If you have plans to visit Machu Picchu, there are some tips to have the best experience possible at one of the most unbelievable vacation spots in the world. There is no need to stress over plans as visiting Machu Picchu is relatively straightforward, and is easily accessible despite its location in the middle of the Andes.
We successfully planned our trip to Machu Picchu only days before our arrival. It was happenstance when we found 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 visiting Machu Picchu.
These are some of the world’s most impressive ancient ruins, and 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 on the well-beaten path, but we’ve never met someone with a bad thing to say about visiting Machu Picchu.
Top Machu Picchu Tours and Excursions
- Machu Picchu: Ruins & Machu Picchu Mountain Official Tickets
- Cusco: Inca Trail to Machu Picchu 4-Day Trek
- Machu Picchu and Huayna Picchu: Entrance Ticket
- Machu Picchu: Full-Day Tour from Cusco with Optional Lunch
- Machu Picchu: Standard Admission Ticket
- From Cusco: Full-Day Group Tour of Machu Picchu
Machu Picchu Travel Tips
Bring Your Passport to Machu Picchu
You will need your passport number to purchase tickets for your visit to Machu Picchu, but you also need to make sure you bring your passport to the site when you visit. The gate agents will check that your ticket’s name and passport number match your access, so don’t forget!
Have Your Ticket Printed Before Visiting Machu Picchu
Again, the gate agents will check for your tickets before entering Machu Picchu. You will need to hand them a hard copy of your ticket.
You Can Get Your Passport Stamped While Visiting Machu Picchu
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 world’s seven natural wonders.
I read that it is one 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 it because space in our passports is precious.
Purchase Your Tickets Before Visiting Machu Picchu
You’ll need to purchase your tickets to Machu Picchu before you arrive. Tickets are limited to 2500 a day; sometimes, in the high season, these can sell out. It’s best to purchase tickets once you know 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 more accessible and convenient way is to buy them online. You cannot purchase 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 purchased our tickets from this website, which doesn’t look like it’s been updated since 1995, but it is indeed the real and cheapest deal!
Be patient as the website can take a while 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?
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 discounted children or student fares 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, please write it down and take a screenshot of your ticket. I never received an email confirmation from the site, but I could get my hotel to access it and print it out because I had the reservation number.
Try here if you want a no-hassle way to get to Machu Picchu. Services like this are a bit more expensive but easier to navigate.
There is No Free Entrance to Visit Machu Picchu
I would not recommend hiking up to Machu Picchu yourself to avoid paying to get in. Machu Picchu is located in the middle of the Andes and is inaccessible except by the entrance. 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. You can do several hikes to make the most of your visit to Machu Picchu.
The most popular hike is Huayna Picchu, 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 daily and usually sold out months in advance. Unfortunately, since we booked last minute, there was no way we were getting a ticket to Huayna Picchu. The 400 are split into two – 200 groups so 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 Montana Machu Picchu (or Machu Picchu Mountain). Eight hundred passes are granted daily for Machu Picchu Mountain, so you are more likely to get a ticket here if you are booking at the last minute.
Machu Picchu Mountain is definitely considered the less scary of the hikes as the trails and stairs are more expansive and not as steep, although it is at a much higher elevation of 3082 meters above sea level.
The views at the top are to die for, and we enjoyed the hike. We both are decently fit and found the hike challenging at points but not terrible. The walk 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 toward the Sun Gate. The Sun Gate is the only free hike with your ticket to Machu Picchu.
What Should You Pack Before Visiting Machu Picchu?
Make sure to pack in layers for Machu Picchu as mornings and evenings can be cool, but things can turn hot when the sun pops up during the day. You’ll also be walking quite a bit, so best not to arrive with a sweater on and nothing underneath. Here is our complete Peru packing list.
Do you Need a Guide for Visiting Machu Picchu?
We had read a few times that we would need a guide to venture around Machu Picchu. While a guide helps provide information and lead you through the site, it isn’t 100% necessary.
If you 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.
Are There Bathrooms at Machu Picchu?
There are no bathrooms once you enter Machu Picchu, so prepare yourself beforehand. The only bathrooms nearby are located outside gates and cost two soles.
There Isn’t Much at Machu Picchu
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 you will need for the day. We made sure to have a packed lunch for our time at Machu Picchu.
How Long Should I Spend at Machu Picchu?
The site of Machu Picchu is enormous 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 believe it was built hundreds of years ago as it would be hard enough to build in modern times.
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 could sit above the site and allow it all to sink into our memories.
How do Ticket Times Work for Visiting Machu Picchu?
If you are booking your own Machu Picchu tickets rather than going on a tour, you may notice that you either multiple entry times ranging from 6 am to 3 pm entry time. In our experience, you have to enter between the times shown on your ticket, but no one will come to hunt you down among the other 2500 tourists to kick you out when your time is up.
The ticket times are just your times for entering. We had a morning pass, entered at 10 am, and left the sanctuary at 2 pm. A morning ticket will ensure more time if you’re looking for the best value.
Stay in Aguas Caliente
There is only one property to stay at Machu Picchu, the 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 opportunity to stay nearby is to stay in Aguas Calientes, i.e., 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 stayed at The Sumaq, one of the area’s highest-rated hotels, and loved it. The Sumaq has a unique location right along the Urubamba River and is away from the hustle and 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 a stay at The Sumaq are 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.
There are Two Ways up to Machu Picchu 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 city and the valley floor.
Bus to Machu Picchu
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 its best! The road is bumpy and zig-zagged, so be prepared if you get motion sick quickly. We were told that the lines to get on the bus could take one hour or more to board in the high season.
However, on the second day we visited Machu Picchu, we walked right up to the bus and got on with no lines, depending on the 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.
Hike to Machu Picchu
You can also hike up to Machu Picchu from town. The hike up is steep, but the 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 to Machu Picchu and hiked down.
The hike down was delightful and took us 45 minutes, but we had our New York walking pace on. The hike up/down from Machu Picchu is the free option, but it may tire you out depending on your physical ability.
There are ATM’s in Aguas Caliente
You’ll find plenty of ATMs to access cash in Aguas Calientes, so make sure you have the correct travel banking details to avoid any problems while in Peru. While I heard that one ATM is 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 genuine baby alpaca wool in Aguas Calientes. So if you are on a mission for authentic (and expensive) baby alpaca wool, I recommend shopping at authorized retailers in Cusco like Sol Alpaca.
Every seller will swear to sell genuine 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 picked up an actual sweater for about USD 88 while on sale, a good deal.
Bring the Right Clothes+Sunblock Before Visiting Machu Picchu
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 and a hat 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 recommend a packable daypack, hiking shorts, hiking shoes, sunglasses, and a hiking hat.
I saw a few exciting outfits while visiting Machu Picchu. Particularly 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 often rains 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 its glory, you should plan to go in the dry season (May-October).
The busiest periods are from June to August. We visited in mid-June, had clear sunny days, booked our tickets just days in advance, and didn’t find the crowds too bad. See the best time to visit Peru here!
Bring Enough Water When Visiting Machu Picchu
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.
Travel in Elegance to Machu Picchu
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. Most people hike the Inca Trail from Cusco or take the train to Machu Picchu.
Hiking the Inca Trail
Hiking the Inca trail is one of Peru’s most popular activities. It also books our months in advance, must be done with a tour, and is not cheap. The Peruvian government issues 200 passes per day to hikers, so you won’t be doing the hike if you’re booking last minute. The walk 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 and $1000. Book a tour here.
Train to Machu Picchu
The train to Aguas Calientes is undoubtedly the easiest and quickest way to see Machu Picchu. The two leading 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 go with the luxury option. The Belmond Hiram Bingham is a once-in-a-lifetime journey and 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 at Poyro station in Cusco, you are immediately transported to the 1920s. 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 central dining car, 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 and whatever else they may want from the bar. Three-course meals are also elegantly served on the white tablecloth and paired with wine.
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 genuinely 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 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 was enjoyable and hassle-free from beginning to end. I would highly recommend following in our footsteps if you can swing it.
There is No Bagcheck at Machu Picchu
We brought a backpack on both days to Machu Picchu, expecting to have our bags checked, but it never happened. I’m not saying to bring something illegal, obviously, but trying to avoid being hesitant to bring in food, snacks, and whatever else for your journey.
There are No Tripods or Selfie Sticks Allow
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 have to get your photos the good old-fashioned way and ask strangers to help you out!
Bring a Good Camera Before Visiting Machu Picchu
You’re visiting Machu Picchu – one of the New Seven Wonders of the Modern World, so 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. 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 Trip
- Protect Your Trip: We don’t travel without travel insurance, nor should you. You never know what can happen while traveling, so it’s best to be prepared. HeyMondo provides excellent short-term and long-term travel insurance plans.
- Travel Credit Card: If you’re a responsible credit card user, I highly recommend looking at these travel rewards credit cards and earning points and miles for your purchases
- Travel Backpack: We like the Nomatic Travel Backpack for our travels. Check the price here.
- Rent a Car: We use Discover Cars to find the best deals on car rentals. See our rental car tips here.
- Travel Adapter – Make sure you find a good adapter to keep your personal electronics charged. Otherwise, you may be paying for a cheap one once you land. Purchase one here.
- Travel Shoes – Allbirds are the ultimate travel shoe. They are sustainable and last forever while looking good. Read our full Allbirds review.