Machu Picchu and Inca Trail Travel

Framed by spectacular Andean peaks and surrounded by verdant jungle, Machu Picchu is an eye-tantalizing tribute to man in har- mony with nature. Located high above the clouds, the city's streets, temples and stair- cases spread across a jungle ridge that even- tually plunges more than 300 meters into the treacherous waters of the Río Urubamba below. Everything within this city, from the intricate terraces and delicate gardens to the complex system of aqueducts, was designed to both promote and preserve the sacred re- lationship between man and nature. Natural phenomena, like the sun, moon, water and earth, were sacred to the Incas and were the inspiration for much of the city's layout.

Besides its awe-inspiring architecture and spiritual atmosphere, perhaps the most en- chanting aspect of Machu Picchu is its rela- tive historical ambiguity. Since it was first in-

troduced to the modern world in 1911 by Yale archeologist Hiram Bingham, this mountain city has yet to reveal the purpose of its ori- gins. A number of theories have circulated throughout intellectual circles, including one suggesting that it was a boarding school where the children of those conquered by the Incas were brainwashed. Despite, or perhaps due to its enigmatic character, Machu Picchu has become one of the single most popular destiniations in South America, drawing nearly 2,000 people a day to its ancient grounds, high above the Sacred Valley.

Tours of Machu Picchu can be arranged in Cusco. The ticket office is located next to the entrance to the ruins, where you will also find a left-luggage office, toilets, a shop, and a place to hire guides. During the dry season the ruins are a popular area for sandflies, so take insect repellent and wear long clothes.

Machu Picchu and Inca Trail History

In July, 1911, Yale archaeologist Hiram Bingham was exploring the area near Cuzco, searching for the lost city of Vilcabamba, the final stronghold of the Inca before they were defeated by the Spanish. Acting on a tip from local guides, he climbed a misty, rainy hill and made a marvelous discovery: Machu Picchu, which means Old Mountain, the an- cient retreat of the royal Incas.

Following several years of exploration and excavation (and the ¨borrowing¨ of count- less Inca artifacts by Bingham on behalf of Yale University), the mysteries surround- ing Machu Picchu were cleared up. It is be- lieved that Machu Picchu was a small city that served as an observatory, religious center and sort of vacation home for the royal Inca, who governed their empire from relatively nearby Cuzco. Archaeologists believe the site was built about 1440, and was sparsely inhabited until the Spanish conquest in the 1530s, when it was abandoned and forgotten by all except a few locals.

In 1913, the National Geographic Society published a special edition about Machu Picchu, bringing it worldwide renown. It captured the imagination of people around the globe, and has since been one of the most sought-after visitor destinations in the world. Recently, Machu Picchu has been in the news, as Peru has been pressuring Yale University to return hundreds of artifacts taken from the site during Bingham's initial excavations.

When to Go

To avoid the large package tours and hoards of independent travelers descending on the ruins, you should avoid the peak months of June to August, and instead opt to travel from April to May or September to October. Also, try to avoid Peruvian holidays from July 28 to August 10 and the days around Cusco's Inti Raymi festival, which starts on June 24. In general, Sundays are the least busy because this is the day most package tours visit the Pisac and Chinchero mar- kets. You may also encounter fewer crowds on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, or Thursdays. Another way to avoid crowds is to stay over- night in nearby Aguas Calientes and arrive early in the morning before the train crowds arrive around 10 a.m. At noon, when Machu Picchu is the most crowded, explore other attractions like Huayna Picchu, the Temple of the Moon, or the Inca Bridge.

Getting To and Away

There are only two ways to reach Machu Pic- chu: The train and the Inca Trail. If hiking isn't your style, you can grab a train from Cusco (four hours), Urubamba (two hours and 10 minutes) or Ollantaytambo (one hour and 15 minutes). The train will take you to Machu Picchu Pueblo station (also known as Aguas Calientes), where you can then catch a bus to the ruins.

For more information, see Aguas Calientes.

Recently, Cusco regional president Hugo Gonzalez proposed raising the entrance fee to $100 for foreigners, a measure which has been opposed by Peru's tourism minister, Mercedes Araoz. Meanwhile, Araoz is inves- tigating the possibility of working with the private sector in constructing cable cars to provide more expedient access to Machu Pic- chu, while recently the mayor of a neighbor pueblo, Santa Teresa, approved the construc- tion of a small bridge crossing over the Vilca- nota river, as a means of increasing tourism to the village by providing alternative access to Machu Picchu. Critics have complained that the bridge will make regulation of access more difficult, increasing the possibility of environmental damage, as well as facilitating drug trafficking.

Machu Picchu and the Inca Trail - Environmental Issues

The principle environmental issue facing the Inca Trail and Machu Picchu is the increasingly demanding presence of tourism on the fragile natural environment. Prior to imple- mentation of restrictions on tourism by the Peruvian government in 2001, the Inca Trail and Machu Picchu were getting run-down to a point many feared would soon be beyond repair. The trampling of the shallow dirt, the trail-side deforestation for firewood, human waste and other garbage left on the side of the Inca Trail were major environmental threats facing the famous 'lost city.' It was deteriorating to such a degree that UNESCO repeatedly threatened to add Machu Picchu to the World Heritage in Danger sites.

In 2001 Peru responded by creating a series of restrictions to protect the Inca Trail and be- gan seriously enforcing them in 2003. There is now a limit of about 500 people per day on the trail, including all tourists, guides and porters. This works out to approximately 200 tourists per day. Additionally, all trekkers must be accompanied by a certified guide. The idea is that having guides present with all visi- tors not only provides employment for many local residents, but also that environmental standards and regulations will be enforced. All reputable tour agencies promote a 'pack- in, pack-out' policy, meaning that anything taken on the trek will be taken out. Open-fires are prohibited on the trail (deforestation for firewood was out of control), so make sure your company uses gas stoves. Permanent toilets have also been installed to combat the human waste problem.

Before the implementation of the regula- tions visitors could find bargain-basement tour prices, most often through operators that were skimping on protecting the natu- ral environment that was paying their bills. Prices have increased significantly, but the porters now have a guaranteed daily wage and other standards (maximum carrying weight, sleeping pads, acceptable meals, ac- cident insurance). As the prices have gone up, companies are cutting fewer corners and are able to invest in the preservation and protection of the Inca Trail and Machu Picchu. Many of the critical environmental issues the Trail and Machu Picchu were fac- ing--litter, human waste, literal pounding of the trail--have been curbed or eliminat- ed. So don't sigh and lament about the good ole days when hiking the Inca Trail could be done for under $200. Instead, relish the fact you are contributing to environmental- ly responsible, sustainable tourism in Peru and helping provide a decent, living wage for those who guide you on your trek.

The Inca Trail

Characterized by rugged ascents boasting magnificent views of Andean scenery and trails that wind their way through the cloud forest and past ancient archaeological sites, the Inca Trail is perhaps the most eminent of South American experiences. While other trails in the Sacred Valley area and around Cusco offer the same spectacular scenery, is the only Inca Trail that leads to the awe- some gates of Machu Picchu, the ultimate climax to any trekking experience. This world-famous trail is part of the Sanctuario Histórico de Machu Picchu, an area of over 32,000 hectares set aside by the Peruvian state to protect the host of flora and fauna that flourish here. In 2001, in an attempt to restrict the number of hikers and damage to the trail, the Peruvian government es- tablished new regulations requiring all Inca Trail hikers to be accompanied by a licensed guide. Currently, a maximum of 500 hikers are allowed on the trail per day. Recently, regulations involved in obtaining an Inca Trail trekking permit have changed.

Please note: In order to secure your permit you must now provide your passport infor- mation no later than 90 days before your departure. So plan ahead, book early and avoid added stress.

Tours can be arranged through a number of tour companies in Cusco, and most cost be- tween $200 and $300, which includes the entrance fee ($50 for adults, $25 for stu- dents and free for children under 11), trans- portation to and from the trail, an English- speaking guide, tents, mattress, three daily meals and porters who carry group gear. For about $50 extra/trip a personal porter can be hired to carry your gear. If you are inclined (and it's recommended) you can tip your porters and guides. Independent travelers will generally be placed with a mixed group of travelers, and groups tend to be between 12 and 16 people. For pre- mium-class service, groups are generally smaller and an upgrade on the return train is included. Prices for these treks range from $275 to $650 per person. Be cautious if the price is under $180, as the company may be cutting corners, or not adhering to the strict environmental regulations re- cently imposed. Only purchase your ticket from officially licensed agencies, and be sure to make your payments at the physi- cal tour agency office. Direct any questions you may have regarding a tour company to the main tourism office in Cusco. You can save a little money by arranging your own transport back to Ollantaytambo, either for the last day of your tour, or by staying an extra night in Aguas Calientes and tak- ing the early morning train, then catching a bus back to Cusco.

If you do take the train back to Cusco af- ter your tour, make sure your return ticket has your name on it for the tourist train, or you will have to pay for any changes. Be sure to inquire if the guide for the Inca Trail and Machu Picchu will be the same, as some companies save money by sending a less experienced guide on the trail and hir- ing a new, certified guide at Machu Picchu. Also, if you have any concerns regarding the working conditions of the porters, contact Porteadores Inka.
Nan, Dept. 4 Choquechaca
188, Cusco, Telephone: 246829.

When to Go

The single most important factor in plan- ning your Inca Trail experience is making sure you give yourself plenty of time to acclimatize to the high altitude before at- tempting the physically demanding trail. The best way to avoid soroche, or altitude sickness, is to spend a few days in the Sacred Valley area, which is slightly lower in eleva- tion. The first two days of the climb involve arduous ascents, so do not attempt them if you're feeling unwell. In most cases, four days will ensure a comfortable journey, and you should allow an extra day to see Machu Picchu after recovering from the hike. Usu- ally the best month for trekking the Inca Trail is May, when the weather is fine and skies are clear. From June to September, the trail is a busy stretch of mountainside, with people from all over the world flocking to its rugged peaks and lush valleys. Dur- ing the rainy season, from October to April, it is less busy but for obvious reasons: it's slightly wetter. Note: the trail is closed ev- ery February for cleaning and repair.

For a truly unique experience on the Inca Trail, try to depart two to three days before a full moon. According to the locals, the weath- er is best at this time and at night the Andean skyline is fully illuminated by the moonlight.

What to Bring

The trail involves rugged ascents and unpre- dictable weather, so it is imperative that you be prepared with the proper equipment. Be sure to pack strong footwear, rain gear and warm clothing, in addition to food, water (no plastic water bottles are allowed, canteens only), water purification, insect repellent, plastic bags, a torch, durable sleeping bag, items such as tents and cooking equipment will be provided by your tour operator

What to Expect

The popular 4-day trek will take you along the ancient stone Inca highway, past doz- ens of archaeological sights, rushing riv- ers and uncountable views of the cloud forest and eye-captivating mountain scen- ery. Along this 43-kilometer trek you will tackle three formidable mountain passes and cruise to a maximum altitude of 4,200 meters. The trek begins at Qorihuayrachi- na near Ollantaytambo, often referred to as Km. 88 of the Cusco railway.

Another, slightly less intense version of the classic four-day trek is also growing in popu- larity. The two-day version, referred to as the Camino Sagrado del Inca, or "Sacred Trail," is a good alternative for time-pressed or fitness- deficient individuals. Along this journey you'll reach a maximum altitude of only 2,750 me- ters, which involve less arduous ascents, yet still leads to the wondrous mountain-mecca, Machu Picchu. This mini-trek begins at Km. 104, just 14 kilometers away from the ruins, and groups spend the night near the ruins of Wiñay Wayna before departing at sunrise for the gates of Machu Picchu. There are also a limited number of permits for this trail, cost- ing $50 per person, so like the 4 day Inca Trail, it is necessary to book in advance. However, if you're looking for divine mountain scenery, then the four-day trek is your best bet, as most of the best views and ruins are not included in the two-day tour.

4 Day Inca Trail Trek

To give you a better sense of what the four- day trek involves, we've put together a brief day-by-day summary of the trip.

Day 1 Total Distance: 10 to 11 kilometers

Arrive by train from Cusco, getting off at Km. 88, or by bus at Km. 82. From the station, cross the footbridge spanning the Río Uru- bamba and begin the gentle ascent up to the Inca ruins of Llactapata, where Bingham and his team first camped on their way to Machu Picchu. The trail then slopes upwards, fol- lowing the Río Cusichaca, until it reaches Huayllabamba. To reach this small village, the only one along the trail that is still inhab- ited, it's about a three-hour climb. This is a good place to hire horses or mules, if you're so inclined. Most groups spend the night here, in preparation for the arduous journey up to the aptly named Dead Woman's Pass.

Day 2 Total Distance: 11 kilometers

Although equal to the first day in terms of dis- tance, Day 2 is perhaps the most difficult day of the trip. From Huayllabamba, you're in for a steep, one-hour climb to the ruins of Llul- lucharoc (3,800 meters). Catch your breath and prepare for another 90-minute to 2-hour steep climb through the cloud forest to Llul- luchapampa, an isolated village situated in a flat mountain meadow. Spectacular views of the valley below will keep your mind off the steep ascent. From Llulluchapampa make your way up the quad-killing climb towards Abra de Huarmihuañusca (Dead Woman's Pass), the first pass and highest point of the trek (4,200 meters). The 2 ½ hour climb is a mental and physical challenge, subjecting trekkers to a killer sun on the way up, and thin air and bitterly cold winds at the summit. Don't be surprised if snow or freezing rain greets you at the summit. Inevitably, how- ever, the mind-blowing views will distract you from the body-numbing cold and physi- cally demanding ascent. Do make sure that you shelter yourself from the wind while you check out the valley below.

Between Huayllamba and Huarmihuañusca there are three places to camp, if you're in need of a rest. The most popular among these is Three White Stones. From the sum- mit the trail descends sharply via stone steps into Pacamayo Valley (3,600 meters). This area also offers excellent camping, and if you're lucky, you can catch a glimpse of the ever-playful spectacled bears.

Day 3 Total Distance: 15 kilometers

About an hour's trek towards the next pass, Abra de Runkuracay, you'll come across the intriguing ruins of Runcuracay. The name means "basket shaped" and is an appropri- ate title for the circular ruins unique among those on the trail. From the ruins it's about a 45-minute to one-hour steep climb to the second pass (3,900 meters). Just over the summit is another camp site, where you'll encounter magnificent views of the Vilca- bamba mountain range. Follow the trail through a naturally formed tunnel and up a spectacular stone staircase to the ruins of Sayacmarca (3,500 meters). These beautiful ruins include ritual baths and terrace view-points overlooking the Aobamba Valley. It is believed that this tranquil area was once a resting spot for ancient travelers travers- ing the Inca Trail. You can camp near the remains of an aqueduct that once supplied water to the ancient settlement.

From Sayacmarca the trail descends via a re- markably well-preserved Inca footpath into thick cloud forest where you'll be astounded by exotic flora like orchids and bromeliads, and unique bird species. The trail winds its way towards Conchamarca, another rest stop for the weary. Pass through another Inca tunnel and follow the path up a gentle two- hour climb towards the third pass and the ruins of Phuyupatamarca (3,800 meters). This section of trail, whose name translates to "Town Above the Clouds," offers spec- tacular views of the Urubamba valley in one direction and in the other a grand view of the snow-covered peaks of Salcantay (Wild Mountain). The ruins include six small baths that, during the wet season, are teeming with constantly running fresh water.

There is an excellent place to camp here, where you may even catch a glimpse of wild deer feeding. Also, keep an eye out for the massive backside of Machu Picchu peak. From the ruins the trail forks and you have two options. Follow the knee- buckling 2,250 step stone staircase to the terraces of Intipata, or head towards the stunning ruins of Wiñay Wayna. Only dis- covered in 1941, the ruins of this ancient citadel, named "Forever Young," for the perpetually blossoming orchids that flour- ish here, include spectacular stone agricul- tural terraces and ritual baths. A nearby hostel offers weary wanderers hot showers, food and the well-deserved beer. Be aware, however, that during peak season this hos- tel area can appear more like a tourist cir- cus than peaceful mountain retreat.

Day 4 Total Distance: 7 kilometers

The final leg of this journey is all about get- ting to Intipunku (Sun Gate) and Machu Pic- chu. Be prepared for an early rise, as most groups depart camp at 4 a.m. to arrive at the ruins by 6:30 a.m. This climatic journey in- volves a 60 to 90-minute trek along narrow Inca stone paths, and a final push up a 50- step, nearly vertical climb to the ruins of In- tipunku. The descent to Machu Picchu takes about 45 minutes. Upon reaching the ruins, trekkers must deposit their packs at the en- trance gate and get their entrance passes stamped. From here you can bask in the glory of having completed the rugged journey to one of the world's greatest attractions.

Inca Trail Porters

You've waited so long to trek these rugged 43 kilometers to that Incan Holy Grail, Ma- chu Picchu. But after two days, your feel muscles you never knew existed, another blister is welling up. As you momentarily rest on a rock, gasping for breath in this rar- efied air, you see one of the porters striding smoothly by you, on his way to set up this night's camp for you and the others. Almost like The Motorcycle Diaries.

The lot of the porter changed with new regu- lations instituted in 2002. Before, it was not uncommon for one to carry 45 kilos, sleep under mere plastic and a blanket, receive the trekkers' leftovers or cook for himself, be paid only four dollars per day. Frequently porters would have to cut firewood to keep warm and eat, thus augmenting deforestation. Now the load limit is 25 kilograms (20 of trekkers' equipment, five for the porter's personal ef- fects). The minimum wage is 35 soles per day. Unfortunately, some tour companies are get- ting around the new regulations by paying 15 soles per day (to be able to offer you a bargain price), and making trekkers carry their own packs across the weigh-in spot, then shifting the weight to the porters or denying porters their personal allowance.

Porters are the work horses of the trek—but they should not be treated that way. As con- sumers, we have responsibilities to ensure porters' fair treatment. How can you help to make sure the regulations are followed:

  • Familiarize yourself with the regulations of the Inka Trail; see http://www.ande- regulations.html.
  • Ask the tour company how much porters are paid, and if they are provided with food and proper camping equipment. Make clear your concern for the porters' welfare.
  • If you don't like the answers, look for a different company or hire your own por- ter. You'll be supporting the local econo- my by providing employment.
  • Ask the company precisely what equip- ment you are expected to take (sleeping bag, etc.—and, of course, warm clothing, canteen, etc.).
  • Leave all unnecessary items stowed at your hostel. Don't unnecessarily weigh down the porter.
  • During the trip, remember common cour- tesies. Learn a little Quechua. Thank them.

Share your coca leaves.

  • Talk with them about their lives and cul- ture. Ask them to sing. Share photos of your family or homeland with them.
    Pool tips for the porters with other travel- ers; 20-25 soles total per porter is fair. If you feel like giving a higher tip, donate money to projects supporting porters rights or their communities.
  • Mistreatment of porters should not be shrugged off with "Well, that is the way things are in these countries."
  • File complaints with MINCETUR (Min- isterio de Comercio Exterior y Turismo), Avenida de la Cultura 734, 3rd floor; Telephone: 51-84-241-508, FAX: 51-84-
    223-761, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. ,; 7:30 a.m.-
    12:45 p.m., 2:15-4:30 p.m.
  • If you are a member, inform the South American Explorers Club.
  • Drop line to us here at Viva Travel Guides, or make a posting on our site to share your experience with others
To learn more about the porters' life, read the BBC's Inca Trail Porter Photo Jour- nal. The Inka Porter Project (http://www. has information about porters' rights.

Machu Picchu

Despite the peace and tranquility conjured up by its astounding natural beauty, Machu Picchu is a fervently protected place, inhab- ited by numerous whistle-blowing guards who noisily herd unsuspecting travelers who have strayed from the main path. To explore the ruins in peace, the best option is to hire a guide or buy a map and stick to the specified routes. Guides are available on the site and often prove to be extremely knowl- edgeable. For a spectacular experience, ob- tain permission from the Instituto Nacional de Cultura in Cusco to enter the ruins be- fore 6 a.m. and watch the sunrise over the Andes. From the ticket booth, you'll enter the south side of Machu Picchu through the Guard's Quarters, now the modern-day entrance. From here, there are a number of ways to explore the ruins, all of which offer striking views of intricate Inca architecture, Andean mountains and terraced staircases. A few of the can't-miss Machu Picchu at- tractions include the Temple of the Sun, Royal Tomb, Three-Windowed Temple,

Chamber of the Princess, Principal Temple, Intihuatana, Huayna Picchu, Temple of the Moon and Intipunku.

Temple of the Sun

Upon entering the main ruins you'll cross over a dry moat and come across the first site of major interest, the Temple of the Sun. Once used as a solar observatory, this unique complex is the only round building at Machu Picchu. At sunrise during the sum- mer solstice, the sun's rays flood through the window and illuminate the tower with a precision only the Incas could have execut- ed. Also known as the Torreón, the temple presents a spectacular, semicircular wall and carved steps that fit seamlessly into the existing surface of a natural boulder, forming some sort of altar. Although ac- cess inside the temple is not permitted, the outside architecture is spectacular in and of itself. The temple displays some of Machu Picchu's most superb stonework, and has a window from which the June solstice sun- rise and the constellation of Pleiades can be observed. In Andean culture the Pleiades continues to be an important astronomical symbol, and the locals use the constellation to calculate the arrival of the rains and to determine the best time of year to plant crops. Next to the Temple of the Sun is the Chamber of the Princess, and below the temple is The Royal Tomb.

Chamber of the Princess

The two-story structure adjacent to the Tem- ple of the Sun is the Chamber of the Princess. The building was most likely used for Inca nobility, which may explain why Yale ar- chaeologist Hiram Bingham chose its name. A three-walled house standing next to the chamber has been restored with a thatched roof and provides a good illustration of how Inca buildings might have once looked. From here you can follow a staircase that leads up- wards past the Royal Area (denoted by char- acteristic imperial Inca architecture) and to the two most impressive buildings in the city: the Three-Windowed Temple and the Principal Temple.

Three-Windowed Temple

Not far from the Chamber of the Princess is the spectacular Three-Windowed Temple. It is part of a complex situated around the Sacred Plaza, a ceremonial center that some argue is the most captivating section of the city. The temple's unusually large, trapezoi- dal windows perfectly frame the mountains unfolding beyond the Urubamba River valley. To your left as you face the Three-Win- dowed Temple is another popular Machu Picchu attraction, the Principal Temple.

Principal Temple

Situated next to the Three-Windowed Tem- ple, this magnificent three-walled building derives its name from the immense founda- tion stones and fine stonework that comprise its three high main walls. The wall facing far- thest east looks onto the Sacred Plaza. In con- trast to most ancient temples in the Americas, whose entrances face east, the Principal Tem- ple's entrance faces south. White sand found on the temple floor suggests that the temple may have been tied symbolically to the Río Urubamba, a theory that is not too farfetched considering the importance of water in the ancient Inca culture. The kite-shaped sacred stone sitting in the small square around the temple is thought to represent the Southern Cross constellation. A short stroll uphill from here brings you to one of the most spectacu- lar sites of Machu Picchu, the Intihuatana, or Hitching Post of the Sun.


A brief walk uphill from the Principal Tem- ple will bring you to one of the most impor- tant shrines at Machu Picchu. Intihuatana, or Hitching Post of the Sun, is an intrigu- ing carved rock whose shape mimics that of Huayna Picchu, the sacred peak rising beyond the ruins. Though the Incas created rocks like this for all their important ritual centers, Intihuatana is one of the few not de- stroyed by the Spanish conquistadores. Over- looking the Sacred Plaza, this sundial-like rock served as an astronomical device used to track constellation movements and to cal- culate the passing of seasons. Given its shape and strategic alignment with four important mountains, many scholars have conjectured that Intihuatana is symbolically linked to the spirit of the mountains on which Machu Pic- chu was built. If you follow the steps down from here, past the Sacred Plaza and towards the northern terraces you'll arrive at the Sa- cred Rock, gateway to Huayna Picchu.

Huayna Picchu

Just down the steps from Intihuatana and across the Sacred Plaza is the Sacred Rock, a massive piece of granite curiously shaped like the Inca's sacred mountain of Putucusi, which looms on the eastern horizon. Little is known about this rock, except that it serves as the gateway to Huayna Picchu. Access to the sacred summit is controlled by a guard- ian from a kiosk behind the Sacred Rock. The trail is open daily 7 a.m.-1 p.m., with the last exit by 3 p.m. The steep walk up to the summit takes about one to two hours and includes a 20-meter climb up a steep rock slab using a ladder and rope. (Those afraid of heights may want to pass on this climb.) Your physical labors will be rewarded, how- ever, with a spectacular panoramic view of the entire Machu Picchu complex and the Andean mountains and forests which cradle it. About two-thirds of the way down the trail behind the summit, another trail leads to the right and down to the exquisitely situated Temple of the Moon.

Temple of the Moon

Situated about 400 meters beneath the pinna- cle of Huayna Picchu (about a 45-minute walk each way from the summit) is The Temple of the Moon, another spectacular example of Inca stonemasonry. The temple consists of a large natural cave with five niches carved into a massive white granite stone wall. Towards the cave's center is a rock carved like a throne, next to which are five carved steps that lead towards darker recesses where even more carved rocks and stone walls are visible. The temple's name originates from the way it radiates with moon- light at night, but many archaeologists believe that it was also symbolically aligned with the surrounding mountains. Steps on either side of the small plaza in front of the temple lead to more buildings and some interesting stone sanctuaries below. For equally incredible views of Machu Picchu and Huayna Picchu you can take the other trail leading down from the guardian's kiosk behind Sacred Rock. The thirty minute climb to Intipunku, the main en- trance to Machu Picchu from the Inca Trail, is slightly less demanding and a good option for anyone lacking time or energy.

Royal Tomb

The Royal Tomb is a bit of a misnomer due to the fact that neither graves nor human remains have ever been encountered here. Though it may lack the macabre history that some travelers may expect, this cave- like structure is an excellent example of the Inca's stonemasonry genius. Located inside is a magnificent stepped altar and a series of tall niches, once used to present offer- ings, which capture the sun's rays to produce brilliant patterns of morning shadows. Just down the stairs leading from the Royal Tomb is a series of interconnected fountains and a still-functioning water canal.


If you don't have the time or energy to make the climb up to Huayna Picchu and Temple of the Moon, then you may prefer to take the trail leading from the guardian's kiosk behind the Sacred Stone to Intipunku, the main entrance to Machu Picchu from the Inca Trail. Intipunku, also known as the Sun Gate, consists of two large stones that cor- respond to the winter and summer solstices, and on these dates the gates are illuminated by laser-like beams of light. In addition to their symbolic importance, the gates also provide remarkable views of Machu Picchu and Huayna Picchu.

Wiñay Wayna

A rough two or three-hour descent from the ruins of Puyupatamarca, located on the Inca Trail, will bring you to the spectacular ruins of Wiñay Wayna. Here you will find a hotel and restaurant where you can grab a cold drink and hot shower. Originally a companion site for Machu Picchu, these ruins nestled high above the Río Urubamba probably served as a ceremonial and agricultural center. Like today, they may also have served as a rest stop for weary travelers on their way to the grand gates of Machu Picchu. The complex is divided into two architectural sections, with temples at the top and more rustic structures below. As many as 19 different springs carry water to various stone baths located at different levels through- out the characteristic Inca terracing. If you're up for a bit more walking (about 2 hours), you can take the well-marked trail from the ruins to Intipunku, the gateway to Machu Picchu

Machu Picchu Tours

Some people wait years to be able to get a chance to see the majestic Inca ruins at Ma- chu Picchu, so if you get a chance to reach the spectacular cloud-enshrouded green peaks that are home to the ancient and incredibly well-preserved UNESCO World Heritage site, you want to be sure to do the trip right.

It is entirely possible to travel to Machu Pic- chu independently. However, because of its popularity and the limited number of visitors allowed on the site each day, it pays to plan ahead; tour operators can be an invaluable help. If you book with a tour operator in your home country, you will have the advantage of planning well in advance; however, you may pay more than if you plan the trip when you are in Peru. Peruvian tour operators based out of Lima, Cusco or any other major Peru- vian city can also help you book your tour-- usually at a slightly lower price than interna- tional operators. During the day, there are always guides available at the entrance to Machu Picchu. More expensive guides can be hired at the nearby Sanctuary Lodge. Most lo- cal operators offer a one-day excursion from Cusco to Machu Picchu, which includes all transport and a professional guide. (It's usu- ally a good idea to make sure the guide speaks English.) From Cusco, you'll have to take a train to Aguas Calientes, the nearest town to Machu Picchu. From Aguas Calientes it's a 20-minute bus ride up to the ruins.

If you're visiting Machu Picchu as part of a day tour, you'll usually spend about four hours at the ruins. Two of these hours are spent as part of the guided tour. If you want to stay longer, or see the ruins at sunrise (highly recommended), spend the night in nearby Aguas Calientes or in the expensive Machu Picchu Sanctuary Lodge the only hotel adjacent to Machu Picchu. Some tour companies offer tours spread over two days, but you may have to pay for the additional costs of accommodation. In addition to Machu Picchu tours, treks of the Inca Trail can also be arranged at one of the many Cusco tour agencies.