When it comes to legendary spots, there's nowhere quite like Machu Picchu. Tucked into a hillside in the Andes, this ancient citadel lay in ruins after the fall of the Incan Empire. Rediscovered in the 20th Century, it has become an icon of South America, one of the must-visit highlights of Peru and a beacon for learning about native South American history.
We're experts in planning trips to Machu Picchu, whether you want to hike the Inca Trail or take a luxury train to experience this famous spot.
Nestled into the grassy hillsides of the Andes, Machu Picchu was once a royal estate for Inca rulers. After their civilisation was wiped out by Spanish conquistadors in the 16th Century, the buildings were overtaken by the forest, before being rediscovered in 1911. The city stretches over 5 miles, full of architectural wonders, agricultural history and masterful engineering.
Mornings usually bring thick mists rolling in from the hills but as the sun breaks through and the fog thins, the spectacular views of the citadel emerge. It's worth giving yourself an hour or so to truly take in the breath-taking splendour of this place - the lush mountains, the empty ruins and the magic feeling in the air. This is one of the wonders of the world and a 'wow' moment with yourself is not to be missed.
There are two main ways to access Machu Picchu - either by trekking for many days through the mountains to the peak or by hopping on the train before taking a short bus journey to the top.
Many people think that a long trek is essential in reaching Machu Picchu but actually it is very easy to visit by train. There are several different options, ranging from simple, local routes to luxurious trains that include panoramic views and sumptuous meals onboard.
This luxury train has elegant finishes and large windows to enjoy the Andean panoramas all around you. The train also serves Peruvian gourmet food and you’ll find a bar beside the scenic wagon, where musical concerts are held.
The trip takes around 2 hours and twists through the fantastic landscapes of the Cusco Highlands, gradually descending to the subtropical jungle where Machu Picchu is located. The train departs Poroy (outside of Cusco) and travels via Ollantaytambo to Aguas Calientes.
Peru Rail has been around the longest and has the most departures. The Expedition train departs from the Poroy Station, 20 minutes outside Cusco while the Vistadome train departs from Poroy and San Pedro Station in Cusco.
We always recommend the Vistadome train - the carriages have panoramic windows, so you can really soak up the landscape as it sails by, as well as an Andean snack with unlimited soft drinks. If you want to go by train but not pay for the luxury of the Hiram Bingham, this is a great choice.
Inca Rail is a newer company with fewer departures to get to Machu Picchu. Trains depart from Cusco, Poroy and Ollantaytambo. We always recommend either the 360° or the First Class trains; they both offer outdoor balconies and panoramic windows, with the First class train including a delicious meal and bar.
Inca Rail also offers the only charter service to Machu Picchu - your own private carriage complete with Pisco Sours, the famous Peruvian cocktails, 3-course gourmet meal and live music.
One of the most famous treks in the world, the Inca Trail is often at the top of travellers' lists when they visit Peru. However, there are actually several different routes that can be taken to reach the ancient citadel - including the Lares Trek and the Salkantay Trek. These lesser-known routes are just as scenic and often much easier to find available last minute or in busy periods when the Inca Trail is fully booked. All of them reach the same climatic end - views of Machu Picchu in the early morning light.
Before you start any of the Machu Picchu hikes, you’re advised to spend a few days before the trek in nearby Cusco to help your body acclimatise to the altitude. Machu Picchu may be the main draw here but sights like Tambomachay, Q’enco and Saqsaywaman would be the highlight if they were situated anywhere else - so make sure you spend time exploring.
The Inca Trail is one of the most iconic and spectacular treks in the world. After 26 miles and 4 days of hiking, you will emerge through the Sun Gate with views over the majestic citadel at sunrise. The Inca Trail is the only route that actually finishes at Machu Picchu itself, marking the crowning glory of achievement.
The Inca Trail is packed with ancient sites to see along the way - the semi-circular shape of Runkurakay and ruins of Sayacmarca to name a few. Only 200 permits are allowed each day, so in peak months it can sell out long in advance.
The Lares Trek is a 3-day trek, so it’s a day shorter than the Inca trail, but it reaches a higher altitude of 4,600m. It makes a great alternative to the Inca Trail since you currently don’t need a permit for this hike (unlike the Inca Trail), so you don’t need to plan your trip quite so far in advance.
The Lares Trek is much quieter than the Inca Trail - there will be times during your trek when you have the trail to yourself. The route finishes in Ollantaytambo; from here you will take the train to Aguas Calientes and visit Machu Picchu from there.
The length of the Salkantay Trek is 45 miles from start to finish, which allows you more time to enjoy the views but means a much more strenuous hike. There aren't many ruins to see along this route but you are instead rewarded with breathtaking views over the lush green hills. Soak in panoramas of Salkantay Mountain and the numerous other snow-capped peaks.
Unlike the busier Inca Trail, you are more likely to see wildlife on this route, including deer, wild chinchillas and even, if you're lucky, the odd spectacled bear.
This region has a plethora of accommodation options, from tiny homestays and basic lodges to luxurious hotels. On treks, the standard can range between simple campsites and comfortable glamping. We believe the best trips have a mix of everything, and on a trip to South America, that is easy to achieve. However, if you're looking for something really special, perhaps as part of a birthday or anniversary celebration, or even as your ultimate honeymoon adventure, here are a few of our favourite hotels and lodges.
Set in the hills just beside Machu Picchu, the Belmond Sanctuary Lodge is a haven of luxury and beauty. It is the closest you can stay to the ancient city, meaning you have the ultimate access to the site, making your visit to Machu Picchu more relaxed and less fleeting.
Staying so close to the citadel brings a high price tag but if you are looking for the ultimate luxurious experience, as well as proximity to the ruins, then the Belmond is the place to be.
Tucked away in the village of Aguas Calientes, the gateway village to the ancient city, sits the Inkaterra Machu Picchu Pueblo. An oasis of calm, it is the perfect way to escape the bustling crowds and soak up the true experience of Machu Picchu.
One of the National Geographic Unique Lodges of the World, this cosy lodge is ideal if you are looking for a luxury experience and want to maximise your time at Machu Picchu by staying in Aguas Calientes.
Deep in the Sacred Valley, between Cusco and Machu Picchu, you will find the Inkaterra Hacienda Urubamba. The views here are superb - gaze over mountains and lush plains beneath you. The decor is lovely too - sumptuous colours, local fabrics and light, airy rooms.
Although further from the citadel, staying here allows you to be in one place for longer; staying for 3 nights will give you a full day to explore the Sacred Valley and another to get the train to Machu Picchu.
A visit to Machu Picchu is usually the highlight of a trip to Peru - so you need to make sure you visit during the right time of year. As this is a world-famous historical site, it is almost always busy but there are definitely times you can avoid to try and keep away from the crowds. If you want to chat about when to visit Machu Picchu, just give us a call on +44 1273320580 or request a quote.
Rainy season engulfs the Andes, making visibility poor. Hikers are often met with a wall of cloud during these months. The Inca Trail closes every February for routine maintenance of the paths. Both the Lares Trek and the Salkantay Trek are still available during this period.
As the wet season fades away, April and May can be some of the nicest times to go to Machu Picchu. You'll find fewer visitors, quiet trekking routes and generally clear skies, although you might find some atmospheric fog will liven up your photos.
Peak season runs throughout the summer, with hotels and trekking routes booking out well in advance. Long lines and crowds are common and weather is most likely to be warm and sunny. Locals visit during the Festival of the Sun in June, making the site busier than usual.
September is still sunny and clear, as well as quieter at Machu Picchu. Through October and November, the rain begins to creep back to the mountains - it can be a beautiful time to visit though - orchids especially love the wet weather and bloom through the hills.
We have 20 years of experience planning Machu Picchu holidays. We know that this is a trip of a lifetime and it's important to get it right. If you're looking for the ultimate Peru holiday or want to include a trip to Machu Picchu as part of a larger round the world holiday, we would love to help!
Whether you have a list of everything you want to experience or don't really know where to begin, just get in touch on 01273 032494 and we can help you plan your Peru trip today.