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TOP 5 THINGS TO DO IN MACHU PICCHU
(BESIDES VISITING MACHU PICCHU!)

Machu Picchu is on most peoples’ bucket list and over a whopping two million people a year travel to this iconic World Heritage Site. However, most people head straight up to the citadel itself and miss out on some of the other great things to do in the town of Aguas Calientes (also called Machu Picchu Pueblo), the departure point for any visit to Machu Picchu. Take a few extra hours to discover the top 5 things to do in Machu Picchu besides visiting Machu Picchu!



1. MARVEL AT THE MANUEL CHAVEZ BALLON MUSEUM

machu picchu museum

The Machu Picchu museum is also known as the Manuel Chavez Ballon Site Museum (named after the famous archaeologist of the same name) is located at the Puente Ruinas, approximately 2.2 kilometres (a 30 minute walk) from Machu Picchu town. Other than a visit to the Machu Picchu citadel itself, this museum is possibly one of the best places to visit while in Machu Picchu to really get an understanding of the history and importance of these ruins which you don’t get at the citadel its

The museum is made up of a series of rooms with interactive and colourful displays with lots of interesting facts about Machu Picchu like how they constructed the impressive stone terraces to create micro-climates for agriculture and how all building were designed to get maximum sunlight which was an important sacred element for the Incas

The museum has some nice artifacts such as an original National Geographic magazine published in April 1913 that was dedicated entirely to showcasing Hiram Bingham’s discovery of Machu Picchu as well as copies of letters from the Peruvian government authorising Hiram Bingham’s team to take artifacts to Yale University for analysis for a period of 18 months only. These artifacts were finally returned to Peru in 2011.

Most displays are in both Spanish and English although some photos and letters are in Spanish only. The self-guided visit of the museum takes between 1 – 1.5 hours depending on how much reading you like to do. You can also ask at the ticket desk for them to play one of the videos on Machu Picchu in the video room.

Adjacent to the museum is a botanical garden with 402 species of plants representative of the Machu Picchu Sanctuary including some varieties of orchids. Access to the botanic garden is down a series of steep Inca steps embedded in the rock wall.

This is definitely a must do activity for any visitor interested in getting a further insight into Machu Picchu.

How to get there: The museum is a 30 minute walk from the pedestrian town of Aguas Calientes. Follow the same road as the buses heading up to Machu Picchu. When you cross the bridge, the museum is on the right hand side.


2. BRING THE KIDS TO THE BUTTERFLY HOUSE

butterfly house machu picchu

There is something about this run-down butterfly farm that charms us every time we visit. Run by Machu Picchu local Leonardo and most definitely off the tourist track, the butterfly farm is a great place to bring the kids and show them the life-cycle of the butterfly and the importance of conserving the 8 species of butterfly found in Machu Picchu.

The Butterfly farm is located on the road out to the Manuel Chavez Ballon Museum just before the Municipal campground and a twenty minute walk from Machu Picchu Pueblo. It is definitely not a high-end, super-slick tourist operation but we feel there is something important about supporting local projects and getting off the well-beaten trail when travelling so we decided to include this conservation project for those of you that are looking from something a bit different.

Run by local Machu Picchu resident Leonardo Serrano Gutierrez with the help of volunteers, the project was set up to investigate and conserve 8 species of butterfly found in the area. A butterfly reproduction programme has been put in place and butterflies are released back into nature once they reach maturity so that local butterfly populations increase.

The project is clearly under-funded with a shabby and very basic interpretation centre but the main reason for a visit is to see butterflies up close in their various stages of reproduction from larvae to butterfly. It’s a fascinating lesson in nature particularly for kids who will see first-hand where butterflies come from and will learn interesting facts like how dark-coloured butterflies are darker to attract the sun and raise their body temperatures.

MACHUPICCHU CENTER RECOMMENDS:

  • The butterflies tend to be more active in the mornings so it is best to visit between 8 and 11am.
  • The best period of the year to visit is April – September as during rainy season (December – March) the butterflies seek cover and are less visible.

How to get there: The farm is a 25 minute walk from Aguas Calientes. Follow the same road as the buses heading up to Machu Picchu. The farm is located on the right hand side before you arrive at the bridge.

3. VISIT THE MANDOR GARDENS & WATERFALL

mandor gardens and waterfalls

A gentle, 40-minute stroll from Aguas Calientes leads you to this little oasis. explore the tropical rainforest, picnic or take a dip in the cooling waterfall.

How to get there: Follow the train tracks out of Aguas Calientes. Mandor is a 40 minute walk from town and is sign-posted along the train tracks (bring a hat, water and sunscreen as it gets hot… and insect repellent as there can be mosquitoes.)

4. COCALMAYO HOT SPRINGS

cocalmayo hotspring

Forget the overcrowded baths in Aguas Calientes and instead take a day trip to the nearby town of Santa Teresa to bathe in pools of crystal-clear thermal water.

Each of these natural pools is a different temperature, so a visit is ideal for soothing sore muscles after all that hiking – plus the location is stunning next to the roaring Vilcanota River. The hot springs are open 24/7 – if you like stargazing, head for a stunning night-time experience; otherwise mornings are best.

How to get there: Catch the Peru Rail train from Aguas Calientes to Hidroelectrica (€28 approx.) and get a shared taxi from three to the hot pools.

5. VISIT THE ORCHID GARDEN

botanical garden

It’s rainy season in Machu Picchu and now is the perfect time to do some orchid spotting. Machu Picchu is famous for its orchids which bloom mainly between November and March and there’s no better place to see 400 orchid species than the slightly ramshackle orchid garden run by the Mendoza Mora family

There are a few botanical gardens in Machu Picchu Pueblo but our favourite is the Machu Picchu orchid garden run by the Mendoza Mora family located on the train tracks on the way to the Mandor Waterfall. Don’t be put off by the approach which is either up a dirt trail on the right just before the Inca bridge and Museum or along the train tracks about 25 minutes out of town towards Machu Picchu.

It’s hard to avoid the crowds in Machu Picchu but the orchid garden is most definitely off the tourist trail. I didn’t meet one other person as I wandered around this self-guided circuit which takes about 30 – 40 minutes depending on the time of the year and how many orchids are in flower.

A small wooden shack selling drinks and snacks opposite the entrance to the gardens is where you will find either Eucelio or his son Bernardino who have run this orchid garden for 15 years. The garden is slightly run-down, think rickety hand rails and a slightly unkempt feel with building materials lying discarded around the place but despite this it has a certain charm in its simplicity.

The best time of the year to visit is between December and March in the rainy season when the majority of the 400 orchid species are in flower. I however visited when there were only 15 species in flower and I was still amazed by the beauty and delicacy of the orchids, some so small they are easy to miss as you walk along the trail. A nice way to spend an hour off the well-beaten tourist trail.

MACHUPICCHU CENTER RECOMMENDS:

  • If Bernardino happens to be at home he will guide you around the circuit, otherwise his slightly gruff father will show you a few species of orchids behind the ticket desk and will then direct you to where the self-guided circuit begins.