Orchids of Machu Picchu, Peru

Orchids of Machu Picchu, Peru

Incan Myth about the Orchids of Machu Picchu

“In the kingdom of the Andes there was a beautiful young princess. She fell in love with a brave and handsome warrior of the Inca. Once her father knew of the love affair, he prohibited any relationship between them because the princess was destined for the Sun God.

When the princess learned of his decision, she ran over the Andes, crying for her forbidden love and was turned into the beautiful “Waqanki” flower. So, each time the warrior found this flower in the Andes, he also would cry remembering his lost love.”

This ancient Incan myth, passed through generations through oral tradition, highlights the importance of orchids around Machu Picchu. Home to over 3,000 varieties, the Incan people revered the flowers for their beauty and abundance. Because of Peru’s humid rainforests and mild dry seasons, more species grow here than anywhere else in the world. The abundance of birds and insects also promotes cross-pollination, which means that there are still orchid species left to be discovered.

Orchids can grow on the ground (terrestrial) or on rocks (lithophytes). Because the jungle is so thick, sunlight hardly reaches the forest floor. Because of this, many orchids you’ll see on your trek are epiphytes – plants that grow on top of other plants, like branches, leaves, and even other epiphytes!

In this blog, we list various types of orchids, how to spot them, and, if applicable, more Incan folklore about the flowers. To learn more about other than orchids, take a look at our Flowers of Machu Picchu blog as well.

Planning Your Visit to the Orchids of Machu Picchu

Blooming season begins in October/November and lasts until March. This correlates directly with the rainy season, as more rain means more orchid growth. The Inca Trail is closed in February for maintenance, which is also when the rain is heaviest. Make sure you bring a packable raincoat, you’ll almost definitely need it! The CleverHiker guide has recommendations for various budgets and needs.

There’s also an identifying app made solely for orchids. With Lookuq (pronounced Lookup), you can take a photo of a flower to learn its name, description information and caring guide. This is a great tool to enhance your orchid-viewing experience! There are also plenty of identifying apps for flowers in general. Compare and decide which one is best for you here.

Orchids of Machu Picchu with known mythology

Waqanki Orchid

Waqanki Orchid - Orchids of Machu Picchu PeruThis myth-inducing bloom is often found growing in the crevices of rocks near Machu Picchu. Literally “You will cry” in Quechua, this flower is thought to be the national treasure of Peru. It’s even referred to as the king/queen of Machu Picchu! Keep an eye out for a single flower with orange sepals and purple spots on the side. In other parts of Peru, this flower is known as gallo-gallo, meaning rooster after its rooster-comb like petals.




Wiñay Wayna Orchid

Forever young orchid - Orchids of Machu Picchu Peru

This orchid is typically white or fuschia with multiple blooms. Meaning “forever young,” the Wiñay Waynaflower is thought to preserve youth and vitality. While on our [look up specific inca trail trek], you’ll travel through the Wiñay Wayna Pass, named after this flower. Although this is one of the more common orchid species found near Machu Picchu, it’s ephemeral, meaning blooms only last for a few days.



Paradise Orchid 

Sobralia Dichotoma - Orchids of Machu Picchu, Peru

courtesy of globalorchids.info

Although this is one of the more common orchid species found near Machu Picchu, it’s ephemeral, meaning blooms only last for a few days. Colored deep pink and white, the plant typically has 5-8 blooms per stem. Paradise orchids are thought to have grounding and calming effects.





Lycaste Orchid

Lycaste Orchid - Orchids of Machu Picchu Peru

Lycaste Orchid

The lycaste orchid has light green sepals, darker petals, and an orange lip. The triangular shaped flower grows singularly on bare canes, typically in the summer. It has been claimed that the essence of the Lycaste helps interpret dreams and to open repressed memories.

Other Orchids of Machu Picchu

Schomburgk’s Epidendrum

Schomburgk's Epidendrum - Orchids of Machu Picchu Peru

courtesy of orchidroots.com

One of, if not the largest orchid found in the Machu Picchu sanctuary, this flower can grow stems up to 5 feet tall! The bloom is brick orange, with a yellow-capped center. Be careful when admiring this one though, as it has been associated with stinging ants.




Prosthechea Vespa

Prosthechea Vespa - Orchids of Machu Picchu, PeruThis medium-sized epiphyte is characterized by elongated pale pseudo-bulbs with clusters of brown spots, almost like the print on a cheetah’s fur. While flowers in the Prothechea genus typically only bloom once a year, the bloom lasts for months, so seeing these clusters is very likely on your trek through Machu Picchu.


Bee Orchid

Bee orchid - Orchids of Machu Picchu, PeruOne can find this orchid between the Hatunchaka and Huayllabamba communities along the classic Inca trail; it blooms from January to April. The orchid uniquely resembles a female bee, so that male bees fly in and pollinate the bloom.



Oncidium scansor

Oncidium scansor - Orchids of Machu Picchu Peru

courtesy of orchidspecies.com

This brown-spotted, bright yellow flower is typically spotted growing along the tree trunks and branches. It’s been known to be a difficult plant to grow in a domestic environment, but Machu Picchu’s cloud forests nourish these orchids to grow plentifully.

Leave No Trace Around Machu Picchu

While looking for Machu Picchu’s orchids, it’s also important to remember that this is their home, not yours! We’re committed to keeping our area beautiful, but we need your help too. Following Leave No Trace principles ensures these species and their habitats will be around to admire for years to come. Make sure you stay on established trails and leave the area the same or better than you found it – that means zero trash. Our excellent guides will answer any questions you may have, but if you want to brush up on the best way to leave an environment intact before your trip, check out the Leave No Trace site.

It’s no question that you will get to enjoy viewing a plethora of vibrant orchids on any of our treks – and this list only scratches the surface of species that inhabit the Andean cloud forests! But with just a little bit of extra preparation, you’ll be able to identify them as well. If you capture any stellar photos you want to show off, we’d love to see them! Tag us on social media @AlpacaExpeditions. Want to stay up to date on all things Machu Picchu and Alpaca Expeditions? Sign up for our e-mail list here.


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