Machu Picchu map & highlights

The Spanish colonialists never found Machu Picchu. If they had, they would have broken the sacred Intihuatana stone, dispelling all deities. Thank the gods, who feel like they may still be hovering.
People would come in their millions to Peru to see the exquisite citadel, high up at 2,430m in the Andes, only discovered under the jungle in 1911 by American historian Hiram Bingham. And yet, thankfully, they canít all cram into the sacred masterpiece, where giant granite temples, ancient agricultural terraces, sacred stones and sundial, were all cut from the rock, with not one bit of mortar used to piece it all together. Because UNESCO takes its commitment to heritage very seriously, threatening to remove this iconic 15th century Andean arcadia from its World Heritage Status list, if it didnít start managing the crowds. Consequently, in 2011, the government limited visitors to 2,500 per day. Entrepreneurs have sought to build hotels, bridges, cable cars and offer fly pasts Ė all rejected. So, if you want to see the jewel, join the queue for the train or the trails like everyone else. You wonít regret it.
Aguas Calientes

1. Aguas Calientes

Aka Machu Picchu Pueblo, this final stop before Machu Picchu is a very hot one. Not only in terms of its thermal springs, but also because of the crowds staying here to start their ascent to Machu Picchu, 1.5 hours' trek away (30 mins by bus) at dawn. With plenty of restaurants, the Machu Picchu Museum and Quechua craft stalls, you can also hike to Putucusi Peak, with virtuosic views of Machu Picchu.

2. Chinchero

This rustic little town just north of Cuzco has some notable Incan ruins and agricultural terraces, and the market here is fantastic for woven Andean textiles. However, Chinchero is better known as the proposed site for a hugely controversial new airport. Historians, archaeologists and environmentalists oppose the project, but there is local political support for the potential economic benefits.

3. Cuzco

Cuzco was the capital of the Inca Empire, but for modern tourists, it may as well be the capital of Peru. This UNESCO World Heritage Site, sitting at a cool 3,400m, is the gateway to the Inca Trail, colourful Quechua culture and snow-sprinkled peaks. The colonial architecture of this cobblestoned city is beautifully preserved, and it's a great place to adjust to the altitude before setting off to explore the riches of the Andes.
Huayna Picchu

4. Huayna Picchu

It is always worth escaping the crowds to see Machu Picchu from afar, and although this "young peak", aka Wayna Picchu, is almost as iconic as the ruins, shadowing every selfie, fewer people climb it. Partly thanks to number restrictions, at 400 people per day, but also vertigo; this veritably vertiginous two-hour trail juts up to 360m higher than Machu Picchu, requiring the use of ropes, rope bridges and total resolution.
Inca Bridge

5. Inca Bridge

Less a bridge, more a stone mountain trail thought to have been used as a secret entrance to Machu Picchu by the Incan army, this is a cunning piece of engineering. The path is cut into the rock face, with a six-metre gap over a 600m drop. Unwanted visitors would probably see that as a deathtrap, whereas the army could bridge the gap with tree trunks.
Inca Trail

6. Inca Trail

The iconic trek through Andean arcadia, following Inca-laid stone paths. Strictly regulated, with 500 trekking permits per day, including porters and guides, this books out months in advance. The 3-4 day hike at high altitude passes traditional Quechua villages, through alpine tundra and cloud forests, camping en route. Alternative and equally dramatic routes, with no permit caps, are Salkantay and Lares.
Machu Picchu main site

7. Machu Picchu main site

The 15th century Incan citadel is an archeological arcadia, stretching over 13km2. Astounding even staunch historyphobes Ė if not for the the Sacred Solar Clock, the Temple of the Sun, the Royal Quarters or the Temple of the Three Windows, then for the setting alone. Perched on a 2,430m peak in the Andes above the Urubamba River valley, it always begs the question Ė how the hell did they do that?
Machu Picchu Mountain

8. Machu Picchu Mountain

Many people choose to climb a mountain for spectacular panoramas over Machu Picchu. Huayna Picchu is the iconic peak, but Machu Picchu Mountain, south-west of the citadel, is less busy, less steep and has a wider trail. The views are just as magnificent however. If you do opt for a trek in Machu Picchu then your visiting time can be extended to six hours.
The Sun Gate

9. The Sun Gate

The point of entry for hikers who have climbed up along the Inca Trail. The real name is Inti Punku in Quechua, dedicated to the sun god, Inti. Once a fortress for the citadel, with views beyond the beyond, trekkers rush here for sunrise. But in fact, it is often misty at dawn, so consider chilling and avoiding the crowds. Daytrippers hike out to it for the views, about an hour from the citadel.
Train to Machu Picchu

10. Train to Machu Picchu

The train from Cuzco, 3.5hrs through Andean foothills, Urubamba River and Sacred Valleys, terminates at Aguas Calientes, where you hike for 1.5 hours or take a shuttle to Machu Picchu. Perfect for tailor made vacations, choose the budget Expedition train, Vistadome or Hiram Bingham. The latter two have panoramic views (Bingham being the big bucks bubbly en route package). Best views are from LHS going up and RHS coming down.
Travel Team
If you'd like to chat about Machu Picchu or need help finding a vacation to suit you we're very happy to help.
Heather MacBrayne, founder of our specialist operator Discover South America:
ďI lived in Cuzco for seven years following an internship at the Inca Museum there. Iíve probably been up to Machu Picchu between 20 and 25 times, including a few treks on the Inca Trail, the Lares Trek and the Salkantay Trek. I think the visitor restrictions have been effective overall, but the entrance timings donít really work as thereís nothing stopping someone from overstaying, so youíll often have more footfall than youíre supposed to. And, as itís a one-way slow road up there, you still end up with big queues at the entrance.Ē
Written by Rob Perkins
Photo credits: [Page banner: Bill Damon] [Aguas Calientes: Tobias Mandt] [Chinchero: Yusuke Kawasaki] [Cuzco: Kenneth Moore] [Huayna Picchu: icelight] [Inca Bridge: Martin St-Amant] [Inca trail: Craig Nagy] [Machu Picchu Main Site: Thiago Melo] [Machu Picchu Mountain: Pedro Szekely] [The sun gate: Colegota] [Train to Machu Picchu: Bruce Tuten] [Heather quote: John Seb Barber]