We asked our guides to list the most common myths that travelers have about Machu Picchu. We've guided over 6000 travelers, so here's the top 10. (but there are many others!)
Myth # 1 - Machu Picchu was built by aliens –
Don't let the Peruvians hear you say this. They are proud of the achievements of their ancestors, including the construction of the ruins of Machu Picchu, Ollantaytambo, Sacsayhuaman & many others. The ancient Incas were master stone masons and there are many examples of stone work-in-progress which gives us insight into how the Incas maneuvered multi-ton monoliths into place without bulldozers and cranes. And it is impressive.
Myth # 2 – The ruins are located at a high altitude -
Actually Machu Picchu is lower than Cusco. About 3000 ft lower. The ruins are
2430 m/7970 ft above sea level. Cusco is 3400 m/11200 ft above sea level
Myth # 3 - you can rent a car and drive or take the train directly to Machu Picchu -
If you rent a car, you could drive as far as Ollantaytambo, but then you'd have to find a place to park, (we won't even go there in this posting!) and take the train as far as Aguas Calientes, where there are no cars/vehicles/taxis. From here, you take a 30 minute ride on the shuttle bus or hike up (we do mean up) to the park entry. Aguas Calientes is designed only for pedestrians and luggage must be carried, which is why all travelers to Machu Picchu leave the bulk of their luggage locked in storage rooms at their hotels in Cusco or Ollantaytambo.
Myth #4 - you can hike the 4-day Inca Trail to the ruins without guides & porter service if you can carry your own equipment -
Permits are required to hike the Classic 4-Day Inca Trail and these permits can only be obtained by licensed tour operators. Every hiker must hire the services of a tour operator in order to hike 1 day or 4 days. The hike can be compressed into 3 days if you are interested in “running” on the Inca Trail. It is not possible to hike as an independent traveler on the Inca Trail. Operator services vary and if you're looking for a hiking experience that allows you to bond with nature, be sure to quiz your operator. For some, it's an economy of numbers game, and the more hikers that can be organized into one group, the cheaper it is to run the trip. Private trips can be arranged. Ask your operator if their porters are paid living wages. Porter abuse is common. There are other trails which do not require permits.
Myth # 5 - If you stay in the Sanctuary lodge, the only accommodation located in the National Park, you will have a room with a view of the ruins and access to the ruins after the park is closed to the public -
Not even money can buy access to the ruins after closing. Rates at the Sanctuary can set you back anywhere from $600 per night to over $1000. What this gets you is exceptional service, exceptional cuisine and the opportunity to line up for the 6 am opening with all the folks arriving in the first shuttle buses. There are no night hikes or access to the ruins at night. There are 2 rooms in the Sanctuary that offer mountain views, but not views of the ruins. All other rooms offer terrace views.
Myth # 6 - it's possible to tour Machu Picchu privately without other people -
It is not possible to arrange a private tour of the ruins.
Myth # 7 - there are underground tunnels from Cusco to the ruins -
Perhaps this myth got confused with the story about the tunnels in Sacsayhuaman that do go to Cusco? There are not any tunnels between Cusco and Machu Picchu. The distance between the two is 80 Km of undeveloped farm land.
Myth # 8 – Machu Picchu was the first Inca City and the entire city was covered in gold
(El Dorado-”Lost City of Gold”) -
Machu Picchu was built in 1490 at the height of the Inca empire. It was not the first city. And it is not “El Dorado”, the Lost City of Gold. It was never covered in gold. It is all stone and at one time had thatch for roofs.
Myth # 9 – King Pachacuti was carried by litter between Cusco and Machu Picchu -
No, this is not true. The distance is 80 km. Runners would carry messages if needed and the king would walk and perhaps get carried part of the way.
Myth # 10 – (This is our favorite) Machu Picchu was built for the virgins of the sun -
Sounds like a great fantasy, but not real. The king responsible for organizing the architects who designed the city and then had Machu Picchu built was Pachacuti. The estate was occupied for 100 years, then mysteriously abandoned, which is part of the mystique. Nothing to do with virgins unfortunately.