Visiting Machu Picchu is a magical, almost other-worldy experience. Surrounded by beautiful mountains, subtropical jungle, and lush forests, hiking the trails of Huayna Picchu is no walk in the park (in fact, it can feel like an almost impossible task) but anyone who's done it will tell you it's worth it when, from the top of the mountain, the most spectacular view of the city of the Incas is revealed.
Believed to have been built as a sacred religious site - mountains have sacred significance to the Incas - Machu Picchu lay undiscovered by foreign tourists until 1911 when archaeologist Hiram Bingham stumbled upon the site whilst searching for the lost city of Vitcos. He had no idea, at that point, that he was about to uncover a place that would go on to become one of the most visited tourist attractions in South America and, in 1983, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
One of the highlights of visiting this area of Peru is getting to the top of Huayna Picchu, a mountain which rises 360m above Machu Picchu. It's from Huayna Picchu that the most spectacular view of Machu Picchu can be seen and it's well worth the often treacherous hike to the top to see the heritage site from many different angles.
Of course, watching the sunrise over Machu Picchu is magical from any spot, but it'll feel even more special after conquering Huayna Picchu. Rest your feet for a while, watch the cloud-capped mountains around you become silhouettes against the rising sun, and take a moment to appreciate the beauty of the surrounding landscape. Pinch yourself as you take in one of the most stunning places to visit in South America.
If you don't fancy hiking the 26 mile Inca Trail, the best way to visit Machu Picchu is by staying in Machu Picchu Pueblo (formerly Aguas Calientes) which can be reached via train from Ollantaytambo in about 1hr 45 minutes from Cusco.
There's not much in Machu Picchu Pueblo but it does have one key advantage: its proximity to Machu Picchu means early access to Machu Picchu. Stay overnight in this little town and set your alarm extra early to catch the sun rising over the spectacular Inca ruins before the crowds descend.
The Huayna Picchu climbs set off at 7am and 10am, taking around 1.5 hrs to complete. Make sure you're on the early climb to see the sunrise as you ascend the mountain. To prevent overcrowding, everyone on the 7am climbs has be off the mountain by 10am but coming down shouldn't take you longer than 45 minutes to an hour.
If you're going to visit in dry season (May-September) make sure to book your Machu Picchu pass at least 4 months beforehand; peak season is busy and more expensive. Rainy season means a cheaper visit and less crowds but the area can be prone to mudslides. To get the best of both worlds, consider visiting in May or June to avoid peak season (July and August) and avoiding a climb of Huayna Picchu during a torrential downpour!
If watching the sunrise over Machu Picchu is on your bucket list you'll probably already know that, after clambering up mountains and negotiating rocky (and often very steep) steps, you're going to be exhausted. A great excuse to have a relaxing and restorative pampering session!
Head to Unu Spa, located at the Inkaterra Hotel opposite Machu Picchu Pueblo train station, where massage, exfoliation, and foot therapy and just some of the services on offer. You'll leave Machu Picchu Pueblo feeling like a brand new person and ready for the train journey back to Cusco.
Seeing the sunrise over Peru's magical mountains is an unforgettable experience. Plan your visit and discover why so many people have been seduced by the magic of Machu Picchu.
Beverley Reinemann is a freelance writer and founder of the travel and lifestyle blog, Pack Your Passport. Originally from England, she's a self-confessed Australophile and travel lover and spends most of her time drinking way too much coffee in east London, going to gigs and planning her next adventure. Follow her on Twitter @PckYourPassport.comments powered by Disqus