Recently I spent a few weeks traveling around Peru and decided that one of the places I needed to see was Machu Picchu, the amazing ruins that attract millions of people, located high atop a mountain in the Sacred Valley. Shocker right? Well, it’s definitely the most popular attraction in Peru, but I wanted to see it for a different reason. More than anything I wanted to not only see it and get some photos, I wanted to learn as much as I could about it, why it was built and what happened there. Here are some of the things I discovered that will help anyone visiting Machu Picchu have a more insightful and educational experience.
1. Arrive Early in the Morning
People sleep in when they travel and this is often the best time to see a popular attraction. This is true of the Roman Colosseum and most sites in Paris, France and it is equally true of Machu Picchu. I arrived on one of the first buses to the top and was glad I did. Most of the property is completely empty, peaceful and beautifully colored. Also, the other people in the area are there for similar reasons as you are – to appreciate the experience and tranquility of Machu Picchu. This allows for a much more cordial and courteous group of people who share the site instead of competing for it. The early morning is the absolute best time to visit the ruins of Machu Picchu and a close second is often staying until it is time to close.
2. Hike Wayna Picchu
Everyone has seen the magnificent mountain that steeply rises from the ruins of Machu Picchu like a tower into the sky. If you pay attention to #1 above and arrive by 7:00AM with your previously purchased pass, you and 199 other people can hike it! Yes, only 200 can climb the mountain each day to help keep it from enduring too much traffic. This mountain is called Wayne Picchu and it is a very special mountain to the Quechuan people. Remember from my article, Exploring Cusco, Peru – Capital of the Great Inca Empire, that the word “Inca” actually refers to the king although it is now commonly used to identify the tribal people. In reality, what we refer to as the “Incan people” are actually Quechuan.
Wayna Picchu is a great hike and while it is demanding, it is certainly possible for anyone who is reasonably healthy. My Mother and I met an elderly lady from Japan who had a noticeable limp and was traveling with her daughter. We ended up hiking Wayna Picchu with them. While she did need a hand here and there, this woman was a trooper and did quite well, making it all the way to the top and loving every minute of it! The hike up Wayna Picchu will take a number of hours so bring the following:
- 2-3 bottles of water per person
- quality athletic shoes or hiking boots
- breathable clothing that allows you to move freely
- a hat if you want to avoid sun exposure
- a small bag that you can carry on your back
- a quality camera to capture those amazing views
- a really good attitude
You’ll be completely fine hiking the mountain if you stay hydrated, wear good shoes and pay attention to what you’re doing. There are a couple of different overlooks where you can stop and take in the views. The peak of Wayna Picchu is called Montaña and it is definitely worth the extra 10 minute hike from the largest overlook positioned just below it. From the peak you can see the Amazon Rain Forest, a glacier and the amazing surroundings for miles around.
3. Hire a Private Tour Guide
We went through Peru Trip Advisors and they hooked us up with the most amazing professional guides we could have hoped for all over Peru and certainly at Machu Picchu as well. Remember that tour guides in Peru must complete many years of schooling and become government certified in order to work in the tourism industry. These people are recognized experts in their field and are tremendously well-educated and insightful. Our guide was Quechuan and lives within the Quechuan tradition so he was able to thoroughly explain the little intricate details of the culture that you’ll want to know when visiting and trying to understand a place like Machu Picchu. Remember that the Inca Empire was vast and each area had its own special thing that it contributed to the empire as a whole. For Machu Picchu, it was education, medicine and religion. This was a place of academics, a facility for the development of medicinal plants, a center of study and knowledge and a holy place where the Quechuan religion was revered.
Soil samples taken from the terraces of Machu Picchu reveal thousands of different medicinal plants were grown, bred and hybridized here to treat any number of possible illnesses. The educational and religious facilities are immense as their importance to the empire was equally tremendous. Machu Picchu being a holy place and a center for the intelligentsia, makes it special in the Quechuan culture. Having a tour guide who can explain this in great details brings these old, silent ruins to life once more.
4. Eat at the Restaurant at Machu Picchu
There is really only one restaurant at the top of the mountain by the Machu Picchu ruin site. Let me tell you, it’s worth it. Peruvian cuisine is extremely sophisticated and diverse and is considered to be the greatest of all American cuisines. The chefs are outstanding, the food is delicious, varied and beautiful and it’s all you can eat! After hiking Wayna Picchu and roaming around the ruins of Machu Picchu all day, you’ll really enjoy this eating experience. The offerings are not limited to Peruvian dishes. You can find a lot of other common, high quality dishes that you can find in Europe and the U.S. as well. Just try it!
Peru has one of the best and most diverse cuisines on the planet Earth. After all, the Inca (Quechuan) people developed a huge percentage of the foods we still eat to this day. Thousands of types of potato, hundreds of types of corn, fish, exotic fruits and delicious meats, Peru has it all! The restaurant at the Machu Picchu ruins will not disappoint! Remember, everything and everyone in Peru is benefiting from the tourism industry and these people go out of their way to ensure that you love your experience in their country. The hospitality in Peru is amazing! Eat here and you will be glad you did.
5. All the Little Things
Get your passport stamped – it’s free and you can do this yourself at a little table near the entrance to the ruins.
- Go during shoulder season – fewer tourists. November – March is best. Christmas holiday is busy.
- Get elevated photos – behind the Machu Picchu ruins and 10 min. from the center is an amazing view for this.
- Don’t bother the llamas – they’re not really very friendly and are great for photos, but should be left alone.
- Take time to sit and take it in – avoid rushing. Find a quiet place to sit and just take in this amazing place.
- Do some research beforehand – have a few unique things at Machu Picchu you want to explore in person.
- Find the condor alter – ask someone if you have to, but find it and learn how it was used. Fascinating!
And a short video to give you some authentic views from Machu Picchu and Wayna Picchu.
These are the things I recommend you consider when taking a trip to Machu Picchu. And by all means, take a trip to Machu Picchu. Put these tips to work for you and you will be more than satisfied with your amazing experience standing inside the ruins of the one and only Machu Picchu!
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