Most people are only fortunate enough to visit Machu Picchu once in their lifetime and as such, it’s really important that you spend your time wisely and visit as much as you physically can.
Depending on the weather and on the individual, it may not be possible to visit absolutely everything, so some hard choices have to be made.
This is especially true if you’ve only got a half-day at Machu Picchu. As mentioned in our previous post – Surviving the Salkantay, there are a number of options for visitors. This post will detail a “Perfect Day at Machu Picchu” – obviously open to interpretation.
If you have a ticket for either Machu Picchu Mountain or Huayna Picchu mountain be sure to get there during your allotted time. Typically this is either between 9-10am or 10-11am only. This “perfect day” doesn’t take this into account but mentions the mountains when we are near the trails. Be sure to get to your respective mountain paths at the appropriate time! We’d definitely recommend trying to take on at least one of these mountains.
Get up at 3:30am for a quick shower then collect your small backpack on the way out, conveniently prepared the night before. Queue in the early morning mist at 4am hoping to be on one of the first buses to take you up to Machu Picchu, while at the same time praying the mist and clouds will part to give you a clear day.
Catch the bus (save your energy!) and enjoy the weaving climb and ever improving views of the Urubamba valley on the way up to the top of the mountain.
Take in your first glimpse of the legendary city, basked in the early morning light and low hanging cloud and mist. If you’re lucky you’ll get here on a clear day in time for sunrise.
Walk between the buildings onto the terraces to immediately submerge yourself inside the ancient ruins. Walk along the terraces towards the giant staircase leading up to the main city gate.
Walk through the main gate and into the city of Machu Picchu itself, wander around the streets and imagine what life was like for the Incas hundreds of years ago.
Walk past the quarry on your way towards the temple complex. See I you can spot one of the blocks where the ancient people had drilled holes in order to split the rock, possibly to form another temple in the nearby complex.
Have a wander around the temple complex, be sure to see the temple of the three windows, the grand temple and the priests house (though this is in debate). There’s also a strange rock on the floor in the centre which resembles the southern cross.
Walk up to the sundial “Intihuatana”, from here you have a great view over the city. There’s also a rock carved in the shape of Machu Picchu itself.
Walk down the other side of “Intihautana” and follow the path that leads you to the left of the main square, walk towards the two rest areas. Here you will find “Sacred Rock”, another carved rock, this time of the shape of the mountain range in the distance.
Huayna Picchu Mountain (optional)
From here you will have the opportunity to climb Huayna Picchu (if you have purchased tickets previously). You will need to be here at a time appropriate to your ticket. You typically get an hour timeframe to start the climb. The climb is approximately 1000 feet and is considered a real challenge. From the top you will get a unique view of Machu Picchu resembling the shape of a condor.
Houses of Factories
Walk though the narrow valley, here you will snake your way around to the houses of factories, be sure to check out the house that holds two circular bowls in the ground. This may have been an ancient Inca cinema. Imagine a crowd of intellectuals gazing patiently upon the stars – reflected from the still surface of the water.
From the houses of factories it is a short walk to the Industrial Zone, here you will see many houses built specifically for industry. There is a steep staircase here to walk down. Once at the bottom turn left towards the Temple of the condor.
Temple of the Condor
The temple of the condor is situated at the foot of the Industrial Zone. Stand a little further back and imagine the rocks behind and the rocks on the floor tracing the outline of a condor in flight.
Temple of the Sun & Royal Tomb
Make your way towards the long stairs case that leads back up to the temple complex, a short distance up the stairs you will exit to your left. Here you will stand, hypnotised by the stone masonry of the Incas. How on earth did they shape the rock so exact as to fit a thousand tons of rock so seamlessly together? You will also notice the Royal Tomb hidden beneath the temple itself.
What is most impressive about the Temple of the Sun is it’s accuracy. During the summer solstice the sun hits the window directly over the mountains. In the winter solstice the sun hits the adjacent window from the Sun Gate.
Next to another magnificent doorway is Nusta’s (Princesses) Bedroom. This large section is where the royalty lived here at Machu Picchu.
Walking on the path behind the Temple of the Sun, you will come across the ritual fountains, here the ancient Incan culture would sacrifice Llama as a way of asking the Gods for plentiful water. It must have worked as you’ll notice when walking through this area, the impressive gullies cut out of the rock that still feed water from Machu Picchu mountain to the city itself.
Walking back up the steps and retracing your steps through the Main City Gate, you’ll reach the top of the hill and the ancient Guard House (House of the Guardians). From here you can take that Classic Machu Picchu picture that you see on every website.
Funerary Rock & Cemetery
Directly adjacent to the Guard House is Funerary Rock, a massive slab of rock, carved where it stands. It sits on the old cemetery, a place where Hiram Bingham found many of his artefacts.
Ancient Inca Bridge
From the cemetery it is a 20 minute round trip to the ancient Inca bridge, a secret passage into Machu Picchu that still exists today.
Machu Picchu Mountain (optional)
Once you have returned from the Inca bridge, make your way towards the Machu Picchu mountain trail (if you have tickets). You will need to be here at the time appropriate to your ticket, within an hour timeframe to start the hike. This hike is long and pretty tough – make sure you’re ready. The views at the top and even half-way up are spectacular.
Once warmed up from a mountain hike, make your way along the trail towards the Sun Gate, this will be the last section of Machu Picchu and the last view that you will see. It is very important to go here if you did not do the classic Inca trail so you don’t feel as if you’ve missed out too much. It’s approximately a 45 minute walk, keep your eye out for bears in the bushes!
By this point, it will be early to late afternoon. People will already be queuing for the buses back to Aquas Caliente, now is a perfect time for another fast loop of the Main City complex. Tourist numbers are drastically reduced and you should be able to get a few good pictures of you and Machu Picchu alone.
- Take a lot of water, especially or the climbs. There is nowhere to get water or buy water in Machu Picchu itself, you will have to exit and re-enter to purchase drinks.
- Toilet breaks – again you will need to exit and re-enter.
- Buses – buses are notoriously busy – for the trip up get there very early (4am or earlier), or you’ll be waiting in the dark for hours. For the return, leave it late – at around 4:30pm the bus lines are very short indeed.
- Passport Stamp – be sure to check out the small table at the exit to Machu Picchu, you stamp your passport yourself with a really nice Machu Picchu symbol.
- Go with a guide – As with everything, an experienced local guide is invaluable – you’ll learn more this way than trying to find things out on your own.