Aguas Calientes, Peru: Entering Machu Picchu [Day 18]

Day 18 | Thursday, November 10, 2016

This is the big one. The one destination that brings millions of visitor to Peru every year. Machu Picchu. You may not know much about the Inca empire but most people have heard of Machu Picchu and/or seen pictures of it.

Machu Picchu/Inca History

The Inca empire existed from about 1438 to 1533 and its last stronghold was defeated by the Spanish in 1572. At it’s height the empire stretched across Peru, large parts of Ecuador, western and south central Bolivia, northwest Argentina, north and central Chile, and a small part of southern Colombia. The capital of the empire was the city of Cusco in modern-day Peru. Machu Picchu was built around 1450 and is thought to have been built as an estate for the Inca emperor Pachacuti. It sits on a mountain ridge about 8,000 feet above sea level. Not much is really know about Machu Picchu and the role it played in the Inca empire. Machu Picchu was abandoned at the time of the Spanish Conquest. Knowledge of Machu Picchu never reached the Spanish and it was kept from the outside world until it was rediscovered by Hiram Bingham in 1911. Machu Picchu is made up of approximately 200 structures that were used for religious, ceremonial, astronomical, residential, and agricultural purposes. There is also an extensive road and trail system, irrigation canals and agricultural terraces. Machu Picchu was declared a Peruvian Historical Sanctuary in 1981 and a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983. In 2007 it was voted one of the New Seven Wonders of the World.

Fun Inca Fact: They had over 40,000 km of “paved” (stone) roads throughout the empire and they had a human pony express of sorts that ran 4 to 5 km legs that could get a message from Cusco to Machu Picchu in 7 hours. It took us over 4 hours to get from Cusco to Aguas Calientes (which is at the base of Machu Picchu) by train.

Our First Day in Machu Picchu

After months of research and planning we are finally boarding a bus this morning in Aguas Calientes for a bumpy 25 minute drive up the windy road to the gates of Machu Picchu. It feels very surreal. Today we only have general admission tickets to Machu Picchu, meaning that we can not access Huayna Picchu or Machu Picchu Mountains. We have a guided tour scheduled for 10:00 am but we are wanting to get up to the ancient citadel before the crowds and hopefully capture some pictures without large groups of tourists in them. Away we go on the bus at 7:30 am.

We just got off the bus at the gates of Machu Picchu and there is a decent size line to get in. There is also a huge line for the restrooms. The only restrooms up here are outside the gate and they charge you 1 soles to use them.

Fortunately given the early hour the line to get your passport stamped is short so Steve made a beeline for the booth and got both our passports stamped.

Through the gates we go. At first the city grounds are hidden from you. You walk up a ramp with lush greenery all around you and then it comes into view. The ruins of the city, Huayna Picchu Mountain in the background and behind you Machu Picchu Mountain. Surrounding the area is mountain after mountain of the grandest scale. The only other time I have seen mountains of this scale and quantity is in Alaska. The size of the main city and the ruins that you can see on Huayna Picchu Mountain boggle the mind. The engineering, efficiency and sheer tenacity it had to take to build this complex is awe-inspiring. You see two main types of construction. One that is used for common buildings (homes, schools, store houses, and terraces) that is more rustic and one that is more refined, skilled and precise that is reserved for temples and religious buildings.

Today we toured the lower portion of the main city down to the entrance to Huayna Picchu Mountain and we hiked up to the Sun Gate. Another day walking ancient stone steps of varying rise and run, adding 4,896 stairs walked to the running total of 9,120.

A few things that would have been good to know before we entered.

  1. They only seem to enforce the rules that aren’t posted. No smoking and not eating were clearly posted but we saw multiple people doing both.
  2. Although the paths aren’t always clearly marked in both directions, most paths are only one way and they tend to strictly enforce the direction you walk on paths. This means you need to be very intentional with the route you choose because one wrong turn and you may have to exit, and then re-enter, to take the route you wanted.
  3. If you want to get to the Sun Gate you have one chance shortly after you enter. If you don’t take advantage of it then you will have to exit and re-enter to get back to that point.
  4. You must exit to use the restrooms.
  5. You can only enter 3 times on your ticket each day.


  1. Trish

    Awesome!!!! Love the pic of Summer through the stone window. Beautiful. Can’t believe you saw all that awesomeness in person!

    • Summer Martindale

      It was very surreal the day we toured the Sacred Valley and the first day we went to Machu Picchu. I had spent months by the time we got there researching and looking at pictures online. It was crazy to stand there and see all these things in person.

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