|Machu Picchu is the site of an ancient Inca city, high in the Andes Mountains of Peru. It is situated at an altitude of 2,430 meters (8,000 ft.) above a loop of the Urubamba River, which surrounds the site on three sides, with cliffs dropping vertically for 450 meters (1,480 ft.) to the river at their base.
Machu Picchu was built around 1450, at the height of the Inca Empire, but was abandoned just over 100 years later, as a result of the Spanish Conquest. The location of the city was a military secret, and its deep cliffs and steep mountains provided excellent natural defenses so the Conquistadores newer found it and it remained undiscovered until relatively recently in 1911, hence it is also called “Lost City of the Incas”.
Machu Picchu is separated into three areas - agricultural, urban, and religious - the structures are arranged so that the function of the buildings matches the form of their surroundings.
The agricultural terracing and aqueducts take advantage of the natural slopes; the lower areas contain buildings occupied by farmers and teachers, and the most important religious areas are located at the top of the hill, overlooking the lush Urubamba Valley thousands of feet below.
There have been many speculations about the purpose of the city, but current researchers tend to believe that Machu Picchu was a country resort for elite Incas. At any given time, there were not more than 750 people living at Machu Picchu, with far fewer than that during the rainy season.
There are 3 ways to reach the ruins themselves: arrive on foot via the multiple day Inca Trail trek, or walking or taking a bus from Aguas Calientes. Hiking the Inca Trail is a great way to arrive as you first see the city through the Sun Gate (instead of arriving from below as you do from Aguas Calientes). Both the four-day and two-day hikes are controlled by the government, which is important to know as the Inca Trail hike is limited to a certain amount of people that are allowed go on it each day.
Travelers should be fit enough to walk for days and sleep in tents. To walk to the ruins from Aguas Calientes is possible, it will take about 1-2 hours up, and around an hour back down. This route is mainly stairs, connecting the hairpins that the buses take. It is a strenuous and long hike but is very rewarding. Keep alert for the bus drivers that rarely brake for pedestrians.
Tickets to enter Machu Picchu can no longer be bought at the entrance to Machu Picchu itself. You must buy your ticket well in advance because the government has recently decided to limit the number of visitors to Machu Picchu to just 2500 per day. Although tickets can be bought from an official ticket office in Cusco they can sell out several days in advance so it is best to buy your Machu Picchu entrance ticket online as soon as you can.