Machu Picchu, the striking ruined city of the Incas is definitely worth a visit. The city, which is situated on a mountain 2,430 metres above sea level, attracts millions of visitors a year, but what is actually so fascinating about this world famous ruin?

Pictures can capture moments, give impressions of an area… But to experience the actual magic and historical atmosphere of a place you have to see it for yourself. Machu Picchu is one of those places that you’ve seen hundreds of pictures of but still it doesn’t give you a true feel for the centuries-old Inca citadel. Machu Picchu in Peru belongs to the seven new wonders of the world and is one of South Americas biggest tourist attractions. Up to two thousand people visit this wonder daily. I’m now going to tell you what this city of ruins has to offer and how to make a day trip there.

The stunning Machu Picchu

History and architecture | Tourism | Travel possibilities | First hand report

Machu picchu

History and architecture

In the 15th century the Incas, an ancient South American community made up of hundreds of ethnic groups, built a city in the heart of the Peruvian Andes 2430 metres above sea level. It was constructed on a mountain ridge between the summit of the Huayna Picchu and the Machu Picchu mountain, 75 kilometres northwest of Cusco, a city situated in the south east of Peru. The Inca city was comprised of 216 stone buildings which were built on terraces and connected by a comprehensive system of stairs. In total, the city has around 300 steps – all of which are still in tact to this day. The outer walls of the temple, which are partly multi-storey residential buildings as well as basins of a fountain and canal connections, are also well preserved today. In the last few years, some of the buildings have been gradually restored and rebuilt to their original state.

Machu picchu

The Inca ruler, Pachacuti Inca Yupanqui, who reigned from 1438 to 1471, directed the construction of this city – the foundation for the expansion of the mighty Inca Empire in South America. Research assumes that at the time up to 1000 people lived there and provided for themselves. Why this city was constructed in the heart of the Andes, is still unclear to this day. Also, the original name of the city has not been passed on. Therefore, the citadel was named after the nearby mountain peak “Machu Picchu”. Fun fact: Although Machu Picchu only has one correct spelling, funny versions of the name circulate time and time again. Take it from me: Macchu Picchu, Mach Picchu, Machi Picu, Machu Picco, Machu Piccu, Machu Pichu, Machupichu, Macnhu Picchu, Matchu Pitchu and Matchupichu are by no means alternative spellings, just simply wrong.

Machu picchu

After the inhabitants died out or rather resettled elsewhere, Machu Picchu remained undiscovered for years. It was officially rediscovered in 1911. However, in virtually every century since it was built, there have been numerous explorers who have already visited the city.

Tourism in Machu Picchu – the good and the bad

Machu Picchu became world famous when the magazine “National Geographic” dedicated it’s entire issue in April 1913 to the citadel. In 1983, it was recognised as a World Heritage Site and then in 2007 it acquired the title of one of the seven new wonders of the world. Since then, Machu Picchu has become one of biggest tourist attractions in South America. On average, 2000 people from all over the world visit this historic wonder daily.

Machu Picchu

For the hotel and gastronomy industry, tourism is a new, stable source of income. Kiosks, hotels and restaurants, have resulted in a thriving business environment being developed around the Inca city. However, the masses of tourists bring many problems with them. For years, UNESCO have demanded an urgent reduction of visitors to a maximum of 800 per day, so that the World Heritage Site isn’t put at risk and there isn’t a further strain being put on the surrounding environment. The development of railway lines and roads for buses have radically changed the surroundings. Now there are plans to build a cable car from Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu. UNESCO strongly opposes this. Making the site more easily accessible via a cable car will just increase the flow of tourists.

Trip to Machu Picchu: ways to get there

Machu Picchu is situated in the heart of the Peruvian Andes in a difficult place to reach. There aren’t any roads here. Because of this, a railway line was built from Cusco to Aguas Calientes. When you arrive at the small village at the foot of the mountain, you can either take the train, which makes its way up the winding 8 kilometre route to the citadel of Machu Picchu, or make the journey on foot.

Machu picchu

Probably the most exciting and adventurous way to get to Machu Picchu is along the Inca Trail. Walk from Cusco to Machu Picchu along the former Incan trade route – 44 kilometers and 8670 steps in total. The highest pass that you have to cross lies at 4,200 metres. You must apply, as well as have an entrance ticket to enter Machu Picchu and the Huayna Picchu summit. This prevents more than 2500 people making the pilgrimage to the holy site per day. It’s best to buy a ticket far in advance as this tourist attraction is more than popular.

First hand report of Machu Picchu –  Adventure despite the overflow of tourists

One of my readers, Sarah, has already been to Peru and visited Machu Picchu. In this short interview she spoke to me about the place and her unique experience.

Hi Sarah! How did you organise your trip to Machu Picchu?

We independently made our way from Cusco to Machu Picchu via Ollantaytambo by train, but we had already bought the tickets two days before. As we were there in January, which is the off-season, we had no problem getting tickets. They were available everywhere in Cusco. The journey to Machu Picchu lasted 3 hours but you get the best view from the panorama coaches on the train and the scenery is stunning. 

How much did the trip cost?

I can’t remember. But it was a lot. For two days in the Inca valley, including a ten hour tour through the Sacred Valley and the day in Machu Picchu, we paid over €500 for two people. 

Can you recommend a certain time of day to visit?

You actually need the whole day to be able to properly take it all in. Not much can be done in the midday heat as there is very little shade. So if you have limited time, it’s best to concentrate on the morning or afternoon. 

Machu picchu

How did things play out when you arrived at the top?

You arrive at a small village by train a little bit below the ancient site. Here, it’s obviously very touristy with many restaurants and market stalls. But everything is very pleasant. I can’t remember whether we went by foot or by bus to the entrance of Machu Picchu. But we did a two hour tour on site. After that we had the whole day as we wanted before taking the train back at around 7 o’clock. We definitely spent 10 hours in Machu Picchu. 

How big were the tourist masses?

As it was the off-season, there weren’t masses of people out and about. Obviously it was busy, anything but quiet, but you were able take amazing photos without people in the background and actually discover the area on your own.

What did you like about Machu Picchu? What can you see there?

Everything! The scenery, the views, the history. Incredible. You can also hike up Machu Picchu mountain which lasts around 4 hours – it looks really cool! You can also do a 5 day hike from Ollantaytambo to Machu Picchu so that you arrive at sunrise. I’m definitely going to do this again at some point in my life. Machu Picchu is a real ancient city that lies on a mountain in the heart of the jungle. You mustn’t underestimate the size of this place. Plus the views and the scenery are breathtaking. 

Machu picchu

What was the atmosphere like? 

Fantastic. I love history and ancient places so there’s nothing that could’ve spoiled my day in Machu Picchu. The atmosphere was very pleasant when we were there. Just fascinated tourists, no massive travel groups or anything like that.

Would you go back?

Without a doubt!

And I can’t disagree with Sarah. Those who find themselves in Peru should definitely visit Machu Picchu!