Machu Picchu FAQs

Machu Picchu FAQs

When was Machu Picchu built?

Machu Picchu was built in the 1450s during the reign of the Inca emperor Pachacuti. It is believed to have served as either a country estate for the emperor or an important religious site. The exact purpose of the site remains unknown.

The site is divided into an urban sector and an agricultural sector, with distinct structures indicating areas of religious significance and royal use. Extensive agricultural terraces surround the city, which were utilized to grow food for the approximately 1,000 inhabitants. These terraces also played a crucial role in effective drainage to prevent landslides and minimize the impact of earthquakes.

Most of the city was constructed using the traditional ashlar technique, where stones were meticulously placed on top of each other without the use of mortar. The precision and ability of the Incas to move and position such large stones remain a marvel to this day. The architectural brilliance displayed at Machu Picchu is both awe-inspiring and enigmatic.

Among the remarkable structures within the Citadel are the Temple of the Sun, the Astronomical Observatory, and the Intihuatana, all of which demonstrate an advanced understanding of the Sun and celestial influences.

Where is Machu Picchu located?

Machu Picchu is situated within the Historic Sanctuary of Machu Picchu in the Cusco region of Peru. It holds the distinction of being a UNESCO World Heritage Site and was recognized as one of the New Seven Wonders of the World in 2007.

The city is strategically positioned between two mountains, Machu Picchu to the south and Huayna Picchu to the north. This unique placement offers breathtaking views of the surrounding valleys. Additionally, Machu Picchu’s remote location and well-guarded access points, such as Inti Punku (the Sun Gate) and the Inca Drawbridge, made it highly challenging to attack.

The city’s excellent camouflage contributed to its fortunate preservation, as the Spanish Conquistadors never discovered it. However, during the latter half of the 16th century, Machu Picchu was abandoned, possibly due to the outbreak of smallpox. Little is known about the city during this period until its rediscovery in 1911 by Yale Professor Hiram Bingham.

It is likely that local people occasionally visited and inhabited the site, although the specifics are unclear. Nineteenth-century colonial documents mention the city, and a German engineer’s 1874 map uses the names “Machu Picchu” and “Huayna Picchu” to label the ruins.

Bingham’s discovery catapulted the site to international fame as the “Lost City of the Incas,” a theory that he mistakenly surmised and popularized in his bestselling book.

How many visitors does Machu Picchu receive annually?

Machu Picchu welcomes over 1.2 million visitors each year, with many of them opting to trek the famous Inca Trail or one of the alternative trails leading to this ancient city.

As the most renowned Inca archaeological site globally, Machu Picchu captivates the imagination of people from around the world.

Even today, Machu Picchu stands as a testament to remarkable architectural and engineering brilliance, symbolizing the grandeur of the Inca civilization.

What are the primary hiking trails to Machu Picchu?

Embarking on a trek to Machu Picchu, whether it’s the classic Inca Trail or one of the alternative routes, guarantees an unforgettable adventure. The combination of breathtaking mountain ranges, diverse flora and fauna, and the richness of cultural and archaeological sites is unparalleled.

Here are the main routes to Machu Picchu, including details about alternative Inca trail treks.

Inca Trail

The classic Inca Trail is the most renowned trekking route to Machu Picchu, following the original paths that the Incas used to travel from the Sacred Valley to the ancient city. Along this trail, trekkers are treated to a remarkable array of impressive Inca sites and breathtaking scenery.

To preserve the integrity of the Historic Sanctuary of Machu Picchu and manage the impact of tourism, the Inca Trail has a daily limit of 500 trekkers, with 300 spots allocated to porters and guides. Due to its popularity, it is crucial to book early, especially during the peak trekking season in the dry months (May-September – see weather information below).

Learn more about the 4-day Inca Trail trek or consider its variants: the Short Inca Trail and the Salkantay/Inca Combo trek.

You can also explore our recommendations for the best Inca trail tours and luxury Inca trail experiences.

Salkantay Trail

The Salkantay trek offers an incredible 5-day/4-night hiking challenge with breathtaking scenery. The highlight of this trek is Nevada Salkantay, the iconic Andean peak reaching 6,271 meters. The Salkantay trail is the second most popular trek in the region after the Inca Trail and has been recognized as one of the Top 25 Treks in the World by National Geographic.

Lares Trail

For a less demanding trail that provides unparalleled opportunities to engage with local Andean communities preserving their traditional way of life, the Lares trek is an excellent choice. It offers an exceptional cultural trekking experience in the region. We highly recommend the Lares trek for those seeking a combination of stunning scenery and rich cultural encounters.

Choquequirao Trail

The Choquequirao trek, although the longest and one of the most challenging treks in the area, rewards hikers with a truly remarkable experience. Choquequirao itself is an Inca site that deserves a visit on its own. When combined with Machu Picchu, this trek becomes the ultimate archaeological trekking adventure.

Vilcabamba Trail

For off-the-beaten-path adventurers, the Vilcabamba trek is an ideal option. This trail guarantees solitude, unbeatable alpine and jungle vistas, and the challenge of long and demanding trekking days. It is recommended for experienced backcountry trekkers who are not afraid of a physical and mental challenge.

Inca Jungle Trail

The Inca Jungle trek is designed for adrenaline junkies seeking an action-packed experience. It combines a thrilling 60km downhill cycling stretch with trekking, zip-lining, and river rafting. This trek is particularly popular among the younger generation and backpackers.

Huchuy Qosco Trail

The Huchuy Qosco hike offers a shorter and enjoyable trek to Huchuy Qosco, also known as “Little Cusco” in Quechua. Located north of Cusco in the Sacred Valley, it is an ideal choice for visitors who wish to embark on a moderate trek before visiting Machu Picchu.

Ausangate Trail

The Ausangate trek is a stunning adventure through the wildest and less-frequented areas of Peru. In recent years, this trek has gained popularity among tourists seeking to witness the Rainbow Mountains.

When is the best time to hike to Machu Picchu?

The best time to hike to Machu Picchu is during the dry season, which typically runs from late April to late October. The most popular months are May to September, as they offer a lower chance of rain. However, if you want to avoid crowds and rain, the shoulder months of the dry season, such as April-May and late September to early November, are also good options.

What are the seasons in the Peruvian Andes?

The Peruvian Andes have two main seasons. The dry season starts around late April and lasts until late October. The wet season begins in early November and ends in early April.

Are there certain months to avoid for trekking?

January and February are the wettest months and not ideal for trekking. Additionally, the Inca Trail is closed for restoration in February.

What are the temperatures like during the hike?

Temperatures in the region remain moderate throughout the year. The average highs range from 25-28°C, while the average lows range from 7-10°C. During May through September, temperatures can drop below zero at night, so it’s important to pack appropriate cold-weather gear.

Is it possible to encounter rain during the trek?

Yes, weather in the Andes is unpredictable, and there is always a possibility of encountering rain on the trail, regardless of the season. It’s essential to bring good waterproof rain gear.

What about fog at Machu Picchu?

Fog, especially in the early morning, is common at Machu Picchu. If the citadel is shrouded in mist, don’t worry as it typically clears by late morning or early afternoon.

Where can I find more detailed weather information?

For detailed information on Machu Picchu and Inca Trail weather, including historical rainfall, temperature, and wind charts, you can refer to our article on the best time to hike to Machu Picchu and the best time for the Inca trail.

How much does it cost to hike to Machu Picchu?

The cost of hiking to Machu Picchu varies based on factors such as the time of year, tour operator or agent, and the type of trek. On the Inca Trail, prices can range from around US$550 to over US$2,000. For alternative treks, budget between US$120 to US$200 per person per day for a small private group. Joining larger groups can help reduce costs. Unsupported treks can also be more budget-friendly. To understand cost variations and find a reliable tour, read our article on Inca Trail costs.

What training do I need to do to hike to Machu Picchu?

Many Machu Picchu hikes, including the Classic Inca Trail, are challenging. It is recommended to get in good shape before your trek. Check out our articles on training for Machu Picchu and the Inca Trail for guidance on preparing for your hike.

Is altitude sickness a risk on hikes to Machu Picchu?

Except for the Short Inca Trail, all Machu Picchu treks go above 4,000 meters in altitude, which carries a risk of altitude sickness. Understanding the symptoms and the process of acclimatization is crucial for a safe and enjoyable trek. Please read our detailed guide on altitude sickness and acclimatization before your journey to Machu Picchu.

What do I need to pack for my Machu Picchu hike?

A Machu Picchu hike requires specific gear. Some items can be rented or purchased in Cusco, but there are essential pieces you should bring with you. Our detailed Inca Trail packing list for Machu Picchu provides gear recommendations and a printable checklist. It applies to alternative treks as well, except for the Inca Jungle Trail, which doesn’t require a sleeping bag. For information on appropriate shoes for the Inca Trail

Do I need hiking insurance for Machu Picchu?

Yes, having proper travel insurance is essential for a Machu Picchu trek. Many tour operators will require you to have adequate trekking insurance.

What does hiking insurance cover?

Hiking insurance provides coverage for various situations that may occur during your trek. It typically includes emergency medical expenses, emergency evacuation costs, trip cancellation or interruption, lost or stolen belongings, and other travel-related risks.

Why do I need hiking insurance for Machu Picchu?

While the risks of injury on a Machu Picchu trek are relatively low, it’s crucial to be prepared for unforeseen circumstances. In the event of an accident or emergency, hiking insurance will help cover the costs of medical treatment, evacuation, and other necessary expenses.

What should my hiking insurance policy include?

Your hiking insurance policy should cover you up to and just beyond the maximum altitude you will be trekking, which is around 4,600 meters depending on the trail. High altitude coverage is usually not included as a standard clause in travel insurance policies and needs to be added separately. It’s important to ensure that your policy provides adequate coverage for trekking activities and the specific risks associated with hiking in high-altitude environments.

Where can I find more information about Machu Picchu trek insurance?

For detailed information on the type of trekking insurance you will need for a Machu Picchu trek, refer to our comprehensive Machu Picchu trek insurance article. It will provide you with guidance on selecting the right insurance coverage for your trekking adventure.


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