Machu Picchu, perched high in the Andes Mountains, is a destination that beckons travelers worldwide. This ancient Incan city still carries an air of mystery and wonder, making it a bucket-list destination for many.
Whether you’re a history buff, nature lover, or adventure seeker, Machu Picchu has something to offer. From exploring ruins to hiking the Inca Trail, the experiences are unparalleled.
Our ultimate travel guide provides insider tips on travel options, site overviews, activities, local cuisine, and practical advice. Learn about transportation modes, the Incan civilization, the best times to visit attractions, and traditional dishes.
When to Go to Machu Picchu
Our guide will aid you in planning a trip of a lifetime, unlocking the magic of Machu Picchu, and providing memories that will last a lifetime.
Machu Picchu, the renowned ancient Incan citadel, is a destination that is open to visitors throughout the year, with no specific time or season when it is closed. However, it is worth noting that the official rainy season in the region spans from October to April. That being said, it is essential to bear in mind that precipitation is always a possibility, regardless of the time of year.
The peak season at Machu Picchu, where the number of visitors skyrockets, is during July and August, so it is wise to anticipate crowds at all times. Sundays, in particular, can be the most heavily packed days due to the fact that individuals who reside in the Cusco province are permitted to enter the site at no cost.
Additionally, the daily allowance of paying tourists is limited to 2,500 individuals, although this figure has been dramatically reduced to 1,116 visitors per day as a result of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. It is also important to note that entry to the site is limited to 75 visitors per hour.
How to Get Acclimated
For individuals who are not accustomed to the high altitudes, it is crucial to take the necessary steps to acclimate to the environment before exploring Machu Picchu. This is particularly important since the city of Cusco, located at a height of approximately 11,000 feet, and Machu Picchu, situated at nearly 8,000 feet, are considerably higher than most other locations.
Furthermore, visitors can explore Machu Picchu before returning to Cusco or even consider spending time in the Sacred Valley, an area that is lower in elevation than the surrounding mountains.
Getting from Cusco to Machu Picchu
If you’re seeking an expedient and visually captivating passage from Cusco to Machu Picchu, the optimal choice would be to embark on a train excursion to Aguas Calientes. During this picturesque and awe-inspiring 3.5-hour trek, the train tracks weave and meander beside the Urubamba River, which is nestled within the Sacred Valley. As the train chugs along, you’ll be presented with an enthralling spectacle of the canyon walls that tower on either side of the tracks.
To ensure that your train ride is a seamless experience, there are several imperative tips that you should take into account. Firstly, it’s essential to note that the so-called Cusco train station is in actuality situated in the nearby town of Poroy. Although it is a reasonably-priced taxi ride away, you must allocate at least an hour for travel from the central area of Cusco to the train station.
Additionally, there are three train companies at your disposal: Inca Rail, Peru Rail, and the Belmond Hiram Bingham train. While the Hiram Bingham service offers a lavish experience, replete with an elegant train bedecked in lustrous brass and polished wood, it also includes a lavish white-tablecloth meal complete with a complimentary glass of wine during the course of your journey. This opulent excursion comes with a higher price tag than Inca Rail or Peru Rail, both of which provide comfortable passage on a diversity of trains. These include trains equipped with panoramic windows that can be enjoyed for an additional fee.
Regardless of which train you opt for, it is crucial to book your tickets well in advance, ideally weeks beforehand, since tickets sell out quickly during certain months.
If you are unable to procure train tickets from Cusco, there’s no need to despair. You can try purchasing a ticket from the town of Ollantaytambo, situated in the Sacred Valley, or vice versa. Taxis and mini-vans are plentiful between Ollantaytambo and Cusco, which is a little over an hour away from each other. If you have sufficient time, it is advisable to plan an overnight stay in Ollantaytambo so that you can explore the charming town. You can marvel at the Incan-built streets and buildings as well as visit the eponymous archaeological site. To maximize your experience, you should arrive at the site as early as possible to witness the stunning sunrise light and avoid the crowds that gather when the tour buses arrive.
For an even more deluxe experience, you can choose to stay overnight in Urubamba, which is only a 20-minute drive away from Ollantaytambo. Urubamba boasts a plethora of luxury and boutique hotels such as Tambo del Inka, a Luxury Collection Resort & Spa; Sol y Luna, Relais & Châteaux; and Aranwa Sacred Valley Hotel & Wellness.
Machu Picchu Treks
When it comes to embarking on a journey to the fabled Machu Picchu, there are several diverse treks that one can choose from. Each of these treks has its own distinctive features and idiosyncrasies that make them stand out from one another, providing their own unique set of challenges and rewards for intrepid adventurers seeking to traverse them.
First and foremost, the Inca Trail is perhaps the most ubiquitous and well-known trek to Machu Picchu. This four-day hike takes you on a mesmerizing odyssey through a stunning array of Andean landscapes, with breathtaking views of ancient Incan ruins dotting the picturesque vistas along the way. You’ll also venture through verdant cloud forests, replete with a variety of lush flora and fauna, before finally arriving at your ultimate destination: the majestic and awe-inspiring Machu Picchu.
Another compelling option is the Salkantay Trek, a five-day journey that will take you through the majestic Salkantay Mountain range. This route is replete with a number of high-altitude passes, hot springs, and remote villages, all of which contribute to the unique charm and allure of this trek. The trek is often characterized by the harsh and unforgiving terrain that one must navigate through, a true test of fortitude and endurance that will leave you with a sense of accomplishment like no other.
For those who are looking to experience the more indigenous side of Peru, the Lares Trek is an excellent choice. This three-to-four-day trek takes you through the breathtaking Lares Valley, passing by indigenous communities that will provide you with an unparalleled opportunity to learn about their unique customs and way of life. The trek is punctuated by awe-inspiring vistas of the surrounding mountain landscape, a feast for the eyes that will leave you breathless and invigorated.
Finally, the Choquequirao Trek is perhaps the most challenging of all the treks to Machu Picchu. This nine-day trek takes you through the remote and seldom-visited ruins of Choquequirao before ultimately culminating in a triumphant arrival at Machu Picchu. This trek is not for the faint of heart and is recommended for experienced hikers only, as it requires a great deal of physical and mental stamina to traverse.
Tips for Visiting
Firstly, it is of the utmost importance to note that Machu Picchu is an exceedingly well-liked and highly coveted location, thus rendering the booking of tickets an imperative action to be taken in advance. Failure to do so may result in an unfortunate situation of disillusionment and despair, especially during the peak season. To avoid any such unpleasantness, it is highly recommended to book your tickets well in advance, to ensure your sojourn to Machu Picchu is a satisfying experience.
Secondly, arriving early at Machu Picchu is another key factor in experiencing the destination in its entirety. It is highly advisable to schedule your arrival for the early hours of the morning, avoiding the inevitable swell of visitors and assuring an unhurried and fulfilling exploration of this majestic site. The initial buses commence their journeys at the site as early as 5:30 a.m., an advantageous time to initiate your Machu Picchu experience.
Thirdly, the terrain within Machu Picchu demands the use of comfortable footwear, as extensive walking is a prerequisite for the journey. The irregularity and slope of the ground necessitate the use of sturdy footwear to ensure that a stable footing is maintained throughout the excursion. It is an essential aspect of the planning process to ensure that one is suitably attired to the demands of the location.
Fourthly, the unpredictable weather in Machu Picchu requires one to be prepared for sudden shifts in temperature and atmospheric conditions. The wise visitor dresses in layers, allowing for ease of adjustment in the event of an unexpected shift in weather. This is a critical consideration that ensures that one is suitably prepared for the unpredictable conditions of Machu Picchu.
Fifthly, due to the lack of available food and beverage vendors within the confines of Machu Picchu, it is imperative to carry with you a supply of snacks and water. One must ensure that cleanliness is maintained, leaving no litter or refuse behind, ensuring the preservation of the cleanliness and sanctity of the site.
Sixthly, time is of the essence in Machu Picchu. It is a location to be relished, savored, and enjoyed. Thus, it is recommended to take one’s time and absorb the experience fully. There is much to be observed and explored, so haste is not advisable.
Seventhly, given the intricate and multi-faceted aspects of Machu Picchu, it is recommended to consider hiring a guide to assist you in navigating the site. A guide can provide insights and anecdotes that are invaluable to an immersive Machu Picchu experience. They can offer a thorough comprehension of the intricate details of the site, making your visit all the more enriching.