19 Travel Tips for Machu Picchu
If you’re reading this, you’re probably planning a visit to Machu Picchu. We understand that you’re looking for the most updated travel tips and detailed practical advice to prepare for the big day, so we won’t waste your time with the generic stuff that you can easily find online. Our 19 travel tips cover all you need to know before going to Machu Picchu.
For many people, visiting Machu Picchu is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. If you are like us, you want to be as prepared as possible to fully enjoy your visit to this UNESCO World Heritage Site.
However, a lot of information on the internet (official sites, blogs, Tripadvisor, etc.) is either not up to date or contradictory. On top of that, new regulations have been introduced (again!) at the beginning of 2019; before that, the last introduction of new rules was just 2 years ago.
We had many unresolved questions before our visit and only after we went to the site did we get clear answers. Therefore we think it’s useful to have a list of frequently asked questions with answers based on our very recent experience (May 2019) and the clarifications that we got from the staff at the Machu Picchu archaeological site. It’s probably worth mentioning that we went there on two consecutive days, so we’re pretty sure of the travel advice and suggestions that we’re writing here.
We found out first hand that many of the rules and regulations, new or old, are not enforced as they should. This is perhaps unsurprising because many of those rules do not make sense at all (see below for examples).
In this post, we will show you what we have experienced and witnessed, together with useful travel tips for Machu Picchu. Note that this post is not meant to encourage anyone to disobey or break the rules, but to provide tips and recommendations for a memorable visit to Machu Picchu.
If you’re looking for more cool things to do in Peru other than those around Cusco and the Sacred Valley, you might want to check out our posts on Peru destinations and travel tips:
What is the best time of year to visit Machu Picchu?
The dry season from April to August is the best time to visit Machu Picchu. However, this period is also the peak season and it sees the most tourists between June and August.
Our advice is to go in the months of April-May or September-October, which are the shoulder seasons in Machu Picchu; these 4 months also have less rainfall than the rainy season (wet period) from December to March (see picture below for average rainfall and temperatures at Machu Picchu).
What is the best time of the day to visit?
We liked Machu Picchu so much that we went there two times. On the first day, we arrived at the site first thing in the morning (6 a.m.), while the next day we arrived in the afternoon (1 p.m.) for comparison’s sake.
That said, we recommend you to visit in the early morning if you don’t mind the crowds (hundreds of people). The reason why the first time slot of the day is so popular is that everyone flocks to see the sunrise in Machu Picchu. The morning also allows you more time to climb one of the two mountains (keep reading), explore the site, and take a short hike to the Inca Bridge or the Sun Gate.
For our early morning experience, we arrived before 6 a.m. when the gates were still closed, like hundreds of other people. The crazy crowds in the parking lot made us question our 6 a.m. choice but as soon as we got in, things looked much better. The site is big, and we all could find our spot without actually feeling cramped.
Visiting Machu Picchu in the afternoon is also an option, but you won’t be able to climb any of the two mountains, as only two morning slots are available for each. Besides, despite the rumours of the site being less crowded, we found it equally, if not more crowded than in the morning. The queue to get in was way shorter, though.
Sunrise or sunset at Machu Picchu, which is better?
Sunrise, but it depends on the ever-changing weather up there. We’re very lucky to have clear blue sky in the morning of our first visit to Machu Picchu, but it’s actually more typical to have misty mornings that sometimes completely shroud the Huayna Picchu (a.k.a. Wayna Picchu) mountain. Maybe not the best weather for pictures.
Now, let’s make something clear: there’s actually no sunrise in Machu Picchu per se because the earliest you can get in is at 6 in the morning, which is already pretty bright. Besides, the site is completely surrounded by tall peaks so even if you could get there earlier, you wouldn’t see the sunrise from this point. What you’ll see is the magical moment when the first rays of sunlight manage to overcome the surrounding peaks and illuminate Huayna Picchu to slowly reveal the ruins below. It’s also worth mentioning that this happens at around 7 a.m, which is good because it gives you an hour to scout for the perfect location to witness the great moment.
Just like there’s no sunrise in Machu Picchu, there’s also no sunset. Instead, what you’ll see is the afternoon light leaving the Inca citadel behind the surrounding peaks, which happens between 4 and 4:30 p.m. On our second visit to Machu Picchu, we tried to catch a sunset sight of the Citadel from the terraces above it, but we were too late. At around 4:15 p.m. we wanted to go back up from the Citadel to the terraces but weren’t allowed.
Theoretically, people shouldn’t be able to return to the terraces once they’ve descended to the ruins, but we learned from more than one security guard that if you do it before 4 p.m., it’s OK (yes, we asked).
So here’s our little tip for you: 4 p.m. is a key hour. The site is not too crowded so guards are more flexible, but it’s not too empty either so your infraction won’t be too evident. If you really want to see the sunset in Machu Picchu, you should reach the terraces before 4 p.m. and stay there for as long as you’re allowed. At around 4:30 p.m., the staff slowly starts herding everybody towards the exit.
What can you do in Machu Picchu?
- Visit the ruins.
- Climb the Huayna Picchu mountain and continue to the Temple of the Moon and the Great Cavern
- Climb the Machu Picchu mountain and enjoy a 360 view of the peaks and valleys surrounding Machu Picchu
- Hike to Inca Bridge
- Hike to the Sun Gate
- Visit one of the many terraces
How much is the entrance fee?
Machu Picchu Citadel (Llaqta) only
Adult: S./152 (US$45.4)
Student: S./77 (US$23.0)
Schoolchild: S./70 (US$20.9)
Citadel with Huayna Picchu mountain
Adult: S./200 (US$59.8)
Student: S./125 (US$37.4)
Schoolchild: S./118 (US$35.3)
Citadel with Machu Picchu mountain
Adult: S./200 (US$59.8)
Student: S./125 (US$37.4)
Schoolchild: S./118 (US$35.3)
Andean (Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru) residents enjoy a significant reduction, check out the link below. And for Cusco residents, free entry every Sunday.
Don’t forget to print out your Machu Picchu ticket!
For more information see the official website, run by the Peruvian Ministry of Culture.
Do you need to buy your Machu Picchu tickets in advance?
Yes, you do. There’s no ticket counter at the site. The easiest way is to get them online using your credit card on the official website, but you can also buy them directly at the DDC (Dirección Desconcentrada de Cultura) offices in Cusco or Aguas Calientes. Make sure you print out the ticket and bring your passport on the day of your visit.
Now, how long in advance? If you wish to climb either the Machu Picchu or the Huayna Picchu mountains, our advice is to book at least three months in advance. And especially if you want to enter the site at 6 a.m.
If you’re only interested in the Citadel, you can book as late as one week before if you want the first morning slots, or even the day before if you’re flexible with your times. We booked our afternoon visit the day before and there were still plenty of tickets available.
How long do you need at Machu Picchu?
If you’re interested only in the archaeological site, 3 – 4 hours should suffice. Add another 3 to 4 hours if you plan to climb the Huayna Picchu or Machu Picchu mountains.
How long can you stay inside the complex?
As long as you want!
Other sources and even the official website indicate that with a Machu Picchu citadel ticket you can stay for a maximum of 4 hours. Six hours for Citadel with Huayna Picchu mountain and 7 hours for Citadel with Machu Picchu mountain. Well, forget about this.
There are thousands of visitors every day, how are they going to control how long each person has stayed?
Do you need to hire a guide?
It’s recommended but you don’t have to. We visited Machu Picchu twice on 2 consecutive days, first time in the morning and second time in the afternoon, and nobody ever asked us if we had hired a guide.
Do you have to choose a circuit or route before your visit?
No. There are three predefined circuits that one can choose to follow, but you don’t have to decide at the start of your visit; no one will ask you that.
In principle, the circuits are unidirectional, meaning that you can’t go against the flow. But based on our experience, this depends on the time of the day, the part of the site, and the willingness of the staff at duty to enforce the rules (see our sunset recommendation above). The more crowded and busy, the more likely they’ll make sure that everyone follows the direction of the circuits, which make sense. Outside the circuits, you can do whatever you want, sit down, lie down, sunbathe.
Can you re-enter the site?
We asked this question to different staff members and… No, you can’t. Unless you have a combined ticket of Citadel with a mountain (Huayna Picchu or Machu Picchu). In that case, you can exit the site one time and only to use the toilet; you’ll need to show your toilet receipt to re-enter.
There’s no toilet or restaurant inside the archaeological site.
Are backpacks allowed inside Machu Picchu?
Yes, they are. Article 19.2 of the Resolución Ministerial N°216-2018-MC issued by the Ministry of Culture (see the attached document below; in Spanish) says that they shouldn’t exceed 40 x 35 x 20 cm, but we saw people with huge 70L backpacks inside Machu Picchu.
That said, there’s baggage storage at the entrance of the site so if you have giant packs, please don’t bring them inside. You don’t want to accidentally destroy the monument or knock someone off the cliff.
Can you bring food and water?
Yes, you can. And you definitely should, if you’re going to climb one of the mountains. There’s no restaurant or vending machine on the site and although there are two restaurants right outside the archaeological complex, they are very expensive. We suggest you to bring enough of your favourite hiking snacks and at least 1.5L of water.
Can you bring walking sticks or trekking poles?
Yes, you can. On our first day, we climbed the Machu Picchu mountain without our trekking poles because Article 19.2 states that they are not allowed. But once inside we saw so many people, not just elderly and disabled but healthy young people with their trekking poles wandering freely all over Machu Picchu!
To test the system, we brought ours on the second day although we didn’t really need them. No problema! It’s not that we love to break rules, but we think that trekking poles should be allowed for those who climb the mountains, and of course for visitors who really need them.
Can you sit down / lie down inside the archaeological complex?
Yes. Of course not on the protected ruins or monuments, but there are plenty of places outside of the circuits where you can stop and rest. Our recommended spot is the terraces near the entrance to the Inca bridge and Watchman’s hut (aka House of the Guardians) (see map).
Huayna Picchu or Machu Picchu mountain, which one to climb?
Machu Picchu mountain. Ok, we can’t really comment on Huayna Picchu because we didn’t climb it. But based on our research and the pictures that we compared, Machu Picchu offers a better view and it’s less crowded than Huayna Picchu. It’s also easier to get a ticket to climb this peak.
What can we say about climbing the Machu Picchu mountain? It’s moderately challenging but anyone who’s relatively fit should have no problem. It took us 2 hours to get to the top and 1 hour to get back down.
Along the hike to the top of Machu Picchu mountain, you’ll get perfect postcard views of Huayna Picchu and the ruins below from different viewpoints. Once you reach the top, you’ll have unobstructed and truly spectacular views of the snowy peaks around.
The Machu Picchu mountain is taller than Huayna Picchu, so it takes longer to hike to the top but it’s less steep and the path is shadier. It’s also said to be more friendly for people who suffer from acrophobia or fear of heights.
Note: whichever mountain you choose to climb, make sure that you have given your body at least 2 days of altitude acclimatisation (rest and plenty of fluids) if you’re coming from a place lower than 2,500 metres, in order to avoid altitude sickness. You’ll be getting as high as 3,061 metres above the sea level (atop the Machu Picchu mountain), an altitude at which is not wise to exercise without proper acclimatisation. If on the way up you start feeling unwell (severe shortness of breath, confusion, strong headaches, vomiting), descend immediately to the citadel.
How to get to Machu Picchu?
We’ve heard that some people take a day trip from Ollantaytambo or even Cusco to Machu Picchu. However, unless you’re on a really tight schedule, we don’t recommend this option. The ancient Inca city is a wonder of the world and it’s best appreciated slowly.
The easiest way to reach the archaeological site is to base yourself in the small village of Aguas Calientes (a.k.a. Machu Picchu Pueblo) for a couple of nights. Note that Aguas Calientes can only be reached by train from Ollantaytambo. This train ride takes 1 hour and 45 minutes, and it costs from US$70 upward each way. Two train companies monopolize this track: Inca Rail and Peru Rail. Check their websites for ticket prices.
Once in Aguas Calientes, you have two options to get to the archaeological site: take a bus or hike. Taking the bus is certainly more convenient but it is also kind of a rip off, so we alternated options: on the first day, we took the bus up to Machu Picchu and walked down to Aguas Calientes, while on the second day, we hiked up and took the bus down.
If you’re going to climb either the Machu Picchu or the Huayna Picchu mountains inside the archaeological site, we recommend you to take the bus up; otherwise, you might be too tired before you even start exploring the archaeological complex.
Here are the details for each option:
Bus ride from Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu (or reverse direction)
- Price per way: 40 S/. (US$12) for adults and 23 S/. (US$7) for children. Prices are lower for Peruvian nationals. You don’t need to get the round trip tickets, as you can buy your return ticket outside the Belmond Sanctuary Lodge (the hotel at the entrance of MP).
- Duration: 20 to 25 minutes each way.
- Where to get the tickets: near the train station of Aguas Calientes (Hermanos Ayar street) or at the parking lot of the archaeological site.
Aguas Calientes is a tiny little town, so the ticket office will be a few blocks from your hotel, no matter where you stay. There’s no need to book these tickets in advance.
- Departure times: every 10 minutes from 5:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.
- More details about the bus tickets
Trek from Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu (or vice-versa)
- Price: free, but you’ll need to show your entry tickets before you start hiking up from Aguas Calientes. The control point is at the Ruinas bridge (Puente Ruinas) located shortly after the Butterfly Reserve (Mariposario). There’s no control going down, for obvious reasons.
- Duration: about 2.5 hours to go up and 1.5 hours to go down, although this depends on your physical condition. Some people are faster, but we’re generally on the slower side.
- Altitude gain / loss: about 400 metres. From 2,030 (Aguas Calientes) to 2,450 metres (Machu Picchu citadel) above the sea level.
- Distance: 9.5 Km.
- Difficulty: Medium. Anybody who is moderately fit can do this hike and if you allow enough time and take regular breaks to catch your breath, it’s totally doable. However, note that your knees need to be healthy: you’ll be always walking on a steep slope.
- Requirements: at least 1.5 L of water per person, comfortable shoes, trekking poles if possible, and most importantly, proper acclimatisation to high altitude. Although the Machu Picchu citadel is located below 2,500 m (the altitude from which altitude sickness typically occurs), it is essential to give your body a couple of days to adjust to the lower oxygen levels. Do not embark on this hike if you’ve just arrived from lower altitudes. And if you feel unwell on the way up (severe shortness of breath, confusion, too strong a headache, vomiting), descend immediately to Aguas Calientes.
You can also reach Machu Picchu as the culminating point of the Inca Trail or other multi-day treks such as the Salkantay Trek, but we can’t comment on that.
Did you like our travel tips for Machu Picchu? Was there anything that we didn’t cover that you wanted to know? Do you have further suggestions for other readers planning to visit Machu Picchu? Let us know in the comment box below!