Although it's one of the most well-known archaeological wonders of the world, Machu Picchu still holds plenty of secrets and is on our shortlist of must-see destinations on any Peru trip.
Paul Walrath enjoying Machu Picchu on the 'Jaguar' trip
Since its discovery, Machu Picchu has been considered one of the world's greatest architectural and archaeological monuments due to its extraordinary magnificence and harmonious structure.
You’d be forgiven for thinking a trip to Machu Picchu is all about the journey—but there are actually many things to do in Machu Picchu itself... So much so that it’s well worth spending the night! Here’s our list of the top 7 things to do in Machu Picchu to get the most out of your trip.
Hike the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu
The Classic Inca Trail between the Sacred Valley of the Urubamba River and the mysteriously abandoned citadel of Machu Picchu is one of the world's best treks. It climbs out of the river valley, crosses rugged mountain passes over 13,000 ft high and winds past numerous significant Inca ruins before descending through the Sun Gate to the silent stone city of Machu Picchu. It’s not the only way to get to Machu Picchu (and it’s not the fastest either) – but it’s certainly the most memorable. The Inca Trail is a three-to-five day hike that must be completed with a guide. You need a permit from the Peruvian Government to set foot on it, and there are strict limits on the number of permits issued each year. If you join a guided tour like our Peru Ultimate Adventure, these permits are all taken care of for you - but get in quick, as these spots fill up fast.
Active Adventures guests hiking the Inca Trail
Climb up to the Sun Gate
If you hike the Classic Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, you’ll enter through the Sun Gate, or ‘Inti Punku’ - a remarkable archaeological site that is thought to have once been a guarded entry to the citadel. But if you arrive by any other route, a climb to the Sun Gate is one of our top things to do in Machu Picchu. The hike takes 3-4 hours return and, because it’s quite a climb at high altitude, you’ll need to be reasonably fit! From your vantage point at the Sun Gate you’ll have a picturesque elevated view of the fascinating citadel below. The good news is that you don’t need a special permit; your Machu Picchu entry ticket is all you need.
The Sun Gate - Pixabay
See the sunrise from Machu Picchu
Another reason to stay overnight at Machu Picchu – you get to see the sunrise! A true bucket-list experience and one of the most enjoyable things to do in Machu Picchu if you don’t mind rising early. If you’re hoping to see the sunrise at Machu Picchu, your best bet is to make sure you visit during the dry season (late May to early October). This gives you the best chance of clear skies! And while you won’t see a ‘classic’ sunrise with bright orange skies, you’ll get to see the ruins in a dramatic, almost eerie, light as the sun slowly rises and lights up various parts of the site and the surrounding peaks, casting shadows along the way. The best place to see the sunrise at Machu Picchu is from the sun gate, so make sure you allow plenty of time for the climb!
See the Temple of the Sun
If you’re researching things to do in Machu Picchu, a visit to the Temple of the Sun should be at the top of your list. The Temple of the Sun is unique in that it is the only curved structure within the site. Built by the Incas as a place to pay worship to the sun, the temple is one of the most culturally significant places in Machu Picchu. The Temple is built on a natural cave which is thought to be a royal tomb where the Inca Pachacutec rests. While you can’t actually enter the Temple itself, your guide can take you to a viewing platform at the top of the structure where you can look down at the site below.
Temple of the Sun - Photo by Pixabay
Find the Intihuatana Stone
The Intihuatana Stone is one of the most iconic structures in Machu Picchu. If you’re planning fun things to do in Machu Picchu, why not play a friendly game of ‘who can spot it first’?! The impressive carved granite stone stands at the highest point in the citadel, close to the Royal Plaza. On March 21st and September 21st during the two equinoxes—when day and night are of equal length—the sun lies directly above the stone. And it is believed to have been significant to the Incas for spiritual as well as astronomical reasons, with offerings left in a recess near the base of the stone. The Intihuatana Stone at Machu Picchu is significant as similar stones were destroyed by the Spanish in all known cities of the Incas – with the Machu Picchu stone the last one standing
Climb Huayna Picchu
Huayna Picchu is the name of the mountain that towers 260m above the ruins. A hike to its peak is one of the most popular things to do in Machu Picchu, with the view said to be one of the best ways to see the citadel in its entirety. Your climb to the top will take around an hour, with some steep and tricky sections offering rails and cables for extra support, and your descent around 45 minutes. You’ll need to be organised in advance to climb Huayna Picchu – a permit is required and they’re also hard to get, with set departure times and a limited number of people are permitted to make the climb each day. But the glorious views from the top are once-in-a-lifetime and a true sight to behold.
Image courtesy of travelshaun.com
Visit the Temple of the Moon
If you’re making the climb up Huayna Picchu, you should definitely take the time to visit the Temple of the Moon on your way back down. Accessed via a ladder through the north side of the mountain, the Temple of the Moon is a natural cave with doors and windows constructed in the space below the rock overhead. Another one of Machu Picchu’s many mysteries, it’s unknown exactly what the Temple was used for, but theories surmise that it may have been used for worship, burials, bathing, sacrifices or observation.
Temple of the Moon - Image by IncaTrail.info
So there you have it - your ultimate list of the best things to do in Machu Picchu. To lock in a date to discover all this and more, check out our Peru tour options. For more ideas on what to do in Peru, check out The Top 20 Things to do in Peru.