
* The Inkaterra Machu Picchu Pueblo Hotel – The Inkaterra is a sprawling property at the edge of the forest, away from the town, and has lots to offer.
A swimming pool, an outdoor Jacuzzi, stone paths, surrounding greenery, a variety of birds, flowers in bloom, spacious rooms with fireplace and a proficient staff are some of the amenities the hotel has to offer.
The tariff is inclusive of a full breakfast buffet and an on-property excursion with the hotel’s naturalists.
* For a more modest accommodation the El MaPi, also an Inkaterra property, is a decent option.
Tips for Visitors
Tickets are available here (http://www.machupicchu.gob.pe/) at 152 soles ($45) per person. Entrance tickets can also be bought at the ticket offices in Cusco or at the Aguas Calientes office where tickets can be purchased a day before you plan to enter the citadel.
The Huayna Picchu peak
A separate ticket is required to access this peak located at the site itself offering a breathtaking view of the ruins and the surrounding vista. Tickets are limited and need to be booked in advance at 48 soles ($15) per climber.
You can choose to start your climb at 7 a.m. or 10 a.m.
The Machu Picchu peak
Again, you need a separate ticket to climb this particular peak. It is an arduous climb with almost the entire ascent made up of steps. Here the start-time options are 7 a.m. and 9 a.m.
Bus to the citadel
It takes around an hour and a half on foot from Aguas Calientes to the site. It is, therefore, advisable to take a 15-minute bus ride to the citadel at $24 for a round trip. The frequency of bus departures is excellent with buses leaving every 15 minutes starting 05:30 in the morning.
Without a doubt, Machu Picchu can be explored with the help of just a detailed guide book but taking a guide along would add a personal touch along with local know-how and knowledge you can benefit from. Guides can be hired at the town or at the site gate.
Items you are prohibited from carrying to the site include trekking poles, umbrellas, drones, and walking sticks. However, those with mobility issues can bring along walking sticks or trekking poles provided the tips are covered with rubber.