Machu Picchu Travel Guide

Explorer Machu Picchu

Built around 1450, Machu Picchu is one of the most impressive ancient cities ever built in history. Tucked high up in the Andean mountains of Peru, the majestic citadel was built at the height of the Inca Empire, and has miraculously stayed in tact till this day. Although it was located only about 80 kilometres from the Inca capital in Cusco, the Spanish never found Machu Picchu and thus did not plunder or destroy it, as they did many other sites.

Over the centuries, it became hidden within the jungles, and few outside the immediate area knew of its existence. In 1911, American historian and explorer Hiram Bingham travelled the region looking for the old Inca capital and brought Machu Picchu to international attention. Having been declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, Machu Picchu has since gained fame all over the world as a masterpiece of architecture. This historical site is truly a unique place that everyone needs to visit at least once in a lifetime.

Top Things to Do

Inti Punku

Translated to mean “sun door” in the indigenous Quechua language, the Inti Punku was once the main entrance to Machu Picchu. Guarded by military, the gate was the main entry point from Cusco and it was believed they controlled who entered and exited the ancient city right here. Today, it is also the spot where tourists can get their first glance of the whole ancient site.

Inti Mach'ay

Architecturally, Inti Mach’ay is the most significant structure at Machu Picchu. Its entrances, walls, steps and windows are some of the finest masonry in the Incan Empire. The special cave was used to observe the Royal Feast of the Sun. Inti Mach’ay is located on the eastern side of Machu Picchu, just north of the “Condor Stone.”

Temple of the Sun

As one of Machu Picchu’s most dominant buildings, this is the historical site’s only round building. The curved and tapering tower is built with exceptional stonework and is located just above and to the left of the ceremonial baths.

Inca Trail

This famous multi-day trek is one of the most popular – and challenging – ways to get to Machu Picchu. The trail weaves its way through the Andes mountain range, passing through cloud forests, alpine tundra, undulating steep slopes and dramatic viewpoints. Hikers also pass through many Incan ruins before ending the trek at the Inti Punku. Trekkers normally take four or five days to complete the “Classic Inca Trail” but a two-day trek is also possible. Note that the Inca Trail is closed for the entire month of February every year.

Aguas Calientes

The closest town to Machu Picchu is this enclave, with a population of around 1,600. Considered the gateway to Machu Picchu, the town is home to numerous hotels and restaurants, as well as natural hot baths which gave the town its colloquial Spanish name. In 2010, the baths were destroyed by floods, but they have since been rebuilt. After an exhausting day exploring the Machu Picchu, soaking in the baths can be a great way to unwind.

Where to Eat and Drink

As Machu Picchu is a highly protected historical site, you won’t find any food stalls or restaurants at the site itself. Most restaurants and bars are located in the nearest town, Aguas Calientes. Here dining options range from cheap local diners to upscale riverfront restaurants. Halal restaurants are limited, but most restaurants have vegetarian dishes on offer.

recommended places to eat

Tree House

This plush restaurant is probably the most upscale dining establishment in Aguas Clients. Giving a modern spin to traditional Peruvian cuisine, the Tree House delivers a fusion of Peruvian, Asian, Italian and Latin-American and Andean flavours. The restaurant uses only the freshest organic and healthy products to provide a surprising dining experience.

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Cafe Inkaterra

Forming a part of the Inkaterra Machu Picchu Pueblo Hotel, this cafe is the most charming building in town, featuring a beautiful stone exterior with a tall triangular shaped moss-covered roof. It has a modern Peruvian menu, that includes fusion dishes like quinoa crusted chicken and grilled fish.

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Indio Feliz

Serving original French-Peruvian cuisine, this cozy restaurant is a favourite among travellers for its warm atmosphere and quirky design. Its international menu has won it many awards, with an interesting list of dishes, including Caribbean-style pineapple chicken, sirloin steak skewers and the much-loved ceviche.

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Mama Angelica

Simple and rustic, this diner serves inexpensive, home-cooked Peruvian food that’s perfect for budget travellers seeking a local experience. Mama Angelica only uses locally-grown ingredients and she even recycles, a rare practice in Aguas Calientes.

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Recommended Places to Stay

Belmont Sanctuary Lodge

The only hotel located at the Machu Picchu gates is the Belmont. This hotel is popular among well-heeled travellers who are seeking luxury and a convenient location.


Inkaterra Hotel

Most hotels are located in Aguas Calientes, and the best place to stay here is undoubtedly this beautiful resort set on the edge of town, away from the crowds and in the midst of nature.


Tierra Viva

For those seeking comfort and affordable prices, this hotel provides great value for money. It is also ideally located in the quietest area of Aguas Calientes, facing the Urubamba River and surrounded by the Forest of Clouds.


Casa Andina Classic

This modern midrange hotel is conveniently located near the main tourist sites in Aguas Calientes, and very close to the access point of Machu Picchu.


Best Time to Go

As a historical site, Machu Picchu is open year-round to visitors. The peak season is in July and August, and it can get extremely crowded so try to avoid visiting during this time. The rainy season runs from October to April, and tends to be the low season. However, it can rain at any time of the year due to the site’s high altitude and being surrounded by mountains. Regardless the time of the year you’re visiting, try to avoid Sundays as that’s when people who live in the Cusco province can visit the site for free, in addition to the daily quota of 5,200 paying visitors.

Because of Machu Picchu’s location (at 2,430m), visitors are prone to altitude sickness. Cusco is even higher, at 3,399 metres above sea level. In order to acclimatise to the high altitude, it is recommended to go straight to Aguas Clients (which is much lower at 2,000m), rather than staying overnight at Cusco. This will help minimise the dangerous effects of altitude, which commonly include headache, fatigue, and nausea. Avoid alcohol and physical exertion while acclimatising and drink as much water or tea as you can stand to help your body slowly adjust to the thinner air.

Getting There

There are no flights from Saudi Arabia to Cusco (the nearest airport to Machu Picchu). A few airlines fly from Riyadh to Lima, Peru’s capital, including British Airways, Air Canada, and Air France. There are no direct flights, and most flights have two stops. The journey is at least 24 hours when you fly from Riyadh.

Getting from Airport to City
  • By Train

    From Cusco, the easiest way to get to Machu Picchu is to take the train to Aguas Calientes, from which is another 20-minute bus ride to Macchu Picchu. There are three train companies to choose from: Inca Rail, Peru Rail, and the Belmond Hiram Bingham train. The Hiram Bingham is a luxury train service and much more expensive (at around US$330 each way) than Inca Rail ($50 each way) or Peru Rail ($85 each way). Regardless of which you choose, the 3.5-hour journey is very scenic and has to be booked in advance.

  • By Car

    You can also join a tour that will drive you to the town of Hydroelectrico (there’s a hydroelectric plant there). From there it’s a three-hour hike up to Aguas Calientes and then on to Machu Picchu. Many tour companies in Cusco offer this route as a one- or two-day trip using private vans.

  • By Foot

    For active travellers, hiking the famous Inca Trail can be an exciting and fulfilling way to reach Machu Picchu. Dozens of tour operators offer the trek, ranging from 4 to 8 days, and varying level of comfort (although camping is mandatory). For more information, visit this website.

Extra tips
  • The official language of Peru, including Machu Picchu, is Spanish.

  • The currency in Peru is the Peruvian Nuevo Sol. The current exchange rate is 1 SAR to 0.9 PEN.

  • Electricity in Peru is 220 Volts and 60 Hertz.

  • Peru uses both the American plug with two flat prongs, and the European plug that has two round pins. It is best to travel with an adapter, in case your hotel uses a type of plug you do not have.