The Incas built Machu Picchu in the 1450s. Archaeologists believe the site was built as an estate for the Inca Emperor of that time, Pachacuti, but was almost certainly abandoned a century later due to the Spanish Conquest.
The conquistadors never discovered the city and it was only 4 centuries later that an American Historian, Hiram Bingham, discovered the site in 1911.
Since then the site has grown in popularity and today is the most visited tourist destination in Peru.
There are a number of trekking options to Machu Picchu. The most popular is the Inca Trail which in fact consists of three overlapping trails – the Mollepata, Classic and One Day. Mollepata is the longest of the treks, followed by the Classic. They start either at the 82 km or 88 km mark (distance from Cusco) and follow either a 4 or 5 day itinerary to Machu Picchu, ending at the Sun Gate. The shorter trek begins at the 104 km mark. Altitudes on the trek exceed 4,200 meters, which is considered to be very high and can result trekkers experiencing altitude sickness symptoms.
The Salkantay is fast becoming a popular route due to its diverse and beautiful setting. The Route traverses the Salkantay Mountain (20,500 feet high) and continues along the Mollepata Valley to Aguas Callientes. From here trekkers catch an early bus to Machu Picchu (before non-trekking tourists arrive).
The Lares Trail is great for the rugged trekker that wants to avoid the crowds on the Inca trail and get a good feel of the local communities that inhabit this region of the Andes. The route is relatively tough so not for the faint hearted.
The Vilcabamba is a fantastic, but tough trek. It follows a path to the real ‘Lost City of the Incas’, Vilcambaba, crossing a number of high passes (the highest being 4,500 meters) before descending to Aguas Callientes where trekkers sleep the night before an earlier departure to Machu Picchu.