The first view of the ancient Inca citadel of Machu Picchu, set high up amongst the dramatic Andean mountains of Peru, is a sight that will live with you forever.
There is a tremendous feeling of awe on first witnessing this incredible sight, built so many centuries ago by the ingenious Incas, Machu Picchu seems to float above the surrounding cloud forest in the early morning mists. It is a sight that has inspired thousands of travellers and can still rightly claim to be the most majestic of all the man-made vistas in the Americas.
The ancient citadel of Machu Picchu, 42 km from Ollantaytambo by rail, straddles the saddle of a high mountain with steep terraced slopes falling away to the fast-flowing Río Urubamba snaking its hairpin course far below in the valley floor. Towering overhead is Huayna Picchu, and green jungle peaks provide the backdrop for the whole majestic scene.
For centuries Machu Picchu was buried in jungle, until Hiram Bingham stumbled upon it in July 1911. It was then explored by an archaeological expedition sent by Yale University. Machu Picchu was a stunning find. The only major Inca site to escape 400 years of looting and destruction, it was remarkably well preserved. And it was no ordinary Inca settlement. It sat in an inaccessible location above the Urubamba Gorge, and contained so many fine buildings that people have puzzled over its meaning ever since.
The ruins – staircases, terraces, temples, palaces, towers, fountains and the famous Intihuatana (the so-called ‘Hitching Post of the Sun’) – require at least a day. Take time to appreciate not only the masonry, but also the selection of large rocks for foundations, the use of water in the channels below the Temple of the Sun and the surrounding mountains.
Huayna Picchu, the mountain overlooking the site (on which there are also ruins), has steps to the top for a superlative view of the whole site, but it is not for those who are afraid of heights and you shouldn’t leave the path. The climb takes up to 90 minutes but the steps are dangerous after bad weather. The famous Inca bridge is about 45 minutes along a well-marked trail south of the Royal Sector. The bridge (on which you cannot walk) is spectacularly sited, carved into a vertiginous cliff-face. East of the Royal Sector is the path leading up to Intipunku on the Inca Trail (45 minutes, fine views).
We use specialist local guides who bring the ancient homes and buildings to life with their fascinating stories from the Inca world and we know the best times to visit to avoid the crowds and feel the energy and magic of this mystical place.