Machu Picchu is one of the most visited tourist attractions in South America and the most visited in Peru. So, that’s no surprise that a trip there will involve some planning and research.
Located northwest of Cusco and about 2,430 metres above sea level, Machu Picchu is listed as UNESCO World Heritage Site. This ancient Inca city discovered in 1911 it’s one of the most spectacular intriguing places in the world, as still today, archaeologists and historians don’t know exactly its true purpose.
If you’re thinking to join a group tour most of all will be organized for you but if you’re thinking to plan the trip by yourself you may want to consider the tips I’m about to give you. Enjoy!
CHOOSING THE BEST SEASON TO VISIT MACHU PICCHU
It’s possible to visit Machu Picchu all year round. But there are some things you have to take in consideration when planning your visit. Machu Picchu has basically two seasons: wet and dry.
The majority of the rainy season is from October to April but you may just get really sunny days. January and February are considered the rainiest months.
The dry season is from May to September but that’s also the busiest period. July and August are considered the driest months.
Overall you always have to be prepared for the crowds so it’s really up to your travel plans. I have visited late September and really enjoyed my experience.
During February it’s one of the less crowded months to visit because the Inca Trail is closed.
BUY YOUR TICKET
To visit Machu Picchu you must buy your ticket in advance, I would say as soon as you know the dates you are traveling. This is because they get sold out quickly especially during the high season. Get them, here.
Please be aware that the tickets are not sold at the entrance and are limited to 2500 per day. Also the Peruvian government introduced recently two different shifts to visit, the first between 6am – 12pm and the second between 12pm to 5:30pm.
To hike the Huayna Picchu peak and the Machu Picchu peak they require two separate tickets.
The cost of the ticket is PEN 152 which is the same of about USD 47.
BEST TIME OF THE DAY TO VISIT MACHU PICCHU
As I mentioned above with the new regulations form the Peruvian government you have two time slots to choose from: 6:00am to 12:00pm or 12:00pm to 5:30pm.
If you’re staying the day before in Aguas Calientes you may want to go straight in the morning with less people around but if you’re coming by train from Cusco you will probably enjoy more the afternoon.
Also take in consideration that during the rainy season it may be really foggy in the early hours of the day and the views may not be that good.
There is not really a perfect time to visit Machu Picchu; it will just depend on your preferred choices. I visited just before lunch and noted that during that period until about 2pm it was really crowded with people clearing out after that.
THINK ABOUT THE ALTITUDE
If you’re visiting just Peru I think it’s a good idea to spend at least two nights in Cusco.
Some of the effects of the altitude can be felt by having headaches, fatigue, shortness of breath, dizziness and nausea. Walk slowly and drink plenty while adjusting to the altitude and you can even give a try on coca leaves, although I did not see much difference.
Because I was coming from La Paz (3,640 m / 11,940ft above sea level) which is higher than Cusco (3,400 metres / 11,200ft above sea level) I did not felt any particular effects but I have met a lot of people really suffering from altitude sickness during my trip.
Once you’re acclimatized you should be fine for your visit to Machu Picchu which has an altitude lower than Cusco (2,430 m /7,972 ft above sea level).
GETTING TO MACHU PICCHU
There are basically two main ways to get to Machu Picchu: hike the Inca Trail or take the train which are also the most used and simple in my opinion.
Taking the train it’s a relatively easy option for someone who’s a bit tight on time or simple just don’t want to walk for 4 days to Machu Picchu.
So, there are two companies which you can use: PeruRail and IncaRail.
PeruRail it’s the most popular option because it has more departure cities and more times to choose from. Have a look on them here. The journey takes about 4 hours from Cusco.
Prices vary from USD 65 to USD 105 depending on the class you choose from. Be aware that the train does not depart exactly from Cusco but from Poroy station* which is a 30 minute ride by taxi.
* Between January 2nd and 30th April of 2018 they operate a Bimodal Service of bus and train departing directly from Cusco.
It’s not so used by travellers because the prices are higher if you’re departing from Cusco and not so many times available. You can check them here.
The cheapest tickets start at USD 65 but it’s from Ollantaytambo, which maybe something you’re interested.
Both companies will have as final destination the town of Aguas Calientes.
Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu
From Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu you have two options: take a bus or walk until the ruins.
To buy the bus ticket you have to get them in the ticket office just in front of the train station after the bridge. They cost USD 24 with return and you will need your passport.
From there it’s a 30 minute ride to the entrance of Machu Picchu. There will be a queue to go back in the bus so leave with plenty of time to get the train in time.
Walking from Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu takes about 1-2 hours and it goes through a similar route like the bus.
HIKING THE INCA TRAIL
The Inca Trail it’s one of the most famous hikes in the world. It’s also one of the hardest. The usual one goes for four days of hiking, climbing, sometimes with extreme weather and sleeping in tents. Be sure to be fit for the journey.
If you’re thinking to go for this option you should be aware that the passes sell fast, especially for the high season. Book it months in advance or as soon as you can. Have a look here. Also, remember that you can only do the trek with and authorized agency and there is a 500 person limit per day for the hiking passes.
BASIC RULES TO RESPECT WHILE VISITING
There has been some changes introduced to some of the rules to respect while in Machu Picchu but I will enlighten the ones that remain the same.
You are not allowed to bring food inside or disposable plastic water bottles but no one really checks this and you may just want to keep a snack or two.
Umbrellas, tripods, drones or any musical instrument are prohibited. You have to take your passport with you as each ticket is personalized with your name and you may want to stamp it with the Machu Picchu stamp.
Only soft soles shoes are permitted. Walking sticks are not allowed but if you really depend on them they must have a rubber tip.
Small backpacks are allowed (maximum 40x35x20 cm). All big bags must be stored at the entrance where there is a luggage storage area mostly used by people doing the Inca Trail.
There are no toilets after the gates so make sure to use them before you enter. They cost 1 PEN.
A lot of llamas live inside the gates area and its fine to pet them but you’re not allowed to feed them.
Remember that you may not notice but there a lot of people making sure this rules are followed. For further information check it here.
VISITING WITH A GUIDE OR NOT?
In my opinion it’s not necessary. If you have a good guidebook you can just see the places and read about the history as you go along. I did this and don’t regret as I was able to see everything at my own pace and stop for a rest whenever I wanted to.
If you do feel like you want a guide you can just negotiate a private tour or join a group tour at the entrance. There are always a lot of guides there ready to do a tour.
ESSENTIALS TO PACK FOR MACHU PICCHU
This is a list for what you probably need once inside the gates of Machu Picchu. If you’re doing the Inca Trail you will need more than this.
So for you visit to go smoothly you will need comfortable walking shoes. Take a light rain jacket even if it’s dry season as you can never predict light showers. It started to rain heavily as I was leaving the site and it was September.
Because of the altitude, sun can be really strong so apply sunscreen before and during your visit and take a hat with you. Insect repellent is also a good idea!
Wear comfortable clothes as there are a lot of stairs to go up and down and a small backpack.
Although taking food and plastic water bottles is not allowed, they are not strict with this, so I took some energy bars, fruit and a reusable water bottle. You can also get some snacks from the restaurant in the entrance but they are overpriced.
Don’t forget your passport and your camera to capture those magical moments inside the Inca ruins.
STAYING OVERNIGHT IN AGUAS CALIENTES?
A lot of people sleep the night before in Aguas Calientes in order to get inside the gates of Machu Picchu early and others choose it because they want to explore a bit of the town or even for just a night rest after the Inca Trail.
It’s up to you what you prefer but for me it was just fine leaving and coming back to Cusco on the same day. I managed to enjoy my day and really see the ruins without rushing.
All the information that I gathered here should be able to provide you with an idea of how to book your trip. If you follow my tips and links you should be able to book your trip super easy!
Have you visited Machu Picchu? Is there anything that I’m missing in this list?