If you have plans to visit Machu Picchu here are tips to have the best experience possible. There is no need to stress over plans as the site is easily accessible despite its location in the middle of the Andes. We were successfully able to plan our trip to Machu Picchu only days before our arrival.
It was happenstance when we had five free days between Ecuador and Mexico. With the cheapest flights involving a layover in Peru we booked our flights to Cusco, the former Incan capital and gateway to Machu Picchu. To see the famous Incan citadel is a dream and we feel fortunate to be some of the few in the world to visit. It may be the well-beaten path, but we’ve never met a person with a bad thing to say about Machu Picchu.
Tips For Your Visit To Machu Picchu
Bring your Passport
You will need your passport number to purchase tickets for Machu Picchu, but also you need to make sure you actually bring your passport to the site when you visit. The gate agents will check that the name and passport number on your ticket matches your passport, so don’t forget it!
Have your ticket printed
Again, the gate agents will be checking for your tickets before you enter Machu Picchu. You will need to hand them a hard copy of your ticket.
You can get your passport stamped
Another reason you may want your passport is to get it stamped! After exiting Machu Picchu you will find a small stand with a stamp and inkpad to document your trip to one of the seven natural wonders of the world. I read that it is 1 sole to get your passport stamped, but I didn’t see anyone paying. Nevertheless, you should have a few soles handy just in case. We chose to forgo because space in our passports is precious.
Purchase your tickets beforehand
You’ll need to purchase your tickets to Machu Picchu before you arrive. Tickets are limited to 2500 a day, and sometimes in the high season, these can sell out. It’s best to purchase tickets once you know for sure you’ll be headed to Machu Picchu. It’s possible to buy tickets in Cusco upon arrival, or you can even buy them in Aguas Caliente, but the easier and more convenient way is to buy them online. You cannot buy tickets to Machu Picchu at the gate.
A quick Google search will yield many tour operators acting as a middleman to sell tickets to you. The cheapest option is to buy them off the Ministry of Culture website. We bought our tickets from this website, which actually doesn’t look like it’s been updated it since 1995, but it is indeed the real and cheapest deal! Be patient as the website can take awhile to load and make sure to switch it to English if you are not a Spanish speaker.
How to get the best price for your tickets to Machu Picchu?
Definitely try the Ministry of Culture website first. Prices are as follows.
- Machu Picchu foreign adult: 152 soles
- Machu Picchu + Montana Machupicchu foreign adult: 200 soles
- Machu Picchu + Huayna Picchu foreign adult: 200 soles
- Children under 8 are free of charge (with proof of age).
- You cannot get the discounted children or student fare on this website. It must be done with a tour operator. See more info regarding student fares here.
Follow the steps and enter payment at the end. When you get your ticket number, write it down and take a screenshot of your ticket. I never received an email confirmation from the site, but because I had the reservation number I was able to get my hotel to access it and print it out.
If you want a no-hassle way to get to Machu Picchu try here. Services like this are a bit more expensive, but only by a few dollars.
There are two ways up from Aguas Calientes
Once you reach Aguas Calientes or Machu Picchu town you still have some work to do to reach Machu Picchu. The site sits about 600m above the town and the valley floor.
Buses run regularly to and from Machu Picchu town to the ruins. They cost $12 or 40 Soles a person one way and it takes around 25 minutes to reach the top. This is tourist price gouging at it’s best! The road is bumpy and zig-zagged, so be prepared if you get motion sick easily. We were told that in the high season the lines to get on the bus can take one hour or more to board.
However, on the second day we visited Machu Picchu we walked right up to the bus and got on with no lines, so it just depends on the time of day and season. Buses start running at 5:30 am and you’ll have to make sure you’re on this bus if you want to catch the sunrise over Machu Picchu. Just be aware this is probably one of the busiest times you can take the bus up so you’ll likely need to be in line at 4:30 am.
You can also hike up to Machu Picchu from town. The hike up is steep, but stairs are well maintained and wide. It should take you an hour and a half to hike up. We opted to sleep in and be lazy so we took the bus up to Machu Picchu and hiked down.
The hike down was very enjoyable and took us 45 minutes, but we definitely had our New York walking pace on. The hike up/down from Machu Picchu is the free option, but depending on your physical ability it may tire you out.
There is no free entrance to Machu Picchu
Don’t think that you can hike up to Machu Picchu yourself and avoid paying to get in. Machu Picchu is literally located in the middle of the Andes and is inaccessible except by the entrance. Seriously, I don’t know how the Incas built this here because the location is scary as hell.
I feel like I shouldn’t have to say this, but you could die if you try to hike yourself in without paying. We overheard one of the guys telling stories about people trying to break in and risking their lives. Just pay the money – it’s worth it.
What are the hikes around Machu Picchu?
The fun doesn’t have to stop after you marvel at the magnificent Inca ruins. There are a number of hikes you can do to make the most out of your time at Machu Picchu.
The most popular hike to do is Huayna Picchu, or sometimes called Wayna Picchu. Huayna Picchu is the mountain directly behind every photo of the famous Inca ruins. It’s been nicknamed the mountain of death for its incredibly steep climb and terrifying stairs. Huayna Picchu is no joke and should only be conquered by the more experienced hikers.
Only 400 permits to climb Huayna Picchu are issued a day and usually sell out months in advance. Since we booked last minute there was no way we were getting a ticket to Huayna Picchu unfortunately. The 400 are split into two – 200 groups so that visitors are staggered by time. Tickets are purchased and combined with your entrance ticket to Machu Picchu.
Montana Machu Picchu
If you can’t get tickets for Huayna Picchu but want to hike try for Montana Machu Picchu (or Machu Picchu Mountain). 800 passes are granted per day for Machu Picchu Mountain so you are more likely to get a ticket here if you are booking last minute. Machu Picchu Mountain is definitely considered the less scary of the hikes as the trails and stairs are wider and not as steep, although it is a much higher elevation at 3082 meters above sea level.
The views at the top are to die for and we really enjoyed the hike. We both are decently fit and found the hike challenging at points, but not terrible. The hike up took us one hour and 10 minutes with stops for photos and took us about 45 minutes down. Round trip we spent three hours here with a packed lunch at the peak. These tickets are sold in conjunction with the tickets to Machu Picchu.
The Sun Gate, or Inti Punku, was once the entrance to Machu Picchu. This hike is the least demanding of all the hikes mentioned and takes 3-4 hours round trip to complete. Once you enter Machu Picchu you’ll find signs pointing you in the direction of the Sun Gate. The Sun Gate is the only hike that is free with your ticket to Machu Picchu.
What should I pack for Machu Picchu?
Make sure to pack in layers for Machu Picchu as mornings and evenings can be cool, but when the sun pops up during the day things can turn hot. You’ll also be walking quite a bit so best not to arrive with a sweater on and nothing underneath. Here is our full Peru packing list.
Do you need a guide for Machu Picchu?
We had read a few times that we would need a guide to venture around Machu Picchu. While a guide is certainly helpful in providing you with information and leading you through the site it is not necessary.
If you do want a guide and don’t have one booked don’t worry. When you arrive at Macchu Picchu there will be plenty of guides outside the entrance offering their service to you.
Are there bathrooms?
There are no bathrooms once you enter Machu Picchu so prepare yourself beforehand. The only bathrooms nearby are located outside gates and cost 2 soles.
There isn’t much at the site
Other than bathrooms there isn’t much else at the entrance of Machu Picchu. There are two overpriced restaurants, a souvenir shop, and the Belmond Sanctuary Lodge. That’s it! So again, arrive at Machu Picchu with all that you will need for the day. We made sure to have a packed lunch for our independent day at Machu Picchu. Our day with a guide we enjoyed afternoon tea at the Belmond Sanctuary Lodge.
Stay in Aguas Caliente
There is only one property to stay at Machu Picchu and that is Belmond Sanctuary Lodge. At $1400 per night, this hotel may not be an option for everyone, and there is no camping at Machu Picchu. Your next best option to stay nearby is to stay in Aguas Calientes, ie the base town of Machu Picchu and where you will find the train station, restaurants, and all the hotels. There are many accommodation options in Aguas Calientes ranging from campsites to high-end properties.
We personally stayed at The Sumaq which is one of the highest rated hotels in the area and loved it. The Sumaq has a unique location right along the Urubamba River and is away from all the hustle and dare I say uncharming Aguas Caliente town center. The 5-star hotel is just a five-minute walk from the train station and will deliver and pick up all your luggage for you upon arrival and departure.
The Sumaq is elegant, comfortable, and beautifully decorated with decent WiFi speeds so you can enjoy Netflix after your long day (that’s what we did anyway!). Most of the rooms have a private balcony overlooking the river as well. The staff here are well trained and were able to answer all of our 20 questions about Machu Picchu.
Some of the highlights of our stay a The Sumaq was the daily tea service, complimentary Pisco Sours in the bar, and enjoying the cocktail making class offered. The Sumaq also offers half board which was great because we didn’t feel like leaving our hotel for dinner after our two long days at Machu Picchu. Their local food and presentation are fantastic, especially their ceviche.
How long should I spend at Machu Picchu?
The site of Machu Picchu is huge and in my opinion, deserves two days of exploring. It is incredible and looks unreal to the point it’s overwhelming when you first visit. It’s hard for me to even believe it was built hundreds of years ago as it would be hard enough to build in modern time.
That’s why we found ourselves visiting two days in a row. The first was with a guided tour around the actual site, and the second day was to hike Montana Machu Picchu and explore Machu Picchu on our own time. On our second day, we were able to sit above the site and allow for it all to sink into our memories.
How do ticket times work for Machu Picchu?
If you are booking your own Machu Picchu tickets rather than going with a tour you may notice that you either have two ticket times. Your first option is in the morning from 6-12 and your second is an afternoon visitor from 12-6.
In our experience, you just have to enter between the times shown on your ticket, but there is no one who is going to come to hunt you down among the other 2500 tourists to kick you out when your time is up. We had a morning pass and entered at 10 am and left the sanctuary at 2 pm. If you’re looking for the best value a morning ticket will ensure more time.
There are ATM’s in Aguas Calientes
You’ll find plenty of ATM’s to access cash in Aguas Calientes, so make sure you have the right travel banking details to avoid any problems while in Peru. While I heard that there is one ATM located at Machu Picchu we never saw one.
Do they sell Alpaca sweaters in Aguas Calientes?
While there are many small shops and stands to buy your typical Peruvian tourist gear around Machu Picchu I found the prices higher and people less willing to barter with you than in Cusco. Also, you can forget about finding any real baby alpaca in Aguas Calientes. So if you are on a mission for the authentic (and expensive) baby alpaca I would recommend shopping at authorized retailers in Cusco like Sol Alpaca.
Every seller will swear up and down that they sell real baby Alpaca, but it’s almost always a mix of adult Alpaca with acrylic yarn. Don’t let that put you off from the cheap sweaters they’re still cute, some are Alpaca (not baby), and it supports local shopkeeps. The real stuff is pricey, soft, and cool to the touch. Cameron was able to pick up a real sweater for about $88 USD while on sale, a good deal.
Bring the right clothes+sunblock
Don’t forget that you’re near the equator in Peru and that Machu Picchu is very high in elevation. You will most definitely need sunblock while visiting the ancient site to protect your skin. It’s also advisable to wear proper clothes while visiting. Depending on your interest you may be walking a lot and climbing many stairs so its best to wear breathable and loose clothing. If you are hiking either Montana Machu Picchu or Huayna Picchu I would recommend a packable daypack, shorts, hiking shoes, sunglasses, and a hat.
I saw a few interesting outfits while visiting Machu Picchu. Particularly some girls in heels trying to get the perfect Instagram shot. While they may have looked good I don’t think that Machu Picchu is the place for heels or anything not comfortable to walk around. Whether you’re hiking or not I would recommend good walking shoes.
When is the best time to visit Machu Picchu?
It rains often at Machu Picchu during the wet season (November – March) this makes for muddy trails and cloud obscured views. If you want the best chance to see Machu Picchu sunny and in all her glory you should plan to go in the dry season (May-October).
The busiest periods are from June to August. We visited mid-June and had clear sunny days, booked our tickets just days in advance, and didn’t find the crowds too bad.
Bring enough water!
Especially if you are doing any hiking and if it is the dry season. We brought two travel water bottles each. Take note that once you enter through the gate you won’t be able to purchase any water, but just outside you will be able to buy a few bottles for triple the price that you would down in Aguas Calientes.
The main gateway to Machu Picchu is the Peruvian city of Cusco. But Cusco, as you may or may not know, is quite far from Machu Picchu and you will still have quite a journey to reach the ancient city. From Cusco, most people either hike the Inca Trail or take the train to Machu Picchu.
Hiking the Inca Trail
Hiking the Inca trail is one of the most popular things to do in Peru. It also books our months in advance, must be done with a tour, and is not cheap. The Peruvian government 200 passes per day to hikers so if you’re booking last minute you won’t be doing the hike. The hike is also hard work and you’ll probably arrive at Machu Picchu tired and ready for a shower. To hike the Inca trail will run you anything between $500-$1000.
Train to Machu Picchu
The train to Aguas Calientes is no doubt the easiest and quickest way to see Machu Picchu. The two main operators are PeruRail and IncaRail. Both of these operators offer different types of train service, from affordable to panorama view trains, to luxury.
We decided if we were going to Machu Picchu we may as well do it in style and went with the luxury option. The Belmond Hiram Bingham is a once in a lifetime journey and definitely the most carefree way to travel to Machu Picchu.
The train owes its name to the explorer, Hiram Bingham, who rediscovered the citadel of Machu Picchu. Once you arrive to Poyro station in Cusco you are immediately transported back in time to the 1920’s. The whole train is decorated in the style of the Pullman cars, each with polished wood, beautiful bronze details, and comfortable seats. There is a main dining car as well as a lounge area, bar, and entertainment area where the live band will play throughout the journey to and from Machu Picchu.
Guests on the Belmond Hiram Bingham are served neverending Pisco Sours as well as whatever else they may want from the bar. Three-course meals are also elegantly served on the white tablecloth and paired with wine. Truth be told it’s the first train ride I didn’t want to get off of, and that’s speaking for both journeys to and from Machu Picchu. The staff and the ambiance truly make you feel special and welcomed and I don’t think there is any other way we would want to travel to Machu Picchu again.
Sure, at $950 round trip the Belmond Hiram Bingham is far from cheap. However, we factored in that this price included the journey from Cusco, meals, drinks, bus to and from Aguas Calientes to the citadel, entrance to Machu Picchu with a guide, and afternoon tea. Regardless of all that the journey truly was enjoyable and hassle free from beginning to end. If you can swing it I would highly recommend following in our footsteps.
There is no bagcheck
We brought a backpack in both days to Machu Picchu expecting to have our bags checked but it never happened. I’m not saying to bring something illegal in obviously, but what I’m trying to get at is don’t be hesitant to bring in food, snacks, and whatever else for your journey.
There are no tripods allowed + selfie sticks
It’s true! Those annoying selfie sticks are banned at Machu Picchu – rejoice! Along with the banning of selfie sticks are camera tripods. If you are seen using these you will likely get yelled at by one of the guards. You’ll just have to get your photos the good old fashioned way and ask strangers to help you out!
Bring a good camera
You’re heading to one of the New Seven Wonders of the Modern World, so make sure to bring a good travel camera. Drones are not allowed at Machu Picchu.
Don’t expect llamas to be everywhere 🙂
A few guys on our train told us they expected llamas to be everywhere at Machu Picchu. I must admit even I wanted the ancient site to be overflowing with llamas everywhere. Sadly, (or happily, if you have llama-phobia), we only saw five or so llamas grazing around Machu Picchu. I saw more hanging out in Cusco with their Quechua lady owners than at Machu Picchu, so if you want to guarantee yourself a photo wait until Cusco and pay a few soles to take their picture.
Plan Your Visit to Machu Picchu
We rely on a few trusted websites that help save us money and time when booking hotels, flights, and car rentals. Check out some of our preferred partners below:
- Wondering what to bring to Machu Picchu Check out our ultimate Peru packing list.
- Travel Insurance: We never travel without travel insurance with World Nomads. Natasha is a bit of a worry wart and would rather stay safe than sorry. World Nomads is ideal for flexible and great plans!
- Water: It’s not advised to drink the tap water in Peru.
- Guide Book: You may not have internet to do research in Peru. For wireless nights we typically turn to Lonely Planet.
- Read: Turn Right at Machu Picchu.