OverviewThis mountain towers 600 meters or about 2000 feet over the famous and well-preserved pre-Columbian Inca ruins of Machu Picchu. The site itself is located on the saddle in between Cerro Machu Picchu and its smaller neighboor Huayna Picchu. Cerro Machu Picchu offers spectacular views of the surrounding mountains and valleys and of course of site of Machu Picchu itself. It is not climbed very often, because many visitors stick to the archeological site or climb the much lower Huayna Picchu. A well-defined "Inka" trail leads from the site through sometimes dense cloud forest (overhanging branches) to the summit, which is market by flag of the region of Cusco.
Getting ThereThe trailhead for this mountain is located within the archeological complex of Machu Picchu. The site can be reached by taking the train from Cusco. Most visitors fly to Cusco, the capital of the province by the same name, from Lima, or take the train from Arequipa or Puno (located on the Titicaca Lake).
The train ride from Cusco to Aguas Calientes takes about 4 hours (2 hours if one boards the train in Ollaytatambo, located "at the end" of the sacred valley) and visitors can get off at KM 82, 88, 104 or the final destination of Aguas Calientes (famous for its hot springs), depending on their intended route. KM 82 offers the longest approach hike, KM 88 is the beginning of the traditional, four-day Inca Trail, and KM 104 is the start of a shorter, two-day hike. All hikes enter the site of Machu Picchu on the Inca Trail through the the sun gate (Intipunku). This approach has the advantage that the early visitor (hiker) can enjoy spectacular views of the city from the sun gate at dawn and that the site is relatively deserted for a few hours before the trains from Cusco arrive.
The shortest approach is throught the train's final destination, Aguas Calientes, from where one can either hike the 5 miles or take frequently - leaving buses up to the site.
For the time-constraint visitors with no budget limitations, a helicopter ride from Cusco to Aguas Calientes is the optimal solution.
The entrance to inca trail to the summit of Cerro Machu Picchu is located on the southern end (the highest point) of the agricultural terraces of the site. These are located in the eastern half of the site and the trail from the sun gate leads though them. Hiking up the terraces look out for small wooden signs with "Cerro Machu Picchu" written on them. Follow those signs.
What is Machu PicchuMachu Picchu, which is Quechua and means Old Mountain is a well-preserved pre-Columbian Inca ruin located on a high mountain ridge, at an elevation of about 2,350 m (7,710 ft). Machu Picchu is located above the Urubamba Valley in Peru, about 70 km (44 mi) northwest of Cuzco, the provincial capital. The site is probably the most familiar symbol of the Inca Empire, due to its unique location, its geological features, and its late discovery in 1911. In 1983 the site has been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and has been the subject of concerns about the damage of tourism.
Machu Picchu was "rediscovered" on July 24, 1911, by Hiram Bingham, an American historian then employed as a lecturer at Yale University. He was led there by locals who frequented the site. This controversial explorer/archaeologist began the archaeological studies there and completed a survey of the area. Bingham coined the name "The Lost City of the Incas", which was the title of his first book.
Red TapeENTRY FEE (MANDATORY): For the traditional route to the summit, you have to go through the Machu Picchu ruins and therefore will need to pay an fee to enter the Machu Picchu ruins, which was US$20 when I did it in early 2005 for foreigners (Bring your ISIC card as students get a discount). If you arrived via the Inca Trail, this entry fee is already covered in your trail fee.
DAILY CLIMBING TIMES (MANDATORY): The trail up Huayna Picchu closes at 1pm while the ruins are open only from 7am to 5pm daily . It is illegal to stay inside the ruins at night.
GUIDES (MANADATORY IF ARRIVING BY THE INCA TRAIL): If you are trekking to Machu Picchu via the Inca Trail, you are now required to have a Peruvian registered guide with you on the trail. It is recommended to book a guided tour well in advance, as this is one of the most popular trecks in South America. In addition, only 500 trek permits are issued per day for the Inca Trail.
If you arrive at Machu Picchu from Agua Calientes and simply enter the city, you do not need a guide to explore the ruins..
However, many guides offer their services and for the general understanding of the site (unless one is well-prepared) it is recommended to hire a guide's services.
INCA TRAIL CLOSURE: The route of the classic 4-day Inca Trail will be closed each year during the month of February to allow conservation projects to be undertaken as well as giving the vegetation a chance to recover. This is a good month to close the trail since it is also the wettest moth of the year. Machu Picchu and the shorter 2-day trail will remain open as usual.
SNAKES: Watch out for snakes on the trail up to Cerro Machu Picchu.
When To ClimbThe mountain can be usually climbed throughout the year as the site of Machu Picchu is open all year. However, avoiding the peak season (April through October) helps to have a more enjoyable experience as there are slightly fewer visitors at Machu Picchu (and on the mountain). The classic 4-day Inca Trail is closed in the February and lately there has been talk to extend that closure to a three month period.
Camping and AccomodationIt is now illegal to stay in Machu Picchu proper overnight. If you are hiking in from the Inca Trail, the last place you can spend the night is Trekkers' Hotel (2700m). The gate closes in the afternoon and reopens in the morning. You can camp along the Inca Trail and at the Trekkers' Hotel, however, there are also rooms and showers available at the Hotel. Don't forget to bring your wallet because you can get a great cooked meal, beer, etc. at the hotel and you'll need some additional cash once you get to Machu Picchu.
Ask in Aguas Calientes for camping or stay are one of their cheap hostels. If you want to stay in a room, adjacent to the ruins is the expensive but posh Machu Picchu Ruinas Hotel
Mountain ConditionsAsk in Cusco or Aguas Calientes about conditions.
Or contact the South American Explorers Club at their Cusco club house or under their website.
Miscellaneous InfoFor additional information on this mountain, Machu Picchu or anything else in South America visit the South American Explorer's Club at the website or if you are in Peru (or Ecuador) at one of their club houses in Quito, Lima or Cusco. The club offers trip reports, weather information, topo maps, book exchanges and very friendly and knowledgable staff.
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