The history of Machu Picchu
Machu Picchu was likely build around the year 1450, during the glory years of the Inca Empire. In this period the Empire was ruled by the Inca’s Pachacutec Yupanqui (1438-1471) and Tupac Yupanqui (1472-1493).
Although the archeological site of Machu Picchu and Machu Picchu tours are very famous, about the original name and purpose of this Inca city scientists are still not sure. Because the city wasn’t easy to reach and is surrounded by sacred mountains, the most accepted theory about Machu Picchu is that it was used as a holiday resort for Kings and other very important people. From the style of the rooms, it seems that there were more rooms for the royal and less for their servants. It’s estimated that the total capacity of Machu Picchu was to house 750 persons. Just compare this amount with the 5000 visitors which join the Machu Picchu tours now on a daily base…
About 100 year after the start of the construction of Machu Picchu, the city was already abandoned. Likely this happened because the invasion of the Spanish conquistadores caused the death of most royal people, while others went in hiding.
Another explanation for the sudden abandoning of Machu Picchu is that its inhabitants died from smallpox, which the Spanish brought from Europa into Latin America. This although the Spanish never managed to find Machu Picchu.
In 1911 the American Explorer Hiram Bingham heard about an abandoned city in the mountains, surrounded by the Vilcanota Rivier. Bingham, who was working for the Yale University in the United States, was actually looking for the city of Vilcabamba. Supposedly this was the last refuge of the Inca’s, were they had taken their treasures to hide them from the Spanish conquistadores.
When Bingham arrived at the site of Machu Picchu he asked his local guide about the name of this city. However, his local guide spoke Quechua, the local language from the Andes and not much Spanish and no English at all. Therefor he didn’t understand the question. He told Bingham that the site was called Machu Picchu. Machu Picchu means “Old Mountain” and is actually the name from the sacred mountain behind the archeological site of Machu Picchu.
Despite that this site wasn’t the lost city of Vilcabamba that Bingham was looking for, he did immediately understand the importance of his ‘discovery’.
Bingham made many notes and several pictures of the site and took this information back to the Yale University in the U.S.A. Together they organized in 1912 a new expedition to Machu Picchu. Careful and with lots of patience they searched the archeological site for treasures and relics from its previous inhabitants.
They didn’t find any treasure, but managed to fill up 93 wooden crates with mostly ceramics, bones and a few silver and bronze objects.
It took a lot of effort to convince the Peruvian government to allow these crates to be transported to the Yale University in the U.S.A. and apparently they only managed to receive permission after they agreed that the objects would always remain property of the Peruvian State.
In the past years some of these objects have returned to Peru, but many remain in the U.S.A. The Peruvian government now accuses Bingham of stealing their archeological objects, which isn’t really fair if you consider that Bingham and Yale put all their time, money and effort in finding, cleaning and protecting these objects, without much help from the government. If Machu Picchu had been rediscovered by just any ‘gold-digger’, most objects would have been lost forever.
Useful tips for visiting Machu Picchu and joining Machu Picchu Tours:
Most people go to Machu Picchu from the little tourist town of Aguas Calientes (now officially called “Machu Picchu Pueblo”, which is located at 110 km from Cusco and at an altitude of 2000 m.
There are 2 ways to travel from Cusco to Aguas Calientes. The most common route is by train, either from Poroy (just outside of Cusco), Urubamba, or from Ollantaytambo. From Poroy it takes about 3 hours by train to Aguas Calientes, from Urubamba it takes about 2h15 min and from Ollantaytambo, also located in the Sacred Valley, it takes about 1h40 min. to travel to Aguas Calientes.
The train station in Cusco only has trains towards Puno, not to Aguas Calientes.
There are only 2 railway companies to Reach Aguas Calientes. The cheapest is Inca Rail (nowadays only just a bit cheaper) and the biggest is Peru Rail . Peru Rail is partly owned by the huge British Orient Express, who also owns the most expensive Machu Picchu Sanctuary Lodge and the Luxury Hiram Bingham Train.
It is also possible to travel either by public transport or tourist transport in about 7 hours from Cusco to the village of Santa Teresa. From here you walk in about 1h30 min. towards the hydroelectric plant, which is located at the end of the railway from Cusco to A.C., but 12 km further and at the other side of the mountains. These last 12 km you can either walk along the railway, or take a train for about 25 US$. These last 12 km are also the last part from the Inca Jungle Trail.
The archeological site of Machu Picchu 8 km away from Aguas Calientes, at an altitude of 2400 m. it will take you about 1h30 to 2 hours to walk from Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu. First you follow the dirt road along the river, but after crossing the river you will follow a small pad. While the dirt road continues its ascent with long hairpin bends, the small winding trail has steeper ascent (400 m up) through the forest that covers the hills of Machu Picchu and cutting the edges of the hairpin bends.
If you want to hike towards Machu Picchu, we recommend to start around 4:00 am and to take a headlight or flashlight with. Take also your own drinks and food with, because at Machu Picchu everything is very expensive… You can leave part of your belongings in lockers at the entrance of Machu Picchu, for only 5 Soles.
If you don’t want to walk up to Machu Picchu, you can also take the most expensive bus within Peru. This bus costs 12.5 US$ for a ride of 25 min. up to Machu Picchu and 12.5 US$ again to drive back from Machu Picchu to Aguas Calientes. There are about 24 busses, with 26 seats each and they departure when full. The first busses leave Aguas Calientes from 5:30 am in the morning and at that time there will already be a long line of people waiting to go up, so at least the first 20 busses will departure quickly.
Also the busses back from Machu Picchu to Aguas Calientes leave when full, with the last bus departing from Machu Picchu at 18:00 h.
If you want to save the 12.5 US$ bus ticket from Machu Picchu back to Aguas Calientes you can use the backpackers trail through the forest again (75 min.) Just before arriving at the bridge you will pass by the museum of Machu Picchu. This museum isn’t really worth its 20 soles entrance fee, since most of the information and pictures can be found on the internet and/ or have been told to you by your guide in the Sacred Valley or at Machu Picchu.
To avoid the busy crowd on the site of Machu Picchu you can take an early train from Poroy or Ollantaytambo to Aguas Calientes. Eat an early lunch and then hike in 2 hours from A.C.to the entrance of Machu Picchu. Enter the site at 14:00 h and stay until it closes at around 18:00 h. This last hour it will be quite at the site and you can enjoy the view of the ancient Inca structures in the soft afternoon light.
It will also be easier to get a good deal with one of the guides, since they likely already earned their share in the morning turn.
The ticket price to only enter the archaeological site of Machu Picchu is at the moment around 70 US$! To climb either the Huayna Picchu, or Machu Picchu Mountain, you pay 15 US$ extra. If you want to know if there are still tickets available for Machu Picchu, Huayana Picchu and/ or the Classic Inca Trail, you can visit their official website: www.machupicchu.gob.pe
More information about the different Inca Trails you can find on: Selection of Inca Trails
Students with an international ISIC student card, receive a 50% discount on the ticket price.
Important: at the actual entrance of Machu Picchu and also the Inca Trail you will have to show your original passport. You are also not allowed to bring food and your big backpack (max. size is 25 liter) into the archeological site. You can leave all this at the guarded storage next to the entrance, where you pay 5 Soles for the whole day.
Just after the entrance, on your left hand side, you find a small office where you can get a map of the archeological site, which also includes the 3 different main circuits to walk.
In this office you can also put a stamp of Machu Picchu in your passport.
At the entrance of Machu Picchu you might find several guides (dending on the time), which you can hire for a tour around the site. A common price is between 35 to 70 US$ for a tour of about 2h30 min., depending on the time and quality of the guide.
The first time you visit the archaeological site of Machu Picchu you will now be obligated to do so with an official guide and you have to follow a set route, see below. If you visit Machu Picchu a second time by yourself it’s recommendable to first turn to the left and follow the trail towards Inti Punku (the Sun Gate) and the Care Takers Hut, from this last spot you have a great view over the archeological site of Machu Picchu.
After taking in the amazing view, you can go down on the very last bit of the original Inca Trail and enter Machu Picchu through its original old main gate. This trail is called the first circuit and is the longest and most complete.
New entrance rules for Machu Picchu, since the 1st of January 2019!
After years of speculations, Peru’s Ministry of Culture announced on Thursday April 27, 2017 new entrance rules for visiting Machu Picchu.
Starting from the first of July 2017 these new rules affect all visitors of the Machu Picchu Inca citadel. On the 1st of January 2019 these rules changed again a little bit…
The official reason:
When Machu Picchu was first given the UNESCO World Heritage status back in December 1983, the Inca Citadel was fairly unknown to the world. But since then, tourism has grown steep and reached to more than 3000 a day…
According to an investigation of UNESCO the daily weight of all these visitors can damage the ground of the archeological site and cause the site to sink, or worse, even to slide ‘off the hill’… For this reason you can see a thin cable stretched above the main square of Machu Picchu. This cable is there to register each small movement of the soil and ‘floor’ of Machu Picchu.
In 2011 UNESCO finally obligated the management of Machu Picchu to limit the daily amount of visitors. The official maximum amount should have been 1750 visitors a day, but the management of Machu Picchu DDC Cusco (Dirección Desconcentrada de Cultura de Cusco), under pressure of the British Belmond and several other international hotel chains, managed to raise this maximum amount up to 2500 visitors a day…
In reality however, the management (DDC Cusco) even isn’t really strict with these rules and travel agencies found their ways around it. The result is that during high season the daily amount of visitors is still even higher than 3000!
According to Peru’s Ministry of Culture the new rules of 2017 are implemented to control how visitors and guides access the site, in order to maintain the integrity of the site and its legacy for future visitors.
However reading the 6th final conclusion of the Resolution you will notice that DDC Cusco will now allow instead of 2500, a maxim amount of 5940 visitors a day, spread out over 2 groups! Combine this information with the option that visitors who visit Machu Picchu for the second time don’t need a guide anymore and you will understand that these new rules are only designed to gain more money from the visitors of Machu Picchu…
So as from the first of January 2019 when you buy your entrance ticket to Machu Picchu online or in Cusco (not in Aguas Calientes), then you already have to decide if you want to enter Machu Picchu at 6:00 am, 7:00, 8:00, 9:00, 10:00, 11:00 am, 12:00 pm, 13:00 h or 14:00 h. When you only visit Machu Picchu, then you can stay maximum 4 hours on the archaeological site. If you climb the Huayna Picchu Mountain you’re allowed to stay two hours longer on the site and when you climb the Machu Picchu Mountain, you’re allowed to stay a total of max. 7 hours on the archaeological site.
However, all visitors entering Machu Picchu must be accompanied by an official guide!
These Guides are only permitted to take maximum group sizes of 16 people on atour between 2h30 min. and max 4 hours. All guides have to follow desiganted routes and officially Guides need to sign in and sign out all visitors in his/her group. The guides will also be responsible for informing visitors of the regulations of the park… Please do consider that this will mean that 3267 visitors will need a min. amount of 205 guides, not taking in account the private groups… On top of this, also the train schedules to visit Machu Picchu are not (yet) adjusted to these new visitors hours and amounts…
If you want to visit Machu Picchu without a guide, then you have to visit the site 2 times, so twice pay the entrance fee… You can either do this the same day, like morning + afternoon, or even the next day. On your second visit you do have to show the ticket from your previous visit and inform the people at the entrance of Machu Picchu about the full name of the guide who showed you around on your first visit. How they will check if this is true, that will be interesting…
The new rules also prohibit re-entrance to Machu Picchu, meaning that when you leave the site you’re not allowed to return. You’re not even allowed to walk back the same route you were following with your guide. Ones you start this route, you have to follow it all the way, to prevent congestion with walking against the tourist stream…
The rules do include a stipulation, which allow re-entrance for special circumstances. At the moment, the only toilets at Machu Picchu are located on the outside of the archeological site, so until a solution is found to solve this problem (for 5000 visitors), we think that this is a fairly good “special circumstance.”
Different Machu Picchu hiking circuits
The new rules define 3 main routes/ circuits which visitors to Machu Picchu have to follow (with their guides). The route that you take will be defined when purchasing the ticket on the official website from Machu Picchu. At the moment this is still not possible, so you will have to determine this with your guide on the site.
Each circuit takes an average 2h 30 min. to 3 hours to complete. To understand the exact route you will take, you need to have a fairly good understanding of the layout of Machu Picchu. The circuits are marked with ropes. Circuit 1, is the classic and most complete route. It is also the most ‘challenging’ from a physical perspective. It first takes in the upper-sector of the citadel, before heading in a large loop around to the lower-sector. Circuits 2 & 3, visit the mid and lower-sectors of the archeological site and are more suitable for those who want a more relaxing visit.
It is not permitted to leave these defined areas, and anyone found doing so, can be removed from the site.
Additional, alternative Circuits
If you want to climb one of the 2 famous mountains, Huayna Picchu (Young Mountain, 2720 m), or Machu Picchu Mountain (Old Mountain, 3082 m), then you will usually have to book this far ahead. On daily base they allow on each mountain only 400 visitors.
Note: It isn’t possible anymore to buy separate entrance tickets only to climb one of these mountains. You will now have to buy your entrance to one of these mountains directly together with your entrance ticket of Machu Picchu. The price of Huayna Picchu together with the archeological site, or the Machu Picchu Mountain together with the archeological site is around 200 Soles.
It is not possible anymore to climb both of the mountains on the same day and it also isn’t possible anymore to hike the Classic 4-days Inca Trail in combination with climbing one of the mountains.
Climbing the Huayna Picchu Mountain
Because the Huayna Picchu Mountain has steep trails with some deep abysses, this trail isn’t recommendable for people with vertigo.
Something that most people don’t know about the Huayna Picchu Mountain is that there is a temple ‘hidden’ on the back side of this mountain. This temple is called Templo de la Luna (Temple of the Moon). Its build half into a cave and accessible from a trail that starts just after the top of the Huayna Picchu Mountain. After going over the huge rock at the top, most people will go down to the right side, but you will also see a small white sign with the word: “La Caverna” (the cave), that points to the right. If you follow this trail for about an hour, mostly downhill, you will get to Templo de la Luna.
From the temple it takes another hour, mostly steady up along a different trail with some great views, which reconnect halfway with the normal trail that goes to the top of Huayna Picchu.
If you only climb the Huayna Picchu, then it takes about an hour steep up (2400-2720 m) and about 45 min. to go back down. If you also want to visit Templo la Luna, then you need about 3h30 till 4 hours for the whole visit.
If you buy a combination ticket for Machu Picchu + Huayna Picchu you will be allowed a total of 6 hours for your visit.
To prevent that too many visitors will climb the small and steep trails to the top of Huayna Picchu at the same moment, the 400 visitors are split in 3 groups:
The first 100 visitors can enter between: 6:00 am – 7:00 am. The second 100 visitors can enter between: 7:00 am – 8:00 am and the last 200 visitors can enter the Huayna Picchu Mountain between 8:00 am and 9:00 am.
Visitors must sign in and out of the trek at the control post, at the start of the trail head.
The new rules state that the time allowed to complete the trek should be between 3 & 4 hours, depending if you include or leave out the Gran Cavern (also known as the Moon Temple).
After visiting the Huayna Picchu, you will have to leave the archeological site. But how these visitors hours are going to be combined with the obligated tours over the archaeological site isn’t clear yet. They might need to organize guided tours which start from the entrances of Huayna Picchu Mountain and Machu Picchu Mountain…
Technically a ‘Mountain Ticket’ can also be interesting for those who want to spend more time on the archeological site of Machu Picchu. A combination ticket cost around 16 US$ more than a normal ticket, but it gives you 2 more hours on the site.
Climbing the Machu Picchu Mountain
This mountain is higher (3082 m), but the trail is less steep. It takes about an hour and 30 min. to get to the top and 75 min. to go back down. The views along the way are great and depending on the season, you can also find several special orchid species along the trail.
Also the entrance to climb the Machu Picchu Mountain has to be bought together with the general entrance ticket of Machu Picchu and is split in 3 turns:
The first 100 visitors can enter between: 6:00 am – 7:00 am. The second 100 visitors can enter between: 7:00 am – 8:00 am and the last 200 visitors can enter the Huayna Picchu Mountain between 8:00 am and 9:00 am.
Visitors must sign in and out of the trek at the control post, at the start of the trail head. The new rules state that the time to complete the trek is approximately 4 hours and the maximum time to visit the archeological site of Machu Picchu + the mountain is a total of 7 hours. All visitors must have left the trek by 15:00 h.
To climb the Huayna Picchu Mountain or Machu Picchu Mountain is allowed to do without a guide. Only after the climb, you will be directed directly back to the entrance of Machu Picchu, as to avoid that people wander off onto the archeological site without a guide. But, see my explanation above about this rule…
If you want to know if there are still places available on the famous 4-Days Inca Trail, or to climb the Huayna Picchu Mountain, you can have a look on this official website: www.machupicchu.gob.pe –> click the link “consultas” then –> “camino inka” and select a month to see availability.
Two other interesting hikes you can make from the site of Mach Picchu and which you (still) don’t have to book in advance are; A visit to the Inti Punku Sun Gate. It takes about 45 min. steady up to reach Inti Punku. It is the last gate of the official Inca Trail and from here you have a great view over the site of Machu Picchu and the mountain range behind!
The other interesting visit is to the so called Inca Bridge. This small trail and partly restored wooden bridge used to be the back entrance to Machu Picchu. The bridge isn’t special, but the trail provides good views over the Vilcanota River and the back of Machu Picchu.
Currently it is still not clear how visitors can visit Inti Punku and/ or the Inca Bridge during their first visit of Machu Picchu.
List of new Machu Picchu visitors rules:
As set out in Article 19 of the Ministerial Resolution, here are the most important (new, 2017) visitor rules for Machu Picchu:
19.1. Any type of bag/rucksack measuring more than 40 x 35 x 20 cm (15.7 x 13.7 x 7.9”) is not permitted, and must be placed in storage (near the entrance).
19.2. It is prohibited to enter with food and drink.
19.4. It is prohibited to enter with alcoholic beverages.
19.5. It is prohibited to enter with umbrellas or sun shades (hats and ponchos / rain coats are permitted).
19.6. It is prohibited to enter with photographic tripods or any type of camera stand/support. This is only permitted with pre-authorization and the appropriate permit.
19.9. It is prohibited to enter with any musical instruments, including megaphones and speakers.
19.11. It is prohibited to enter with shoes with high-heels, or hard soles. Only soft soles are permitted (like those found in training shoes or walking shoes/boots).
19.12. It is prohibited to enter with children’s strollers / prams. Only strap on baby/child carriers are permitted.
19.17. It is prohibited to climb or lean on walls or any part of the citadel.
19.18. It is prohibited to touch, move or remove any lithic items / structures.
19.22. It is prohibited to enter with walking sticks with a metal or hard point. Only elderly people and physically-handicapped people are permitted to enter with a walking stick, when it has a rubber tip.
19.25. It is prohibited to get naked, dress up, lie down, run and jump.
19.26. It is prohibited to make loud noises, applaud, shout, whistle and sing. The tranquility and character of Machu Picchu must be maintained at all times.
19.27. It is prohibited to smoke or use an electronic cigarette.
19.32. It is prohibited to feed the resident or wild animals.
19.33. It is prohibited to paraglide; and/ or fly any type of drone or small aircraft above the site
The complete Ministerial Resolution is named No. 070-2007-MC. It is a long legal document written in Spanish, which you can read here: PDF Resolution 070-2007-MC in Spanish plus a new extension.
Some interesting facts about Machu Picchu:
– The archeological site of Machu Picchu is located within the official nature reserve of Machu Picchu. This reserve covers about 32.000 hectare rainforest and cloud forest at altitudes between 2000 and 4200 m altitude. Within this nature reserve you can find several special orchids and when lucky you might even encounter a spectacle bear!
– In the year 2000 the well-known Peruvian beer company Cusqueña received permission to film one of their commercials on the archeological site of Machu Picchu. However, during the recordings one of the cranes that carried a heavy camera fell down on the ceremonial Intihuatana rock and broke off a small corner. High fines and even time in prison were demanded, but it isn’t clear what punishment the received.
– The only movie ever to receive permission to film on the archeological site of Machu Picchu is the Indian Endhiran-movie-machu-picchu-tour-peruBollywood Movie: Endhiran This movie was released in 2010 and belongs to one of the most expensive Bollywood movies ever.
– In 2007 the archeological site of Machu Picchu was elected one of the 7 New World Wonders.
– Researchers of UNESCO and other international conservation organizations have discovered that the archeological site of Machu Picchu is slowly sinking. This sinking is caused by different reasons, including the tunnels under the site, the instable grounds during raining season and the huge amount of visitors the site receives daily. To monitor the movements of the archeological site scientists have now stretched a thin wire across the main square of Machu Picchu.