MACHU PICCHU.  Huayna Picchu ("young peak") is the large mountain closest to the ruins

MACHU PICCHU. Huayna Picchu ("young peak") is the large mountain closest to the ruins

Machu Picchu is on the bucket list of almost every adventure traveler and even jaded travelers will find Machu Picchu one of the most incredible places they’ve ever visited …for good reason!  This “lost city of the Incas” somehow remained hidden from the Spanish conquistadors who overpowered the Incas, and remained virtually hidden until it was “rediscovered” in 1911 and became one of the best-known archeological sites in the world.   The architecture of the buildings and the engineering prowess it took to build them are jaw-dropping.  But the site has a stunning backdrop of steep mountains and swirling clouds that makes it all the more appealing.

Practicalities.

  • Visit as early in the day as you can.  Why?  First, sunrise at Machu Picchu is something to behold.  Second, clouds (and possibly rain) tend to roll in during the afternoons and early morning offers the best viewing conditions.  Third, and most important, trainloads of day-visitors from Cusco will arrive late in the morning and the place will be crawling with folks shortly thereafter (concentrated between the hours of 10 AM and 2 PM).  Alternately, visit late in the day when most people have gotten back on their trains to Cusco.  Sunset can be a great time for taking photos.

    The stonework created by the Incas has withstood the test of time -- centuries later, their finely crafted structures are still standing!

    The stonework created by the Incas has withstood the test of time -- centuries later, their finely crafted structures are still standing!

  • You will not be allowed to bring your trekking poles and backpack into Machu Picchu, so try to fit everything you can into a small fannypack or purse. There are no bathrooms or drinking water once you enter the site – be sure to hold onto your ticket so you can exit and reenter if you have to use the facilities.
  • Plan for all types of weather.  It can be brutally hot sometimes so pack sunscreen, a sun hat and water to make yourself most comfortable.   Weather in the mountains can also change in an instant so you should also pack a rain jacket.   Sturdy shoes are a must.  There are roughly 3000 stone steps in the main site (not including Huanya Picchu): plan on a lot of ups and downs!
  • If you want to climb Huayna Picchu, the steep mountain adjacent to the ruins that you see in most of the photos of Machu Picchu, you need to sign in at the caretaker’s hut.   Get there as early as you can, because they limit the number of people  each day for this hike to 400.  You should allow two hours round-trip.   The view from the top is simply amazing!   It is definitely worth doing but not for the faint of heart.  There is a parade of people going up and down on a narrow trail that sometimes has steep drop-offs to the side.  If you are not in good shape or have a fear of heights you shouldn’t attempt this.