- Machu Picchu is located on 7,350ft, much lower than Cusco
- Most visitors have little or no issues with the altitude in Machu Picchu
- The lower altitude and proximity to the jungle makes the Machu Picchu climate warmer and more humid
- The lower altitude is the reason some visitors prefer first to visit machu Picchu and then Cusco
- Machu Picchu is located about 100km (3 hours) from Cusco
Cusco is infamous for its high altitude (almost 12,000ft (3,500m) and the chances of getting altitude sickness. As Cusco is the main point of entrance for those wanting to visit Machu Picchu, it is understandable that most potential visitors think of Machu Picchu also to be located on these altitudes.
Lucky for many visitors this is not the case and Machu Picchu is located almost 3,500ft (1,000m) lower than Cusco. The point where most people start to feel minor discomforts with regards to the altitude is 9,000ft (3,000m) above sea level so Machu Picchu is located well under this level. This is the reason many people, upon arriving to Cusco, spend the first couple of nights in the Sacred Valley and Machu Picchu before returning to Cusco. This way your body can first acclimatize to these “milder” altitudes before having to deal with the extreme altitude of Cusco. As Machu Picchu may be located too far to travel to on arrival to Cusco, the Sacred Valley is becoming more and more the place to be for the first couple of nights. From here most visitors then travel to Machu Picchu and safe Cusco for the end of the trip. By the time you get to Cusco, your body will have had the time to acclimatize somewhat to the altitude.
It is important to keep in mind that even though Machu Picchu is not located on extreme altitudes, the Inca Trail and other hikes leading there will take you over high altitudes (over 13,000ft / 4,000m) and a good acclimatization prior to the hike is necessary (2-3 days is recommended). Machu Picchu itself is not without challenges either. The site is built in the saddle between two Mountain; Huayna Picchu and Machu Picchu Mountain and only a small part of the site is flat. On entering the site, when doing the main visitors circuit, one immediately has to tackle a climb of about 15-20 minutes to the Guardsman House. From here, unless you would hike Huayna Picchu, Machu Picchu Mountain or the Sun Gate, the rest of the visit is mostly flat or downhill. Aguas Calientes, the town that forms the base for all visits to Machu Picchu is located in the bottom of the valley, another 300 meters lower than Machu Picchu.