Without doubt, Peru’s greatest attraction is the mist-shrouded Inca citadel of Machu Picchu. Invisible from below and completely self-contained, surrounded by agricultural terraces sufficient to feed the population and watered by natural springs, Machu Picchu seems to have been utilised by the Incas as a secret ceremonial city, at least this seems to be the most popular theory (academics, however, muse that it may have been an agricultural testing station, a prison or an estate of an Inca Emperor).
Cosseted by the Amazon Basin and Peruvian Andes, Machu Picchu was built in the fifteenth century and was abandoned just a century later, when the Inca Empire was conquered by the Spanish. There it lay, increasingly engulfed by its subtropical jungle surroundings and unknown to the outside world until 1911 when the American Historian, Hiram Bingham, unintentionally stumbled upon it while searching for Vilcabamba, the last Inca refuge of the Spanish Conquest (Bingham's book, 'The Lost City of the Incas' chronicles his recollections of the expedition and was written not long before he died in 1948). It is believed that the Spanish conquerors never found Machu Picchu and the local Incas who knew about it just didn't bother with it, perhaps because of its remote location, the fact that many of its residents were reputed to have died of smallpox, or maybe because of more mysterious reasons).
The well-preserved stone settlement comprises approximately two-hundred meticulously planned structures, set on a steep mountainside and divided into lower and upper sections, which separated the farming and residential aspects of the site, with a square connecting the two. Additionally, there is, what has become known as, the Sacred District, comprising three sections: The Hitching Post of the Sun, the Temple of the Sun and Room of the Three Windows. Blending superbly with its surroundings, privileged visitors can discover an extensive road and trail system, irrigation channels, agricultural terracing, hanging gardens, an industrial quarter, royal quarter and a religious quarter, along with residential quarters for the farmers who tended the land and farmed the animals. Of immense biodiversity, the area is hugely important and home to many endangered species, including the Spectacled Bear, along with otters, weasels, cats, the Andean Condor and the wonderfully named Andean Cock-of-the-Rock, regarded as the national bird of Peru.
Explore the ancient ruins and tropical jungle scenery of the surrounding montane forest. Step back in time – we guarantee the experience will be an extraordinary one. From Cuzco, you can hike the Inca Trail, finally reaching your destination four days later. However, visitors who wish a more speedy and luxurious transfer can opt for the Orient-Express Hiram Bingham train, which traverses the luscious mountain scenery on its fifty-mile journey. Departing later in the day allows the crowds of tourists to disperse from the site before the train's nearby arrival in the late-afternoon. Choose to make the trip by return the same day, or enjoy an overnight stay at the stunning luxurious lodge overlooking the world-famous site, allowing for a sunrise viewing of this most incredible UNESCO World Heritage Site before your descent back to Cuzco.
Those in the know highly recommend a few days of acclimatisation in Cuzco before the ascent to Machu Picchu. Altitude sickness is a very real prospect and could ruin an otherwise amazing experience if not taken seriously.