Machu Picchu is globally known for being one of the modern Seven World Wonders. Indeed, it is the best preserved known inca city in the world and surrounded by a stunning mountain panorama. This is why every day 6000 visitors crowd into the site. In order to accommodate all these tourists, a whole city, called Agua calientes, was built from scratch. Restaurants, Bars, Hotels and souvenir shops are supposed to be everything the modern tourist’s heart could wish for and, all in all, it feels like spending the night at Disney Land. So is this historic Inca site really worth a visit or is it just too crowded to enjoy?
When you take the bus in the morning, the Disney land experience continues, as, in the middle of the city center, people wait in huge lines for their bus that brings them right to the famous Machu Picchu. Organizers held boards with entry ticket times that show people in which line to wait. For an entrance at 7 am, it was recommended to start queuing at ten to six in the morning in order to be sure to arrive at the site on time. Despite this Theme Park Deja vu, I must admit that the boarding procedure is pretty well organized and there is no pushing, shouting or doubling. After waiting in line for about 40 minutes, we were finally on our way to the site, just a 30 minutes bus ride away. Some more adventurous travellers skip the bus and hike one hour and a half from agua calientes to Machu Picchu.
We had a ticket for 7 am, knowing that the first people had already entered the site between 6 and 7 am. Once again, entering the site is organized with boards and well formed lines so that we passed the entrance at ten past 7. We then quickly climbed up our way to the view point in order to get some nice pictures before the crowd would arrive.
At 7 am this is still possible and watching down the majestic inca site feels just amazing. You immediately forget about the long way you took in order to get here and just savour the moment, feeling humble in presence of this unique place on earth.
Machu Picchu Mountain
After this very special moment, it was time to go on as we had tickets for climbing up the Machu Picchu Mountain. This is one of the things you can do in order to leave the crowd behind. Almost 3000 steps will lead you to the top of this Mountain at a height of 3082 m (600 m higher than the Machu Picchu site). Not more than 400 people are allowed to enter this part of the site at a time and even though you are not alone, the crowd stays reasonable.
Anyway, given the extreme conditions you climb up one step after the other on the original inca stairs that just don’t want to end, it is good to have some allies that can cheer you up. Count one hour and a half to two hours to arrive on the top and don’t get demotivated when you see more and more steps appearing behind every corner. You will get there!
And always remember, once you arrive at the summit, you will quickly forget about the pain in your legs and enjoy the incredible view on Machu Picchu and its surroundings.
When we came back to the site, at around 10:30, the atmosphere had changed quite a bit and big groups of tourists tried to get their way through the small paths creating huge traffic jams. It was not that easy to arrive back at the entrance where we had a meeting with our guide.
Guide or no guide?
This is a question we always ask ourselves and it is true that it depends a lot on the quality of the services whether it is worth to pay for a guide. This time, the agency had booked us a guide already in advance so we can’t say anything about the guides you can book at the entrance. It probably depends whether you are lucky or not.
But one thing we can say is that our guide was amazing! Once we entered the site again he made us forget about the other tourists and took us to a journey in the land of the incas. He managed to find places with almost nobody around and explained us the life, culture, and architecture of the Incas. We were completely fascinated by all this new information and got answers to all our questions.
So, yes, we would definitely recommend you taking a guide in order learn more about the life of the incas and their history.
Short history lesson
Machu Picchu is the best preserved inca city in the world because the Spanish, when arriving in Peru, never get that deep in this mountainous region, and, thus, never found the site. However, its population was warned about the arrival of the Spanish and abandoned the site around 1450, only one century after building it. When you look carefully, you can still see unfinished parts of the city.
In order to be able to cultivate food in the mountains, the Incas built huge terrasses. You can still see those at several places of the Sacred Valley. They also built an elaborated watering system which is still working today.
Many things of the Inca’s culture and history is still unclear, not only because the Spanish colonists, when arriving in Peru during the 15th century, destroyed everything they found while looking for gold, but also because researchers did not yet manage to understand the scripts. Indeed, the Incas were communicating with so called Quipus, or talking knots, which are knotted strings that were used as writings. With the help of sprinters and elaborated remote systems, those messages were delivered hundred of miles away in only some hours.
Worth a visit?
There are of course many other things to learn and to discover when visiting the Mach Picchu site. And although getting there takes a while, is quite expensive and the site is crowded, it is still definitely worth the detour. It’s a unique place of South American civilization and we loved the whole experience. It was one of the highlights of our Peru trip.
However, we would recommend to take tickets for early in the morning (6 or 7 am) as afterwards the site fills up very fast. We loved the quiet morning atmosphere when standing on the top of the viewing point and look down to this majestic site.
If you want to leave the other tourists behind, there are several hikes you can chose from. And of course there is also the possibility of hiking the whole inca trail for more adventurous visitors.
Discover our full Peru/Bolivia travel video here.
Also read our article Lake Titicaca: How to best discover the peruvian side and and our 2 weeks itinerary.