You’ve spent the last few days hiking through the Andes, traversing high passes and marveling at the spectacular scenery, and now you’ve reached the jewel of the Incan empire – Machu Picchu. But what to do with the few hours that you have at this breathtaking archelogical site? Surprisingly, there are quite a few options…
It goes without saying that you have to get a few good shots of the classic view of the ruins, and maybe a selfie or two to prove that you DID make it to the end of the trek. There are also friendly llamas and alpacas wandering around who will happily pose for photos. Try to get some close up shots of the incredible detail in the stone work to show people back at home, and the surrounding verdant scenery is beautiful even if you don’t feature the mysterious ruins. Early morning mist from the Urubamba river, which snakes through the mountains below, rises and creates an ethereal atmosphere and subsequently some great picture opportunities. Machu Picchu was built in the fifteenth century, but was only discovered in 1911 by the highly regarded explorer Hiram Bingham. The world was fascinated by the discovery and it is easy to see why when you are walking around this imposing site.
Take a Moment
Find a quiet spot to sit and just… breathe. This impressive city of the Incas is 2430m (7970ft.) above sea level, so your post-trek oxygen starved lungs will fully enjoy the air! From your seat you can admire the ancient architecture from afar, survey the surrounding mountains or simply watch the other visitors perusing the site. If you’ve just finished the trek, your legs will appreciate the rest. Machu Picchu has long been regarded as a spiritual site, and many myths and stories surround the legend, so why not enjoy a few moments of meditation to appreciate this ancient spectacle and its many religious, ceremonial, astrological and agricultural areas.
It is easy to focus so heavily on the ruins themselves that many visitors to Machu Picchu miss out on spotting some of the permanent residents of this stunning area. The location of the ruins between the high Andes and the Amazon basin create a truly unique environment, and Machu Picchu itself sits in a cloud forest, an incredibly rich habitat for a variety of wildlife, particularly birds. Although it is rare to spot mammals, the Historic Sanctuary of Machu Picchu – a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1983 – is still home to exciting species such as spectacled bear, pampas cat, the chinchilla-like viscacha and dwarf brocket deer. Keen birders will be impressed by the figures; in an area of just 32590 hectares, more than 400 species of bird have been recorded, including the bright orange Andean cock of the rock, various tiny hummingbirds and the Andean condor with its enormous 3.5m wingspan. Hundreds of butterfly species can also be found, along with frogs, snakes, lizards and there are approximately 400 species of orchid to delight those interested in botanics.
Take a Hike
Now, the thought of doing even more hiking after 4 or 5 days straight of doing nothing but that could be daunting, however, Huayna Picchu is worth the extra effort. Approximately 360m (1180ft.) above Machu Picchu, the peak of this mountain is the backdrop to the most famous view of the Incan citadel. Visitors can take a short (around 3 hours round trip) but strenuous, trek up to this peak for an entirely different vista of the site. Be warned – the path is rough and can be slippery and exposed, but on a good day the views from the top are sensational. You need to book this in advance (which can be done online) to avoid disappointment.
Take ANOTHER Hike
No, it’s not a joke. There is actually another short trek you can take from the ruins of Macchu Picchu, which is less strenuous than the previously mentioned Huayna Picchu hike. This 3 hour round trip will take you up to a height of 3050m (10,007ft.) above sea level, and provide awe-inspiring panoramic views of the archeological site, Urubamba river and the mountains which encircle the area. ‘Machu Picchu Mountain’ is also a entry-by-ticket trek and to ensure you don’t miss out, book it in advance online.
Take Your Passport
An essential if you want to enter the archelogical ruins of Machu Picchu – your permit will be registered to your passport number so don’t forget to take it with you or you could be in for a massive disappointment. Another bonus of taking your passport with you is that you can get it imprinted with a very special ‘Machu Picchu’ stamp which only the most intrepid of explorers will have collected!
From 1st July 2017, it will no longer be possible to visit Machu Picchu without a guide, so ensure you have one booked in advance to avoid disappointment. The opening times of this UNESCO World Heritage site will also be split into morning and afternoon; 6am – 12 midday and 12 midday to 5.30pm. Lastly, there will be certain routes to help the flow of tourists through the site. All of these measure have been put in place to help maintain this precious piece of history.
However you choose to spend your time at Machu Picchu, it will undoubtedly be one of the most memorable days of your life. This ancient spectacle, which is included in the ‘New 7 Wonders of the World’ will never fail to impress and astound every visitor.
For more information on the Inca Trail, including details of the different paths and what to take, read our ‘How To’ Guide for the Inca Trail.
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