The Inca Trail to Machu Picchu is a path every traveller must take at least once in their lifetime. Possibly the most famous panorama and archaeological site on the planet, Machu Picchu is an intricate labyrinth of stone temples and palaces on brilliant green terraces, cradled between two dramatic peaks and surrounded by the all-consuming beauty of the Andes.
The mountains reach for the skies as cloud forests give way to sheer cliff faces, sharply descending into the deep canyon and the rushing river Urubamba far, far below. It’s famous for a reason and that’s because there’s not a soul on Earth who can fail to be impressed by the majesty of this lost Inca city in the clouds.
Our Inca Trail & Machu Picchu holidays offer something for most travellers. From a little extra comfort and super-specialist tour guides to extended trips taking in the best Peru has to offer, you can find the perfect Machu Picchu trips for you below.
What happens when one Irishman takes on the Inca Trail – as a porter?! In 2016, Jarlath McHale took on Peru’s most famous trek, the Inca Trail. In 2017, he went back to complete the same four day route – but this time as one of the porters who so inspired him first time round. Filmed and edited by our own videographer.
Peru is a fascinating country and this trip explores varied terrains including urban areas, mountains, high plains, lake and rainforest. The local people we met on the trip were extremely welcoming and friendly. The country does have an issue with litter on the roadside, even in the National Park areas which is sad to see. Hopefully in time this will improve.
What makes holidays to Machu Picchu so compelling, annually drawing countless tourists here, is that it stood forgotten for centuries until Hiram Bingham brought it to the world’s attention in 1911. The Incas kept the secret of its existence closely guarded from the 16th-century Spanish invaders and no written records of it exist. To this day, nobody knows why it was built.
Theories abound. Machu Picchu is thought to have been constructed perhaps as a site of astronomical significance, an observatory, an important agricultural station, a military fortress, a place of learning, an important ceremonial centre, a royal Inca retreat, or perhaps just to celebrate the unspeakable greatness of the natural beauty around it. It certainly achieves the final aim.
The site was only inhabited for approximately 100 years before being abandoned. There is no evidence that the Spanish ever reached Machu Picchu, and it is not known what prompted the inhabitants to leave the city. There are still lots of mysteries surrounding one of the new seven wonders of the world, but archaeological research continues in search of answers
The Inca Trail and Sun Gate
While it is possible to reach Machu Picchu by train, most adventure travellers strive to reach these dizzy heights with the power of their own two feet on the Inca Trail. Once you’ve scaled Dead Woman’s Pass, pushed yourself to your limits on the ancient Inca pathways, passed through the mystic cloud forest, and countless Inca ruins en route, you’ll be rewarded at the Sun Gate – Intipunku – by the panorama of Machu Picchu before you. Truly one of the world’s most thrilling viewpoints and the only way to see Machu Picchu in its full glory.
Inside Machu Picchu
Those hiking to Machu Picchu along the Inca Trail will get their first glimpse of the ruins at the Sun Gate. However, the ancient main entrance is closer to the citadel, where most of the buildings and other points of interest are located. It’s worth taking a closer look at the stones during your Machu Picchu tour to appreciate the exquisite technique of Incan masonry. You’ll see that all rocks have been precisely cut to fit one another without the use of mortar, so the walls would stay up like a giant 3D jigsaw puzzle.
One of the best places to see this is the Principal Temple – the largest building in the entire Machu Picchu citadel – facing the main plaza. Another is the Torreon or Temple of the Sun, an elliptical-shaped tower once used for astronomical observations. It is believed to be a sacred place where only high priests and dignitaries were allowed to enter.
Inside the temple, there is a rock, which was probably used as an altar. During the summer solstice, the sunrise shines through the temple window on the rock. This is only one of many places you’ll discover on your Machu Picchu holiday that was built following the movements of the sun and the stars. This provides further evidence of the Inca’s advanced knowledge of astronomy.
The most mysterious location you’ll come across on a Machu Picchu trip is probably Intihuatana, a huge carved slab of rock found on the highest point of the citadel. Intihuatana means “the sun’s hitching post” and it’s believed that the Inca thought the stone kept the sun in its place in the sky. The rock casts no shadow at all during the two equinoxes. It was probably used as a location for sun-worshipping ceremonies and to give thanks for good harvests, but not much else is known about its purpose.
Other fascinating places to visit on your Machu Picchu holiday include the Caretaker’s Hut, which is where you can get the iconic Machu Picchu shot found on postcards, the Temple of the Condor, with a giant bird carved outside, and the agricultural terraces. The latter is the reason this isolated city – located at high altitude and surrounded by mountains on all sides – was self-sufficient and even exported food to other locations within the Inca Empire.
Endangered Machu Picchu
Can ancient monuments like Machu Picchu sustain the impact of 21st-century tourism? It’s a troubling question, especially as scientists have already discovered landslide-threatening subsidence on its western side, while UNESCO has called for restrictions on the number of visitors taking Machu Picchu tours in recent years.
Currently, the international community is keeping a watchful eye on the situation and the Inca Trail already operates responsible tourism policies with restrictions on numbers, licensed local guides, organised porter welfare, and eco-camping regulations.
We’ll always try to create the most sustainable Machu Picchu tours, so book with us today. You’ll have peace of mind that you’re not contributing to the issue when travelling to this unforgettable location.
If you want to get the iconic Machu Picchu photo of the archaeological site surrounded by wispy clouds set against a clear blue sky, visit during the dry season between May and October. Do be aware that early morning mist and unexpected downpours are likely to happen no matter what time of year you choose to travel!
The months of June, July, and August are also the busiest in terms of mass tourism. During these peak times, it may be difficult to freely move around the ruins on your Machu Picchu holiday. There are likely to be lines everywhere – on the way to Huayna Picchu, to access the best places for photos of Machu Picchu, and for the bathroom!
April, May, September, and October are all good shoulder season months. During this time, you’ll find smaller crowds and dry, pleasant weather, with warm days and cool nights, making these months some of the best to go on a Machu Picchu adventure holiday.
How long is the flight to Machu Picchu?
A flight from the UK to Cuzco, the nearest international airport to Machu Picchu, takes anything from 18 to 24 hours, including transfers. From Cuzco, you take a coach, train, or taxi to Machu Picchu. Don’t worry, though, as we can organise your travel plans when you book one of our Machu Picchu holidays, with flights included, to make the journey as straightforward as possible.
What to wear in Machu Picchu?
Lightweight layers are your friend when climbing Machu Picchu. The weather can change in a heartbeat, so having lightweight clothes you can remove or put on quickly is essential. You’ll need waterproof clothing and footwear too as you won’t want the extra weight of wet clothes slowing you down. Equally, you need to keep your body safe from the sun by wearing hats and long-sleeved tops and trousers.
You’ll be camping during your stay and nights can be very cold as you ascend the mountain. Pack warm pyjamas and make sure you have a thermal base layer as an added precaution too.
How high is Machu Picchu?
Machu Picchu is 2,430 meters above sea level.
What should I pack for Machu Picchu?
Machu Picchu holidays are a lot easier when you have the right gear with you. Here are the essentials items you’ll need to pack for a successful trip:
Thin and breathable clothes
Remember that what you pack is what you’ll have to carry up the mountain, so pack light for a much more enjoyable experience.
Join us, and let Exodus be ‘Your Guide to Machu Picchu’
The best guides in the business. Awarded GOLD by Wanderlust
Are you ready to set your sights on this sprawling Inca citadel? Whether you’re hoping to experience Machu Picchu in isolation or as part of a wider journey through Peru, our Inca Trail to Machu Picchu trips are justifiably popular. It’s a good idea to book early to secure your place on the journey of a lifetime.