Tourists have been taking Machu Picchu tours since shortly after Hiram Bingham made the “Old Peak” famous in 1911. Bingham was guided to the site by a young Quechan boy. There were people living there at the time, having found it after the Inca’s abandonment.
Machu Picchu is located 2,430 meters above sea level, overlooking the Urubamba river in the Andes Mountains. It is near the town Aguas Calientes in the department of Cuzco and built by the Incas around 1460 AD. There are theories, but nobody knows exactly how the Incas constructed the site. Huge stones were used that had to be taken to the area over difficult mountainous terrain.
The stones fit so perfectly together that in some parts a knife blade can’t fit between them. Machu Picchu is built to withstand earthquakes, as the stones move slightly when the ground shakes and then settle back into their original positions.
The Inca Pachacuti, founding father of the Inca Empire, probably built the citadel as a ceremonial center to worship the Sun God and as an observatory for the solstice sunrise. It also has an agricultural area. These slopes not only harvested crop, but also helped to defend the site from intruders. Machu Picchu is so located that any military attack would be very difficult to execute.
Machu Picchu is the most visited site in Peru, and one of the top tourist destinations in all of South America. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Historic Sanctuary and one of the New Seven Wonders of the World. It is known for its superb architecture, ancient mysticism and breathtaking scenery. The ruins are a must see when visiting Peru.
One Day Machu Picchu Tours
There are several agencies in the city of Cuzco that offer day tours to Machu Picchu. Almost all of them follow the same basic structure. In the early morning you will be picked up at your hotel and taken to the San Pedro train station. The train carries passengers up into the Andes Mountains over about three hours to the mountain town Aguas Calientes (Hot Waters).
The town offers some great views of the Andes Mountains that surround it, usually with low-hanging clouds that add to the town’s mystical feel. There are cobbled streets that run uphill, slightly challenging one’s physical fitness. Several residents still wear colorful traditional dress.
After a brief stop in Aguas Calientes your guide will then take you to a shuttle-bus that works it’s way up the road to Machu Picchu. The entrance to Machu Picchu overlooks the site. Your guide will take you through the ruins, explaining the significance of each section. Most guides speak both English and Spanish very well.
After being briefed on the various sections of Machu Picchu you will be given the opportunity to explore it on your own. Some tourists that are up to the challenge will take the steep steps up to a high peak called Huayna Picchu. This is a demanding ascent, but one well worth the effort as you’ll have a 360 degree view of the Department of Cuzco and Machu Picchu below.
After a few hours at Machu Picchu you will be taken back to Aguas Calientes by shuttle-bus where you’ll have lunch. You will also be given some free time to browse the handicraft shops before returning to Cuzco by train, then taken back to your hotel.
The Inca Trail and Machu Picchu Tours
The Inca Trail was built by the Incas to make access to Machu Picchu easier. Along this route there are unforgettable views of the Andes and the Urubamba River below, a diversity of wildlife and also several Inca ruins.
It is now necessary to book a tour for the Inca Trail with an official travel agency who provides you with an official guide. There is a limit of 500 people per day who can hike the trail, so it is best to get reservations well in advance. Sometimes the Inca Trail is booked for an entire year.
Your tour agency will pick you up at your hotel and take you to the train station. You will stop at the 2-Day or 4-Day Inca Trail mark, whichever you have signed up for. Both Inca Trail treks are basically the same. The 4-Day trek takes more exertion, but you will also have the opportunity to see more ruins and awesome scenery.
Your guide should have almost everything you need with him like camping equipment, food and sometimes horses or donkeys. The agency should also give you a list of recommended things to take with you.
On the last night of the Inca Trail there is a hostel. Depending on what type of tour you are taking you might stay there for the night, or camp out again. In the morning the Inca Trail trek ends with a magnificent view of Machu Picchu below.
You will then have a full day to explore Machu Picchu with your guide and on your own. In the afternoon you will be taken to Aguas Calientes for lunch and to browse the handicraft stores. Afterwards you will return to Cuzco by train and be taken back to your hotel.
Alternative and Luxury Machu Picchu Tours
There are several other tours available besides the two most popular types as outlined above. One such tour offers a longer stay at Aguas Calientes. Instead of spending just a couple of hours there, this tour lets you stay the night to explore more of this unusual mountain town. The next morning you will be taken to Machu Picchu. In the afternoon you begin the return to Cuzco.
Luxury tours are also available. The luxury Hiram Bingham train goes to Aguas Calientes where you can stay at luxury hotels with gourmet food, spas, views and other amenities along with a personal tour guide. Your hotel may be in Aguas Calientes or at the Machu Picchu Sanctuary Lodge located right next to the ruins.
Private tours give you the benefit of having your tour guide focus entirely on you and your party, allowing you to learn more about Incan and Peruvian history.
Other Machu Picchu tours take tourists by helicopter or small aircraft on a sight-seeing mission over the Andes Mountains to see the Urubamba River, ancient structures, and of course, the ancient citadel for spectacular views from above and an enjoyable ride.
A visit to Peru would not be complete without seeing Machu Picchu. When deciding on what type of tour is ideal for you, take into consideration your time, budget and what you would most like to do at Machu Picchu.
If you are taking a packaged tour to Cuzco, Peru then your visit to the ruins will already be covered. When going to Cuzco on your own you will find several agencies that offer a wide variety of Machu Picchu tours. Most agencies charge roughly the same as others, but it is best to check around.
When with limited budget and time, then the day tour will probably be best for you. If you have three to five days, are in reasonably good shape and have some extra money for your trip then the 2 or 4 day Inca Trail and Machu Picchu tour will be an excellent choice.
A luxury tour is perfect for those who like lots of comfort while still being able to experience Peruvian culture. These tours can get very expensive, but do offer pleasantries and alternatives that other tours do not.
Machu Picchu tours are highly recommended when you wish to visit this mysterious citadel. The guides are professional and the service is excellent, offering you, in this country rich with ancient history, an experience you will never forget.