The stunning Peruvian site of Machu Picchu, the fabled "lost city of the Incas," is South America's greatest attraction, drawing ever-increasing numbers of visitors from across the globe. The Incas hid Machu Picchu so well that it escaped destruction by the empire-raiding Spaniards, which preserved its aura of mystery and magic. The 12 acres of terraces, gardens, staircases, temples and aqueducts sprawl along a jungle ridge above the Río Urubamba, a four-hour train ride and what seems a world away from Cusco.
The grassy terraces and stone staircases of Machu Picchu lure you to explore and view the Royal and Sacred Areas, including the Temple of the Sun and the Intihuatana -- the most important shrine of the ancient site. Intrepid hikers should come early in the morning to climb Huayna Picchu, the huge mountain that looms over Machu Picchu. Another hiking option is to follow the Inca Trail from the Caretaker's Hut to the high pass where the Sun Gate stands.
Many visitors to Machu Picchu come on the train from Cusco, where you can purchase a package including round-trip train tickets, bus to the ruins, an English-speaking guide and lunch. The best options keep the visitor-to-guide ratio low. Others arrive in tour groups that hike the Inca Trail from the Sacred Valley to Machu Picchu. Even if you don't choose these options, tour guides are always available for hire at the entrance to the ruins and at the Sanctuary Lodge.
Where to Stay and Dine
To stay right at the site, there's only one option: the plush Machu Picchu Sanctuary Lodge, perched outside the entrance to the ruins. Its two restaurants have both international and Peruvian specialties, such as ceviche and alpaca carpaccio. Most hotels in the area line the main road in nearby Aguas Calientes, also known as Machu Picchu Pueblo: Ask for a room with balcony that overlooks the Río Urubamba. For dining options in town, choose between small Peruvian restaurants and pizzerias.