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- 08 May 2021, 3 nights
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Meaning 'old mountain' in Quechua, the Incan language, Machu Picchu is one of the planet's most intriguing destinations. Named a New Wonder of the World, the 15th-century citadel in the Peruvian Andes was abandoned in the 1500s and only uncovered again in 1911. Even today its purpose is not fully understood, with excavation and rebuilding still continuing at the site. Machu Picchu receives around 1.5 million visitors each year, but permits are limited to a set number each day, so you'll need to arrange yours early so as not to miss out.
Catering for the backpacking and trekking scene, plenty of hostels near Machu Picchu have thoughtful extra comforts like orthopaedic mattresses, feather duvets and high-quality sheets. Add to that a free breakfast, and you’ll be ready to head out in the high altitude. Free transfers from the train station can be arranged, and you can expect to find Machu Picchu hostels with free Wi-Fi and luggage storage. Dorm rooms are available, as well as private rooms with en-suite bathrooms, TVs and 24-hour hot water.
Machu Picchu Pueblo, also known as Aguas Calientes (Hot Waters), is the starting point for visits to the site itself. Named for its thermal baths, the town is the ideal place to soothe trek-weary bodies. You can also discover more of Peru's Incan ruins at the hillside fortress of Ollantaytambo, a village in the Sacred Valley on the way to Machu Picchu.
The ancient city of Machu Picchu is separated into two sections, an urban hub and an area where crops were grown. You can start exploring at the Temple of the Sun, next to the main fountain, where religious ceremonies were held. Next door, the grassy Sacred Plaza provides more impressive views, though you're just as likely to get a shot of a grazing llamas. If you have energy after finishing the Inca Trail, or climbing up and down the many plazas and platforms, you can scale the 360-metre-high Huayna Picchu for a bird’s-eye view of the site.
The classic Inca Trail from Piscacucho (KM 82) to Machu Picchu takes 4 days, arriving at Machu Picchu’s Sun Gate at dawn on the final day. You'll need to apply for a permit for the Inca Trail around 6 months in advance. The Salkantay Trail takes 5 days and is a bit more relaxed with permits, not requiring you to hike with a guide or tour company. You can also reach Machu Picchu by train from Cusco, followed by a simple shuttle bus up the mountain.