Machu Picchu

Images of Machu Picchu

In my post “Machu Picchu–A Practical View” I explained the logistics of our visit. In this post I’ll share some of the photos of this incredible engineering marvel, hidden for centuries (thank goodness!) from the world’s view. A North American archeologist and explorer, Hiram Bingham, “discovered” Machu Picchu on July 24, 1911 (locals of course knew of its existence).

A view of the urban area of Machu Picchu – the ceremonial area is on the left and the residential area is on the right.


I was surprised by the varied construction techniques. In some places, each stone is fit perfectly with those next to it. In other cases, the construction is more rough, not unlike what one sees in medieval castles in Europe. The Inca understood that trapezoidal shapes are stronger than square shapes, and doorways, windows and carved niches are almost all trapezoidal in shape.

The main entrance to the city of Machu Picchu

Trapezoidal entryways and doors are found throughout Machu Picchu, which were much stronger and more resistant to earthquake damage.

Examples of varied construction techniques in the walls.

An interesting wall–the lower part is constructed of carefully cut and fitted stones and the upper part is much more hastily built.

Another example of the varied building techniques–note the trapezoidal niches and post extensions in the background.

Water System

There is a spring on the hill of Machu Picchu and the Incas utilized it to the fullest extent to provide water to the crops and the inhabitants.  They used the law of gravity to provide a running water supply.

Carved channels for water flow–another engineering masterpiece.

Temple of the Sun

One of the most important buildings in Machu Picchu is the Temple of the Sun. It is quite unique in its construction due to the rounded walls, in addition to the windows that align with the summer and winter solstices.

The Temple of the Sun in the foreground–the windows are aligned perfectly with the summer and winter solstices. This building was Hiram Bingham’s first discovery at Machu Picchu. In the distance are the terraced agricultural fields.

Stairway and chambers directly below the Temple of the Sun. Named the “Royal Tomb” by Hiram Bingham, although the function is unknown.

The Agricultural Area

Machu Picchu is divided into two main zones, the urban zone and the agricultural zone, which is the purpose of the extensive terraces.  A birds-eye view would show that the majority of land area of Machu Picchu was terraced (I didn’t have an airplane!).

Looking up at some of the many terraces.

The Urban Zone

The urban zone is really two main areas:  The Sacred Plaza with temples and ceremonial places, and the residential area, which has 109 stairways containing about 3,000 steps, and a sophisticated canal system.  This city clearly had great urban planners!

The Sacred Plaza

Temple of the Three Windows, in the ceremonial part of the city, called the Sacred Plaza. Note that these windows are carved from huge stones.

The near-perfect stone work on the outside of the “Main Temple” – thought to be a temple due to the extremely careful construction

Residential Area

We found the residential side of the city quieter (fewer tourists) than the ceremonial/Sacred Plaza side, probably partly due to the vast size of the residential area.

A view of the residential area, agricultural terraces, and the winding dirt road leading up to Machu Picchu from Aguas Calientes.

A view (in the opposite direction from the picture above) of the residential area, additional terraces, and Waynapicchu (in the background).

One of my favorite images of Machu Picchu, looking toward the residential area.

If you have the opportunity to visit this world wonder, do it!

Information Source: Machu Picchu, Sacred City of the Incas, by Mayer Joel Abanto, 2009.

Machu Picchu—A Practical View

The approximate train route from Cuzco to Machu PIcchu

Most people visit Peru for one reason, to see the Inca site of Machu Picchu. We visited in October 2011, and I can say, having visited many of the world wonders, it is one of the most stunning sites in the world, for both the ruins and the natural scenery. However, be aware that it is expensive to visit and a bit more difficult to do so without crowds. Given the timing of our trip, we had to follow the typical tourist visit approach, which is: take a morning train from Cuzco (actually Poroy), then a bus shuttle up to Machu Picchu from the last train stop, and then the bus shuttle and train again back to Cuzco. We had about 3 ½ hours at the site, which was long enough for a good visit of the main ruins.

Poroy Train Station

I hope my comments on visiting will be helpful:

Cost: Visiting Machu Picchu from Cuzco is not cheap. Total costs will be about $200/person, including a taxi to Poroy train station from Cuzco, using the least expensive train, and the entrance fee. See below for more details. ($1 USD = 2.8 Nuevo Soles.)

Boarding our train to Machu Picchu

Trains. The only way to get to Aguas Calientes (the small town just below Machu Picchu) is via train. The road ends in Ollantaytambo. There are 3 train options: a)“Expedition” formerly called the “Backpacker;” b) Vistadome; and c) the extremely expensive Hiram Bingham (about 4x the cost of the other trains). All trains leave from Poroy station, about a 15 minute taxi ride up a steep hill north of Cuzco (taxi cost was 15-40 NS each way depending on your bargaining skills). We took the Expedition train to Aguas Calentes and the Vistadome on the return trip, to have the experience on each of these trains. The Expedition train cost about $55 US per person (one way), and is very decent. The seats are reasonably comfortable, but since you are facing another pair of seats across a table, the legroom is so-so. The Vistadome costs about $75 US (one way) per person and the seats and legroom are much more comfortable. They also provide little snack on this train and a small fashion show (of course encouraging you to buy the items showcased). The Hiram Bingham train comes with lavish meals and luxury seating. The train trip takes about 3 hours. Purchase your tickets well ahead of time. In October, we bought ours just two days prior to our visit (at the Peru Rail kiosk in the Lima airport) and our train options were more limited, due to many seats being already full. Visit Peru Rail for more information.

View of the Sacred Valley on our train ride to Machu Picchu

The Expedition Train

The Vistadome Train

While there are different times for train departures (although the schedules are pretty similar), ours left Poroy at about 7:30 am, and arrived at Aguas Calientes at about 10:45 am, with one short stop in Ollyantaytambo. Our return train left about 4:45pm.

Machu Picchu site tickets. Tickets must be purchased ahead of time, they are not available at the site entrance, although I understand they can be purchased in Aguas Calientes. We bought ours in Cuzco the day before our visit. The tickets are about $60 per person; they are valid for one day only.

View of the ancient city of Machu Picchu

Shuttle bus from Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu. After getting off the train in Aguas Calientes, you wind through a series of tourist/trinket stalls, and make your way over to the shuttle bus departure point. The shuttle buses leave more or less continually with the arrival of the trains, and cost 40 NS (about $14 per person) for the round trip. The shuttle bus takes another 20 minutes to climb the narrow switch backs up to the entrance to Machu Picchu. One can also walk up (and down) the winding, steep dirt road to the site entrance. We wanted to save our energy for hiking at the site itself. Even in October, Machu Picchu was filled with tourists.

The town of Aguas Calientes, the end of the train tracks, at the base of Machu Picchu

I was a bit surprised how busy it was, even well after the northern hemisphere summertime. From what I have heard, the only relatively quiet times at Machu Picchu are January/February, which is the height of the rainy season. We had good weather the day of our visit.

Waynapicchu (aka Huayna Picchu)

The ideal visit to Machu Picchu would include hiking up to Waynapicchu (the steep mountain behind the main site), for the ruins on this peak and the views. But to do so requires getting to Aguas Calientes the night before. The only times allowed to hike up to Waynapicchu are at 7 and 10 am, and the number of visitors is limited to 200 for each time slot. As of now, the only tourist trains leave Cuzco in the morning, so a day would be spent lounging in Aguas Calientes in order to get into Machu Picchu first thing the following morning for the hike to Waynapicchu.

Waynapicchu is on the peak directly behind the city of Machu Picchu

Rather than traveling all the way by train from Cuzco to Aguas Calientes, it is possible to get on the train at Urubamba (new stop) or Ollantaytambo, which would be a shorter trip, by driving to these towns in the Sacred Valley. Both towns have hotels. Ollantaytambo has some interested Inca ruins also, and is the starting point for the Inca Trail, a whole other way to see several others sites and to see Machu Picchu.

Other Tips:

  • Buy a good guidebook on Machu Picchu, and explore on your own, you will see more and will learn as much. There is only so much information known about the Inca, and a guidebook will cover the key points and main historical spots. In addition, there are small guidebooks available for purchase at the entrance which we found useful.
  • Right after the main entrance, turn left and follow the path up the hill for a great, classic overlook to the main city (designated as the “long route”, one of several main routes through the site). This path also goes by where the Inca trail joins the main site.
  • The main site is most crowded in the public building areas, which are on the left-hand side as you enter and overlook the main city. The right side, which is mostly a housing area, seemed to have far fewer visitors and provides some beautiful overlooks to the valleys below and the mountains surrounding the site.