Peru is an important tourist destination in South America and it’s a steady destination in every Peru Itinerary. It’s also one of the most popular travel destinations in South America. Many travelers who are visiting Peru, see the Machu Picchu mountain range and Machu Picchu ruins as one of the highlights of their trip to Peru and that’s for a good reason. We enjoyed our trip to Machu Picchu a lot and we were both very impressed with the changing views from the Cuzco train to Machu Picchu. After a detour through the touristic town of Aguas Calientes, we climbed the Machu Picchu mountain inside a bus that takes you up to the ruins, but many travelers decide to follow one of the many Machu Picchu trails to visit the ruins and enjoy a lot of magnificent scenery and culture along the way. We listed the most popular hikes around Machu Picchu mountain below and this article will provide you with a lot of information and facts about these stunning ruins in the mountainous landscape of Peru. Machu Picchu isn’t the only attraction in Peru and most travelers visit many other destinations in the country as well. If you don’t have a lot of time to spare, you could easily see the highlights of Peru in 9 days.
Ancient Mystery – Machu Picchu Mountain ruins Guide
The Machu Picchu mountain ruins are a different story. Visiting these ruins has been a childhood dream ever since I saw the ruins in a Belgian comic book “Jommeke”. We had to go there. I wanted to feel the magical and mysterious vibe the ruins held for me. This city, that was never found nor destroyed by the Spaniards, was lying amidst these strange mountains of Peru. When traveling by train to the ruins, the landscape changes and mountains grow. Next to the train rail, the Urubamba river meanders over a rocky riverbed. You feel yourself nearing the site because of these specific mountain formations. It would have been great to walk the trail, but we didn’t want to walk it along with 400 other people. So we decided to take the train, which wasn’t less touristic. Our train journey to Machu Picchu started in Cusco: the main hub for visiting the ruins.
Getting to Cusco Peru
A seven-hour bus trip takes us from Puno to Cusco. We studied a city map of Cusco and know exactly where we need to go. After walking 15 meters, we start doubting. A dingy roadside restaurant is a perfect place to have a drink and ask directions. Our plan fails miserably. The girl working at the restaurant doesn’t know any of the street names. She probably doesn’t even live in Cusco. Even the people in the streets are doubtful. Are we actually in Cusco? One guy seems to know. He says we should get a taxi because the city center is far away. We don’t plan on paying for a taxi. Only carrying our day pack, we can easily walk a few kilometers. If only someone knew the right direction. After a while, we succeed and two hours later we finally reach the hostel we were looking for.
Cusco can be reached from almost any city in the Cusco area by bus and bus travel in Peru is comfortable and good. There are quite a few bus terminals in Cusco and as you can read above, we didn’t care to do our homework, so we didn’t really know where we were when we arrived at the Terminal Terrestre, 2,4 kilometers out of the historic city center. From the main bus terminal, it should be a 20-minute walk to town or you can catch a taxi at the terminal.
Thanks to the huge popularity of the Machu Picchu mountain ruins, Cusco also has an airport. The Cusco International Airport is located in the actual city center of Cusco. Getting to your accommodation can be done by walking or by getting a taxi at the airport.
Cusco – Gateway to Machu Picchu mountain range
Cusco is really a magical city where the ancient vibe can be felt in every building and alley. That is, of course, if you’re walking in the historic city center, which we recommend doing. The historic center takes in the largest part of the city and it’s the most popular place to hang out. You can find a lot of awesome hostels and other accommodation in this part of town and you can easily spend a few days in this magical place. Cusco counts a lot of museums and beautiful squares where you can relax and watch life unfold at it’s slow but steady pace.
If you arrive in Cusco by airplane, you might need a few days to adapt to the Cusco altitude anyway, since the city is located at 3400 meters above sea level. Cusco weather is good all year long, but temperature rises during the day and nights tend to be cold, as it usually is in mountainous areas.
Optimize your stay in Cusco with this 3-day itinerary for Cusco.
Cusco to Aguas Calientes
The train to Aguas Calientes leaves from Poroy station, short for the Spanish “Por Hoy Estamos Aqui”, meaning “Today we are here”. We’re practically alone in the train and discussing how people warned us about reassuring tickets early, but in high season you should definitely book your tickets in advance. A stewardess brings cookies and tea, probably because she felt bad we paid so much for this ride. The trip is very scenic and we get a lot of time to watch the scenery since the train is going very slow. It takes us a few hours to travel 40 kilometers. I can’t complain. I enjoyed every minute of the trip and have been looking outside the entire time. Seeing the Urubamba river next to you the entire time, while the mountains change to the typical Machu Picchu mountain shapes. Perfect! A few hours later, we arrive in Aguas Calientes. Machu Picchu is located a few kilometers from Aguas Calientes and the tiny town shows these magical mountains, covered in mist.
Aguas Calientes – Gateway to Machu Picchu mountain range
This village is the nearest accommodation to Machu Picchu ruins and every tourist passes here. Leaving the station, there is no way around the massive souvenir market. Prices here are much higher than in other places. The visitors only stay for one or two nights here, to never return again. We discover that the quality standard for budget accommodation and the food is pretty low. The owners know you’ll be staying anyway because you don’t have a choice. Every hotel and hostel are booked weeks or months in advance, so make sure to get a bed before you arrive or you might be out of luck.
Aguas Calientes is located in the beautiful Machu Picchu mountain range and the surroundings are simply stunning. Even though we didn’t really like the touristy vibe in the small town, we can’t deny the charm of the entire scenery surrounding this place.
Machu Picchu mountain ruins Guide
Every activity that has anything to do with Machu Picchu has a daily visitor limit. This means you have to book a ticket in advance to make sure you’ll get in. One bus after the other is leaving Aguas Calientes to take visitors up the Machu Picchu mountain. The 8-kilometer ride zigzags straight up the mountain. After each turn, the view keeps getting better. The further away we are from Aguas Calientes the cozier the little town looks. Apparently, this is the time the crowds arrive, just like us. Obviously, we’re not the only people who think Machu Picchu is a magical place to go. Hundreds of people can take away all of that magic in an instant. Next to the entrance is a little restaurant that sells hamburgers and other food for the price of a healthy horse. We pass the guards, security post and then we’re finally in!
Wandering Machu Picchu mountain ruins
The site is neat and well maintained. In most places, it is possible to avoid crowds and even be just by yourself. We enjoy the scenery a lot. The surrounding mountain range is so powerful and protecting, with clouds covering the peaks. The number of people trying to make the recognizable photograph of Machu Picchu in the background is higher the number of church visitors in the entire country of Belgium. To make a good photo, you need to practice a lot of patience, but if you are, it will work. It’s weird when you think about it. The first non-Peruvian person discovering this place needed a lot of persuading his fellow travelers that this place was really worth the hike. They didn’t believe him and didn’t feel like hiking for a few days to see some rocks and deserted buildings. Nobody needs any persuading these days. This place is just magical and everyone acknowledges it…
Machu Picchu trail and hikes around Machu Picchu Mountain
A lot of hikes are available in the Machu Picchu mountain range. The Machu Picchu altitude is over 2400 meters above sea level, so prepare for the altitude before starting any of these hikes around Machu Picchu.
Hiking the Inca Trail
Hiking the Inca trail is a popular method to reach the magnificent Machu Picchu ruins in a multiple day trek. Unfortunately, only a few hundred people are allowed to start the trek each day and the tour for hiking the Inca trail to Machu Picchu tends to sell out months before the actual trek. If you plan on hiking the Inca trail, you get to choose from a few options of which the Inca Trail in 4 days is probably the most popular and the best option to choose.
Salkantay Trek to Machu Picchu
The Salkantay Trek to Machu Picchu is second on our list of hikes to Machu Picchu mountain and many people choose this Machu Picchu trail because the Inca trail has sold out. But the Salkantay trek is definitely not the lesser Machu Picchu trail to hike and the views on the trail are simply stunning!
Lares Trek to Machu Picchu
The Lares Trek to Machu Picchu takes 2 or 3 days and covers over 35 kilometers through the Urubamba river valley. There are a few different possible routes to do this trek, but all of them start close to the village of Lares, near Machu Picchu.
Hike from Choquequirao to Machu Picchu
This Machu Picchu trail takes you from one set of ruins to the next, through the beautiful Machu Picchu mountain range. This hike does not require a permit like the Inca trail does and it’s a quieter solution to the busy and crowded Inca trail hike.
Practical information – Machu Picchu Guide
|Maximum visitor limit Machu Picchu||2500 people per day|
|Maximum visitor limit to start the Inca Trail||400 people per day|
|Maximum amount of people to climb Huayna Picchu||400 people per day|
You need to buy tickets to Machu Picchu before you arrive because of the visitor restrictions. This is a link to the Machu Picchu website where you can buy tickets. You can only take a 20-liter backpack into the ruins.