Hundreds of thousands of people visit Machu Picchu each year. Some hike the Inca Trail, some take the bus. Some stand and take it all in while others are busy trying to take the perfect photo. It’s an easy place to remain anonymous — unless, of course, you’re of that rare breed known as a celebrity.
Machu Picchu has received many celebrity visitors over the last 100 years, from politicians to princesses, from Homer Simpson to Hollywood stars. Here’s a rundown of some of the famous faces to have stared in awe at Machu Picchu, starting at 1900 to the present day.
1900 to 1949
For decades after its rediscovery in 1911, Machu Picchu remained a destination for only the most adventurous of foreign visitors. Overgrown mountain passes and unstable trails snaked toward the citadel, with only local Quechua-speaking guides to show the way. Here are some of the brave celebrities who forged the way into this ungroomed territory.
- Hiram Bingham (1911) — Bingham was a far greater celebrity after he rediscovered Machu Picchu than before, but he certainly deserves a mention here. The academic and adventurer was the “scientific discoverer” of Machu Picchu, having first brought the world’s attention to the site in 1911. He revisited Machu Picchu in 1912 and 1915.
- Cole Porter (1939) — Best known as the composer and songwriter behind classics such as "Let's Do It," “Anything Goes” and “I’ve Got You Under My Skin,” Porter was also quite the adventurer. Despite being left partially handicapped and in constant pain following a horse riding accident in 1937, he set off two years later to explore Machu Picchu. According to Robert F. Howe for the Smithsonian magazine, “He made much of the journey on horseback and was carried over especially difficult terrain by his valet and Ray Kelly, a former sailor whom the Porters had met on a cruise.”
- Pablo Neruda (1943) — The Chilean poet visited Machu Picchu in 1943 and like so many others, was inspired. Neruda wrote "Las Alturas de Macchu Picchu" (“The Heights of Macchu Picchu”), twelve poems that together formed Canto II of his Canto General, one of his greatest works. Later, in 1971, Neruda was awarded the Nobel Prize in literature.
1950 to 1999
The second half of the 20th century saw an increase in international visitors to Machu Picchu. The site’s global appeal grew thanks to the release of "Secret of the Incas," starring Charlton Heston, and later when Machu Picchu was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983 (now one of 11 World Heritage Sites in Peru). Here are some famous faces who made the trek during that time period.
- Ernesto "Che" Guevara (1952) — Machu Picchu played a part in shaping the political outlook of the young Che Guevara. While at the site, Che and his companion, Alberto Granado, became more focused on the plight — and destruction — of indigenous civilizations and the possibilities of a revolution, peaceful or otherwise. Scenes of Che and Alberto at Machu Picchu appear in "The Motorcycle Diaries," a 2004 biopic based on Guevara’s writing.
- Charlton Heston (1953) — Heston managed to combine work and pleasure when he went to Peru to film "Secret of the Incas." The movie, released in 1954, saw Harry Steele (Heston) on a quest for an Inca artifact. For the first time, a major Hollywood studio had caught the archaeological site on camera, bringing it to the global masses — on screen at least.
- Georgia O’Keeffe (1956) — The American artist painted a series of modernist oil-on-canvas works during her two months in Peru in the spring of 1956, including some vivid depictions of Machu Picchu. She later described the citadel and its surroundings in bold terms: “I've never seen nature so absolutely terrifying. The mountains shrouded in evil, gray mist, the strange and remote Indians with terrible secrets in their eyes. Natural calamities everywhere."
- Shirley MacLaine (1980s) — Golden Globes, Emmys, Oscars, you name it and Shirley MacLaine has probably won it at some point during her acting career. But Shirley had a lot to answer for when it came to Machu Picchu’s relationship with New Age strangeness and extraterrestrial shenanigans. Here’s a short piece from her autobiography "Sage-ing While Age-ing:" “I went to Machu Picchu in Peru with a man who said he had had a love affair with an extraterrestrial. He said he was still being guided by her and could call on that guidance anytime. He proceeded to do just that.”
2000 to 2007
Machu Picchu was hit by a veritable plague of A-list celebrities during the first decade of the new millennium. Peru is all the rage these days, and Machu Picchu is, as ever, the main attraction.
- Leonardo DiCaprio and Giselle Bündchen (2003) — Ah, romance at Machu Picchu. They split up two years later.
- Olivia Newton John (2007) — Olivia Neutron Bomb tried to keep her trip a secret. The local press had other ideas.
- Cameron Diaz (2007) — Diaz was nearly upstaged by her own bag during her trip to Machu Picchu. She looked incredibly happy while roaming through the ruins, unaware of the scandal about to break. Her green military-style bag, which she had previously purchased in China, was decorated with a Maoist red star and the words "Serve the People.” During the 1980s and ‘90s, many Peruvians lost their lives during the war against Maoist guerrilla insurgents known as the Shining Path. Diaz quickly apologized.
- Bill Gates (2007) — Billionaire Bill Gates visited Machu Picchu at the same time as Cameron Diaz. Both had tickets for the Inti Raymi festival.
- Superman (2007) — In "Superman Volume 1, 667," said superhero is seen hovering over Machu Picchu contemplating a sticky situation involving some kind of threat to humanity. He looks upset, maybe because it’s raining. (“I flew all this way and just look at the weather!”)
- Shakira (2007) — Judging by Peruvian news reports, Shakira’s visit to Machu Picchu was played out with military precision. She also tried chewing a tiny piece of a tiny coca leaf during her stay. Too cool for school.
- Princess Beatrice of England (2007) — Beatrice visited Machu Picchu at the age of 18, at which time she was fifth in line to the British throne. Her mother, Sarah Ferguson, had previously visited Machu Picchu in 2005.
So many celebs visited the ruins in the early 2000s, and it only picked up popularity as time went on. Here's who visited in the latter half of the '10s.
- The Simpsons (2008) — The Simpsons went to Machu Picchu in the episode "Lost Verizon,” in which Homer and family go in search of Bart, who they mistakenly believe is at the Inca citadel. Marge has a vision while resting on an Inca stone, after which the family returns home — having forgotten Maggie at Machu Picchu, where she is now being worshipped.
- Alicia Keys (2008) — Keys stayed in the Hotel Monasterio, one of Cusco’s most historic hotels, before moving to the Machu Picchu Sanctuary Lodge, from where she explored the nearby site.
- Bryan Adams (2008) — Adams performed a successful show in the Estadio Monumental before flying from Lima to Cusco in a private jet, after which he took a helicopter to Machu Picchu. It’s a tough life.
- Iker Casillas (2008) — The Spanish goalkeeper and captain of both Real Madrid and the Spanish national team visited Machu Picchu accompanied by a group of abandoned children. Casillas, now a United Nation’s Goodwill Ambassador, was in Cusco to highlight and support the plight of homeless and abandoned children in the area.
- South Park (2008) — Giant murderous guinea pigs. Peruvian flute bands. Homeland Security. World domination. Machu Picchu. Yep, it’s "South Park." Watch the "Pandemic" and "Pandemic 2: The Startling" episodes for the full story.
- Lucy Liu (2009) — The actress and UNICEF ambassador arrived in Cusco to support a new UNICEF campaign in aid of poor children in Peru. The Andina news agency quoted her as saying: “In Machu Picchu, I could see that Inca culture used many resources to fight poverty, we could learn from them to face problems we have nowadays.”
- Ron Howard (2009) — The Hollywood actor, producer and director took the Hiram Bingham train to Machu Picchu, but was soon recognized by fellow passengers. He signed some autographs before touring Machu Picchu with a local guide.
- Werner Herzog (2009) — The eccentric German filmmaker has had a steady relationship with Peru, where he made both "Aguirre, the Wrath of God" and "Fitzcarraldo". He returned to the site in 2009 with actor Michael Shannon to shoot "My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done?"
2010 to the Present Day
Machu Picchu visitor numbers have now reached close to 1 million per year, a good thing for the Peruvian tourism industry but a bad thing for the site itself. Erosion and the gradual “sinking” of the archaeological wonder are threatening the overall stability of Machu Picchu. All of the modern visitors have contributed to this, even the celebrities. Here's who has visited recently:
- Susan Sarandon (2010) — Susan Sarandon officially reopened Machu Picchu following a two-month closure caused by heavy rains and flooding. Sarandon was invited to Peru by the government (I guess all the famous Peruvians were busy that day) and was warmly received by the relieved mayor of Machu Picchu, Edgar Miranda. She drank coca tea to help prevent altitude sickness.
- Richard Gere (2010) — Gere visited Machu Picchu on a gray rainy day. The star strolled through the site with his wife, the actress and model Carey Lowell. Due to the inclement weather, he was unable to climb Huayna Picchu as planned.
- Jim Carrey (2011) — Carrey broke out his best grins while touring Machu Picchu in July 2011. He went in relatively standard fashion, taking the Hingham Bingham train to Aguas Calientes (Machu Picchu Pueblo) before hopping on the bus to Machu Picchu itself. Carrey tweeted “#Goodmornoonevening world! Machu Picchu, Temple of the Sun. (sorry for this) Inca redible!" while at the site.
- Seth Green (2012) — The American actor (" Austin Powers," "Family Guy") apparently left a Lego figure at Machu Picchu and challenged his Twitter followers to find it.
- Matthew McConaughey (2012) — All right, all right, all right.
- One Direction (2014) — The British boy band visited Machu Picchu following their much-anticipated concert in Lima.
- Pharrell Williams (2015) — Pharrell was the first really big star to visit Machu Picchu in 2015.
- Katy Perry (2015) — This "California Girl" posted an Instagram picture of herself at Machu Picchu, "living that bucket list lyfe."
- Malia Obama (2016) — Former First Daughter, Malia Obama, took a lengthy, secret trip to Bolivia and Peru in the fall of 2016, including a stop at Machu Picchu.