Machu Picchu is probably the most famous Inca ruin city in Peru. The "city in the clouds" is set against the breathtaking backdrop of the Andes at an altitude of over 2,300 metres and blends in perfectly with the mountain top.
Machu Picchu, probably the most famous Inca ruin city in the Andes of Peru, is located about 75km northwest of the former Inca capital Cusco. Its name translated from Quechua means "old bird", but it is also very aptly called the "city in the clouds".
The Inca settlement was built in 1450 against the breathtaking backdrop of the Andes at an altitude of 2,360 metres. It is picturesquely situated on its mountaintop and amazes every visitor with its sophisticated construction.
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Machu Picchu as a wonder of the world
Machu Picchu has been on the UNESCO World Heritage List since 1983. In the course of the unofficial worldwide election of the "New 7 Wonders ofthe World" in 2007, Machu Picchu was also able to claim this title for itself. We have of course included Machu Picchu in our list of the top 10 sights of Peru.
Why is Machu Picchu so special?
The rediscovery of Machu Picchu officially took place in 1911. The American explorer Hiram Bingham discovered the ruined city during his search for Vilcabamba, the last refuge of the Incas from the Spanish invaders.
Only 20km from the actual Vilcabamba, he uncovered the impressive settlement remains and made his find known worldwide. Malicious tongues claim that he had previously had the treasures of Machu Picchu brought quietly and secretly to the United States.
Built by a powerful Inca king
The order for the construction of Machu Picchu was given by the Inca ruler Pachacútec Yupanqui, who laid the foundation for the powerful rise of the Inca Empire and also introduced the cult of the sun god Inti. Only conjectures can be made about the exact intention of the city due to the lack of records.
Nestled seamlessly against the mountain
Due to the steep terrain that mountain peaks have, the 216 stone buildings were perfectly adapted to the topographical conditions. They were built on terraces and connected to each other by a labyrinth of stairs consisting of about 3,000 steps.
Perfect water conduction system
The water supply for the up to 1,000 inhabitants was provided by a sophisticated cascade-shaped well and canal system, which was also responsible for the regulated drainage of rainwater.
Original Inca walls like 550 years ago
Machu Picchu was never reached by the Spanish conquerors and was therefore not destroyed. Both the buildings and the streets have been restored in recent years and can be visited in their original state from back then.
The famous construction method of the earthquake-proof Inca walls with perfectly interlocking stones without mortar is on particularly impressive display here.
What is the best way to get to Machu Picchu?
Today, Machu Picchu is so popular among Peru's sights that UNESCO has now limited the number of visitors to 800 per day so as not to endanger the World Heritage Site. Tickets to visit Machu Picchu must be booked in advance on the government website.
The easiest way to reach the city in the clouds is from Aquas Calientes, a village at the foot of Machu Picchu, which can be reached by train. From there, it's a good 8 kilometres by bus or on foot up narrow switchbacks to the breathtaking summit.
Hiking the Inca Trail
The famous summit town can also be reached via a steep mountain trail over the Huayna Picchu (Young Summit) complex. The much more spectacular and traditional alternative is an ancient and comparatively wide Inca trail. This leads from the royal city of Cusco via Llactapata to Machu Picchu.
Via the traditional Inca paths, the hike to Machu Picchu takes several days, but the panorama on this trip is absolutely stunning! From this site, Machu Picchu is reached through the famous Sun Gate.
Sights of Machu Picchu
The complex itself, with its masterfully crafted walls, the stunning views of the surrounding mountain peaks and the unforgettable atmosphere of this magical city cast a spell over every visitor.
Sun Gate and Sun Temple
In addition to the Sun Gate, the highlights of Machu Picchu include the Temple of the Sun. The floor sculpture inside it probably served as a water mirror for observing the sky.
It is also probably the most fascinating example of the typical Inca mortarless stone construction method. Incidentally, this can also be admired in some lesser-known but equally fascinating Inca sites. Sacsayhuamán and Ollantaytambo are directly on the way from Cusco to Machu Picchu.
The Intihuatana (literally: place where one captures the sun) is located at the highest point of Machu Picchu and is also particularly remarkable. The artistically carved stone produces fascinating shadow plays and probably served as a sundial. Due to its special inclination, the Intihuatana casts no shadow exactly on the days of the two solstices.
View of Machu Picchu from the neighbouring summit
Those who still have strength in their legs after the steep climb should not miss the spectacular hike to the dizzying neighbouring mountain Wayna Picchu, which offers fantastic views of the Machu Picchu complex.
Further on, there are adventurous paths to the Moon Temple and the Great Cave. Many hikers judge the view to be less spectacular, but in the secluded forest patches many wild animals can appear as if from nowhere, even the rare spectacled bears have been spotted.
Best time to visit Machu Picchu
The best time to visit Machu Picchu is June, July and August. In the European summer, Peru is most likely to have dry and reasonably warm weather. However, as Machu Picchu is located at an altitude of over 2,000 metres above sea level, temperatures rarely exceed the 20°C mark.
Tip: If you visit Machu Picchu in May or September, you will probably also be lucky with the weather and can still enjoy the city of clouds outside the high season without a big tourist rush.