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No trip to Peru would be complete without a visit to the ‘lost city’ of Machu Picchu, and there are quite a few wonderful hikes and other things to do in Machu Picchu if you have the time.
This 15th century citadel of the Inca Empire is as fascinating as it is photogenic, and it’s still hard to believe people once lived in such an amazing place.
After snapping some photos at the iconic viewpoint, it’s well worth your time to tour the ancient ruins, meet the friendly llamas, and hike some of the spectacular mountain trails surrounding the Machu Picchu citadel.
Without further ado, here’s our list of the top 10 best things to do in Machu Picchu Peru!
Where To Stay At Machu Picchu
Best Things To Do In Machu Picchu
1. See the iconic viewpoint
When you arrive at the entrance to Machu Picchu, the first order of business is to see the iconic viewpoint at the Guardian’s House!
This is the first and best view anywhere in the Machu Picchu complex, and it’s where all of the amazing postcard photos are taken. From the edge of the terrace, you have a perfect panoramic view of the Machu Picchu ruins and the mountains in the background.
It’s almost impossible to take a bad picture of Machu Picchu here. If there happens to be fog or rain when you arrive, just wait awhile, because this is common early in the day and it usually clears up later in the morning.
Naturally this spot gets very crowded with tourists throughout the day, but there’s a lot of standing room on the terrace, so you usually won’t have to wait for photos. By afternoon, most of the tourist herds have thinned out.
The Guardian’s House is a modest little stone shack with a thatch roof, and like the name implies, it once served as a lookout post above the Inca citadel in ancient times.
To reach the Guardian’s House, make a left turn as you enter Machu Picchu and follow the signs uphill for about 15 minutes until you find the top of the terraces.
When you reach the viewpoint, you can stay awhile to take photos and enjoy the view, and then you can continue touring the rest of the ruins.
2. Explore the ruins
After you’ve seen the Machu Picchu ruins from above at the famous viewpoint, it’s time to start exploring them up close!
One of the first sights you’ll pass is the main gate of the city, which happens to be another popular photo spot since it beautifully frames the peak of Huayna Picchu mountain in the distance.
This was apparently an intentional design feature by the Incas.
There are many interesting things to see in the Machu Picchu ruins, and if you really want to understand them it’s highly recommended to hire a guide to show you through the ruins and explain everything for you as you go.
You can easily hire a guide at the main entrance of Machu Picchu if you’d like, and the prices seem reasonable.
Mixed in with the ruins, you’ll also find quite a few nice stone walls with perfect Incan masonry, smoothly cut and fit together without mortar.
For me personally, two of the best sights in the Machu Picchu ruins were the ‘Temple of the Sun’ and the ‘Temple of the Three Windows.’ These two spots were especially photogenic and interesting.
3. Meet the llamas
Almost two dozen llamas currently live at Machu Picchu and walk the citadel grounds freely during the daytime, chomping on grass as they go.
These animals are furry, friendly, and will usually let you take pictures of them. Sometimes you’ll see little baby llamas hanging out with their parents too.
If you’re lucky, one of the llamas might even photobomb your pictures of Machu Picchu by posing in the foreground, giving you a truly epic photo opportunity!
Llamas were domesticated by the Native American people for thousands of years. Their poop made good fertilizer, and the wool was used for clothing.
4. Hike Huayna Picchu
The Huayna Picchu hike is a bucket list adventure that takes you to the top of Wayna Picchu (the iconic mountain behind Machu Picchu), and at the summit you get to see original Inca buildings and epic panoramic views.
Don’t be too scared by the nickname — even though these have been dubbed the Machu Picchu Stairs of Death (for their steepness and narrowness), there have been very few accidents over the years, and overall it’s quite safe as long as you don’t goof off.
In spite of its difficulty, this trail is in high demand and it’s limited to only 400 hikers per day, so you often have to book several months in advance to get a spot.
If you only do one hike in Peru, it should be this one. The Huayna Picchu hike is undoubtedly one of the top 10 best things to do in Machu Picchu!
Read More: Huayna Picchu Hike
5. Hike Machu Picchu Mountain
If you want a challenge, try climbing ‘Machu Picchu Mountain.’ This is the highest peak in the area, and it’s the toughest to climb. The summit elevation is 3,082 meters (10,111 feet).
The hike takes about 3 hours total, and there’s quite a bit of elevation gain (around 550 meters or 1,800 feet), so it’s a tough uphill slog all the way. It’s challenging, but not dangerous.
This mountain is not as sought after as Huayna Picchu, but it’s a great hike nonetheless, with stunning views of the whole Machu Picchu area from high above.
6. Hike Huchuy Picchu
The Huchuy Picchu mountain trek is a nice option for people wanting a short, easy hike in Peru that gives you great views of Machu Picchu from above.
It’s a new trail that was just opened in 2021, and it takes you along a 15th century Inca stone staircase to the top of a peak called Huchuy Picchu (which means ‘little mountain’ in the Quechua language).
This hike may not be as esteemed as the one at Huayna Picchu mountain, but it’s quite a bit easier, and the views from this mountain summit are similarly wonderful.
Entrance tickets are required for this hike, so you’ll need to grab these in advance by reserving them online.
Read More: Huchuy Picchu Hike
7. See the Sun Gate
Also known as Inti Punku, this is a moderate hike to a scenic viewpoint at an Incan gate, which originally served as the main entrance to Machu Picchu. Because of its location on the ridge, it’s also believed that the rising sun would pass through this gate at certain times of the year.
Hiking to this sun gate from the Machu Picchu citadel takes about 2 hours round trip, and there’s a decent elevation gain of 290 meters (950 feet). However, the trail is quite a bit easier than Machu Picchu Mountain, and overall it’s one of the more tame hikes in the area.
At the top is a nice viewpoint where you can see Machu Picchu and the surrounding mountains and valleys. The view here is similar to what you see at the summit of Machu Picchu Mountain, although it’s not quite as high, at 2,720 meters (8,924 feet).
For hikers arriving from the Inca Trail, this gate is one of the last stops on the trail, and it’s the first place where you can see the citadel of Machu Picchu.
8. See the Inca bridge
It’s well worth an easy little detour to see the bridge that once served as a secret back entrance to Machu Picchu.
Nowadays it’s not possible to walk on the bridge for safety reasons, but it’s still a fascinating sight to see. The bridge is a simple wooden plank spanning a gap on the cliff with a 600 meter drop below it, and in ancient times they would retract the bridge, making it impossible for invaders to enter Machu Picchu.
The short path to the Inca Bridge starts near the Guardian’s House (at the famous Machu Picchu viewpoint), and you can reach the bridge in about 15 minutes of walking.
9. Explore Machu Picchu Town
Most travelers skip over Aguas Calientes, the tiny tourist town below Machu Picchu, but it’s worth a bit of exploring if you have time.
Also known as ‘Machu Picchu Pueblo’, this little town is packed with hotels, restaurants, and shops to check out, and there are also hot springs where you can relax after hiking at Machu Picchu. A couple of great eating places are Cala Tratoria and Inka Wasi Restaurant.
Aguas Calientes can be a great place to buy souvenirs. Sure, the prices are a little bit on the high side compared to other places like Cusco and Ollantaytambo, but you can still haggle, and the selection is immense. We bought lots of neat goodies in Machu Picchu Town that we never saw anywhere else in Peru.
If you want to step out of town and enjoy nature, you should visit the nearby Mandor Valley, where you can see birds, butterflies, flowers, and a nice waterfall.
10. Hike the Inca Trail
Most visitors to Machu Picchu will arrive the easy way, coming by train and then taking the tourist bus up the curvy road to the citadel.
However, if you really want to make a grand entrance to Machu Picchu, consider the Inca Trail. This is an iconic multi-day hike in Peru that takes 1-7 days (depending on where you start), and it ends at the Machu Picchu citadel.
Much of the trail is on roads that were originally built by the Inca Empire, and along the way you can see old Inca ruins, blue alpine lakes, and some of the highest glacier covered mountains around Cusco.
This is a great way to combine Machu Picchu with some of the other top sights in the area, and you get to relive a bit of Inca history at the same time.
Book Now: Inca Trail 4-Day Trekking Package
More Things To Do In Machu Picchu
I hope you enjoyed this list of the top 10 best things to do in Machu Picchu Peru!
Don’t forget to check out my other Peru travel blogs and hiking guides before you go!
Best Machu Picchu Tours
If you want a prearranged tour for your visit to Machu Picchu, there are plenty of good online options.
GetYourGuide has full day tours of Machu Picchu starting from Cusco (private or with a group), as well as spectacular mountain hikes like Huayna Picchu, which requires an advance booking anyway since it’s so popular.
We used this company for lots of tours and activities in Peru, and they’re great. Highly recommended!
Machu Picchu Hotels
Best Time To Visit
The best time to visit Machu Picchu depends on what you’re looking for:
☁ Rainy season runs from November to April. This isn’t the best time for hiking, although I wouldn’t write it off completely. We’ve done lots of hikes at Machu Picchu in the rainy season and generally had fine weather. The rain usually comes in the afternoons or evenings, so it’s not too disruptive, but bring a poncho just in case.
☀ Dry season runs from May to October. The days are more sunny during this time, and there’s a lot less rain. This is generally the best time to do hikes at Machu Picchu. However, it’s also the high season and the busiest time to visit, so you’ll need to book everything well in advance, especially if you plan to do one of the special hikes.
Keep in mind Machu Picchu is located in a tropical cloud forest, so it doesn’t always follow the national weather patterns of Peru, and rain can come at any time, although it usually doesn’t last too long.
Happy travels! Regardless of when you decide to visit Machu Picchu, you’re sure to see some spectacular sights!