Peru: Magnificent Machu Picchu in One Day

September, 2011

What can you expect when exploring Peru’s iconic Machu Picchu in one day?

Where is Machu Picchu?

Situated in southern Peru’s Eastern Cordillera and perched high on a 2,430-metre mountain ridge, Machu Picchu commands spectacular vistas over the Sacred Valley and surrounding mountains.

Getting to Machu Picchu

If you haven’t already booked a tour in your country, then most travellers arrive in Cusco to book a trek or tour from this city. Typically, it’s the Classic Inca Trail trek, which lasts from one day to three days.

Another easy way to see Machu Picchu is by taking a train from Cusco to Aguas Calientes, then a bus to the gates of Machu Picchu.

If you’re after a more challenging trek to also see stunning diverse vistas and less tourists, then I highly recommend the 5-day Salkantay trek, which is difficult but wonderful. Day 5 of the trek is when you finally explore Machu Picchu for one day.

A little background on Machu Picchu

As one of the seventh wonders of the modern world, many theories are bandied around about why the Incas built Machu Picchu. And, in such an isolated region of Peru atop a mountain ridge, at such high altitude that you feel as if you’re in the clouds.

Machu Picchu, Salkantay, Peru, South America, trekking

Although over 500 years’ old, the Incas inhabited the city of Machu Picchu for only 100 years, before the Spanish conquistadores arrived, which brought plagues and waged military campaigns. With the fall of the last Incan capital in 1572, the line of Incan rulers came to an end and abandoned, Machu Picchu descended into ruin.

Incorrectly renown as the ‘lost city of Vilcabamba la Vieja’, some archaeologists and anthropologists believe that Machu Picchu is where the Incas were born. But also, where the Incas fought at length, back in the 16th century with the conquistadors. Although, some 50 years after its discovery by the American historian Hiram Bingham in 1911, this theory was proved incorrect.

Other theories include Machu Picchu built as a holy nunnery, or to honour a sacred landscape, or as a royal retreat.

Machu Picchu, Salkantay, Peru, South America, trekking

The mystery of Machu Picchu still baffles scholars as to why the city was built and at this strategic location. From above, you can see that Machu Picchu has been made in the shape of a Condor, of which we saw at the Colca Canyon but not at this site.

The Incas could observe any potential threats below, but this magnificent city lay hidden from below. The Quechuan name Machu Picchu translates to “Old Peak”, which refers to the mountain and not the city.

Machu Picchu

Ready at sparrow fart (Australian term) around 4:30 am, you have an option to either hike an hour to the Machu Picchu entrance and arrive by 6am, or take the official bus from Aguas Calientes, which you need to book the day before.

After walking 75 kilometres over 4 days on the Salkantay trek, we succumb and pay for the expensive bus.

Arriving at the entrance, the air is alive and buzzing with excitement as travellers from around the world have come to lay eyes on this incredible Inca citadel. Visitor numbers are restricted to 2,500 people on any given day.

Machu Picchu map, Peru, Salkantay, South America
Map: Google

Your passport is stamped with the obligatory Machu Picchu stamp, before we enter a world of mystery and awe. This year is the 100th year anniversary, since its discovery, so my passport stamp is special.

passport stamp, Machu Picchu, Salkantay, Peru, South America, trekking

Our Salkantay trek guide Juan, provides a 1.5-hour tour on the history of Machu Picchu, and then we are free to wander until closing time.

Machu Picchu, Salkantay, Peru, South America, trekking

As the most famous archaeological site on the continent and etched into our subconscious just as the Pyramids are, Machu Picchu lives up to every expectation and more.

Machu Picchu, Salkantay, Peru, South America, trekking

Early morning mist shrouds this ancient site creating an ethereal back drop accentuating further the mystery, which envelops Machu Picchu.

Machu Picchu, Salkantay, Peru, South America, trekking

Whether in my mind or a reality, the thrill of actually being here sends shivers up my spine and goose bumps appear on my arms. It’s a moment of clarity and realisation that makes you feel so insignificant, whilst standing amongst aged fragments and ingenuity of the previous 500 years.

Machu Picchu, Salkantay, Peru, South America, trekking

The hostile mountain range and hidden location, suggests that the Incas did not want this city to be found.

Machu Picchu, Salkantay, Peru, South America, trekking

Almost completely encircled by the Urubamba River – Incan name of Vilcamayo (Sacred River) – marvelling at how this splendid city was erected from the plateau’s stones and at this altitude, is baffling.

Machu Picchu, Salkantay, Peru, South America, trekking

As the Incas believed the sun was their God, viewing a sunrise or sunset from specific locations within Machu Picchu, aligns accurately with important religious mountains, during a solstice or equinox.

Machu Picchu, Salkantay, Peru, South America, trekking

Even with this many tourists on the site, the breath-taking views and inspiring atmosphere are not diminished, and still captivate.

Machu Picchu, Salkantay, Peru, South America, trekking

Stones strewn around the site are intriguing and some are puzzling. We learn that the Incas chiselled holes in the stones around 10 cm apart and in a straight line, using a bronze bar. With a piece of wood wedged into the hole, then water poured over the wedge, this cracked the stone, which was ready for building – innovative.

Machu Picchu, Salkantay, Peru, South America, trekking

Ashlar, the Incan unique construction method sees the large stones cut into jigsaw puzzles similar to bricks, so that mortar was not required. Large foundation stones and complex drainage systems – an estimated 60 percent of the site, lie beneath Machu Picchu. Incan engineers wanted Machu Picchu to last forever.

Machu Picchu, Salkantay, Peru, South America, trekking

Built to withstand earthquakes, the 8.5-hectare site containing 172 buildings, is a testament to Incan craftsmanship as Machu Picchu is located on two separate fault lines.

Machu Picchu, Salkantay, Peru, South America, trekking

Almost the last to be kicked out before closing time, I never want to leave this alluring ancient city. Although, with the return train and bus, and accommodation booked in Cusco, sadly it’s time.

Machu Picchu, Salkantay, Peru, South America, trekking
Photo credit: Neil Lintern

Llama’a casually roam around the site without any fear of tourists.

Llama, Machu Picchu, Salkantay, Peru, South America, trekking

The surreal experience of magical Machu Picchu will remain with you forever…

Machu Picchu, Salkantay, Peru, South America, trekking
…and, a one-day visit just isn’t enough time to absorb this extraordinary site.

Huayna Picchu

If you are keen, trek up to Huayna Picchu for a spectacular view looking back down to Machu Picchu. You need to book this permit at an additional cost in Cusco, or in Aguas Calientes the day before you climb.

Huayna Picchu is at a height of around 2,693 metres, which is another 260 metres higher than Machu Picchu and the climb takes around an hour. Only 200 people are allowed to climb at the one time and this is only twice per day, in the morning. I hear that the stone steps are extremely steep and it’s a hard climb.

Huayna Picchu is the highest peak, which you see in the classic photos of gorgeous Machu Picchu.

Machu Picchu, Salkantay, Peru, South America, trekking

Wanting to spend the whole day at Machu Picchu, I didn’t indulge in this extra climb – although the photos from some of our group’s trekkers that climbed Huayna Picchu are simply spectacular.

Visit Nilla’s Photography for more images. More posts on Peru at Image Earth Travel.

For those wanting to learn more detail about Machu Picchu, then this Roy Adkins video provides a documentary.

43 thoughts on “Peru: Magnificent Machu Picchu in One Day

Add yours

  1. It’s mind boggling to know how the ancient people could maintain such flourishing cities high atop the mountains in the middle of nowhere.. It’s amazing..!!
    Loved your post on Machu Pichu. I believe if one is in South America, one must make efforts to visit this place, despite the hard work involved. And the place does have it’s charm and the efforts are always worth it.. 😀
    And it’s even more flabbergasting to know that these ancient buildings were earthquake proof..!! The site no doubt leaves more questions than answers, but isn’t that the beauty of archaeology? To excavate the answers.. 😉
    Thank you Nilla for making me read yet another brilliant article.. 😊😊

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It certainly is and the 5-Day Salkantay trek is a difficult way to get to Machu Picchu, although these days tourism has made it much easier. Imagine what it would have been like climbing to this city back in the 15th-century?
      Yes indeed. Without archaeology we wouldn’t have (as much) history and without history, well… 😉

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Carmen, many thanks for your great feedback!

      I think Machu Picchu would be a great education for kids as long as they’re not too young – unless you carry them. It’s not just the steps but also the altitude that gets to adults, so can’t imagine what it would be like with children. What an amazing experience for children though!


  2. An amazing register of Machu Picchu! :O usually Machu Picchu is something threatening for its vastness. Mostly the persons that go there and take photographs they are like having lost the way to see. Instead yours are like you had never seen Machu Picchu and instead you would be discovering it. They make me remember the photos by Martín Chambi when Machu Picchu it was something new for the world.
    By the way, the technique to break blocks of stone with humid wood only explains how they were extracted from the quarry. But in reference to sculpt them in nor parallel sides… that still is a mystery. I saw at university documentals about hypothesis but they actually are not successful to explain how were made the finest ashlars in which you cannot fit a knife. Brien Foerster is not an academic (so far I know) but he makes valid questions.
    Thank you for sharing such a spectacular testimony.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Wow, thank you Francis for such wonderful feedback! I’m so happy that you enjoyed the trek and my photos. I feel that the B&W photos do Machu Picchu more justice thank the colour photos.

      It was an incredible experience of discovery of this piece of history. The Salkantay trek just cemented how difficult it would have been to access this area, let alone building this city.

      There are still so many unsolved mysteries surrounding Machu Picchu and as you mention, how the stones were sculpted, especially without today’s machinery.

      Thanks again!

      Liked by 1 person

    1. It is an incredible piece of history Lulu and I’d love to visit again.

      There has always been restrictions on Machu Picchu, which I don’t think is a bad thing for its preservation. As an example, we weren’t even allowed to take walking sticks into the site as the pointy ends are deemed as ruining the stone. I totally agree with this restriction as visitors are not gentile when walking over the site.


  3. Machu Picchu Peru such a beautiful destination I have heard many positive words regarding that place and you shared good information about that place. Its really enjoyable and stunning photos you shared. Thanks for sharing this post with us.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Suzanne, it was an incredible experience and destination.

      Peru does limit the number of tourists each day but still think it’s too many as you’re allowed to walk all over the ruins and this must have an impact on everything.

      Liked by 1 person

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