Photo by María Pellicer
The reason most come to Aguas Calientes, or maybe even Peru at all, is Machu Picchu. The world-renowned Incan site, perched high above town amid dramatic mountains, is one of the best ways to appreciate the Quechua people’s greatness, since the Spanish never found or plundered it. The site’s purpose is essentially a mystery, though there are many theories. We may never know if it was an educational center, a military outpost, a religious compound, a preparation ground for youths to be sacrificed, a villa for the ruling Incas, or some combination of them all. Regardless, its magnificence is undeniable, both for its evocative structures and the stunning peaks that form its dramatic 360-degree backdrop.
Hit The Hikes
This region is a paradise for walkers and hikers of all fitness levels. Around the main Machu Picchu Citadel, you can take a relatively easy walk to viewpoints like the Hut of the Caretaker of the Funerary Rock, climb stairs above the ceremonial baths section to the Sacred Plaza, or do a hike/walk combo up to the Sun Gate, the entrance to the Inca Trail. The Wayna Picchu hike takes you on a steep, 2100-plus-step path that includes portions of an Inca tunnel (it can be tough, but the views are worth it), while the truly dedicated can follow in the footsteps of the empire and do a multi-day hike along the Inca Trail (camping or bunking in guest houses along the way). Longer guided treks from Cusco are also available. Remember that due to the high elevation, even just walking might leave you a bit winded, so tread carefully on more strenuous treks. Photo by Rocco Lucia/Flickr.
By Sandra Ramani, AFAR Contributor
The Journey to One of The World's Wonders
Machu Picchu is a spiritual place, and it's become a bucket list destination for people across the globe. To get to this ancient Incan civilization, you can go by train and bus. Or, you can take a trek that will lead you through the beautiful landscape of the Peruvian Andes and to Machu Picchu, your ultimate destination. On the Salkantay Trek with PureQuest Adventures and Lima Tours, embark on a 5 day trip with expert guides, gourmet meals prepared at each campsite, and the comfort of having all of the details flawlessly arranged for you. The trek will take you over high mountain passes and down through rainforests. While this trek isn't for the faint of heart, taking it makes arriving to Machu Picchu that much more meaningful.
By Ashley Castle Pittman, AFAR Contributor
Machu Picchu Inca Trail Peru
The exquisite architecture of the massive inca stone structures, the formidable backdrop of steep sugarloaf hills and the Urubamba river winding far below have made Machu Picchu the iconic symbol of Peru.It´s a mystical city, the most famous archeological site in South America, and one of the world´s must-see destinations. The world did not become aware of Machu Picchu´s existence until 1911 when yale university historian hiram Bingham (1875-1956) announced that he had "discovered" the site."Rediscovery" is a more accurate term;area residents knew of Machu Picchu´s existence all along.This "lost city of the inca" was missed by the ravaging conquistadors and survived untouched until the beginning of the 20th century. (http://www.tierrasvivas.com/en/travel-blog/machu-picchu-the-inca-trail-peru)
By AFAR Traveler
Machu Picchu is virtually synonymous with Peru, and in 2007 it was voted one of the New Seven Wonders of the world. There is a reason for this: when you arrive, you encounter a breathtaking, panoramic view of the Andes. This Inca citadel was built during the 15th century, but remained unexplored until 1911 when explorer Hiram Bingham found it covered by the forest. It is still a mystery why Machu Picchu was built on top of the hill, so far from the seat of the Incan Empire in Cusco. We are also still unsure of the technology used to construct such an impressive feat of engineering in a such harsh location. If you arrive early in the morning, and on a good day, you can see the sunrise from the sun gate. If you have enough time there, climb Huayna Picchu and enjoy the view from the top. It will take about 1.5 hours each way.
By Ana Paula Bedoya, AFAR Local Expert
REI Adventures: Volunteer Vacation in Peru
If you're a fan of their gear already, then consider a volunteer vacation with REI Adventures and Conservation Volunteers International Program — a non-profit 501c3 organization dedicated to conserving iconic wilderness areas and cultural sites around the world. The volunteer vacations, which are offered in both North and South America, allow you to work alongside expedition leaders and local park rangers to garner insight into regional culture and geography while helping protect some of the planet's top adventure travel destinations from Machu Picchu to the U.S. Virgin Islands to Yosemite National Park. Volunteer projects consist of trail maintenance, restoration of wildlife habitat, collection of native plant seeds as well as a variety of other important tasks. Trip prices include all ground transportation, lodging, meals, expert leadership and the necessary equipment and tools to complete our projects. Each trip also incorporates rest days that let you explore your surroundings in more depth.
By Becca Blond, AFAR Local Expert
Peru's Main Event
With all the hype, our trekking group had unanimous worry that this grand UNESCO World Heritage site might not live up to its reputation. Fear not! It was every bit as magical, mysterious and wonderful as we were hoping. Along the way we saw the primitive ladders and paths used in days gone by. Those intrepid travelers that want to trek to the top on foot still use them today. New regulations are limiting the crowds and the time period visitors are allowed to stay. Hopefully this will alleviate over tourism and keep the area sustainable. In the future, it will be a benefit to travelers as long as they make sure to plan ahead with a reliable tour operator such as AdventureSmith Explorations or make sure to obtain the necessary permits on your own. Machu Picchu is one bucket list worthy destination.
By Alison Abbott, AFAR Local Expert
Salkantay Trek to Machu Picchu
The Salkantay Trek to Machu Picchu is an alternative (and much more scenic) 4-day hike compared to the classic Inca Trail. Definitely recommend! Check out my blog post for details!
By Mary Ella
The most lasting memories are sometimes serendipitous. It is often not the long-anticipated meal at a white-tablecloth restaurant, but the chance meeting at a market or a quiet moment on a visit to a site like Machu Picchu that will stay with you long after you have returned home. Constructed in the 15th century and only discovered at the beginning of the 20th, much of Peru’s Machu Picchu remains shrouded in mystery—and large parts of the site have yet to be restored. When you visit with Collette, you’ll have a chance to sit quietly with the ghosts amid the ruins as well as meet their present-day descendants—and maybe a llama, as well, whose ancestors also may have called these Andean peaks home. By taking care of all the arrangements to get you to remote archaeological sites and rural villages, as well as navigating the world’s metropolises for you, Collette lets you be open to the moments of beauty that await out in the world. With Collette you can eagerly expect the unexpected, and enjoy it when it occurs.
Sponsored by Collette
Historic Sanctuary of Machu Picchu
The Incas built the “lost city” of Machu Picchu on a mountaintop, surrounded by temples, terraces, and water channels. Explorer Hiram Bingham III found it in 1911, and Machu Picchu has since captivated the imagination of countless travelers. The complex reflects the wisdom and know-how of ancient Peruvians, who built it with huge blocks of stone cut and wedged together precisely without any mortar. Machu Picchu also appeals for its gorgeous setting, crossed by trails and full of captivating spots such as the Sacred Valley, with its vivid green terraces.
Sponsored by Visit Peru
Inca Trail Trek to Machu Picchu
Hike in the footsteps of the ancient Incas on this seven-day Peruvian adventure. Begin your journey in Cuzco, the vibrant capital of the Incas. Witness the fascinating juxtaposition of ancient indigenous culture and colonial Spanish architecture. Sip on coca tea, learn a few words of Quechua, and soak in the incredible history and natural setting of this town nestled high in the Andes mountains. Venture into the Sacred Valley for a trip to the famed Pisac market as well as to Ollantaytambo, the oldest living town in the Americas. Test your limits with three full days of trekking on the Inca Trail. Ascend through lush jungle along rugged mountains to incredible archeological sites such as Phuyupatamarca (‘Town in the Clouds’) and Winay Wayna. At each day’s end on the trail, enjoy a comfortable camp setting complete with gourmet meals prepared by your professional chef. After 26 miles of trekking, reach Inti Punku (‘Sun Gate’) and be greeted with a jaw-dropping sunrise view of Machu Picchu, one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World. The government restricts the number of Inca Trail permits to 500 per day (inclusive of porters). Demand for this once-in-a-lifetime adventure is high, and permits are often sold out (and non-transferable) as much as six months in advance. Permits for each year will go on sale in January, so savvy travelers who act now can have their choice of dates!
In partnership with The Clymb
Hiking the Inca Trail
If you're planning a trip to Machu Picchu, consider hiking the Inca Trail—a four-day trek up into the Andes. You will go through cloud forests, sub-tropical jungles and Inca ruins, including the City Above Clouds, before descending on Machu Picchu at sunrise.
In Good Hands
“Epic” aptly describes the ancient Inca Empire. Hidden for centuries, the “Lost City of the Incas” is arguably one of the most spectacular sights in South America. Some believe that this awe-inspiring site was a royal retreat used by the famous Inca Emperor Pachacuti. On Collette’s 14-day “Galapagos Islands & Machu Picchu” guided tour, you’ll experience these fabled ruins up close and personal. With so much to explore and learn, it’s an incredible perk to have an expert tour manager with you at all times. It’s the perfect blend of freedom, convenience, and service. As an added bonus, travelers get to soak up the mystical atmosphere and enjoy an exclusive culinary demonstration at dinner. See all the places Collette travels at gocollette.com. Photo credit: David Stanley, https://flic.kr/p/d4kP3L
Sponsored by Collette
13-DAY ANDEAN HIGHLIGHTS–THE BEST OF PERU AND BOLIVIA
What may come to mind first when you think of Peru is fabled Machu Picchu, the legendary Inca site deep in the Andes. It stuns with precisely cut walls, terraces, and ramps—not to mention dizzying views of mountain spires in every direction. But that's not all that Peru has to offer: In the capital, Lima, there are enough world-class museums, ocean-view parks, pre-Inca ruins, and trendy restaurants to keep you busy for days. The highland city of Cusco was once the capital of the Inca Empire, and many of the 16th-century Spanish churches and palaces were built on still-visible Inca foundations. Today, the city is full of markets where Quechua-speaking vendors offer exquisite handicrafts. Arequipa, in the middle of Peru's canyon country, is a sizzling city, known for the towering, snow-capped volcano looming over town; its distinctive 17th-century architecture, which harnessed local volcanic rock to craft stunning monasteries, arches, and churches; and its perpetual sunshine. Nearby, boats built with reeds glide along the surface of Lake Titicaca, just as they have for centuries. You'll see the very best Peru has to offer with this 13-day trip from Valencia Travel Cusco. —Valencia Travel Cusco
Sponsored by AFAR Exchange
The Birds and the Bees
I knew that two aspects of the new Tamron 16-300mm Di II VC PZD MACRO lens would require some real field testing on my part before I could consider adding the lens to my everyday carry bag. I first wanted to test whether or not the lens could render smooth out-of-focus backgrounds (otherwise known as Bokeh) given the maximum f/6.3 aperture at certain long lengths. I then wanted to see the Tamron’s macro capabilities in action. One look at this image should tell you that I was quite impressed with the Tamron’s ability to render smooth backgrounds—blown away, in fact. I shot this beautiful hummingbird while wandering the jungle near Machu Picchu. The background was a mess of leaves, sticks, and branches that I didn’t want distracting from my tiny feathered friend. Luckily, the background elements were quite a few feet away from my subject; the maximum aperture of f/6.3, combined with a long focal length of 270mm and the Tamron’s ability to focus exceptionally close, allowed me to put all my attention on the bird, and capture a fleeting memory that I’ll always cherish. The Tamron’s ability to render 1:2.9 macro reproduction is especially handy in situations where you have a small subject and plenty of distance between that subject and your background.
Sponsored by Tamron
Getting to Machu Picchu
Classic Inca Trail to Machu Picchu There are many original Inca Trails in the Andes, but the most famous section, simply known as The Inca Trail, is the original route to the breathtaking ruins of Machu Picchu. Spread over 4 Days, the 44 km trail through the Andes crosses three stunning high passes and encounters many ancient archaeological sities, culminating at the famous Lost City of the Incas. There are few treks in the world that combine natural beatuty, history and mystery with such an awe-inspiring final destination. More information, click here: http://www.tierrasvivas.com/en/before-you-go/getting-to-machu-picchu, or if you want to book any trekking tours to Peru, click here please: http://www.tierrasvivas.com
By AFAR Traveler