Complete Guide to Visiting Machu Picchu

by | May 6, 2020 | new, peru

If you are traveling to Peru, Machu Picchu is more than likely what attracted you to this South American country to begin with. This Lost Inca city is one of the 7 Wonders of the World and hosts more than half a million visitors every year. Nestled among the Andes Mountain peaks about 3 hours from the city of Cusco, Machu Picchu will be a sight that will stick with you forever. 

Because of its popularity, anyone who wants to visit Machu Picchu will need to make sure to plan for it months in advance, or else tickets will sell out. However, getting to and around Machu Picchu is not the simplest of things. It requires many moving parts, such as taxis, trains, buses, and many different tickets. Here is the complete guide to help you plan your visit to Machu Picchu. Read on to make sure you are prepared for the trip of a lifetime to Machu Picchu, Peru! 

Also Read: Top Things to do in Cusco, Peru

Little Bit of History of Machu Picchu

The Inca Empire spanned most of Peru throughout the 13th to 15th centuries. With their headquarters located in Cusco, they built citadels in the mountains that originally served as vacation escapes for the Inca leaders, which is why Machu Picchu was created. However, when the Spanish invaded in the 15th century, the Inca were forced to flee to Machu Picchu to live in order to avoid persecution. 

Even though Machu Picchu was never found by the Spanish, the city was later abandoned and lost to history, until it was found again in 1911 by the American archeologist Hiram Bingham. Since his discovery, Machu Picchu has grown in popularity to become one of the most famous places in the entire world and was voted one of the 7 Wonder of the World in 2007. 

machu pichu
Machu Picchu © Errin Casano / pexels

What to Expect when Visiting Machu Picchu

Machu Picchu will offer some of the most beautiful landscapes and backgrounds that you will ever come across in your travels. However, it is not going to be the easiest adventure. It was built at the top of a mountain after all! 

The summit has an altitude of 10,111 ft (3,082 meters). For many visitors, this is much higher than what they are used to wherever they live. This is why it is suggested that tourists spend a few days in Cusco adjusting to the altitude so as to avoid symptoms of altitude sickness such as nausea and headaches. Acclimatizing will also make walking around the city much easier as well. 

Simply walking around the city is going to be tough! There are many stairs and some places where there are steep drop-offs. You want to make sure that you are sure-footed and in decent shape to be able to walk around properly. Hop on the stair-climber at home for a few months before going to prepare your body physically.

Overall, it will take a minimum of 3 hours to fully enjoy what Machu Picchu has to offer. You do not want to end up rushing around the mountain city, but rather build in time to fully enjoy every aspect of it. 

Also Read: 8 Best Hikes to take in Peru (with info)

How to get Tickets to Machu Picchu

Because so many people venture to Machu Picchu each day, the Peruvian government has placed certain limits on the number of tickets that may be sold each day. This has been done to respect the integrity of the city from tourist pollution. Because of these limitations, tickets for Machu Picchu can sell out months in advance. 

Once you have figured out exactly what days you will be spending at Machu Picchu, you will need to purchase tickets for an entry time slot. These can be purchased at You will be able to decide on an entry time that occurs each hour from 6:00 to 14:00. You will be required to enter the citadel during your hour and will be allowed a maximum time of 4 hours inside. If you are wanting more time, you will need to purchase more than one ticket. Please keep in mind that if you ever need to exit Machu Picchu, you will not be allowed back inside. 

When deciding on a ticket for entry into Machu Picchu, you will have 3 different options. You can buy a ticket that will give you access to the city only, or add on an additional hike such as the Huayna Picchu or Machu Picchu Mountain hike. These will raise your overall cost but can be well worth it if purchased in advance. 

Also Read: Complete Guide for Hiking the Inca Trail

What’s the Best Time to Visit Machu Picchu

The dry season is the best time to visit Machu Picchu. Peru has 2 very distinct climate changes: the rainy and dry seasons. The dry season is from March to October and offers the best views of Machu Picchu. During this time, the skies will be clear and the weather will be warmer. However, this is also the most popular time of the year to visit, so if you are going during this season, be prepared to be met with many other like-minded people. 

The rainy season is from October to March. While the number of tourists will be much lower than the dry season, it is often rainy which could obscure your view of the Inca city or make it more difficult or uncomfortable while visiting. 

image showing ruins of Machu Picchu
Ruins of Machu Picchu © Aline Dassel / pixabay

What Should You Bring to Machu Picchu

The Peruvian government has put very strict restrictions in place on what is allowed and not allowed inside of Machu Picchu. Make sure to pay attention to these rules as they are not shy about making sure you know you are breaking the rules! 

Things not allowed to Machu Picchu:

  • Tripods or selfie sticks
  • Food
  • Alcohol
  • Paint
  • Music Speakers

Things you should bring to Machu Picchu:

  • Bug Spray
  • Sunscreen
  • Hiking Boots, or good athletic shoes
  • Water Bottles
  • Backpack
  • Passport – you can not get in without one! 
  • Sunglasses
  • A hat

Tip: Use the restroom before entering Machu Picchu! The only bathrooms are outside of the main gate and once you enter and leave, you will not be allowed back inside! 

How to Get to Machu Picchu

Cusco is considered the “Gateway to Machu Picchu” and will more than likely be where you start your adventure. But before you can visit Machu Picchu, you will first need to find your way to Aguas Calientes. This town is located at the base of the mountain where Machu Picchu is located. This will be the place to stay if you are choosing to spend a more relaxed itinerary exploring Machu Picchu. 

First, you will need to find a taxi in Cusco that will take you on about an hour trip into the Sacred Valley city of Ollantaytambo. Many taxis make this trip quite often, so you should not have any difficulty finding one. Once you have arrived in Ollantaytambo, you will board a train for a stunning ride to Aguas Calientes. From Aguas Calientes, you will hop on a bus that will maneuver its way to the top of the peak and to the entrance of Machu Picchu. If you are feeling the hiker in you, try the Inca trail hike to Machu Picchu.

Because there are so many moving parts for getting to Machu Picchu, it can be easiest to either work with a tour operator or a travel agent to set up all of your travel. You will need a minimum of four separate tickets just to get to Machu Picchu, which can be confusing and difficult at times. If you decide to book everything yourself, make sure you purchase tickets for each separate transportation. 

Also Read: The 9 Most Beautiful Places to Visit in Peru

train ride to Machu Picchu
Cusco to Machu Picchu Train – Backpacker Class © Mark Rowland / Flickr

What to do at Machu Picchu

Take a Guided Tour – Whether you have a prearranged tour or pay someone at the front gates, getting a guided tour of the Inca ruins will vastly enhance your experience. The tour guides will be able to explain each part of the city, its purpose, and how it was used. These 1-2 hour tours are completely worth it! 

Explore by Yourself – After participating in a tour, take some time to explore yourself. This will give you some time to walk around, take pictures, see the llamas, and just take in the full experience. 

Take a Hike – There are a couple of different hiking trails that lead to excellent viewpoints. Some of them require tickets, while others are free. This is an excellent thing to do if you have time to spare while in Machu Picchu. 

Passport Stamp – Upon exiting the citadel, there is a small stand where you can stamp your passport with a one-of-a-kind Machu Picchu stamp. This is a great way to commemorate your time here! 

Featured image: Stock Photo – Machu Picchu © freehandz  / 123rf

<a href="" target="_blank">Laura McIntire</a> | Writer

Laura McIntire | Writer


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