View of Machu Picchu, Peru (PhotoDisc)

View of Machu Picchu, Peru (Nathan Borchelt)

Machu Picchu, Peru (Nathan Borchelt)

View through curved doorway, Machu Picchu, Peru (Nathan Borchelt)

Vulture Altar in Machu Picchu, Peru (Nathan Borchelt)

Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, Peru (Ted Stedman)

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What to do in Machu Picchu

The photo of Machu Picchu—the ancient city laid out, in miniature, with the neighboring peak of Huayna Picchu towering overhead—is so ubiquitous that you’d think the impact of seeing this life-list destination would be somehow lessened. Expect the opposite. Whether you take the train up from Aguas Calientes or hike the Inca Trail (which has admittedly evolved into a tourist trap), when you reach this famed overlook, the mystery and beauty of the city will silence you. The pre-Columbian 15th-century maze of ruins was discovered in 1911, but even today no one knows exactly why the city was built, or why it was abandoned. Its precarious position at 7,970 feet above sea level, perched on a rugged shoulder of the South American Andes, reinforces the enigma, transforming all preconceived notions into a quiet, respectful sense of awe.

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