Nearly everyone who comes to Peru for the first time heads to Machu Picchu. This is entirely understandable. The story of its “discovery” in 1911 by Yale professor Hiram Bingham is impossibly romantic. And the ruins themselves, set on a precipitous ridge at an elevation of 7,970 feet beneath cathedral-like rock spires, are every bit as spectacular as they look in back issues of National Geographic.
Unfortunately, the inevitable result has been gross overcrowding, with 1.4 million tourists visiting the site in 2016. Under pressure from UNESCO, which has repeatedly threatened to add Machu Picchu to its list of World Heritage sites in danger, the government has been forced to regulate the flow. (The Peruvian authorities have a long track record of proposing appalling ideas to maximize tourist revenues, including the construction of a shopping-and-dining complex, a large luxury hotel, a helipad and a cable car, all of which they have been shamed into abandoning.) Visitors must now be accompanied by an official tour guide, and their tickets will grant entry for a specific time period, in either the morning or the afternoon.
Undoubtedly, the best way to see Machu Picchu is to stay at Belmond Sanctuary Lodge, an unobtrusive 31-room resort adjacent to the ruins, from which it is possible to visit the site before the arrival of tourists in the morning and after their departure in the evening. (Nearly all visitors to Machu Picchu either come for the day or stay in Aguas Calientes, at the bottom of the hill.)