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Where is Machu Picchu and How to Get There

Secondary Categories: PeruThe Essentials

Secondary Categories: PeruThe Essentials

Most historians believe Machu Picchu’s mountainside construction began in the 1400s under the watchful eye of Inca ruler Pachacutec. The prevailing theory is that Machu Picchu was a royal retreat, a place where the Inca elite could relax and enjoy their lavish surroundings.

For this reason, Machu Picchu was placed far from other Inca cities and sites. It was so well isolated that the Spaniards—who conquered the Inca Empire and its Cuzco capital in the 1530s—never knew Machu Picchu existed.

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Photo - Celeumo

So where is Machu Picchu’s mysterious location?

The site is situated in south central Peru, a South American country with 5 bordering neighbors: Ecuador, Colombia, Brazil, Bolivia, and Chile. A typical Peru vacation begins in Lima, the location of the country’s main international airport. Lima is also the capital and largest city in Peru. From here you will likely fly to Cuzco, the city closest to Machu Picchu. Time in the air is about one hour. By bus the journey takes 24 hours.

From Cuzco, Machu Picchu is about 70 miles northwest by road, on the other side of the Sacred Valley. It sits within the Cordillera de Vilcabamba, a small Andean range that runs for 160 miles and reaches 20,575 feet above sea level at its highest point. Machu Picchu, however, only hits 7,710 feet above sea level, a lower altitude than the city of Cuzco.

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Aguas Calientes - Diego Delso

The ruins are located between two main peaks: Machu Picchu and Huayna Picchu. This area of concentrated ruins covers only about 20 of the 80,310-acre Machu Picchu Historic Sanctuary, a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1983. Overlooking the Urubamba River, the Sanctuary’s ecosystem is influenced both by the Andes and the Amazon, creating a lush tropical mountain forest environment.

Below Machu Picchu on the other side of the mountain is the tiny town of Aguas Calientes, also called Machu Picchu Pueblo or Machu Picchu town. Most people who visit the citadel will spend at least one night here. Other than the Inca Trail, this town is the only access point to the ruins. From town, travelers reach the ruins by taking a 20 minute bus ride up a windy mountain road to the citadel’s entrance. To visit Machu Picchu, travelers have 3 main options: take a 4-hour train ride straight from Cuzco to Aguas Calientes, take a 1.5-hour train ride from the Sacred Valley town of Ollantaytambo to Aguas Calientes, or hike the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu via a 4-day trek.

Have we convinced you yet? Speak to a Destination Expert about curating a tailor made Machu Picchu itinerary just for you, or check out our most popular Machu Picchu & Peru tours here.

Thanks to Nad Hemnani for the title image of this blog.

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