MACHU PICCHU (daily 6.30am–5pm; standard entry fee is $44; or $22 for students with ID card) is one of the greatest of all South American tourist attractions: beautiful stone architecture enhanced by the Incas' exploitation of local 250-million-year-old rocks of grey-white granite with a high content of quartz, silica and feldspar, set against a vast, scenic backdrop of dark-green forested mountains that spike up from the deep valleys of the Urubamba and its tributaries. The distant glacial summits are dwarfed only by the huge sky.
Never discovered by the Spanish conquerors, for many centuries the site lay forgotten, except by local Indians and settlers, until it was found on July 24, 1911 by the US explorer Hiram Bingham. It was a fantastic find, not least because it was still relatively intact, without the usual ravages of either Spanish conquistadors or tomb robbers.
More than a hundred flights of steep stone steps interconnect its palaces, temples, storehouses and terraces, and the outstanding views command not only the valley below in both directions but also extend to the snowy peaks around Salcantay. Wherever you stand in the ruins, spectacular terraces (some of which are once again being cultivated) can be seen slicing across ridiculously steep cliffs, transforming mountains into suspended gardens.
Many people base themselves at the settlement of MACHU PICCHU PUEBLO (previously known as Aguas Calientes) in order to visit Machu Picchu ruins at a more leisurely pace or in more depth. The lively settlement, connected to the ruins by bus, has decent acccomodation, restaurants and shops.
Typical Colonial-style Hotel concealed in the historical Santuary of Machu Picchu.