Things to do in Machu Picchu – top 10 amazing things to see

by Charlie - Where Charlie Wanders
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It would be hard to imagine a trip to Peru that didn’t feature a visit to the mystical and wondrous Machu Picchu on the itinerary. Everyone has seen the iconic image, sitting perched on the edge overlooking the mysterious city. But on arrival, there are many wonderful things to do in Machu Picchu, that involve more than just taking the photo.

Machu Picchu was probably built and occupied from the mid-15th to the early or mid-16th century. It was home to between 300 and 1000 people, most of whom were involved in agriculture. It was a citadel and a religious centre, ordered to be built by the emperor Pachacutec, and the Inca and his family would spend a season there.

The city was only built, lived and abandoned within the space of 100 years, and then covered in dense vegetation and hidden. It was newly finished when the Spanish invaded Peru and it was abandoned. Part of the site is still buried in the jungle, but UNESCO have protected it so for now the jungle guards it.

Hiram Bingham reintroduced the site to the world in 1911. The locals were aware of its existence and when Bingham came across it, people were living in the site. He paid a local boy 1 Soles to be his guide around the site.

Image showing a photo of Machu Picchu when Bingham discovered it against the view now

It is incredible how much of this site is still a mystery, a lot is speculation. Mainly due to the lack of written literature about the city. This only adds to the magic of the place! Read on for the things to do in Machu Picchu that are, sort of, known and you shouldn’t miss during your visit!

Things to do in Machu Picchu

Whether you have hiked the Inca Trail or taken the train from Aguas Calientes, you are going to want to take your time to explore this magnificent site. The precision of the building is something to behold – the way the stones fit together perfectly is something you will see time and time again as you walk around.

I visited Machu Picchu as part of a tour with G Adventures, if you are interested this is the one I did: Ancient Cities & Andes.

But what should you not miss? These are the 10 things you need to see when visiting Machu Picchu.

See the Iconic viewpoint – things to do in Machu Picchu

Let’s face it, there is no way you are going to visit Machu Picchu and not see the site from this angle. There is a reason it is so famous. It is breathtaking and one of the best things you can do in Machu Picchu. It is located at Guardian House. If you hike the Inca Trail you have access to a lower terrace, which is much less crowded and has a better angle than the terrace that those who visit by day can access. Just another reason to hike the trail! And if you are considering it, here is my review on doing it with G Adventures – spoiler; it is amazing!

Image of the back of a person sitting in front of a view of the ancient ruined city of Machu Picchu

Visit the Sun Gate – things to do in Machu Picchu

Again, just in case you need another reason to hike the Inca Trail – it is this. A chance to visit the Sun Gate, or Intipunku as it is known in Quechua. This location offers the most incredible views over the citadel. In Incan times, this was the most elite of entrances to the city and only the incredibly important entered. It consists of an enclosure, doors and windows and thatched roof. It was designed so that on winter solstice the sun illuminated the entire.

The aim is to reach the Sun Gate for sunrise. This means leaving the final checkpoint on the Inca Trail as soon as it opens. Which is at half past five in the morning, and walk the final stretch of 5 km as fast as possible. Once you reach it, take your time to enjoy the view, and your achievement!

Explore the agricultural terraces – things to do in Machu Picchu

Agriculture was an incredibly important part of Incan culture. They had an incredible ability to adapt the Andes Mountains to work for them. This resulted in the renowned terraces you see in many Incan buildings. They not only created an area to grow crops, but they also prevented landslides, safeguarding the town.

Therefore, taking some time to explore the terraces is one of the best things to do in Machu Picchu. They also provide the perfect place to rest and relax, especially if you have completed the Inca Trail. And the odds are, you’ll spot a llama – they are the groundskeepers of Machu Picchu.

Hike up to Huayna Picchu

In case you haven’t done enough hiking, one of the things to do in Machu Picchu is to hike up to Huayna Picchu. In the iconic photo of Machu Picchu, this is the mountain you can see towering behind the city. And it is possible to hike up it, to get unparalleled views looking down over Machu Picchu.

The trek itself is steep and narrow, but not dangerous. So if you are feeling energetic during your time at the ancient citadel – then do it. I, myself, having just completed the Inca Trail, decided to skip this. But if I had come via the train I definitely would have considered it.

Visit the Sacred Rock – things to do in Machu Picchu

Located at the bottom of the entrance to Huayna Picchu is the Sacred Rock. This is seen as a powerful symbol of Machu Picchu. It is said to be carved or shaped in the likeness of the surrounding mountain. It stands out – being 3 metres high and 7 metres wide.

image of the sacred rock at Machu Picchu

According to history, musical and poetry recitals took place in front of this imposing and huge rock. The rock is known as a special place where one can be filled with a lot of energy. It is said if you bring your hands close to it you will receive the energy of the mountain. Today tourists are not allowed to touch the rock – just bring their hands close to it.

Find the Temple of the Condor

Visiting the Temple of the Condor needs to be one of the things to do in Machu Picchu. The condor was considered a sacred bird for the Incas. This impressive temple is a great example of how Incan architects used their abilities to transform a natural place into somewhere with spiritual meaning. They used the existing rock and turned it into a representation of a flying condor.

Made of a natural rock formation that was adapted and shaped to be the wings of the enormous bird. Underneath this, on the ground, is a huge stone carved into the shape of the head of the condor. The effect is a temple created that looks like a condor in landing.

Find the Casa Del Inka’s (the Royal Residence)

Machu Picchu was ordered to be built by the emperor Pachacutec. The Casa Del Inka is thought to be the royal residence they used when they stayed in the city. This house has the finest walls in the city, made of finely carved granite stone. It is located right in front of the Temple of the Sun.

While no one is completely certain that this was the residence of royalty, it is agreed that it was built for someone important. Due to the discovery of a water pipe system, rooms, niches, windows, toilets and even a kitchen and workshop. It was built for someone special. Another theory is that it was built for a high priest, due to its location next to the temple.

The Central Plaza

A green island in the middle of Machu Picchu, surrounded by roofless buildings and an amazing view of Huayna Picchu. This area of the city was used for large gatherings; mostly rituals and celebrations worshipping sacred Inca gods. This is due to the acoustics of the way it was built. If you stand in the middle and talk you can hear it echoed around, and the steep terraces that surround it.

The Sacred Plaza is located just above the Central Plaza and steps connect both. The ruins of a prison and residential quarters are located just below it.

The Intihuatana

An Intihuatana is a ritual stone associated with the astronomic clock or calendar of the Incas. The one in Machu Picchu is the only surviving intake one. As with everything in Machu Picchu it is shrouded in mystery, but it was used for astronomical observations and ritual ceremonies. As evidenced by facts such as that it casts no shadow at all on the days of equinoxes.

image of the Intihuatana at Machu Picchu

This rock was carved from one huge piece of stone and stands on the highest elevation in the city, the Sacred Plaza. Some historians believe it is a source of energy. So make sure to find it, and garner some of that energy for yourself!

If you are looking to visit Machu Picchu and Peru, then I highly recommend the Ancient Cities & Andes G Adventures tour that I took. With options on which trail to hike, or if you wish to skip the hike and head straight to Machu Picchu. Something for everyone!

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Image of the top things to see in Machu Picchu
Machu Picchu

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