Cradled by jungle-covered mountains at an altitude of 7,970 feet, Machu Picchu is a labyrinth of mysterious gray stones; the surrounding rock spires seem to form a kind of gigantic natural cathedral. The fabled “Lost City of the Incas” was unknown to the outside world until Yale professor Hiram Bingham brought it to global attention in 1911. The Incas built this extraordinary sanctuary in the mid-1400s — its precise function is still in dispute — but abandoned it almost a century later. Untouched by the Spanish conquistadores, Machu Picchu survived intact for centuries, hidden by dense vegetation.
Visit Mach Picchu in Style
Machu Picchu can be reached in a civilized manner via the Belmond Hiram Bingham. The evocative train consists of two dining cars, a bar car and a sumptuously appointed blue-and-gold observation carriage seating up to 84 passengers. The 100-minute ride ends at Aguas Calientes, where passengers board a waiting bus for the final 30-minute leg up a switchback to Machu Picchu.
The soaring outcrop of rock that provides the dramatic backdrop to Machu Picchu is called Huayna Picchu. Four hundred daily permits are issued for the one-hour climb to the summit. The views are stupendous, but be warned: The path is exposed and at times slippery. (It is often closed during the rainy season.)