Our trip to Machu Picchu and other fantastic Peru destinations realized this summer was an example of how nature in some places in the world can still offer breathtaking spectacles, despite the fact that mass tourism can pose a serious threat.
Machu Picchu, with nearby Agua Calientes and Cuzco, Lake Titicaca, Puno and other locations in Peru have so far managed, in my opinion, to manage the pressure of a growing number of tourists, preserving the beauty and authenticity of the places, also thanks to accommodation facilities with a strong focus on ecology and respect for the environment in which they are integrated and which even help to preserve. In this article I will tell you mine trip to Machu Picchu with photos, videos and tips that could be useful if you want to organize a similar trip.
Anyone interested in reading the story of the first part of my trip to Peru, along the path that took me to Machu Pichu, can also read my article: Organized trips to Peru: my experience, published on our partner site ViaggieVacanze.com.
Machu Picchu: where it is located
Machu Picchu is located in South America, in the southern area of Peru, and more precisely in the valley of the Urubamba River, in the Peruvian Andes. The geographical coordinates are 13 ° 9 ′ 47 ″ of south latitude and 72 ° 32 ′ 44 ″ of west longitude.
The nearest inhabited center where you can stay overnight to visit the archaeological site of Machu Picchu is Aguas Calientes. An alternative is to stay overnight in the larger and more distant Cusco and visit Machu Picchu in the day, reaching Aguas Calientes by train in the early morning and then returning to Cusco at the end of the day.
In our case we decided as usual to take all the time necessary to visit the area with the necessary calm so we chose to sleep in Aguas Calientes for two nights in an exceptional eco resort which I will write about later in this article.
Machu Picchu: when to go
The best time to visit the Machu Picchu archaeological site is from June to August. This is the winter period during which the chances of finding rainy days are minimized. The temperature is lower, with strong fluctuations: in my trip I detected minimum temperatures of 5 degrees (early morning and night) and maximum temperatures over 20 (during my trek on Machu Picchu towards the "Sun Gate").
The period to avoid is instead the one that goes from December to the beginning of March, when, in some days, you can find torrential rains of such a high entity as not to allow the visit of the archaeological site.
Machu Picchu: height / altitude
Contrary to what most people who have not been to Peru may think, the archaeological site of Machu Picchu is NOT located at a particularly prohibitive altitude.
Machu Picchu it is in fact located at 2,429 meters above sea level, with variations of about 100 meters upwards for the simpler trekking routes, such as the one I did up to the Porta del Sole.
If you decide to try your hand at a bit more challenging trekking like the one that takes you to the summit of Huayna Picchu (or Wayna Pikchu), the mountain overlooking Machu Picchu, you will arrive at an altitude of 2,720 meters.
Obviously not too far away you will also find mountains such as the Salcantay which reach 6,271 meters above sea level or the Ausangate which reaches 6,384 meters.
The city of Cuzco from where the train to Aguas Calientes departs 3,300 meters above sea level.
The inhabited center of Aguas Calientes, the starting point for excursions to Machu Picchu, is located only 2,040 meters above sea level.
Machu Picchu: history
Machu Picchu was built by Pachacútec, the first Inca emperor, around the year 1440. According to the most recent studies it was a sort of summer residence for the emperor and for the court of Inca nobles: in all 300 - 1000 inhabitants. were added the settlers mitimaes or mitmas (mitmaqkuna) from different places in the empire needed to cultivate the terraces of the steep mountains.
Upon Pachacútec's death in 1470, due to the difficult accessibility of the valley, Machu Picchu was gradually abandoned and it is not yet certain whether the inhabitants came into contact with the Spanish conquistadors around 1530.
The city was "rediscovered" in the second half of the nineteenth century by the German Augusto Berns and then again "forgotten" before being "rediscovered" again on July 24, 1911 by Hiram Bingham, a Yale historian who was exploring the area in search of Vilcabamba , considered the last capital of the imperious Inca. Since then, Machu Picchu's notoriety has increased exponentially: in 1983 it was included in the Unesco World Heritage Site and in 2007 elected among the 7 Wonders of the Modern World (the other 6 are: the Great Wall of China, Petra, the Colosseum, Chichén Itzá, the Taj Mahal and Christ the Redeemer).
Machu Picchu: how to get there
Getting to Machu Picchu, even today, is not very easy. The closest airport is Cuzco. In my case I arrived from Italy (Milan Malpensa) at the airport of the Peruvian capital Lima with a LATAM flight (which made a stopover with a change of plane in Madrid) to then reach the city of Arequipa always by plane and then arrive in bus to Cuzco.
From Cusco, the only way to get to Aguas Calientes, the town from which excursions to Machu Picchu leave, is by train. The weight of the baggage (backpack or trolley) that you can carry on the train is 5 kg (It is not possible to bring other baggage of more substantial size and weight!).
From Aguas Calientes it is possible to reach the archaeological site of Machu Pichu on foot, along a path composed mostly of steps in the middle of the forest or by bus.
Walking the path takes on average a time ranging between 1 hour and a half and 3 hours, depending on the state of form. Contrary to what many say, being immersed in the forest, it does not offer, in my humble opinion, great panoramic views. My advice is therefore to get to the archaeological site with one of the many buses that shuttle continuously to Agua Calientes.
Once you arrive at the site, you can “indulge yourself” along different paths, with different levels of “difficulty / danger”. The most famous and the one I definitely recommend is the Inca Trail which leads to the "Porta del Sole" along a path of only 2.5 km with breathtaking views. The route is also suitable for the less trained as it is well maintained, on a stony, wide and only slightly sloping ground. However, not being protected, it is not recommended for those suffering from vertigo or those who do not feel comfortable walking with a precipice of a few hundred meters next to it! :-)
Here is a photo of me at the beginning of the Inca Trail ...
Inca Trail - Machu Picchu
and a photo taken from the "Gate of the Sun "(Sun Gate) which includes a large part of the Urubamba valley. In the distance you can see the archaeological site of Machu Picchu and the zigzag road that the buses that take tourists from Aguas Calientes to the archaeological site go through.
Downstream, in the lower right corner of the photo, a stretch of the Urubamba River.
View from the Porta del Sole over the Urubamba Valley and Machu Picchu
Machu Picchu: the archaeological site
The archaeological site of Machu Picchu, considering only the built-up area, extends for a length of over 500 meters and a width of about 200 meters. Includes over 170 levels of terracing. The complex is divided into two large areas: the agricultural area, with the terraces for cultivation and the urban area, where the inhabitants lived.
It is the third largest archaeological site in the world after the excavations of Pompeii and those of Ostia Antica.
During our organized trip a guide accompanied us to the various areas of the ruins explaining in detail what function they were used for. In this article I will limit myself to offering you a short video that I shot in the heart of the archaeological site that should give you an idea of the site and the sensations you can experience by visiting it.
Machu Picchu: where to sleep
Our choice for the two nights in Aguas Calientes was theInkaterra Macchu Picchu Pueblo Hotel an eco-resort completely immersed in the forest, where everything is studied in detail.
The hotel is part of the Inkaterra chain, founded in 1975 by José Koechlin, pioneer ofecotourism with a philosophy centered on development of local activities in a sustainable way and respecting the environment. Inkaterra promotes research programs for the protection of biodiversity and promotes education and training programs for local communities.
Guests are offered excursions accompanied by local guides within the property, such as the one dedicated to birdwatching or the one dedicated toexploration of orchids or outside the property, to visit all the natural destinations in the area, even the "most challenging to reach" ones.
In our case we opted for the birdwatching which allowed us to observe well 6 distinct species of hummingbirds and for the excursion to Mandor waterfall, absolutely recommended and not to be missed.
Hummingbirds are extraordinary birds, capable of flying at over 54 km / h thanks to the impressive frequency with which they flap their wings: 50 times per second! The hummingbirds vary in length between 7.5 and 13 cm, but a particular species, the "bee colibri" measures only 5 cm and weighs less than 2.5 grams, it is the smallest bird in the world!
Seeing and above all photographing or filming a hummingbird is very difficult so at the Inkaterra they have created "nectar dispensers" on which the hummingbirds rest for a few seconds. Here is the video that I shot with the voice of the guide that lists the breeds of hummingbirds that alternate ...
The excursion to Mandor waterfall instead, he planned a walk of about 4 hours, along the railway path (and in some places crossing the railway tracks!) and the Urubamba river to then arrive at a tiny camping - lodge: "Les Jardins de Mandor”(The gardens of Mandor) completely immersed in the forest, in the middle of nowhere! :-)
Here is a video of mine that captures the passage of the train a few cm from us (needless to say that you need to be careful, even if one train passes every hour or so with a siren sounded repeatedly to be heard) ...
and here is the Camping-Lodge "Les Jardins de Mandor" ...
The campsite - lodge "Les Jardins de Mandor"
In front of the lodge, along a path in the forest, a spectacular one Botanical Garden with bananas, pineapple, coffee plant and orchids (unfortunately not in bloom in the season of our visit).
The path, also crossing a suspension bridge, continues in the jungle until after about 20 minutes you reach the Mandor waterfall, here it is ...
I would like to publish at least 5 more photos on this excursion but the risk is to make this article too heavy while before finishing it I have to show you at least one photo of the beautiful square of Cuzco! :-)
Cuzco: ancient capital of the Inca kingdom
Cuzcoit is the city in Peru from which the train to Aguas Calientes departs and where we spent the last night of our trip to Peru: located at 3399 meters above sea level, it has a population of over 300,000 inhabitants. Since 1983 it has been included in the UNESCO World Heritage Site for its historic center and the ancient ruins that can be visited on its outskirts. It was the capital of the Inca Empire and is still considered the historical capital of Peru, while the official one is Lima.
Cuzco is a very pleasant city to visit on foot: you can walk the narrow streets and you can visit the many churches from the colonial era. The heart of the city, however, remains the beautiful Plaza de Armas, called Awqaypata ("Warrior's Square") at the time of the Incas, where historical events took place such as the proclamation by Francisco Pizarro of the conquest of Cusco and the death sentence of the Inca leader Tupac Amaru II.
On the Plaza de Armas overlook the Cuzco Cathedral and the Church of the Society of Jesus: both can be visited and not to be missed.
Around the square there are well-kept restaurants, where you can enjoy a typical dinner on the balconies overlooking the plaza with a beautiful fountain in the center.
Cuzco - Plaza de Armas
I came to the end of this article happy with the work done to tell you about my experience but at the same time sorry not to be able to share dozens of other images absolutely worth seeing.
But maybe in retrospect it's better this way because maybe you will find the will, the time, the courage and obviously the funds needed to go in person Peru alone or with an organized trip.
In both cases, you can contact us for more information at [email protected]