Machu Picchu – A Guide to Hiking and History

Machu Picchu
A complete guide to visiting Machu Picchu -what, where, and how to get there. A great resource for first-time hikers to Machu Picchu.

The best fitness travelling in the world is travelling that actively combines fitness with the main focus of the trip (rather than leaving it as an afterthought). One of our all-time favourite examples of this kind of trip is a visit to Machu Picchu. It will allow you to see one of the official ‘new seven wonders of the world’ whilst also giving you a great high altitude cardio workout.

What is Machu Picchu?

Machu Picchu, in the Quechua language, is a combination of the words ‘machu,’ meaning old, and ‘picchu,’ meaning ‘peak,’ giving the literal translation ‘old peak.’ It is a 15th century Inca citadel generally believed to have been built for the emperor Pachacuti as an estate. The Incas are thought to have built the estate in and around the year 1450, only to abandon it a century later during the Spanish conquest.

Machu Picchu

Luckily, the Spanish conquistadors never found Machu Picchu. This means that it was not defaced, plundered or destroyed like so many other Inca sites were at the time. Barring a couple of relatively unrecorded discoveries by two Germans in the second half of the 19th century the site remained largely unknown to the outside world. It was only in 1911 that Yale Professor Hiram Bingham discovered the site and widely publicised his findings.

In 1981 Machu Picchu became a Peruvian Historical Sanctuary, and in 1983 it became a UNESCO World Heritage site. In 2007 it was voted as one of the ‘New Seven Wonders of the World.’

Where is Machu Picchu?

As you might imagine with a name meaning ‘old peak,’ Machu Picchu is situated on an ancient mountain ridge some 2430 metres (almost 8000ft) above sea level. To give you some perspective that makes it about 27% the height of Everest and more than double the height of Wales’ highest Mountain Snowdon.

Machu Picchu is found in the Cusco Region of the Urubamba Province in the Machupicchu District of Peru. More specifically the site is located just above the Sacred Valley about fifty miles to the north-west of Cuzco.

How to Get There?

If all this talk of a secret Inca town has got you wanting to visit then don’t worry, we’ve got you covered. Though a fair word of warning, you better enjoy a good long walk up plenty of elevation.

The most popular way to reach the site is to take the Inca Trail. It allows you to walk to the top in 1 to 5 days depending on the exact route taken and the speed of the group. The 4/5 day route begins at Kilometer 82 at Cusco. On the other hand, the 1-2 day trip begins at Kilometer 104 near the town of Ollantaytambo.

Inca Mountain Trail

If you’re feeling a bit more adventurous, though (and you’re a fitness traveller, so hopefully you are), you can take one of the two tougher week-long treks, the Salkantay trail or the Choquequirao.

It is, of course, possible to take the easy way out and board the budget expedition train courtesy of, with tickets costing around 200 Peruvian Nuevo Sol (around £50) per person. The train ride takes around 3.5 hours and drops you off at Machu Picchu Pueblo. It is also known as Aguas Calientes. From there you can either take a 2-3 hour walk or catch a bus right up to the top. Now as a fit traveller we feel you’d be somewhat missing the point of your trip if you avoided the fitness aspect, but it’s always good to know that other options exist for your less fit friends and family!

Top Tip: Don’t take a cheap ‘private taxi’ up to Machu Picchu. This is so because the roads are very dangerous with drivers operating at relatively high speeds near shear drops. Either take the train or go trekking with a reputable tour operator.


Machu Picchu stands at almost 2500m above sea level and can induce some level of altitude sickness. The Inca trial itself goes up to 4200m above sea level at one point. This can definitely induce altitude sickness and make physical exertion of any kind extremely difficult.

Luckily, there’s a simple answer. You should acclimatise by spending a week volunteering in Cusco (3400m) or Ollantaytambo (2500m) before beginning your trek. During these days it is best not to physically exert yourself. Hence, try to avoid alcohol and make sure to drink plenty of water as your body becomes used to the lower oxygen levels.

When to travel?

Timing your trip to Machu Picchu can be tough. July and August are peak season, meaning that the area will be especially busy. Since the government has started to strictly limit the number of people allowed on the trail (as well as limiting the number of people allowed into Machu Picchu itself) these busy times of the year can make it pretty tricky unless you booked far enough in advance.

On the other end of the spectrum, Machu Picchu is especially wet and rainy from late November through to early April. For instance, the entire Inca trail closes for restoration work in February.

With all this in mind, we recommend planning your trip for May, early June, September or early October. This way you’ll get decent weather without the site being too busy.

Other top tips for successful travel

  • Make sure to bring a hat and sunscreen, Peru can get extremely hot.
  • Paradoxically you’ll also need to make sure to bring a waterproof jacket
  • You should definitely bring insect repellent if you don’t want to get bitten
  • Have cash on you to pay for your entrance (and the bathroom!)

Machu Picchu might be off the beaten track. However, it really can’t be beaten for an adventure rich in both fitness and in history. The entire surrounding area is full of archaeological wonders. Moreover, the amazing natural beauty of the region only adds to its appeal.

Have we inspired you to visit Machu Picchu?

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