The Citadel of Machu Picchu is considered to be the main tourist attraction of Peru and is one of the most visited sites worldwide, with close to 5000 people passing through per day. Its significance and role in Peru based on its location in the mountains have been studied extensively for years.

One prevailing theory is that Machu Picchu was a luxurious and well-maintained mausoleum of the Inca Pachacutec, who was the founder and first emperor of Tawantinsuyo. It is considered to be the most awe-inspiring creation of the Inca Empire and one of the most important heritage sites in the world. It sits on top of a mountain, 2.430 meters above sea level in the tropical forest, offering spectacular scenery with significant endemic biodiversity of flora and fauna.

Located in the Cusco Region, Urubamba Province, Machupicchu District in Peru, it stretches above the Sacred Valley, which is 80 kilometres (50 mi) northwest of Cusco. Prepare yourself for the impact of altitude on your body, as this historic capital of the Inca Empire stands 3,400 meters above sea level. Visitors to Machu Picchu traditionally land in Cusco first before venturing to the ancient Incan site, and this is wise in order to allow the body time to adjust to the difference in altitude.

Some will need to plan in advance to combat altitude sickness. Certainly walking uphill in Cusco can leave you momentarily breathless and nausea is a common side effect. There are over-the-counter medications that can be purchased for this in advance of your travels, and while you are in the city itself. There are also a wide variety of natural remedies, including the famed Coca leaves which were sacred to the Inca. The tea made from these leaves is known to effectively treat everything from headaches to upset stomachs.

Often mistakenly referred to as the “Lost City of the Incas”, it is the most familiar icon of Inca civilization. The Incas built the estate around 1450 but abandoned it a century later at the time of the Spanish Conquest. Although known locally, it was not known to the Spanish during the colonial period and remained unknown to the outside world until American historian Hiram Bingham brought it to international attention in 1911.

Machu Picchu was built in the classical Inca style, with polished dry-stone walls. Its three primary structures are the Inti Watana, the Temple of the Sun, and the Room of the Three Windows. Most of the outlying buildings have been reconstructed in order to give tourists a better idea of how they originally appeared. By 1976, thirty percent of Machu Picchu had been restored and restoration continues.

Because of these and other features, in 1983 the Historic Sanctuary of Machu Picchu was inscribed by UNESCO on the List of World Cultural and Natural Heritage. Currently, Machu Picchu holds the rank of being considered one of the Seven Wonders of the World.

Efforts toward maintaining the integrity of the site are extensive, and sustainability measures are in place to ensure that the thousands of daily visitors do not damage or erode the polished stone structures and paths that lead through the site. Further hiking trails to Sun Gate and the Inca bridge are easily accessible as are trekking hikes that can last anywhere from 1 to 5 days. The Inca Trail is by far the most famous trek in South America and is rated by many to be in the top 5 treks in the world.

You need not be an Incan Emperor however to enjoy an exquisite hotel stay while visiting this sacred ancient site. While there are fewer options at the Machu Picchu site itself for 5-Star hotel accommodation, in Cusco, there are two significant hotel properties that are worth consideration to enjoy a premium experience in the Peruvian capital.

Both the Palacia del Inca, a Luxury Collection Hotel and the Belmond Hotel Monasterio are two of the most beautiful premium locations within Cusco City.

Dating back nearly five centuries, Palacio del Inka is set in a restored palace with elements dating from the 15th century. Easy to find and with access to the bustling city, it is also not far from the remains of Coricancha temple and is a 10-minute walk from Cusco Cathedral, a landmark located in the town square of the city.

Bar Rumi is a delightful oasis in the midst of the Incan stone palatial setting. Dotted with extraordinary artwork and dimly lit furnishings, it combines beautifully the ancient Incan architecture with the newer Spanish style. The flickering candles and Pisco Sours are not to be missed while visiting this historic hotel.

Housed in a former monastery, Belmond Hotel Monasterio is a 3-minute walk from the colonial paintings at Cusco Cathedral. In the lobby bar, the beautiful high arched ceilings offer perfect acoustics for listening to live jazz music while sipping a cocktail.

By far the most incredible feature of this property is its outdoor symmetrical courtyard. Lined with walkways and flowerbeds, its most prominent feature is the towering 300-year-old cedar tree that sits in its centre.

It’s important to remember that, while visiting Machu Picchu, mornings and evenings tend to be quite cool in the Andes mountains, during the day in the Spring and Summer months, the sun shines brightly. The proximity to the equator means wearing sunscreen is a must. And you will most definitely enjoy the relaxing fountain side setting of the courtyard and the access to sunshine it will provide. In the evenings the courtyard’s graceful arches are accentuated by beautiful lighting. It is a simultaneously romantic and subdued setting, nestled perfectly in the heart of this former convent.

Pamela Putman Visiting Machu Picchu