Hidden 2,430 metres above sea level in the Andes Mountains and just beyond the Urubamba River Valley lies the ruins of Machu Picchu.
Built in the 15th century, roughly 550 years ago, the ancient sophisticated structures, astronomical alignments and dramatic panoramic views of the abandoned Inca citadel attract thousands of visitors daily.
But don’t let the crowds deter you from visiting the antiquated ruins of the Inca Empire.
While the 200 or so structures that make up Machu Picchu remain remarkably pristine there are many mysteries that remain unresolved about the site, including why it was built and just how the Incas’ had a sophisticated understanding of astronomy and agriculture.
Standing at the site’s elevated Sun Gate and looking out at the rugged topography it is amazing how well the architecture of Machu Picchu blends into the natural environment and is a unique testimony to the once mighty Inca civilisation and cultural sites all across Peru.
Once arriving in Aguas Calientes you will surely be in awe of the tiny little village that sits within the shear Peruvian cliffs, only softened by the creeping sub-tropical rainforest flora that feeds off the rock face and into the Vilcanota River.
The Inkaterra Machu Picchu Pueblo Hotel provides the best vantage point to lap up all of Aguas Calientes’ natural landscape as it sits on 12 secluded acres of exquisite beauty right next to the river.
Follow the stone pathways to Andean style terraces and back again to the first-class restaurant which not only caters to your taste buds also indulges your eyes with exquisite views of the sublime cloud forest all around you.
HOW TO GET THERE
If you haven’t opted to trek to the archaeological site of Machu Picchu you can travel to Aguas Calientes via train from Cusco. There are a few ways you can there but perhaps the most luxurious route is to catch the Hiram Bingham train.
Operated by the Belmond hotel group the Hiram Bingham - named after the American who rediscovered the ancient site - allows you to experience a magical journey from historical Cusco to Aguas Calientes, the port that hosts the Inca citadel, in less than 3 hours.
Sit in the 1920’s style Pullman carriages, furnished with comfortable armchairs and wood and brass fittings, and enjoy the 5-star dining experience while sipping on Pisco sours and gazing out to the Peruvian countryside, including the spectacular Nevado Veronica glacier.
The train not only takes care of your transfers to and from Cusco – or other stops along the way – but also includes entrance fee and a guided tour of the citadel, and afternoon tea at the Belmond operated Machu Picchu Sanctuary Lodge.
WHAT TO SEE
Machu Picchu, obviously.
WHAT TO DO
If you are fairly fit you can join the 400 or so climbers who take on the steep mountain of Wayna Picchu – meaning ‘Young Mountain’ – and situated next to the main archaeological site. But this mission is not for the faint hearted. While you don’t have to be an experienced climber to take on the two hour challenge, the vertical ascent is slippery going and not recommended for those with even the mildest fear of heights.
Machu Picchu is busiest in July and August, which is also the peak tourist season and also the not-quite-so-wet season (but it is never fully dry in the sub-tropical Andean climate).
However if you do want to avoid the crowds and rain the months of April and November would be the time for you.
WHO GOES THERE?
Everyday thousands pass through Machu Picchu’s gates but some noteworthy guests include Cindy Crawford, Cameron Diaz, Jim Carey and, of course, the lads from One Direction.