A detailed but simplified travel guide to Machu Picchu, Peru
Ever dreamed of going to Machu Picchu to see the magical Inca City? This ultimate travel guide has everything you need to know but simplified. There are lots of travel guides out there providing a ton of information and I'm going to stick to the basics and keep it easy and simple to read.
Table of Contents
2.1 Time to Go
2.2 How Long to Stay
3. How to get to Machu Picchu
3.1 Where is Machu Picchu
4.1 Circuit Routs
1. Know Before You Go
Machu Picchu is a bucket list experience that most people want to tick off. Before you go, here are a few things you should know:
Machu Picchu is located in Machu Picchu Town (Machu Picchu Pueblo), also called Aguas Calientes. For this blog, I'm going to call it Aguas Calientes.
There isn't a road to Aguas Calientes, hence no taxis or public transport inside the town (besides the bus up to Machu Picchu). You need to take one of the transport options I've listed in How to go from Cusco to Machu Picchu.
Machu Picchu is 10 km from Aguas Calientes. You can hike up or take the bus.
Tickets NEED to be booked in advance (from a few days to months). The easiest way is to book them online. You cannot show up and buy them there.
You need your passport to enter Machu Picchu along with your ticket.
Tickets do not need to be printed. You can show your ticket via your phone.
You DO NOT need to do a hike (i.e. Inca Trail) to Machu Picchu, there are lots of transport options from Cusco.
If you're taking the train, you need to book in advance.
It is WHEELCHAIR ACCESSIBLE (you can do a tour or have someone help you around). Note: If you have physical limitations/mobility issues, there are stairs you will have to go up and down. It might be a bit challenging along with the elevation.
Guides are not required (but highly recommended).
Bring water as it gets hot especially if you're hiking up a mountain.
There are no toliets inside. Go before you enter.
There are ATMs in Aguas Calientes.
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2. Plan Your Visit
2.1 Time to go
The busiest time for Machu Picchu is during June, July, and August. If you go during this time, make sure you book everything well in advance! The rainy season starts from December to March. Do note that if you take a train during the rainy season, it only starts at Urubamba and Ollantaytambo stations. You will either need to take the bimodal service (bus & train ticket) or get yourself there from Cusco.
2.2 How Long to Stay
If you're short on time, all you need is 2 days. Take the train from Cusco to Aguas Calientes on Day 1 and enjoy the town. On Day 2, book the earliest ticket to enter and book your train ticket back to Cusco for 3 pm or later.
Could you do it one day? I can't say for certain as I haven't done it but I did a quick look and if you took the earliest train at 6:40 am (PeruRail), had an entrance ticket for ~1 pm, and took the last bus/train combo at 6:20 pm, maybe. Again, I haven't done it so I'm not sure if it would work but any of you thrill seekers could try it!
3. How to Get To Machu Picchu
3.1 Where is Machu Picchu?
I'm sure most of you have heard about Machu Picchu and that it's in Peru but where exactly in Peru? Machu Picchu is located in Augas Calientes or also known as Machu Picchu Town/Machu Picchu Pueblo. Machu Picchu itself is 10km from Aguas Calientes and you can either hike up to it or take one of the buses.
3.2 Starting City for Machu Picchu
The starting hub or city for Machu Picchu is Cusco. You can reach Cusco by air, bus, and train. Cusco has an airport with domestic flights and international flights (Bolivia). The main point of entry if you're flying internationally is Lima. From Lima, there are direct flights to Cusco. There are also other domestic flights within Peru. You can also get a bus to Cusco from other places with Peru or international buses coming from Bolivia. And the last one is the scenic train from Arequipa and Lake Titicaca.
3.3 How to go from Cusco to Machu Picchu
Aguas Calientes is NOT ACCESSIBLE BY ROAD so there is no direct bus/car/van to get you there. You have 3 options (with variations) on how to enter the town: hiking, train, or road/train/walk combination. DO NOT PURCHASE ANY TRANSPORT TICKETS UNTIL YOU HAVE BOUGHT YOUR TICKET FOR MACHU PICCHU!!!!
There are a few hiking routes you can do but the most popular ones are the Inca Trail or the Salkantay Trek. If you do the Inca Trail, you need to book in advance to get a permit and you NEED A GUIDE/TOUR. You cannot trek this hike by yourself.
The Salkantay Trek can either be done with a tour/guide or by yourself and there's only an entry ticket at Mollepata (S/. 20) you need to purchase. NOTE: if you are doing this trek by yourself during the touristy season, it might be a good idea to book your accommodation in advance. For a full blog, check out Hiking the Salkantay Trek without a Tour (or Tent).
You can either hike all the way to Aguas Calientes or you can hike to Hidroeléctrica and then take the train.
Cusco has 2 train stations: San Pedro and Poroy. Which station your train departs from depends on the type of service you pick (i.e. basic trains to luxury trains).
If you take the train, YOU NEED TO BOOK YOUR TICKET IN ADVANCE! Online is the easiest way to do it. This might mean only a few days but do not expect to go to the train station the day of and buy your tickets. They also limit your luggage size. Keep anything you don't need in Cusco. The train will take about 4 hours.
Poroy Station: is about 30 minutes AWAY from Cusco and you'll need to get a taxi there (S/. 40).
San Pedro: is about 10 minutes from downtown Cusco.
iii. Road/Train/Walk Combo
This is where it gets a little bit complicated because there are many options you can choose from depending on how much you want to pay and the time.
a) Bimodal Service: this is a bus and train ticket together. Inca Rail and PeruRail both offer this service. You will take a bus from Cusco to Ollantaytambo/Urubamba station and then a train to Aguas Calientes. Book tickets in advance.
b) Bus/train/walk options (usually cheaper):
1. Cusco-Ollantaytambo-Aguas Calientes
-Take public transport from Cusco to Ollantaytambo station (S/. 20) and then the train from Ollantaytambo to Aguas Calientes.
2. Cusco-Santa Maria-Machu Picchu Town/Aguas Calientes
-Public transport from Cusco to Santa Maria, a collective vehicle (van) from Santa Maria to Hidroelectrica, and EITHER walk the 10km (2 hrs) from Hidroelectirca to Aguas Calientes or take the train. This is the cheaper option but also the longest (over 6 hrs)!
*To get back to Cusco, you're either going to take the train directly or choose from one of the bus/train/walk options. Again, all train tickets should be booked in advance.
4. Machu Picchu Tickets
As stated before, TICKETS NEED TO BE BOUGHT IN ADVANCE. You can buy them online (easiest), with a tour/guide or at one of the Machu Picchu ticket offices in town. There is a charge to use your visa (~S/. 8).
4.1 Circuit Routes
There are 4 types of tickets you can purchase. Each has a certain route you need to follow and you are only allowed to visit that area. There are people checking your tickets and directing you where you need to go. Prices for the tickets depend on the route and you need to pick a time and enter by that time.
NOTE: If you want to see all four of these routes, you would need to buy 4 separate tickets.
1. Machupicchu Llaqta: This is Machu Picchu ONLY and allows you to enter all 4 circuits (no mountains). There are 9 entrance times and it allows 2244 people (S/. 152). 2. Circuit 4 + Waynapicchu Mountain: or Huayna Picchu Mountain. It has 200 spots and 4 entrance times. This is a popular route and sells out quickly (S/. 200).
3. Circuit 4 + Huchuypicchu Mountain: It has 200 spots and 8 entrance times (S/. 152).
4. Circuit 3 + Machupicchu Mountain: It has 400 spots and 2 entrance times (S/. 200)
This is Circuit 3 + Machupicchu Mountain
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For those nonhikers out there, you're in luck. You do not need to do an actual hike to visit Machu Picchu. You can simply take public transport to Aguas Calientes and then the bus up to Machu Picchu.
Macchu Picchu is pretty easy to get around unless you climb a mountain. I've read that they aren't that bad but I would beg to differ. You walk straight up and with that elevation and heat, it makes it harder than it should. I would highly recommend bringing 1L of water with you.
Machu Picchu is WHEELCHAIR ACCESSIBLE (since 2019) but not wheelchair friendly. There aren't boardwalks/ramps so you will need the help of other people and there are only certain areas you can go to. There are even a few tours you can join that are wheelchair specific. If you have some limited mobility, just be aware that there are stairs you need to go up and down, and with the elevation, it might make it a little exhausting. There is a list of items they do not allow which includes portable chairs, walking sticks, and canes but exceptions can be made.
The stairs all around Machu Picchu
6. Extra Information about Machu Picchu
Bus: you can take a bus up and down ($12 USD/way) to get to Machu Picchu and will take 30 minutes. There is no need to book tickets in advance as you can buy them the day of from the office in Aguas Calientes or up at Machu Picchu itself. The office is open from 5 am-9 pm. You will need your passport to book them and they do take credit cards. Buses start at 5:30 am and run every 5-10 minutes. The last bus from Aguas Calientes is at 3:30 pm.
Hours: Machu Picchu is only open from 6 am-5:30 pm. If you decide to hike up in the morning, you will not be able to enter before 6 am.
Guides: you do not need a guide to enter Machu Picchu. If you want a guide, you can hire them the day of. They all wait at the bus stop or they will be up at Machu Picchu. They are a set price (S/.250) and are split by the total number of people. If you are by yourself, try to find somebody who is doing the same route as you.
Food: there are 2 options to eat at Machu Picchu and if you need water, there is a vending machine next to the bathrooms.
Storage: if you have large items and can't store them at your accommodation, there are storage lockers next to the bus top.
Storage lockers in Aguas Calientes, my tour guide, entrance to Machu Picchu with bathrooms and a restaurant
7. Things That Are Not Allowed
Here's a list of things that are not allowed/to be brought into Machu Picchu. If you do bring something that is not allowed, you can store them in the lockers they have.
7.1 Items Not Allowed in:
1. Bags/backpacks bigger than 40x35x20 cm (16x14x8 inches). 2. Canes, hiking sticks, or portable seats. There are exceptions for people who do need to use canes/walking sticks for support.
3. Umbrellas, tripods, support/extensions for cameras, cell phones, or any other stabilization or extension element for filming and/or photography.
4. Food in Machu Picchu (can eat it outside the gate).
5. Animals unless it is a guide dog.
6. Drugs or alcohol and being under their effects.
7. Musical instrument, megaphone, or speaker
8. Baby strollers.
9. Heels or hard sole shoes
10. Any type of weapons
11. Banners, posters, or anything that is for advertising.
12. Drones or anything that can fly over it.
7.2 Behaviour Not Allowed:
1. Jumping, streaking, graffiti, or touching/climbing the stones
2. Making loud and annoying noises (whistling, singing, shouting, clapping)
3. Feeding/disturbing the animals
4. Throwing garbage on the ground
5. Picking or destroying flora
6. Smoking/vaping. Fire is not allowed. 7. Being disrespectful of the sacred character of Llaqta de Machupicchu (fashion shows, dances, etc).
8. Not respecting the route layout.
Ruins of the 'Lost City of the Incas'; view from climbing Machu Picchu Mountain