Steeped in rich history and shrouded in mystery, Machu Picchu was once an important cultural location for the Inca people of South America and is now an archaeological site that plays a critical role in helping modern people understand how indigeous peoples in the Americas lived prior to the Spanish Conquest of the region and interaction with Europeans. Due to the remote location of Machu Picchu, the length of time that it was ‘undiscovered’, and the romance of making the trek up to this spectacular mountaintop wonder, there are a lot of questions that people have about the site, so it is best to just dive in and uncover all that there is to know about this citadel high up in the Andes!

Questions on the History of Machu Picchu

What is Machu Picchu?

Initially believed to have been Vilcabamba, the “Lost city of the Incas,” Machu Picchu is now believed by archaeologists and historians to have been an estate built for the Incan emperor Pachacuti.

When was Machu Picchu built?

Although the exact date is unknown, Machu Picchu was most likely constructed around 1450 CE, during the reign of the Inca emperor Pachacuti, making the site approximately 571 years old.

Why was Machu Picchu built?

Although the exact reason why Machu Picchu was built is debated, it was most likely used as an estate for the Inca emperors and as a ceremonial centre. It is estimated that approximately 750 people lived at the site, mostly serving in staff or religious roles to support the royals when they would visit.

How was Machu Picchu built?

The Inca people were expert stone masons, and Machu Picchu was built using a technique called Ashlar, where stones are cut so precisely that they don’t need to be fitted with mortar. With many of the stones weighing well in excess of 50 pounds, it is thought that they were pushed uphill by hundreds of men, all without the use of wheels. As the site sits on two fault lines, the buildings also contain many features used to limit the effects of seismic activity.

Baby lamas, Machu Picchu
Baby lamas, Machu Picchu

Why is Machu Picchu of great archaeological importance?

While Machu Picchu is seen as one of the most spectacular urban creations of the Inca Empire, the fact that it is so remote meant that it was not found (and subsequently destroyed) by the Spanish, as were many of the other Inca cities. This makes Machu Picchu a true archaeological gem that allows modern people the chance to explore the past through a very unique lens.

Is Machu Picchu a World Wonder?

Although not one of the original Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, Machu Picchu was chosen as one of the New Seven Wonders of the World by means of an internet poll in 2007.

When was Machu Picchu discovered?

Although the location of Machu Picchu was known to locals for centuries, it was only ‘discovered’ on July 24, 1911.

Who discovered Machu Picchu?

Although Machu Picchu is often described as being ‘discovered’ by American historian and explorer Hiram Bingham III in 1911, the site had already been known to locals for centuries, with some people still farming the ancient terraces at the time Bingham arrived. Even still, there is evidence that Bingham was not even the first outsider to reach the site, although he was the first scientific discoverer to bring international attention to the ruins.

Machu Picchu ancient Peruvian village ruins hiking trekking Peru
Machu Picchu ancient Peruvian village ruins hiking trekking Peru

Frequently Asked Questions About the Geography of Machu Picchu

Where is Machu Picchu?

Machu Picchu is located 49.7mi northwest of Cusco, at the crest of the Machu Picchu Peak that gives the site its name.

What is the altitude of Machu Picchu

Machu Picchu is located on the crest of a mountain of the same name and sits at 7972ft above sea level. This is over 3281ft lower than nearby Cusco.

What Mountain Range is Machu Picchu in?

Machu Picchu can be found in the Cordillera de Vilcabamba Range of the Andes Mountains, and sits in a saddle between the Machu Picchu and Huayna Picchu peaks.

Machu Picchu hiking HuaynaPicchu mountain peak range trekking hiking Peru
Machu Picchu hiking HuaynaPicchu mountain peak range trekking hiking Peru

Questions on Language in and Around Machu Picchu

What languages will I encounter at Machu Picchu?

While Peru is home to some 50 different languages, the most common languages that you will encounter in and around Machu Picchu are Spanish and the indigenous Quechua.

What does Machu Picchu mean in Quechua?

In Quechua – the indigenous language of the area – Machu Picchu means “Old Mountain” or “Old Peak”.

How do you pronounce Machu Picchu?

For most English and Spanish speakers, the first ‘c’ in Picchu is a silent letter, meaning that the name is pronounced Maa-choo-pee-choo.

Machu Picchu Ashlar architecture
Machu Picchu Ashlar architecture

Common Questions About the Logistics of Reaching Machu Picchu

What airport do you fly into to reach Machu Picchu?

To reach Machu Picchu by plane, you will likely need to fly into Lima, as most flights into Peru will arrive at Jorge Chávez International Airport. From here, it is a 1.5 hour flight into ​​Alejandro Velasco Astete Airport in Cusco, which is the airport nearest to Machu Picchu.

How do you get to Machu Picchu?

After arriving in Cusco and taking some time to acclimatize to the altitude, there will be several different options to reach Machu Picchu. While the most popular by far is a multi-day trek to the site (more on that below) there are also public transit options available. Taking the train will bring you to the town of Aguas Calientes, where you can opt for a shorter hike up the mountainside or you can take a bus ride up to the top to make for an easier experience.

How long does it take to get to Machu Picchu?

The length of time that it takes to reach Machu Picchu will solely depend upon what type of adventure you are setting out on. If travelling by train from Poroy Station in Cusco, you can expect a 3h 15min train ride to Aguas Calientes, plus another 30min by bus to reach the gates of Machu Picchu. If you plan on trekking to Machu Picchu, the time to reach the mountaintop site can vary from 4-8 days depending on which trek you choose.

Lamas Alpacas wandering through Machu Picchu Peru
Lamas Alpacas wandering through Machu Picchu Peru

How much does a trip to Machu Picchu cost?

The cost of a trip to Machu Picchu will again vary depending on the type of adventure that you choose. There are several different options for taking the train to Aguas Calientes, which can range from a basic round-trip experience at $140 USD to a luxury one at $950 USD. From there, the bus ticket up to Machu Picchu will be another $24 and the cost to enter the site itself is $47. In terms of the trekking cost, this will vary based on group size and which trek you are aiming to complete; however, you can expect to pay $1000+.

What is the best time of year to visit Machu Picchu?

The best time to visit Machu Picchu depends largely on your tolerance for poor weather conditions, as the site is open year-round. The most popular time for visitors is during the July-August window due to favourable weather conditions; however, if you want to experience Machu Picchu without the insane volumes of people, then the October-April window will be the best time to visit. For more information on when to visit, check out this article on seasonality at Machu Picchu.

On what day is Machu Picchu the busiest?

Machu Picchu is busiest on Sundays, as locals are allowed to enter the site for free. This drastically increases the number of visitors at the site and should be avoided if at all possible.

Machu Picchu ancient civilization Peru
Machu Picchu ancient civilization Peru

Frequently Asked Questions About Hiking/Trekking to Machu Picchu

Hiking and trekking are the most romantic, beautifully scenic, and arguably the most popular way in which visitors choose to reach Machu Picchu; however there are plenty of questions and misconceptions about the journey that people may encounter when planning a trip to the famous Inca citadel. Hopefully the answers below will be able to shore up some of the questions that you have about the entire experience and make planning your grand adventure to Machu Picchu a little bit easier.

What are the most popular trails to Machu Picchu?

While there are a number of different Machu Picchu treks that offer their own unique experiences, the most popular by far is the Inca Trail that will take you along the historic route that was used by the Inca people themselves to approach the city. Other popular treks include the Salkantay Trek and the Lares Trek.

What to wear and what to pack for Machu Picchu?

Aside from sturdy hiking boots with great ankle support, what you pack for a Machu Picchu trek will depend on the season in which you are visiting the site. It is usually very hot and humid during the day, but can be quite cold at night due to the altitude, so you will need to bring a variety of clothing for all conditions. Additionally, rainfall is a near constant in the area, so a poncho will certainly come in handy. For more information, check out this article on what to pack for a trek to Machu Picchu.

What is the cost of a Machu Picchu trek?

As each of the various treks to Machu Picchu will take a different route and feature its own accommodations and travel arrangements, there is naturally a difference in the cost between them. The Inca Trail Trek and Lares Trek can cost $1350 USD per person for a group of two, whereas the Salkantay Trek can be as low as $1300 USD for the same amount of people. This cost can often be offset by increasing the number of people in your party, thereby creating a lower average cost for each traveller. Make sure that you explore the different options in order to find the perfect tour and price point for your Machu Picchu adventure.

Peruvian Incan history
Peruvian Incan history

How difficult is a trek to Machu Picchu?

Although each of the treks to Machu Picchu will feature different routes, terrain, and itineraries, all of them will most certainly be a strenuous journey. The Inca Trail is arguably the most challenging, as the second day of the trek will see you traverse Dead Woman’s Pass, a dizzying experience that will have you hiking at 13780ft above sea level. The Salkantay Trek is the longest of the three most popular routes, which will inevitably make it a bit more of a challenge, whereas the Lares Trek sits somewhere in the middle in terms of difficulty.

What is the distance to trek to Machu Picchu?

Again, the overall distance that you will cover on a trek to Machu Picchu will vary depending on your chosen trip. For the Inca Trail, you will be covering 28.0mi on the way to the site, while the Lares Trek is much shorter at only 19.3mi. Alternatively, you can also choose to reach Machu Picchu along the Salkantay Trek, although it is a bit longer at 31.1mi.

What is the elevation of a Machu Picchu trek?

As with distance, there will also be varying elevations that you will reach on each of the different Machu Picchu treks. The most popular of the routes, the Inca Trail, will see you reach a maximum height of 13829ft, while the Salkantay Trek will take you a bit higher up, reaching a height of 15256ft. The Lares Trek is in between, with a maximum elevation of 14764ft.

How long should you spend acclimatizing before the Inca Trail?

Due to the high altitude of the Andes, it is recommended that anyone visiting Machu Picchu go through a period of acclimatization prior to setting out on a trek. In order to avoid altitude sickness and give yourself the best chance of completing your adventure, you should spend 2-3 days acclimatizing in Cusco.

Quechua indigenous clothing Machu Picchu history Peru
Quechua indigenous clothing Machu Picchu history Peru

Top 10 Interesting Facts About Machu Picchu

  1. Machu Picchu hosts over 500,000 visitors every year.
  2. 500 years ago, Machu Picchu would have been a bustling mountaintop city of roughly 750 inhabitants. Although the stone walls would have looked similar to how they do today, they would likely have been thatched with grass or straw.
  3. Some porters along the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu will sleep with mirrors or shiny metal objects to ward away spirits that try to pull them off the mountain!
  4. Machu Picchu was used as an astronomical observatory, utilizing the Intihuatana Stone to highlight the two equinoxes.
  5. While the Inca people knew of the wheel (as seen from their toys), it is presumed that they did not employ them in the building of Machu Picchu, meaning that the workers would have had to push the giant stones up the mountainside!
  6. Machu Picchu comprises over 150 buildings of various sizes and purposes, ranging from temples to houses and baths.
  7. As a visitor to Machu Picchu, you can have your passport stamped at the entrance. While this is a unique souvenir from an iconic destination, having your passport stamped by a non-government entity isn’t recommended. If you are really keen on getting that stamp, bring along an expired passport if you have one lying around!
  8. As a system of terraces were used to prevent landslides, the Inca people also carved over 100 sets of stairs out of rock in order to traverse the multi-leveled terrain.
  9. Leonardo da Vinci painted the Mona Lisa from 1503-1506, which coincides with the height of the Inca Empire.
  10. Machu Picchu actually sits at a lower altitude than the city of Cusco and therefore has a warmer and wetter climate. This is part of the reason why some researchers think that it may have been used as a summer retreat by Inca royalty.