Machu Picchu is one of the most famous historical sites in South America, Peru, but it remained unknown by the outside world until about 100 years ago. Hiram Bingham, a United States senator and explorer, rediscovered the Incan ruins in 1911 making this famous ruin known all over the world nowadays.
Close to a century later, Machu Picchu is one of the world's most popular destinations, listed since 1983 as aUNESCO World Heritage Site. More recently, it was voted one of the New Seven Wonders of the World.
Although it can be reached by train, more intrepid travellers prefer to hike there via the Inca Trail, a multi-day hike along ancient Inca roads and there are even cheap alternative ways to get there by minibus and walk along the tracks of the railway.
Experts think that Machu Picchu was originally constructed around 1450 while the Inca Empire was at its height. It was only inhabited for around a century and up until now it remains unclear what its purpose exactly was. Its location near sacred geographical features suggests that it was at least spiritually significant to the Incas.
The Spanish, who destroyed many Inca sites, never discovered Machu Picchu, despite its location near Cusco. It was only by chance that Hiram Bingham discovered it in 1911, as he was brought there by some of the few locals who were aware of the presence of this place. In 1948, he published a book about how he found the ruins, named The Lost City of the Incas.
Since its rediscovery, tourists have flocked to Machu Picchu, which now receives over 400,000 visitors each year. Even though it isn't the biggest or most complete of the Inca sites, its beautiful and convenient location has made it the most popular Inca site in Peru or even South America.
In case you would like to hike up to Wayna Picchu (from the top of which there is an incredible view towards Machu Picchu itself), you have to get up early. The guard at the beginning of the path will only let you in until 1:00pm. Regardless of the opening time of the guarding hut only 400 visitors are allowed to hike to Wayna Picchu per day.Machu Picchu is open from 7:00am to 5:00pm daily.
The easiest way to get to Machu Picchu is via the train from Cusco to Aguas Calientes. The train leaves fairly early in the morning and returns to Cusco around 4:00pm, which only allows you a few hours at the site. There are several trains to choose from, so try and stay as long as you can. If you can, it's worth trying to stay at Aguas Calientes overnight.
There is also a second, much cheaper train, which is used by the inhabitants of the villages in the Sacred Valley. Unfortunately, it is not open to tourists.
The other way to get to Machu Picchu is on foot along the Inca Trail. This is a very popular trek with several different options. There is a one-day trail, a 4-day trail and even a longer one than that.
In an effort to keep the negative impact from tourism to a minimum, the Peruvian government has limited the number of people allowed to hike the Inca Trail on any given day to a maximum of 500. Therefore, if you're planning to visit the ruins during the high season (from June to August), it is a very good idea to book ahead.