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Our Best Tips For a Memorable Visit to Machu Picchu

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Nestled in the Peruvian Andes, Machu Picchu is a phenomenal testament to the ingenuity and spiritual beliefs of the Inca civilisation. Often shrouded in mist, the ancient citadel is both an unforgettable adventure and a journey back in time. Whether it’s for its fascinating history, the thrill of exploration or its mythical panorama, preparing your visit properly will allow you to soak up all its magic. From the best itineraries to essential Peru tips, I’ve put together a guide to planning an unforgettable visit to Machu Picchu.

It’s an absolute must on a first trip to Peru, and a truly mystical place, on a par with Lima’s gastronomy, the Sacred Valley and the country’s diverse cultures.

From booking your tickets in advance to the reality of the Inca Trail and the best way to get to the top depending on your limitations and needs, here’s everything you need to know about Machu Picchu.

Machu Picchu in Peru, from the Inca era to the present day

Probably built in the 15th century as a royal estate or religious site, Machu Picchu is undoubtedly the most famous relic of the Inca Empire. Its sacred nature is all the more significant given that the conquistadors never set foot there. Thus it remained an untouched secret throughout the Spanish conquest. Later abandoned for mysterious reasons, it was hidden for centuries by dense vegetation. The American historian Hiram Bingham discovered the site buried in the jungle during an expedition in 1911.

Since then, Machu Picchu has been hailed as one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

How to get to Machu Picchu from Cusco?

There are many ways to get to Machu Picchu to suit your comfort and sense of adventure. The following are the most common options, although this is not an exhaustive list and there are about as many companies, buses, guides and tours offering trips to Machu Picchu as there are day-trippers.

Whatever your itinerary though, you’ll probably have to reach Aguas Calientes — also known as Machu Picchu Pueblo — the small town at the bottom of the site.

Train to Machu Picchu via Aguas Calientes

PeruRail — The company offers a scenic and comfortable journey from the city of Cusco, Ollantaytambo or Urubamba. You can choose a luxury train such as the Belmond Hiram Bingham, which includes gourmet meals and live music, or the more affordable Expedition service.

Inca Rail — An alternative itinerary from Cusco, Ollantaytambo or the Sacred Valley, with breathtaking views of the Urubamba River and surrounding mountains. When you buy your tickets, choose between the personalised experience of First Class or the low cost of Voyager.

Know that both companies offer fares that cover the bus service between Aguas Calientes and the Machu Picchu site entrance. Most experts will agree that the train, whatever the itinerary, is the easiest way to reach the archaeological site of Machu Picchu.

Car + trek to Aguas Calientes

If you have access to a car and don’t mind long drives on winding, bumpy roads, head to Hidroeléctrica. The drive from Cusco takes about 6 hours, but is well worth it for the magnificent Andean scenery. From there, a lovely 2-3 hour trek along the railway will take you to Aguas Calientes. This hybrid solution is an inexpensive, not too physically demanding option that offers a fair dose of the great outdoors.

Machu Picchu hiking trails – can a beginner climb Machu Picchu?

For the more athletic and motivated adventurer looking for the full experience, there are four trail options leading to Machu Picchu: Inca Trail, Lares Trek, Salkantay Trek and Inca Jungle Trek. They vary in length, difficulty and starting and finishing points. To choose the best one for you, take the time to do your research. Do you prefer a short walk or a multi-day trek? What is your fitness level? This will ensure that you are well equipped and fully informed when you arrive at your chosen trail.

Be aware that some trails are highly regulated and require permits, tickets and/or reservations. You may need to book several months in advance!

Bus shuttle Aguas Calientes – Machu Picchu

Once you arrive in Aguas Calientes, the most efficient and cheapest way to get to Machu Picchu is to take the shuttle bus. This will take you to the entrance of Machu Picchu in about 30 minutes. There are frequent departures throughout the day. Tickets can be purchased in advance or on site.

How to prepare for Machu Picchu altitude

Altitude sickness, also known as Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS), can affect tourists visiting Machu Picchu in rather unpredictable ways.

If you’ve spent some time in Cusco first, your body will probably be acclimatised: the city is at about 3400 metres above sea level, while Machu Picchu is at 2430 m. This is still significantly higher than most people’s usual environment. The most common symptoms of altitude sickness are headache, nausea, dizziness and shortness of breath. To make your visit as comfortable as possible, here are some tried and tested tips to prevent or minimise the effects of altitude:

  • Check with your local pharmacy before travelling to see if a medication such as acetazolamide is suitable for your condition.
  • Spend a few days at a lower altitude in the Sacred Valley (around 2800 metres) to help you acclimatise.
  • Remember to drink plenty of fluids, moderate your coffee and alcohol intake and eat light meals.
  • Consider natural and traditional remedies such as coca or muña, plants available locally in the form of sweets or tea.

What to know before you go to Machu Picchu + essential Peru travel tips

Where is Machu Picchu in Peru?

Machu Picchu is located in southern Peru, nestled in the Andes Mountains. Specifically, it lies above the valley of the Urubamba River, approximately 80 kilometres (50 miles) northwest of the city of Cusco.

What to wear to Machu Picchu?

Temperatures can vary widely, with cool mornings and evenings contrasting with warm, sunny afternoons. Dress in layers to cope with changes in the weather throughout the day. Bring a light raincoat as you can expect wet conditions throughout the year. Other essentials for a trouble-free visit include a hat/cap, insect repellent, sunscreen, a reusable water bottle and snacks.

Finally, don’t forget to bring your passport as you will need it to enter Machu Picchu.

What’s the best Machu Picchu tour guide?

To enhance your experience, consider booking a guide who will give you valuable insights into the history and significance of the ruins. Among other options, take a look at our Magical Peru tour!

Is it necessary to get a permit to visit Machu Picchu and do I need reservations?

To enter Machu Picchu you must buy a ticket online or on site.

However, as it is one of the most emblematic tourist sites in the world, the number of daily visitors is limited in order to preserve the integrity of the area. It is therefore highly recommended that you book your ticket in advance with the Peruvian government.

What’s the best time to visit Machu Picchu? What are the visiting hours?

The gates to Machu Picchu are open every day from 6am to 5.30pm. Early mornings and late afternoons are best to avoid the rush, but the site is vast – you probably won’t feel like you’re in the Louvre, despite the crowds. 

The dry season (April to October) is the best time to visit. The rainy season (November to March) is not for the faint-hearted, but if you’re prepared to deal with the uncertain weather, you’ll be rewarded with fewer crowds and a quieter experience.

How long does it take to visit Machu Picchu and what are the best things to do in Machu Picchu?

Take the whole day to explore the place at your own pace, and soak up its mystical atmosphere. Bonus: you’ll meet some charming llamas that call Machu Picchu home!

  • Visiting the iconic Sun Gate for a breathtaking view of the citadel
  • Wander through the well-preserved ruins, including the Temple of the Sun, the Temple of the Three Windows, and the Intihuatana Stone, to appreciate the Inca’s architectural genius and spiritual significance
  • Hike up Huayna Picchu or Machu Picchu Mountain for panoramic vistas of the site and surrounding landscapes
  • Take time to observe the terraces, which showcase the Inca’s advanced agricultural practices

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