A day trip to Machu Picchu, South America’s most famous and intriguing archeological site

1 April, 2021 | Reccy Guide

Set high in the Andes mountains, veiled by dense vegetation and rising mist, the most iconic citadel in South America awaits. Machu Picchu has captured the imaginations of travelers for more than a century, and is without a doubt the biggest tourist attraction in Peru. Every year millions of people from across the globe head south to do the Machu Picchu day trip and explore the site, which has been preserved in exquisite detail thanks to its remote location, far from the greedy eyes of colonial invaders. 

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Machu Picchu, a Quechua phrase meaning “Old Mountain”, dates back to the 15th century Inca era. Formed of two distinct areas, the site covers a whopping 32,592 hectares, and is one of the best preserved Historical Sanctuaries in the world. It was constructed in the 1400s, as an estate for the Inca emperor Pachacuti. At one point, up to 1,000 religious leaders, artisans, and royal family members lived on site, but the citadel was abandoned shortly before the Spanish invasion. 

View of Local MarketView of Local Market

The sprawling citadel includes polished stone temples, vast parallel terraces, monumental carved statues, and a huge observatory tower. The original 15th century street network remains in place, and ascending levels can be reached via a series of carefully sculpted stone staircases. The complex is considered one of the most impressive engineering feats of the Incan era, having been constructed without the help of wheels or iron tools, and continues to generate awe today. 

Machu Picchu is now so well known that it is easy to forget that it lay hidden for more than 600 years, until an American explorer called Hiram Bingham unearthed the site in 1911.  

The explorer had been searching for the lost city of Vilcabamba, but instead stumbled upon Machu Picchu, after hearing rumors about a huge abandoned city at the summit of a nearby mountain. He followed directions from local farmers, and was dumb-struck by what he found. The ruins were virtually impenetrable, due to the tangle of vegetation and bamboo thickets which had grown up around them, but Bingham and his group were immediately struck by the magnitude of the site. 

Stone terraces, each measuring more than 10 ft tall, rose up miles into the distance, and exquisite polished stone work peeked through gaps in the overgrown mass of leaves. 

He later described being left “breathless” by the discovery. 

One hundred years after Bingham’s expedition, visitors to the vast citadel continue to be left awe-struck by its grandeur. For those wanting to experience the site first hand, the Colonial city of Cusco is considered the best place to begin. 

View of Inca RuinsView of Inca Ruins

Around 70 km south of Machu Picchu, Cuzco is characterized by its imposing colonial architecture and scattered Inca temples. Ornate cathedrals pepper the ancient streets, carved wooden balconies overlook grand plazas, and sloping tiled roofs create a patchwork of terracotta. 

Cuzco provides fantastic access to many of Southern Peru’s main attractions, including Rainbow Mountain and the Tambopata Nature Reserve. It is also the perfect base for those looking to explore Machu Picchu, with guided tours heading to the ancient ruins on a daily basis. 

Although there are enough attractions in the vicinity to spend weeks touring the Sacred Valley, many travelers opt to visit Machu Picchu as part of a day tour. Although it is possible to visit independently using public transport, it often works out cheaper to book a combination ticket, which includes a bus ticket, tour guide, and entry fee to the ruins. 

Get Your Guide’s Machu Picchu Morning Combo aims to beat the crowds by arriving at the site early. It includes bus fare, two hour guided tour, and entrance to the site, for around $200 per person. This is a great option if you’re looking for a quick, no hassle trip. 

If you have a little longer to spend, it is worth considering a tour which includes a train journey. The route through the Sacred Valley is stunning, passing lush vistas and snowy peaks. Viator‘s Machu Picchu day trip swaps a bus journey for the train, making the journey to the ruins almost as exciting as the site itself. Once you arrive you will be taken round the citadel by a guide, and then transferred back to your hotel at the end of the day. This is a much longer experience – around 16 hours – but a rewarding way to experience the region.

For the intrepid traveler looking to get the blood flowing, there are many tour options which include a trek to the ruins. Alpaca Expeditions offers a great 3 night, 4 day trek from Cusco to Machu Picchu, which crosses 26 miles of stunning Andean scenery, before arriving at the ancient site. Food, tents, guides and porter services are all included.

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