How to Get to Machu Picchu: Tours and Tips for Visiting2019-10-15
Here is everything you need to know to plan a trip to Machu Picchu.
MACHU PICCHU IS THOUGHT to be one of the largest and most impressive Incan cities of its time. Today a UNESCO World Heritage Site with expansive ruins open to visitors, it sits high on a peak in the Peruvian Andes and is accessed via train or on foot. Here are some tips to help you navigate a visit to this incredible archeological site.
What is Machu Picchu? Machu Picchu is a 15th-century Incan city that was abandoned by the Incas after the Spanish conquest. The ruins feature about 200 structures that were used for religious, agricultural, astronomical and ceremonial purposes, though exactly how remains a mystery. It’s believed that between 300 and 1,000 people inhabited the city and the area was devoted to the worship of the sun god.
Where is Machu Picchu? Machu Picchu is located in the Peruvian Andes within a tropical mountain forest at nearly 8,000 feet above sea level. Cusco, the nearest major city, is less than 50 miles southeast of Machu Picchu.
When was Machu Picchu built? Historians believe that Machu Picchu was built in the 15th century.
How do you get to Machu Picchu? Machu Picchu can be reached a variety of ways, including hiking the Inca Trail with a tour company, by train or by bus.
When is the best time to visit Machu Picchu? The site is located in the Amazon rainforest in Peru, where the rainy season runs from November to March. To avoid rain, travelers may want to visit during its dry season from April to October. Travelers say that June through August tends to be the busiest, so opting for shoulder months like May or October may help avoid crowds.
Know Before You Go
What: Machu Picchu tours
When: Machu Picchu is accessible daily with entrances from 6 a.m. to noon or noon to 5:30 p.m. During the month of February, the Inca Trail is closed for maintenance and is inaccessible to visitors.
Cost: Entrance tickets cost approximately 152 Peruvian soles (about $45) for adults; 77 soles (around $23) for students.
Must-know tip: To tour Machu Picchu, you must purchase your ticket online in advance and print it out as no tickets are sold at the site. Experts and fellow travelers recommend purchasing your ticket several months in advance as there only 2,500 visitors allowed per day. If you choose to visit with an organized tour company, the company will take care of reserving and purchasing the ticket for you.
When visiting Machu Picchu, you will be given a specific time you can enter the site. Key attractions include the Temple of the Sun, the Room of the Three Windows, the water irrigation system and the Royal Mausoleum. There is an additional fee to visit the mountains of Machu Picchu and Huayna Picchu, which surround the old city, should you want to hike trails there. After you purchase your ticket – either to Machu Picchu or the site with one of the mountains – be sure to print your ticket and bring it with you along with identification, such as a passport.
Restrooms are located outside the entrance and cost about 2 soles (around 60 cents) to use; there are no restrooms within Machu Picchu. There’s no visitor center, but Peru’s Ministry of Culture does have an office in Aguas Calientes, a town that acts as the gateway to Machu Picchu. There are also a variety of restaurants in Aguas Calienties to refuel after your trip. Be aware, you also may not be allowed to bring single-use plastics (like sandwich bags) or large bags into the site. If you do bring a large bag, there is a bag storage facility near the site’s entrance where you can leave your bag for a small fee as you explore the site.
Machu Picchu is located less than 50 miles northwest of Cusco, a Peruvian city which is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Cusco can make a great base for your visit to Machu Picchu as many organized tours to the site begin here.
Since Machu Picchu and Cusco sit at high elevations, almost 8,000 feet above sea level, travelers should prepare for altitude sickness. Talk to your doctor before your trip to make sure your body can handle the altitude change. When you arrive, help your body adjust by getting plenty of rest for the first few days, avoiding alcoholic beverages and drinking lots of water to remain hydrated. You should also plan to wear insect repellent and plenty of sunscreen for the trek. Travelers also recommend dressing in layers and wearing pants and long sleeves, even if the weather is warm, as the mosquitos are known to be relentless.
Though you can opt to visit Machu Picchu (and make the necessary travel arrangements) by yourself, a guided tour can help streamline the process. Multiple tour operators offer daytrips to Machu Picchu. The majority of these tours originate in Cusco and leave early in the morning (at or before 5 a.m.). You’ll be taken via bus to the town of Ollantaytambo, where groups board trains to Aguas Calientes. From Aguas Calientes, groups board a bus to Machu Picchu. Travelers generally spend approximately two hours at the site before they begin the trip back to Cusco. Exact tour prices vary, though you can expect to spend approximately $300 per person (including train tickets, bus fare and a guided tour of the site). Travelers generally enjoy the tours, extolling the knowledgeable guides, and appreciate the ease by which they could see Machu Picchu. Others caution selecting your tour company carefully as experiences can vary wildly from company to company.
Travelers can also opt to hike from Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu on their own via the Carretera Hiram Bingham. The approximately 4-mile journey is a steep climb and can be completed in around 90 minutes. Though an option, most travelers say the walk is long, difficult and lacking in scenery.
Tourists who have ample time, or have a true adventure streak, can hike the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu. The approximately 25-mile trail takes about four days to hike and ends at Machu Picchu. To hike the Inca Trail, you must go with a tour company or hire a guide, as it is no longer permitted to hike the trail on your own. Keep in mind that the trail closes each February for maintenance. Tours can last as little as two days (for an abbreviated journey along the trail) or more than a week to experience additional Peruvian sites.
There are a variety of other attractions and ancient sites nearby Machu Picchu that you may want to add to your itinerary. Titicaca Lake, located at more than 12,000 feet above sea level, is the largest lake by volume in South America. The town of Cusco also has much to see, including cathedrals, temples and a plaza used in Incan times, along with many archeological sites. Take advantage of the Cusco Tourist Ticket (also known as Boleto Turistico del Cusco), which grants access to many of Cusco’s attractions for one fee.
You can reach Machu Picchu by foot, train or bus, though if arriving by train, your ride will end in Aguas Calientes and you will need to ride a bus or hike approximately 4 miles to access the site. You can take a train from one of several stations near Cusco to the city of Aguas Calientes and then ride a bus to Machu Picchu. (Note: Since these train stations are outside Cusco city proper, you’ll need to take a bus to get to them). The train ride via Peru Rail takes about four hours and you can choose from a variety of train types, each with a different price point to accommodate any travel budget. Tickets for Peru Rail are available at PeruRail.com.
You can buy bus tickets from Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu in advance in Cusco at the Consettur offices, which helps you avoid lines at the actual bus stop. Buses depart from Aguas Calientes approximately every 15 minutes beginning at 5:30 a.m. daily until 3:30 p.m. Visitors recommend getting in line for the bus several hours before your scheduled entrance time at Machu Picchu as lines can be extremely long. Some travelers report getting in line three hours before their scheduled entrance time. You’ll also likely encounter lines to take the bus from Machu Picchu back to Aguas Calientes.
Courtesy of USNews