Machu Picchu is one of the new 7 Wonders of the World and one of the most amazing tourist attractions in South America. Here is everything you need to know to plan a trip to Machu Picchu.
How to Get to Machu Picchu
Machu Picchu lies at the top of the mountain above the town Aguas Calientes. The main access point for visiting Machu Picchu is Cusco, from there you can continue either via train on trekking.
- Getting to Machu by Train
The train trip to Machu Picchu is a beautiful journey through the Sacred Valley of the Incas to Aguas Calientes which lasts between 2 and 4 hours approximately, depending on where you start your journey. There are several different train stations: San Pedro and Poroy are located in Cusco and Ollantaytambo and Urubamba are both located in the Sacred Valley. During the rainy season, the train trip from Cusco is operated only as a bimodal service, which means that a bus will take you to Ollantaytambo and from there you will continue your journey via train.
There are 2 companies that run trains to Machu Picchu, each offering different categories:
Peru Rail: Expedition, Vistadome, Sacred Valley and Hiram Bingham (a luxury train)
Inca Rail: Voyager, 360º, First Class and Private
Train tickets need to be purchased in advance. Theoretically you can visit Machu Picchu during a day trip, but this means getting up extremely early and have a very long day with limited time in Machu Picchu. Thus to make the most of your visit, we recommend to consider 2 days with an overnight in Aguas Calientes.
Once in Aguas Calientes you have to take a bus (official Machu Picchu buses) that takes you from the town to the entrance of Machu Picchu. You can also walk but it is a steep hill which will take around 2 hours and the walk is not very nice.
- Getting to Machu Picchu Trekking
If you enjoy multi-day hikes, a great alternative is a trek that takes you to Machu Picchu. There are several amazing treks that conclude with a visit to Machu Picchu, however the Inca Trail is the only trek to Machu Picchu on which you will walk via the famous sun gate directly into the Inca ruins. On all other treks you will usually take the train for the last leg of the trip. However this does not mean that these other treks are less amazing, we actually prefer the alternative routes which are less crowded than the Inca Trail. During February the Inca trail is closed for repairs and trail maintenance.
The most popular treks are
There is also a third option via the town of Santa Teresa which is a combination of bus and walking. We do NOT recommend this alternative which be dangerous due to the bad state of the road, especially during rainy season.
Best Time to Visit Machu Picchu
The climate of the region around Cusco is characterized by two weather periods: the dry season and the rainy season. Temperatures do not vary too much between these seasons but the amount of rain does.
The dry season (winter) is from the end of April to the beginning of November (hot, dry days, cold, dry nights) and the rainy season (summer) is from November to April (with most rain in January and February)
During the dry season you will encounter larger crowd than during the rainy season. June to August (summer holidays in Europe and North America) are peak season and the busiest months. During the months of May, September and October the site is slightly less crowded with relatively good weather conditions.
Which is the best time of the day is a difficult question to answer and opinions vary heavily. Several people chose the earliest time slot to see the sunrise in Machu Picchu, however the truth is that the spectacular sunrise people expect is a myth as the site faces the wrong direction, and there are also huge mountains in the way (nonetheless it is nice to be there at dawn and it is a special time of day). The early morning is cooler and usually cloudy and offers the chance to capture the ruins covered in fog, but the fog means you might not have full visibility of the ruins.
The fog usually starts to clear up later in the morning and if you are lucky the sun did makes it through. Machu Picchu tends to be slightly less busy in the afternoon as day-trippers leave to take trains back which allows you to visit the Inca city with less people.
Machu Picchu Entrance Tickets
Machu Picchu is open all year round, and opens daily at 6.00am and closes at 5.30pm. Only 2500 visitors are allowed to enter Machu Picchu each day and it is highly recommended to purchase entrance tickets in advance. Tickets can be bought online via the official government website.
When you purchase your entrance tickets you need to select between 9 different time slots:
- Early Morning
- 6am to 10am
- 7am to 11am
- 8am to 12am
- 9am to 01pm
- 10am to 02pm
- 11am to 03pm
- 12am to 04pm
- 01pm to 05pm
- 02pm to 06pm
You will need to include your passport info when purchasing your ticket (make sure to enter the data correctly, otherwise you might not be allowed to enter the sight!). Once entrances tickets have been purchased, entry times cannot be changed.
The day of your visit you need to show your passport and a printout of your ticket. It is important to arrive within one hour the entrance time you purchased otherwise your ticket will expire and you will be denied entrance (if you book the 6am time slot, you need to arrive before 7am). From the moment you enter you can stay in Machu Picchu for 4 hours.
Machu Pichu Extra Hikes: Huayna Picchu & Machu Picchu Mountain
Within the Machu Picchu complex, there is the possibility to visit two extra sites in addition to the archaeological ruins, Wayna Picchu Mountain and Machu Picchu Mountain. Both offer a spectacular bird-eye views of the ruins. An extra ticket needs to be purchased in advance to be allowed to hike up to one of these two mountains.
Wayna Picchu Mountain (2,693 m / 8,835 ft):
Huayna Picchu is the small “sugar loaf” mountain that you see in the background of Machu Picchu on the classic postcard photos of the site and this extra hike is the most popular option. It is a slightly shorter hike than the one to Machu Picchu Mountain but the trail can be scary for people with fear of heights and you need to be in good physical shape to enjoy it. It is very steep and slippery in several spots with some extremely narrow parts. In some areas there are only chains to hold onto and in some parts there are wooden ladders to ascend/descend over steep drops. On a clear day from the top you can see Machu Picchu from above and how it was built in the shape of a Condor and you can also visit a small archaeological site called the Temple of the Moon.
The hike takes about 50 minutes up and 45 minutes down (not including time to explore at the top or Temple of the Moon).
Machu Picchu Mountain (3,082 m / 10112 ft):
Machu Picchu Mountain is located on the opposite side of the ruins from Huayna Picchu. This hike is slightly longer but less steep than Wayna Picchu and thus less demanding, especially as you do not need to reach the top to enjoy the secenery. Fewer people do this hike which means that you will encounter fewer tourists than on Wayna Picchu Mountain. From the top mountain you will be able to enjoy amazing views of the ruin city, Urubamba river below, and snow-capped peaks in the distance and there are several areas on top where you can sit and relax.
This hike can take about an hour and ten minutes to hike up and about an hour back down.
There are only two time slots for the hikes to Huayna Picchu or Machu Picchu Mountain and these sell out for most of the year, thus to guarantee your spots for either mountain you should purchase the ticket in advance together with your entrance ticket to Machu Picchu.
Inca Trail Permits
The Inca Trail, or Camino Inca, is one of the world’s most famous trails and doing it is only possible with a special permit. Permits are limited to a maximum number 500 people (200 travelers and 300 porters and guides) allowed on the trail each day.
Only approved Inca Trail operators can purchase the permits, they can only be bought with passport information of the person traveling and arranging your permit is usually part of the package when booking this trek. Due to the popularity of the Inca Trail, permits sell out far in advance. The most popular dates actually sell out only a couple of weeks after permits for the next year are released (the exact release date varies, but it is usually around October). Thus if you plan to do the Inca Trail, we recommend to book your trip at least 7 months in advance.
All companies are subject to the same permit restrictions so once the trek is sold out for one company, it is sold out for all other companies as well.
If your were planning to hike the Inca Trail and but did not manage to buy your permit on time or prefer to avoid the crowds check these alternative treks to Machu Picchu.
Guides For Machu Picchu
It is mandatory to enter Machu Picchu with an official tour guide. This policy is part of the efforts to protect the site, as the tour guide will explain what you can and what you cannot do during your visit.
Apart from that, we believe that the company of a guide will enhance your visit, as your guide will share a lof of interesting facts about Machu Picchu with you, you will learn about Machu Picchu’s history and know exactly what you are looking at while visiting the ruins.
Most organised tour options will include a guided tour of Machu Picchu, but if you are not visiting Machu Picchu as part of an organised tour, you will need to hire your guide upon arrival at the site. Guided tours usually take around 2 hours, leaving plenty of extra time to explore the ruins independently after the tour.
If you have booked two time slots or plan to visit Machu Picchu twice, it is not necessary to enter with a guide during your second visit.
What to Bring / Not to Bring to Machu Picchu
Packing for your trip will vary depending on how you plan to visit Machu Picchu (if you are visiting Machu Picchu as part of a trek you will need to bring additional trekking clothes and equipment), but here are some items you should not forget to take the day you visit the Machu Picchu ruins, as well as some items you should not bring, as you cannot enter them to the site:
- Dress in layers (light or convertible pants, t-shirt and a warm jacket for cold mornings)
- Good walking shoes, especially if you plan to do one of the extra hikes to Huayna Picchu or Machu Picchu Mountain
- Poncho or raincoat, even if it looks like a beautiful sunny day, the weather is very changeable
- Sun screen and sun glasses
- Some money including coins which you will need for the bathroom facilities
- Don’t forget your entrance tickets and your passport (remember that you cannot enter without it!)
- A small backpack (you are allowed to take in a small backpack under 20L)
- Water and a reusable water bottle – you are not allowed to bring plastic water bottles
- Snacks are allowed but it is forbidden to bring large quantities of food
- Insect repellent
- Trekking poles are prohibited at Machu Picchu
- Bring your camera but if you have large, professionally-looking camera equipment, keep in mind that professional cameras require an extra permit which is over USD 300
- Selfie sticks are not allowed as they can cause inconvenience to other tourists
- Drones are forbidden in Machu Picchu
More Tips for Visiting Machu Picchu
Here are some further things to keep in mind for your Machu Picchu visit:
- There are no bathrooms in the ruin site so use the bathroom at the gate before you enter! There are bathrooms right outside the entrance, and re-entrance is allowed once, but if you leave close to the time your ticket expires it is likely that you will not be permited re-entry
- There are three mandatory circuits that visitors have to follow and you are not allowed to leave, please respect the regulations and do not climb or lean on the walls
- Smoking is not allowed in Machu Picchu
- Outside the entrance gates, there is a station where you can get a Machu Picchu stamp in your passport