How to plan a trip to Machu Picchu
The iconic Machu Picchu lies 85 km northwest of Cusco and is the most famous and well preserved Inca site of Perù. This impressive archaeological Inca ruin is perched at an altitude of 2430 metres asl, where the eastern slopes of the Andes meet the Amazon Rainforest. Machu Picchu was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983 and attracts over one million travellers every year.
Best Time to Visit
The peak season for Machu Picchu is June to August, during the dry season when the sky is mostly sunny and clear. The low season is from December to February, during the rainy season. There are fewer tourists and the prices are lower, but the rain could spoil your tour.
How to reach Machu Picchu
Cusco is the base for the trip to Machu Picchu and it is connected to Lima and other main cities with regular domestic flights. The international airport of Cusco (CUZ) is located 4 km from the town and is only a 15-minute drive by taxi. Cusco can also be reached by bus from Lima (18 hours), Puno (7 hours) and Arequipa (10 hours).
The most popular option to get to Machu Picchu from Cusco is by train. From Poroy Railway Station are several daily departures to Aguas Calientes (known as Machu Picchu Pueblo), the tiny town at the bottom of the mountain where Machu Picchu is located. The two train companies that operate this route are Peru Rail and Inca Rail. Peru Rail offers different train services – from budget Vistadome, upgrade Expedition, and luxury Hiram Bingham. The direct train from Cusco to Aguas Caliente takes about 4 hours. The train can also be caught in Ollantaytambo, a town located in the Sacred Valley, about 50 km from Cusco. The train ride from here to Aguas Caliente takes about 2 hours and a half. Upon arrival at Aguas Caliente Railway Station, the final part of your trip is a 20-minute shuttle bus (ticket required) or an uphill walk to the main entrance of Machu Picchu. Take in mind that if you travel during the rainy season (October – March), the trains could be stopped due to flooding. Remember to book the train ticket well in advance especially in the peak season as it gets very busy. The cheapest round trip ticket costs about 120 USD, but it’s usual to find discounts, whereas the luxury train costs more than 800 USD. As we’ll explain below, there are different slots to visit Machu Picchu; therefore, many tourists decide to sleep directly in Aguas Caliente for a night.
- Click here to see the official website of IncaRail.
- Click here to see the official website of PeruRail.
Machu Picchu rules and entrance ticket
Note: below are the general rules and information about Machu Picchu. In 2021, due to the Covid pandemic, the rules are always changing month by month. If you plan to visit Machu Picchu, remember to consult the official website or contact a local operator.
Machu Picchu has always been one of the most visited attractions in South America with over 1.5 million visitors per year. Because of that, the Ministry of Culture has taken some measures to protect this ancient world heritage.
First of all, about 2300 visitors per day are allowed to purchase the ticket. Anyway, the Ministry of Culture could vary the visitors’ number at any moment. It means that if you want to visit Machu Picchu, you must book your ticket well in advance.
The ticket only enables entry in these 9 visit slots: the first is from 6 am to 7 am; the last slot is from 2 pm to 3 pm. It can be purchased online through the Government official website or straight in Cusco at the “Direccion Regional de Cultura Office” (Calle Garcilaso, Museo Casa Garcilaso; opening hours: Monday – Saturday 07.15 – 18.30; closed on Sundays and Public Holidays). Remember to bring your passport with you. We don’t recommend this option as it is a little riskier especially in high season when tickets can sell out very quickly.
- Click here to get more information and purchase your ticket through the official Government website.
From Aguas Caliente, you have to take a shuttle bus to reach the entrance gate to Machu Pichu max. 30 minutes before the start of the assigned visitation time slot.
Once inside the site, there are four one-way circuits to reduce gatherings. Two circuits are in the upper sector, the other two in the lower.
WHAT MACHU PICCHU TICKET TO BUY?
There are 3 ticket options to visit Machu Picchu and also enjoy the beautiful mountains surrounding the site.
The first option is the ticket to visit the Citadel and provides you access to the main section of the Machu Picchu ruins only.
The second option is the ticket to visit the Citadel + Huayna Picchu mountain (2700 metres asl), the steep mountain stretching on the north side of Machu Picchu and the most popular hike for travellers. Remember that only a few hikers are allowed to climb the mountain each day. The climb offers spectacular views but is a bit challenging. The shortest hike takes around 2 hours in total (about 1 hour to reach the summit). If you decide to climb the longest path and also visit the Temple of the Moon, the time to complete the hike is about 4 hours.
The third option is the ticket to visit the Citadel + Machu Picchu Mountain, the peak at the southern end of Machu Picchu. It is an alternative if you don’t find a slot to Huayna Picchu mountain. The climb offers amazing views but it is steep and a bit challenging. It takes about 4 hours in total to complete it (about 1.45 hrs to reach the summit).
Note: at the moment is possible to visit the Citadel only.
Multi-days treks to reach Machu Picchu
If you are trekking lovers, Machu Picchu offers the chance to experience multi-days treks to get to the wonderful site surrounded by wild nature and high mountains. In general, all the treks start from Cusco and end at Machu Picchu. You have to book the trek through a local tour operator as it’s not allowed to climb yourself.
The most famous and popular trek is the Classic Inca Trail, with 4 days of trekking stopping at famous Inca sites along the way. The path is challenging and you have to sleep in a tent every night. The prices start from 600 USD. We suggest booking well in advance as the slots are limited. Some operators arrange the Trail with only 2 days of trekking, covering the first part by train.
- Click here to see the prices of the Classic Inca trail with Viator.com, a web platform where the local operators advertise their tours and activities.
Another adventurous trek is the Inca Jungle Trail, a 4 days (or 3 days) trip that combines hike, bike and rafting (optional). The prices start from 300 USD. The third trek is the Salkantay Trail, a 4-5 full days of trekking that features a path through snow-capped mountains and cross the jungle to reach Machu Picchu. The trek is challenging as you hike over 5000 metres asl. The last trail is the Lares Trek, 4 days of challenging trekking that features a hike through small villages with a stone house, stunning mountains, glacial lagoons and hot springs. Lares Valley trek is an alternative route to the most famous Inca trail.
- Click here to see the prices of Inca Jungle Trek with Viator.com.
- Click here to see the prices of the Salkantay Trek with Viator.com.
- Click here to see the prices of Lares Trek with Viator.com.
Where to sleep
Hotels fill up quickly, so remember to book in advance. Most of the tourists sleep in Cusco where you’ll find a wide range of accommodations at any budget. There isn’t a better area to stay, but we suggest looking for your hotel close to Plaza de Armas, the beating heart of Cusco. We slept at Ramada by Wyndham, a charming and comfortable converted 17th-century mansion in the city centre.
Alternatively, you can sleep in Aguas Caliente, the small village at the bottom of Machu Pichu mountain.
Traveller’s safety and health
Perù is, in general, a safe destination for any traveller. Just beware of thefts and muggings in major cities like Lima, Cusco, Arequipa, especially at night, and always use common sense. Be vigilant when you are at the Bus Terminals and during your bus journeys. Take only licenced taxis and absolutely avoid bogus taxi drivers or anyone pretending to be a tour operator employee. If you travel on your own taking night buses,
The most common health issue in Perù is altitude sickness as most of its wonderful attractions are over 2500 metres asl. For example, Cusco lies at 3400 metres asl, whereas Machu Pichu is about 2800 metres asl. The altitude could cause symptoms that can be mild to severe. The mild symptoms usually are headache, loss of appetite, and trouble sleeping. The best way to prevent the sickness is to get your body used to the altitude step by step. Another common health is bowel disorders, often contracted via contaminated food and water. Avoid drinking local tap water and make sure food is cooked thoroughly before eating. It is highly recommended to consult a travel medicine specialist to assess travel-related risks, and have information to ensure your health and safety. In case you need medical attention, there are several clinics in Cusco like Clínica Peruano Suiza, Clinica Paredes or Clinica Panamericana.
Travel insurance: the medical expenses abroad could be very high; therefore, don’t forget to stipulate travel insurance. We always take it out with WorldNomads.com, an insurance company with reliable and competent customer care and good prices.
Peruvian Food and restaurants
Peruvian cuisine is one of our favourite thanks to its variety of dishes and indigenous ingredients including several vegetables, legumes, Amaranthaceae, different types of chillies and delicious and particular meat like mutton, guinea pig, llama, alpaca and pork cracklings. Thanks to the range of climates, from high altitude to low, there is an impressive diversity of produce. For example, in Perù you can find almost 4000 different kinds of potatoes and a great variety of corn and other grains.
Our favourite traditional dishes are Chevice – lime-marinated fish with crisp onion and sides of starchy boiled corn and sweet potato; Lomo saltado – soy-marinated beef, onions, tomatoes, chillies served with rice and french fries; Cuy – roasted guinea pig served with potatoes; Rocoto Relleno – chilly stuffed with a cooked mix of beef, garlic, onion, olives, spices and topped with cheese and baked in an egg-and-milk sauce; Arroz con pato – duck and rice cooked in dark beer; Cholo con queso – corn and cheese; Chicharron – fried pork with potatoes and corn. Don’t forget to sip a glass of Pisco
In Cusco, there is a good range of restaurants serving traditional food. We ate at Inkazuela, Organica and Rucula.