How to Travel to Machu Picchu

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Unlocking the Secrets of Machu Picchu: Unleash the Journey of a Lifetime

Embarking on an expedition to Machu Picchu can be an awe-inspiring experience, but we understand that navigating through the overwhelming and perplexing wealth of information about this site can be daunting. It often feels like you need a master’s degree just to comprehend the various ticket options, transportation methods, and visitation guidelines. However, fear not, for we have gathered invaluable advice to help you embark on your Machu Picchu adventure armed with everything we wish we had known beforehand.

Unveiling the Epitome of Peru: Machu Picchu, a Testament to the Incas’ Majestic Legacy

For many, a visit to Machu Picchu stands as the pinnacle of their Peruvian odyssey. No matter how many times you have beheld its splendor through a screen, nothing compares to the moment you stand in awe before this remarkable wonder. A shiver will traverse your entire being, as you are struck by the profound sensation of standing in the presence of a fragment of history. And what a fragment it is! It represents the captivating legacy of the Incas, one of the most extraordinary civilizations ever to grace our planet.

Are You Ready to Unearth the Heart and Soul of Inca Culture? Here are our Comprehensive Tips for Exploring Machu Picchu:

Journeying to Machu Picchu: Unveiling the Path to Ancient Wonder

Following the discovery of the ancient Inca city, a village was established at the base of the hill to welcome the curious and later, the influx of tourists drawn to this marvel. Known as Aguas Calientes or Machu Picchu Pueblo, this picturesque town, unfortunately, lacks road accessibility. However, the most convenient option for reaching it is by train from either Cusco or Ollantaytambo, albeit the priciest one (expect an estimated cost of around $120 USD per person for a round trip).

For those seeking more budget-friendly transportation, an alternative option involves several hours of shared buses and taxis, followed by an 11 km hike along the well-known route of Hidroeléctrica.

For the adventurous souls, there is the exhilarating opportunity to embark on multi-day treks. The renowned 43 km Camino Inca, a 4-day and 3-night journey, or its shorter 2-day and 1-night version, provide remarkable experiences. Alternatively, you can opt for the awe-inspiring Camino Salkantay, a 5-day and 4-night adventure, allowing you to immerse yourself in the breathtaking landscapes along the way.

Prepare to forge your own path and embrace the spirit of adventure as you navigate the various options to reach the fabled Machu Picchu.

How to get from Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu?

There are travel options available from Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu. Travelers can choose to take the buses that depart from Aguas Calientes as early as 5:30 in the morning. These buses follow a winding 3 km road until reaching the entrance of Machu Picchu. The bus fare for this journey is $12 per trip, and it is necessary to purchase the ticket at the sales office, bringing along your passport (tickets cannot be bought on the bus).

If you prefer to hike, there is a route that includes sections of the same road and shortcuts through the forest. The ascent is not long but can be challenging (takes approximately 1 hour).

Circuits to Visit Machu Picchu

There are different types of tickets available for visiting Machu Picchu, and it’s important to note that there are 5 circuits to explore the site:

  • Circuit 1: Short tour of the Llaqta (2 hours).
  • Circuit 2: Extended tour of the Llaqta (3 hours). This is the circuit we took.
  • Circuit 3: The only circuit that allows you to climb the Machupicchu Mountain.
  • Circuit 4: Available for visitors who plan to hike the Waynapicchu Mountain and Huchuypicchu.
  • Circuit 5: Specifically for those who arrive via the Inca Trail.

Please note that “Llaqta” literally means “city” and refers to the area of archaeological ruins within Machu Picchu.

The indicated hours are approximate, but theoretically, there is a time limit for the different types of tickets:

  1. For tickets covering only the Llaqta circuit, visitors are generally allowed up to 4 hours inside the site.
  2. If you include the Huayna Picchu hike, the time limit extends to 6 hours.
  3. If you choose to climb the Machupicchu Mountain, the time limit is extended to 8 hours.

For circuits 1 and 2, you have the option to add a visit to the Inca Bridge, an ancient wooden bridge reached by following a trail (1 km, 20 minutes). This bridge is part of the extensive network of Inca roads (qhapaq ñan) that once connected various regions of the Tahuantinsuyo empire and still features the original stone structure.

It’s important to note that the circuits are unidirectional, meaning you cannot retrace the same path you’ve already taken.

Once that’s clear, the ticket options for visiting Machu Picchu are as follows:

  1. Circuit 1, 2, 3, or 4 (Single ticket): Entry from 06:00 to 15:00.
  2. Circuit 1 or 2 + Inca Bridge: Entry from 07:00 to 15:00.
  3. Circuit 3 + Machupicchu Mountain: Access to the mountain from 07:00 to 09:00.
  4. Circuit 4 + Waynapicchu Mountain: Access to the mountain from 07:00 to 11:00.
  5. Circuit 4 + Huchuypicchu Mountain: Access to the mountain from 07:00 to 15:00.

When making your reservation, you will need to select the type of ticket and the time slot for entry. Keep in mind that they are not very flexible with this, so it’s important to carefully consider your decision before finalizing your choice.

Reservations Machu Picchu
Reservations Machu Picchu

 

The ticket prices for Machu Picchu vary depending on the type of entry:

  1. Circuit 1, 2, 3, or 4 (same ticket): 152 soles (approximately 40€).
  2. Circuit 1 or 2 + Inca Bridge: 152 soles (approximately 40€).
  3. Circuit 3 + Machupicchu Mountain: 200 soles (approximately 50€).
  4. Circuit 4 + Waynapicchu Mountain: 200 soles (approximately 50€).
  5. Circuit 4 + Huchuypicchu Mountain: 152 soles (approximately 40€).

Where can you purchase the Machu Picchu ticket? It is best to purchase the ticket on the official website www.machupicchu.gob.pe or at the offices in Cusco. There are no official ticket booths at the entrance to Machu Picchu or in the town of Aguas Calientes.

What if there is no availability of tickets? Access to Machu Picchu is limited to a certain number of spots per day and time slots, so it is highly recommended (almost mandatory) to purchase the ticket in advance, especially for the mountain hikes.

Machu Picchu tour by car and by train 2 days

To determine which ticket is best suited for your plan, you need to ask yourself two questions:

  1. Do you want to hike any of the mountains and sacrifice some of the visit to the ruins, including the terrace where the best photos are taken?
    • If the answer is NO, then the ticket that includes Circuits 1 or 2 would be most suitable. Circuit 3 also includes a panoramic area known as the House of the Guardian, located on the way down from Machupicchu Mountain. If that’s the case, we move on to the second question:
  2. Which mountain do you plan to hike?
    • From what we understand, the ascent to Waynapicchu is more challenging and potentially risky, especially on rainy days, but it offers better panoramic views due to its higher elevation.
    • The trail to Machupicchu Mountain is relatively easier and less steep, although longer in distance. From the top, you’ll have views of the ruins with the iconic Waynapicchu in the background. Additionally, our guide informed us that on Circuit 3, after climbing Machupicchu Mountain, you can reach the House of the Guardian, which offers panoramic views similar to those from the terraces.
    • Lastly, Huchuypicchu Mountain is the most accessible of the three mountains. It is located on the same path as Waynapicchu and can be an interesting alternative for those who prefer less walking.

At this point, you might be wondering, “If I want to hike one of the mountains, will I not be able to visit the entire archaeological area of Machu Picchu?” That’s correct. In fact, we’ve met people who purchased two consecutive tickets to see everything: the first ticket for Waynapicchu Mountain with Circuit 4, and the second ticket for Circuit 2. Apparently, there are discussions about opening a new route to reach the panoramic terrace within the circuits that include mountains, but for now, that’s the current situation.

Machu Picchu Schedule

Machu Picchu is open every day of the year from 06:00 to 17:00, with the last entry at 16:00. We entered around 09:30 and did not encounter crowds at any of the points, not even on the panoramic terraces.

Based on our experience, we believe that the busiest times are usually during sunrise and sunset. When we returned to Aguas Calientes around 14:00, the queue for the bus was considerably longer than in the morning.

The reason is simple: these are likely the best moments to visit Machu Picchu in terms of pure spectacle, but be prepared that you won’t be alone.

There’s also a risk that, after waking up early and waiting for one of the first buses, the mountains may be covered in fog, leaving you disappointed. It’s not uncommon, but usually clears up in the early morning.

Interestingly, some areas within Machu Picchu have specific closing times to limit their impact and protect them. For example, the Intiwatana Pyramid is open from 07:00 to 10:00, and the Temple of the Condor from 10:00 to 13:00.

Cusco City Sacred Valley and Machu Picchu 3 days tour

Its necesary to hire a Local Guide to Visit Machu Picchu

Although we read in some places that hiring a tour guide is mandatory to visit Machu Picchu, in practice, you can easily explore it on your own. This applies to both the main site and when hiking Waynapicchu or Machupicchu Mountains.

However, our recommendation is that if there’s one place in Peru where it’s worth paying extra for a guided tour, it’s Machu Picchu. The site is quite extensive, and you’ll optimize your time by following the best route suggested by the guide. Additionally, there are no information panels or audio guides available, so you’ll lack the necessary information to understand each place. Finally, the guides are skilled at taking photos in the best spots!

There are two types of guided tours:

  1. Private Tour: You’ll have a guide exclusively for you. This is what we did, and we paid a total of 150 soles (around 40€). Prices may be slightly higher due to the current situation.
  2. Joining a Shared Tour: You can join a group tour with up to 16 people, and you’ll only need to pay your share (40 soles, around 10€). You can go directly to the entrance and wait for a group to form.

To hire a guide, you can do so in advance online or on the same day in Aguas Calientes. Many guides offer their services while waiting for the bus, or you can approach them before the access control once you’re at the site. Better prices can be negotiated in Aguas Calientes or a few days in advance; the guides at the site often ask for double the price.

We searched for guides online before going and contacted several of them.

What to See in Machu Picchu

As we mentioned before, it’s ideal to hire a guide and not worry about knowing the must-see places in Machu Picchu. However, if you’re visiting on your own, make sure to at least visit the following:

  • Puerta de la Ciudad (City Gate)
  • Caos Granítico (Granitic Chaos)
  • Plaza Sagrada (Sacred Plaza)
  • Templo de las Tres Ventanas (Temple of the Three Windows)
  • Pirámide del Intiwatana (Intiwatana Pyramid)
  • Roca Sagrada (Sacred Rock)
  • Tres Portadas (Three Doorways)
  • Sala de los Espejos (Hall of Mirrors)
  • Templo del Cóndor (Temple of the Condor)
  • Casa del Inka (Inka’s House)
  • Fuentes Ceremoniales (Ceremonial Fountains)
  • Templo del Sol (Temple of the Sun)

In addition to these, make sure to visit the panoramic terraces from where you can take the iconic photo that we’ve all seen a thousand times. These terraces are located in a specific area and can only be accessed with the Circuit 1 and 2 ticket.

How to Plan your Trip to Machu Picchu

Planning your visit to Machu Picchu: After considering various factors, here’s what we ended up doing (and what we recommend):

  • Day 1: Take a minibus or shared taxi from Cusco to Ollantaytambo in the morning and spend the day and night there.
  • Day 2: Take a train from Ollantaytambo to Aguas Calientes. Spend the day and night in Aguas Calientes.
  • Day 3: Visit Machu Picchu at the time of your choice. If the schedules align, take an afternoon train back to Cusco. Alternatively, you can extend your stay by spending another night in Aguas Calientes and return the following day.

IMPORTANT: Whenever possible, try not to plan your visit to Machu Picchu on the same day you arrive by train to avoid any potential delays or cancellations that could result in missing your entry. Train delays are not uncommon, so it’s better to be safe.

An interesting alternative is to return via the Hidroeléctrica route (by train or walking) and spend one or more nights in Santa Teresa to enjoy the Cocalmayo Hot Springs, which are said to be better than the ones in Aguas Calientes. From there, you can arrange a combination of taxis and vans to return to Cusco.

Where to stay in Aguas Calientes: Machu Picchu Pueblo (Aguas Calientes) offers a wide range of accommodations for all types of travelers. It’s important to check their location and read reviews beforehand, as some places may have rooms close to the train tracks, which can be a bit noisy.

Please note that Machu Picchu is a highly popular destination, so it’s advisable to make reservations in advance for transportation and accommodation, especially during the high season.

Aditional Tips to Travel to Machu Picchu

Before you set off, here are some final recommendations to ensure everything goes smoothly:

  • Machu Picchu is located at an altitude of 2,400 meters. If you plan to visit early to see the sunrise, it’s a good idea to bring a lightweight jacket or sweater. However, if you visit later in the day, particularly during the summer months, be prepared for hot weather and remember to bring sunscreen and a hat.
  • What to bring: In addition to sun protection and, in some cases, rain gear, don’t forget to wear comfortable shoes, bring mosquito repellent (yes, there are pesky insects that bite!), carry water, and have your passport with you. You’ll need your passport to purchase bus tickets and access the archaeological site.
  • If your plan is to travel from Cusco and return there, you can ask your accommodation to store your larger luggage and take only what you need to Machu Picchu.
  • Aguas Calientes has everything a tourist may need, including restaurants with affordable set menus (around 20 soles), pricier dining options, cozy cafes, hotels for every budget, and ATMs.
  • The only restrooms are located at the entrance building; there are no facilities along the rest of the route, so plan accordingly.
  • Yes, there are llamas freely roaming within the site, and you can take photos of them. However, please maintain a respectful distance and avoid disturbing them.
  • Machu Picchu is not accessible for people with reduced mobility or strollers. Pets, drones, large suitcases, backpacks, oversized tripods, and outside food are not allowed.
  • Take a break and enjoy a coffee and a slice of cake at the Infinity Café in Aguas Calientes.

Remember to check the latest travel guidelines and regulations before your visit, as rules and recommendations may change over time. Enjoy your trip to Machu Picchu!

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