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There's nowhere on earth like Machu Picchu. Located in the mountains of Peru, the city was constructed by the Inca Empire at an altitude of 7,900 feet. Even to this day, no one knows for sure why they risked their lives to build such a dramatic fortress, but one thing's certain: anyone who visits this magical site will be glad that they did.
Perched atop sheer mountain cliffs, Machu Picchu is astounding, even before you learn its huge stone slabs were put together without any mortar. Visitors can take photos of the Urubamba River far below, climb nearby Huayna Picchu for breathtaking views, and tour the various buildings, including the Temple of the Sun.
One of mankind's greatest and most mysterious engineering achievements, Machu Picchu is sure to leave everyone spellbound.
Machu Picchu is beautiful, and nothing compares to witnessing this beauty in person. Floating far above the river below, with the jagged peaks of the Andes all around, it's more like a work of art than a city.
Visiting Machu Picchu is a great chance to learn about the Incas. Some of history's greatest builders, the Incas constructed Machu Picchu without using wheels - an incredible feat.
If you love hiking or climbing, Machu Picchu is an outstanding destination. Right next to the site itself you have the chance to climb Huayna Picchu, and there are hiking trails in almost every direction.
Visitors to Machu Picchu don't need to explore the ruins on their own. Licensed experts with companies like Machu Picchu Tour Guides are on hand to explain how and why the Incas chose to build in such a challenging spot.
Machu Picchu doesn't have to be the only Inca site you visit in Peru; it's the ideal way to round off a walking tour on the Inca Trail. Once an Inca road, the Trail takes five days to complete and is a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
The rainy season in Machu Picchu officially begins in October and runs until April, but November to March are easily the wettest months. July and August are the peak months, when crowds can make it harder to enjoy the ruins at their best, so think about visiting in September or late spring.
Most visitors to Machu Picchu fly into Lima with carriers like Delta or American Airlines and then transfer to local flights to Cusco. From there, you can take a rail connection to Aguas Calientes, which lies at the foot of the ascent to Machu Picchu. It is advisable to spend a few days in Aguas Calientes to become acclimatized to the higher altitude. After two or three days, you should be ready to start your journey to Machu Picchu.
Visitors can choose from three companies: Inca Rail, Peru Rail, and Belmond Hiram Bingham Trains. Belmond offers a more luxurious service, with plush wooden compartments and fine wines, while the other two companies would suit a more budget-conscious traveler. The gorgeous ride along the Urubamba River takes around five hours.
Thanks to reliable rail connections, driving to Machu Picchu isn't really necessary, but it can almost be done. You can't drive as far as Aguas Calientes, but the road from Cusco to Ollantaytambo almost takes you to the foot of the Inca Trail. Rental companies in Cusco include Europcar, Hertz, and Auto Rent Cusco.
Local buses are a cheap way to travel from Cusco to Ollantaytambo, but you'll have to catch a train from there to Aguas Calientes. The bus costs just S/17, while a taxi to Ollantaytambo costs around S/120.
There are no hotels at the Machu Picchu site itself, but Aguas Calientes has some excellent places to stay. At the top of the scale, Inkaterra blends gourmet dining with facilities like hot tubs. A popular mid-range option is La Cabana, which suits backpackers and younger visitors, while Andina Luxury offers comfortable suites that will appeal to families.
Aguas Calientes - Aguas Calientes is located in the Urubamba Valley, around four miles away from the ruins site, and it's the ideal base for a hike to Machu Picchu. It's also a good place to dine before setting off, with eateries like Indio Feliz and Chez Maggy.
Machu Picchu - The archaeological site of Machu Picchu is two hours walk or a short bus ride from Aguas Calientes. If ever a mountain hike was worth the effort, this is it. Constructed in the 15th century, the terraced hillside and stunning setting are truly awe-inspiring.
Cusco - Although most visitors to Machu Picchu base themselves at Aguas Calientes, you could also spend a week in Cusco (the Inca capital) before heading up the Urubamba Valley. Cusco is worth exploring, thanks to attractions like the Inca palace of Saksaywaman, the Coricancha temple and the impressive colonial-era cathedral.
Catching a bus is the easiest way to get from Aguas Calientes to the ruins of Machu Picchu. Buses leave from the main station or the train station at Puente Ruinas, which is slightly closer to the ruins, and tickets can be purchased from the kiosk opposite the train station. The cost is S/15 from the town center and S/10 from Puente Ruinas.
There are no taxis in Aguas Calientes, and you can't drive there either. The only way into the town is by train, and the only route from Aguas Calientes to the ruins is by bus (or walking). However, you can drive from Cusco to Ollantaytambo or pay around S/80 for a taxi.
For many people, the best way to reach the ruins of Machu Picchu is on foot. The four mile path is well signposted and takes between 90 minutes and two hours to complete - and the views are incredible.
Machu Picchu and Aguas Calientes are not major shopping destinations. There are plenty of souvenir stalls selling everything from rugs and hats to jewelry and pan pipes. The Mercado in Aguas Calientes is the place to go, but be ready to pay tourist prices.
If you want to buy fresh fruit and vegetables, the Mercado (opposite the station) is the best place to look. This is where locals shop, and you should be able to stock up on healthy food relatively cheaply.
Indio Feliz is the best restaurant in Aguas Calientes, serving high-quality Peruvian food and beers from around the world. If you want a really good pizza, Incontri del pueblo Viejo is the place to go while La Boulangerie de Paris is a slice of Paris transplanted to the Urubamba Valley. Expect to pay around S/10 for a pizza and up to S/20 at restaurants like Indio Feliz.