Machu Picchu is one of the seven wonders of the modern world. At this ancient Incan city, built during the 15th century, you can see the amazing engineering and architectural feats of the Incas. Today it is one of the most important and most popular tourist destinations in Peru, in the Americas, and in the whole world.
In order to help you organize your unforgettable trip to this magnificently beautiful Incan citadel, we offer you our Guide for Traveling to Machu Picchu in which you can find the all the information that you will need about Machu Picchu: its history, location, climate, altitude, how to get there, and so much more.
What does Machu Picchu mean?
According to the etymology of the words, both the words machu and picchu come from the Quechua language. [mɑtʃu piktʃu]. Machu means ‘old’, and pikchu means ‘mountain’. Therefore, the meaning of Machu Picchu is ‘old mountain’.
Where is Machu Picchu located?
The Historic Sanctuary of Machupicchu is located 112.5 km. to the northeast of the City of Cusco. It is in the Cusco region of southern Peru, in the district of Machupicchu, and in the province of Urubamba.
The exact geographical coordinates are:
- 13°9’47 S. Latitud
- 72°32’44 W. Longitude
For further information regarding the location of Machu Picchu, please see our post called Machu Picchu Map.
The elevation of Machu Picchu
The elevation of Machu Picchu is 2490 meters above sea level. (7972 feet above sea level.)
The weather and temperature at Machu Picchu
Because it is located in the upper Amazon rainforest and in the Vilcanota Mountain Range of the Andes, the Machu Picchu weather can be quite variable:
- It is hot and humid during the dry season (April through November).
- It is quite rainy during the wet season (December through March)
The temperature at Machu Picchu fluctuates between 12 y 24 °C (degrees centigrade).
How do you get to Machu Picchu?
There are 4 modes of transportation and 7 different routes that will take you to Machu Picchu:
- Modes of transportation: by train, on foot, by bus, or riding on a bicycle.
- Train Ollantaytambo – Aguas Calientes (The Train to Machu Picchu).
- The Classic Inca Trail starting at Km. 82.
- The Short Inca Trail starting at Km. 104
- The Salkantay Trek
- The Choquequirao – Machu Picchu Trek
- The alternative route via Hidroeléctrica.
- The Inka Jungle Trek to Machu Picchu.
Visit our post about How to travel to Machu Picchu? and find more detailed information about the different ways and routes that take you to Machu Picchu.
The History of Machu Picchu
The true history of Machu Picchu is so vast and so magical that hidden behind the veils of time. Nevertheless, although few hard facts exist, many studies have been done and here is some information about the three stages that the Incan Citadel of Machu Picchu has passed through.
Machu Picchu during the Incan period
Some documents from the middle of the 16th century affirm that it was the Inca Pachacutec who ordered that Machu Picchu be built as his vacation home. Still, most of the studies that have been done theorize that Machu Picchu was probably a religious sanctuary.
During its best years, between 300 and 1000 people lived at Machu Picchu. These people were part of Pachacutec’s royal family group.(panaca). After Pachucutec died, although his property was still administered by his royal panaca, his group lost influence and his personal property did not maintain the same level of importance as the properties of his living successors. The population of Machu Picchu shrunk.
During the 80 years of Incan resistance to the Spanish invasion, Machu Picchu was probably still inhabited.
Machu Picchu during the colonial period and during the Republic
In the Colonial period, Machu Picchu was under the jurisdiction of different haciendas. Because it is far away from civilization, and because the growth of the jungle vegetation is never-ending, dense vegetation covered over Machu Picchu’s urban zone. The agricultural terraces continued to be used for growing crops by farmers who lived nearby.
The rediscovery and popularization of Machu Picchu
During the year, 1902, a group of explorers from Cusco,: Agustín Lizárraga, Gabino Sánchez, Enrique Palma y Justo Ochoa, were the first to arrive at Machu Picchu.
Ten years later, Hiram Bingham from the USA was on his way to explore the ruins that the Incas built in Vilcabamba when he was led up to Machu Picchu by the son of a local farmer. That is how he tells it in his autobiography. The date was July 4, 1911.
Hiram Bingham received funding from Yale University and from the National Geographic Society. He also received permission from the Peruvian government to undertake a scientific study of the site. Between 1912 and 1915, with the help of many local laborers, he removed the vegetation and excavated a large number of tombs. In 1913 National Geographic Magazine published a long article about the site. This was the beginning of the publicity that led to the Incan Sanctuary of Machu Picchu becoming the world famous tourist destination that it is today.
In 1983, UNESCO decided to include Machu Picchu on its list of places that are the Cultural Heritage of Humanity. In the years that followed, a master plan was developed in order to maintain a sostenible level of development in the region.
The structure and architecture of Machu Picchu
The Incan Citadel of Machu Picchu includes 172 structures: plazas, palaces, temples, streets, terraces, aqueducts and fountains. As with most great Incan urban centers, it is divided into 2 main sectors: the urban zone and the agricultural zone.
Both of these sectors are characterized by their adaptation to the form and condition of the land on which they are situated.
The Agricultural Zone
This zone is located on the south side of citadel. It is formed of an extensive network of terraces. The terraces serve several functions. The first is that they are very beautiful to look at. Second, they hold in the soil and prevent erosion. Third, they provide fertile land on which to grow food.
Within this zone you can find:
- The guard’s house.
- The upper agricultural area or the first group of terraces.
- The lower agricultural area.
The urban zone
This sector is located on the northern side of the Sanctuary. It is where the residents lived, and where religious ceremonies took place.
The urban zone is comprised of 19 distinct urban areas and is, itself, sub-divided into two sectors according to the Incan theory of Andean duality. The two sectors are:
The Hanan Sector or the Sacred Sector
- The Sacred Plaza.
- The Main Temple.
- The Temple of the 3 Windows. It is called that because its most impressive feature is its polygonal wall with 3 trapezoidal windows. The enclosures that comprise the structure are spread around a rectangular patio. This temple is located in the upper or Hanan sector which is the most important sector of Machu Picchu.
- The Intihuatana (the hitching post of the Sun). This is a solar clock that is carved out of a giant block of granite. It is formed like prism, and its four corners point to the cardinal directions of the compass. It is located on top of the sacred hill. One of the great mysteries of Incan culture is how they were able to measure time by using light and shadow.
- The Temple of the Sun. This is a semi-circular construction. It contains 2 trapezoidal windows. Its foundation is a natural slab of stone. It is composed of the house of the princess, the tower, and the mausoleum. According to some of the Chroniclers, someone lived in the temple and its walls were covered with precious gems and gold. It was a very sacred place where only the Inca and the high priests were allowed to enter.
- Temple to Pachamama.
- Royal Residences.
- Fountains (Pacchas).
Hurin Sector or Residencial Zone
- Sacred Rock.
- Mirror made of water.
- The jail.
- Temple of the Condor.
The Main Tourist Sites of Machu Picchu
Machu Picchu is too big of a place, so you cannot possibly visit everything in just one day. There are so many places to visit and things to see. One day wouldn’t be enough time to visit them all.
These are some of the most important places:
- The Incan Citadel of Machu Picchu.
- Inca’s Bridge.
- Gateway of the Sun.
- Machu Picchu Mountain.
- Huayna Picchu Mountain.
- Manuel Chávez Ballón On Site Museum.
- Putucusi Mountain.
- Mandor Waterfall.
- Aguas Calientes.
Full Day Machu Picchu, a different way to explore the Incan Citadel.
What is the best time of year to visit Machu Picchu?
You can visit Machu Picchu any time of year. Some say that the best months to visit are from April through November. This the dry season. But this is also the high tourist season. So, the crowds are bigger and everything costs a little more.
December through March are rainy season months. This is also a great time to visit because there are not as many visitors. But sometimes the rain and the cloudy skies can be inconvenient.
The Distance between Cusco and Machu Picchu
The distance between Cusco and Machu Picchu is 122 Km. The journey is split into 3 stages.
- The distance between Cusco and Ollantaytambo is 72 Km. It takes 90 minutes to travel the distance by bus.
- The distance between Olllantaytambo and Aguas Calientes is 43 Km. It takes 1 hour and 45 minutes to travel the distance by train.
- The distance from Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu is 10 Km. It takes 23 minutes to travel the distance by bus.
We also would like to recommend our exclusive Machu Picchu packages.