Why spending a night at Machu Picchu is golden
Just about everyone who visits Peru goes to Machu Picchu and loves it. You can visit on a day trip from Cusco or the Sacred Valley, and this is fabulous. It’s a long day (the Llama Travel excursion starts before 6am and you get back to Cusco around 9pm), but very satisfying. This includes a beautiful train journey, an in-depth guided tour of Machu Picchu and a great lunch in the restaurant next to the ruins.
As Machu Picchu is quite a compact site, you visit most of the important parts of the ruins on the guided visit. So, given that you can visit Machu Picchu and see many of the significant sites in on a day trip, why would you want to spend a night there? Well, lots of reasons…
Visit the ruins when it is less busy
A big benefit of staying near Machu Picchu is that you can explore the ruins at your own pace when there are fewer people. Lots of visitors think that early morning is the best time, and try to get up for when the site opens at first light. This is a great time to visit, and Machu Picchu is particularly beautiful as the early morning mist parts and dawn’s rays strike the stonework. But it can be quite busy, with lots of people wanting to catch ‘sunrise’ at the citadel. Equally beautiful is the soft, late-afternoon light. This is also the quietest time in the ruins, as most of the day visitors have taken the train back to Cusco, and the majority of the visitors who arrived at 6am have also left the ruins.
Explore more of the ruins
Although the main site is quite compact, there are several other parts of Machu Picchu away from the central area. It is possible to walk to the Sun Gate to get fabulous views of the ruins from above. You can also visit the sugarloaf of Huayna Picchu, just behind the ruins. Climb to the top (see Becky’s blog about this here), or you can visit the Temple of the Moon on the far side of the mountain. The Inca Drawbridge is about 20 minute walk from the citadel, and offers stunning views of the surrounding mountains. There are a restricted number of permits to enter Huayna Picchu so we recommend you buy these in advance. Llama Travel is able to arrange these tickets for you.
Climb Machu Picchu Mountain
For a tougher challenge, and some of the most wonderful views, it is possible to climb Machu Picchu mountain, overlooking the citadel and Huayna Picchu. Although it is over twice the height of Huayna Picchu, its more gradual assent and wide, well-marked pathways make it a slightly easier hiking option. A round trip will take around 4 hours but it is definitely worth the effort. The trail to the top of the mountain takes you up ancient stone steps crafted by the Incas, with beautiful vistas of the Urubamba River, the surrounding mountain scenery and spectacular aerial views of the famous Inca ruins. There are a restricted number of permits to enter Machu Picchu Mountain so we recommend you buy these in advance. Llama Travel is able to arrange these tickets for you.
The valley below Machu Picchu
Aguas Calientes is not the most attractive of towns, although it does have a quirky charm. There are hot volcanic springs at the top of the town, which Aguas Calientes is named after. The pools are rustic, and the volcanic waters slightly murky, but relaxing in the pools is a pleasant way to enjoy the amazing views of the surrounding mountains. There is also a little-known Machu Picchu site museum located near the bridge, about a 30 minute walk from Aguas Calientes town. This contains some artefacts recovered from Machu Picchu, although they are limited interest. You can also visit the botanical gardens near the museum.
Inkaterra Machu Picchu Pueblo Hotel
The Machu Picchu Pueblo Hotel, just outside of Aguas Calientes, has beautiful tropical gardens which you can explore. There are guided nature tours included in the price of your stay at the hotel. The orchid trail through the gardens allows you to spot some of the hotel’s 372 native orchid species in their natural habitat (not all flower at the same time!).
These include the largest orchid flower in the world, as well as tiny specimens only visible with a magnifying glass. You can also go bird watching in the cloud forest, with a chance to spot the incredible cock-of-the-rock, the golden-headed quetzal, 18 species of humming birds, torrent ducks and 4 species of tanagers.
You can also see spectacled bears at the conservation project in the hotel grounds, designed to recover bears negatively impacted by human impact. You can only visit the Machu Picchu Pueblo gardens and take the tours if you are staying in the hotel itself. If you would like to spend a night at Machu Picchu and further explore the area, Machu Picchu Peru Tours offers several good hotel options, including the Machu Picchu Pueblo Hotel mentioned above.