13 Things to Do at Machu Picchu for History Lovers

Whether you’re an avid history buff or just looking for some incredible things to do at this ancient Incan citadel, you’ve come to the right place. In this blog post, we’re going to take you on a virtual journey through the mystical ruins of Machu Picchu and uncover all the fantastic things to do at Machu Picchu.

Get ready to explore the past, soak in the stunning landscapes, and discover the hidden gems of this awe-inspiring archaeological wonder. So, put on your virtual hiking boots, and let’s embark on this historical adventure together!

1. Explore the Sacred Plaza

Sacred plaza at Machu Picchu

The Sacred Plaza was the ceremonial heart of Machu Picchu. This well-preserved square is surrounded by remarkable Inca structures and temples, known today as the Principal Temple of the Temple of Three Windows.

The Temple of the Three Windows faces south, overlooking Huayna Picchu and Putucusi Mountain. These two mountains occupied important places in Inca religion and mythology, indicating that the Temple of Three Windows played a religious role of the Inca who built it.

The Principal Temple sits just next to the Temple of the Three Windows. This building has helped archaeologists unearth clues about Machu Picchu’s past. One of the walls of the Principal Temple slightly caved in during the Inca period, but was never repaired. Experts take this to mean that the site was abandoned soon after the damage occurred.

The plaza was the site of significant Inca rituals and gatherings. It served as a space for religious ceremonies, sacrifices, and celebrations, connecting the Inca people with their deities and the natural world.

The Sacred Plaza’s precise stonework and layout reflect the advanced architectural skills and meticulous planning that went into the construction of Machu Picchu. Inca masonry relied on a fascinating technique called fine masonry. With this architectural style, the Inca used no cement to make any of their buildings. Instead, they relied on expertly cut stones, placed with great precision.

Machu Picchu’s Sacred Plaza offers a window into the profound spirituality and the architectural wonders of the Inca civilization. It’s an essential and awe-inspiring part of your journey through this iconic archaeological wonder, allowing you to connect with the rich history and cultural heritage of this remarkable site.

2. Bask in the Temple of the Sun

Temple of the Sun, one of the fun things to do at Machu Picchu

When it comes to the ancient wonder that is Machu Picchu, one of the most captivating and mysterious structures within its terraced walls is the Temple of the Sun. This sacred site, dedicated to the Inca sun god Inti, stands as a testament to the extraordinary engineering and astronomical knowledge of the Inca civilization.

The Temple of the Sun  is located in the urban sector of Machu Picchu. It was constructed with meticulously cut stones and is characterized by its semi-circular shape and remarkable architecture. This structure was primarily used for astronomical and religious purposes. During the winter solstice, the sun’s rays align perfectly with a niche inside the temple, creating a dramatic spectacle.

The Temple of the Sun played a central role in Inca religious rituals, including offerings and ceremonies to honor the sun. Its construction, like many other elements of Machu Picchu, reflects the incredible masonry skills of the Inca civilization.

Exploring the Temple of the Sun at Machu Picchu offers a window into the spiritual world of the Inca civilization and their profound connection with the cosmos. It’s a must-see destination for history enthusiasts and travelers seeking to uncover the mysteries of this ancient wonder.

3. Climb Huayna Picchu

Inca ruins at the top of Huayna Picchu

Huayna Picchu, translated as “Young Peak” in Quechua, is the mountain that forms a striking backdrop to Machu Picchu. The Incas, in their architectural brilliance, constructed temples and terraces on the mountain’s summit, making it an integral part of the sacred landscape.

Huayna Picchu Mountain held spiritual significance, with a temple dedicated to the worship of the moon and its goddess, Mama Killa. Archaeologists believe this sacred site also held the mummified remains of Incan ancestors. Through these mummies, the Inca hoped to honor their ancestors, and preserve the link between past and present.

The intricate stonework and breathtaking scenery at the summit are a testament to the Inca civilization’s remarkable architectural and engineering skills.

Climbing Huayna Picchu, however, is no easy task. An almost vertical ladder takes you up the steep slopes of this sacred mountain. At the end of the hike, Huayna Picchu offers some of the best views this world has to offer, though. So it’s well worth the effort!

Huayna Picchu offers an opportunity to not only connect with the Inca history but also to witness the incredible natural beauty that surrounds Machu Picchu. It’s a rewarding adventure for travelers who seek a deeper understanding of this extraordinary UNESCO World Heritage site.

4. Check Out the Sacred Rock

The Sacred Rock at Machu Picchu

The Sacred Rock is an intricately carved stone that played a pivotal role in Inca cosmology and religious practices. 

This expertly carved rock was honed by Inca craftsmen to resemble Pumasillo, the mountain that sits in the background directly behind the stone. 

5. Enter Through the Sun Gate

People entering the Sun Gate into Machu Picchu

The Sun Gate, or Intipunku in Quechua, is a stone-carved entrance to Machu Picchu. During the Inca Period, the Sun Gate played a crucial part of the Inca Trail network leading to the citadel. It acted essentially like ancient traffic control, allowing the Inca to monitor who came and went from the complex.

The Sun Gate is the first of the amazing Inca ruins you’ll see when visiting Machu Picchu today. How crazy is it that some five centuries later it continues to serve more or the less the same purpose!

True to Inca form, the Sun Gate did not just serve a practical purpose, but symbolic one as well – it was made to line up perfectly with the summer solstice!

6. Find the Temple of the Moon

The Temple of the Moon is a lesser-known but equally enchanting structure within the Machu Picchu complex. This enigmatic site is nestled in a natural cave on the mountainside, overlooking the citadel. 

Despite its name, archaeologists don’t believe that the temple had anything to do with the worship of the moon or the moon goddess, Mama Killa. The name was given to the temple by modern explorers because of the way the moonlight illuminates the temple and the cave.

While we don’t really know what the Inca used the Temple of the Moon was used for, the leading contenders are: 

  • An area for burial
  • Ceremonial baths
  • Observatory post

7. Explore the Royal Tomb

Royal Tomb at Machu Picchu

The Royal Tomb is a remarkable area within Machu Picchu that hints at the religious nature of this ancient Inca site. Located beneath the Temple of the Sun, this structure is believed to have played host to rituals in honor of the Pachamama, or “Earth Mother.” 

It’s cave-like also hints at a potential location for ancestor worship. The Inca believed that the earliest humans came from caves and that caves thus served as a portal to the next world for the recently deceased. Due to this belief, the Inca often buried their dead and built temples in caves. 

From the outside, Royal Tomb is distinguished by a staircase that leads nowhere. Once on the inside, you’ll notice small niches carved into different parts of the walls. While the original use of the niches is not known, they give credence the idea that this was a building for worship, as priests could have placed their holy relics within them.

8. Measure the Sun at the Intihuatana Stone

The Intihuanta Stone, one of the great things to do at Machu Picchu

The Intihuatana Stone, often referred to as the “Hitching Post of the Sun,” is an interesting, large stone located at the heart of Machu Picchu. 

The Intihuatana Stone at Machu Picchu is now world famous (and a must see when you visit Machu Picchu) it was not unique during the Inca period. In fact, the Inca built intihuatana throughout their empire. But why? 

For one, these stones served as sundials. If you were properly trained, you could determine the time of day and month of the year by the length and position of the intihuatana’s shadow. 

They also served a religious purpose. In Inca religion, the sun god, Inti, was the most revered deity. The intihuatana  (can you see Inti’s name in there?), became symbolic of the Inca empire’s support for Inti and his support then, as the intihuatana were said to hold the sun in the sky.

The Intihuatana Stone at Machu Picchu also reveals something interesting about these stones in general. At the winter solstice, when the sun reaches its highest point in the sky, it appears to be sitting on the Intihuatana Stone.

9. Venture Over to the Caretaker’s Hut

People vistiing the caretaker's hut on the edge of the Machu Picchu complex

The Caretaker’s Hut, also known as the guardian house, is a quaint stone structure nestled on the edge of the Machu Picchu complex. This simple yet charming building played a significant role in the daily life of the Inca citadel.

As its name suggests, the Caretaker’s Hut likely served as lodging for a caretaker or guardian responsible for the maintenance and protection of Machu Picchu. It offers insights into the everyday activities of the average Incan person who lived and worked within the citadel, including the maintenance of its agricultural terraces and structures.

The Caretaker’s Hut is distinguished by its well-preserved stonework and location at the entrance of Machu Picchu. It is believed that this strategic placement allowed the caretaker to monitor and control access to the site.

This area of Machu Picchu offers a glimpse into the practical side of Inca civilization, shedding light on the daily life and responsibilities of those who preserved and protected this extraordinary archaeological wonder. It’s a unique and insightful stop on your journey through this iconic site.

10. Hike the Inca Trail

Person hiking the Inca Trail, one of the great things to do at Machu Picchu

The Inca Trail is part of what remains of an extensive road network developed by the Inca empire known as the Qhapaq Ñan. These roads spanned across their vast territory, connecting the far reaches of the empire. They allowed the Incan army to travel great distances very quickly, while also making communication across their vast empire much easier.

The most famous section, leading to Machu Picchu, was a crucial route for trade, communication, and pilgrimage.

The Inca Trail to Machu Picchu was not just a means of transportation but also a path of spiritual significance. Pilgrims journeyed along this trail, mimicking the path of the sun in the sky, making offerings at shrines and temples along the way. The trail’s path through breathtaking landscapes, from high-altitude plateaus to cloud forests, adds to its allure.

The Inca Trail is a journey back in time, offering a unique opportunity to experience the natural beauty and cultural heritage of the Inca civilization on your way to Machu Picchu. It’s an adventure that combines history, nature, and physical challenge, making it a memorable and enriching experience for any traveler.

11. See the Funerary Stone

Funerary stone at Machu Picchu

One of the intriguing highlights of Machu Picchu, often overshadowed by its more famous structures, is the enigmatic Funerary Stone. This ancient stone, tucked away in a quiet corner of the site, holds a mysterious charm for history lovers and curious visitors alike.

Due to three steps carved into the side that lead up to a wide, flat surface, experts think this stone could have served as a place to hold religious ceremonies, or even a sacrificial altar. We know that Machu Picchu was built as a place for Incan political and religious nobility to gather, so this makes sense. But what rituals were performed on this altar may unfortunately be lost to time.  

12. Mind the Gap at the Inca Bridge

View of the Inca Bridge near Machu Picchu

The Inca Bridge is a testament to the Inca civilization’s incredible skills in constructing intricate pathways through challenging mountainous terrain. 

The bridge itself is a narrow stone walkway carved into the cliffside, featuring a gap that spans a deep chasm. This intriguing structure is believed to have served as both a pedestrian walkway and a defensive gateway, allowing the Incas to block access to Machu Picchu when needed by removing the few wooden planks that formed the bridge. It may have also served as a secret entrance for the army!

Visiting the Inca Bridge is an exhilarating experience, as you cautiously traverse the cliffside path, feeling the awe-inspiring heights and taking in the lush, panoramic views of the surrounding mountains and valleys.

13. Stay Off the Grass in the Central Plaza

The Central Plaza at Machu Picchu, one of the great things to do at Machu Picchu

The Central Plaza is the large, grassy area between the functional and residential buildings of Machu Picchu, where you’ll often find llamas grazing. But don’t join them! Officials don’t want tourists wandering over the grass. 

This is one of the more picturesque areas of the ancient city. On the side closest to the side of Machu Picchu Mountain, you’ll see the terraces the Inca are now so famous for. Atop the terraces, a cluster of (now) roofless, stone buildings stand as a testament to the people who built them.

Ready to Visit Machu Picchu?

If you’re ready to begin your Machu Picchu adventure, check out our post on the best Machu Picchu tours to figure out how to secure entrance tickets and best experience the beautiful ancient ruins of Machu Picchu, citadel of the Incas.

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