Travel Icons… by the Back Door

Machu Picchu – Cusco Region, Peru

Visitors per year: Around 2 million

Even if every traveler in the world congregated on the terraces of Machu Picchu, it would still be worth seeing – the allure of this mountain-perched Inca citadel is such that few can resist. But it can be a battle for space.

Front door: Most visitors arrive by train (from Poroy or Ollantaytambo) or by hiking the 42km Inca Trail – a classic route. Entry costs US$50 (£35).

The trail’s busy (even though numbers are supposedly limited to 500 people a day), but it’s also dotted with Inca ruins and excellent views en route.

Back door: Machu Picchu opens at 6am. Staying overnight in nearby Aguas Calientes (buses from 5.30am) or at Machu Picchu’s upmarket Belmond Sanctuary Lodge (adjacent; can give you a head start. The bulk of tours flood in from 9.30am, so time a hike up Huayna Picchu, the mountain that dominates the site, for around 10am. And for walkers, the 69km Salkantay Trail sees far fewer trekkers and offers a little-seen sidelong view of Machu Picchu from the ruins of Llactapata.

“Machu Picchu is quieter to visit in the afternoon. Take a bus from Aguas Calientes at around 1.30pm to the main site of Machu Picchu (40 min) – no one arrives this late, so you shouldn’t have to queue. By 3pm, the main sites are almost empty. By 5pm, the park closes, but linger by the entrance as the visitor’s troop out and you can get great shots of an empty Machu Picchu while the light is still good.

“If you do go for sunrise, take the zig-zag trail (25 min) through the forest to the last terraces on top of the mountain, near the watchtower. From there, you can see the mountains and site change with the light in peace.

“Alternatively, there are plenty of great treks around Cusco. Hike its ruins down from Tambomachay to the Temple of the Moon, where an Inca trail leads from Cusco into the jungle – it takes a day. Or you can also head to the circular terraces of Moray (an Incan agricultural centre) where walks (4-5hr) down to the salt pans beneath can be pretty hot but are usually empty, except for local farmers and the odd bit of wildlife.”

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