Visiting Machu Picchu, the ancient Inca city, high up in the Andes of Peru, has always been at the very top of the travel list. Who wouldn’t want to experience the almost mystical “Lost City of the Incas”, situated so high up in the jagged Andes Mountains that it’s unimaginable how it was even built, much less how they survived, and thrived, in such an isolated environment.
It holds the same mysterious appeal as far off ancient civilizations like Egypt and Jerusalem. Machu Picchu is, of course, a UNESCO World Heritage site. A trip to Machu Picchu is much more than just a vacation. It’s a journey. There are many ways that this will be one of the most exciting and fulfilling journeys you will ever embark upon.
That’s why we’ve put together these tips for visiting Machu Picchu. You will likely fly into Lima from the U.S. and have an overnight stay in the capital city of Lima before going onward to Cuscu. The stopover is a blessing, because once you reach Cuzco, you’ll need time to acclimate to the altitude, and this task is harder while also dealing with jetlag.
Don’t go in thinking that the journey to Machu Picchu will be an easy one. It can be a very tiring and long journey, all told, with flights, train, bus and walking distance. But don’t be discouraged, because the end goal is well worth it.
Also be aware that the Machu Picchu park administration has made significant changes to the way they deal with tickets and visitors in 2024 moving forward for the preservation and conservation of this UNESCO World Heritage Site. If you’ve been before, things are different now. We will explain the changes below.
Changes to Tourist Policy
Machu Picchu has new visiting rules starting in 2024, including the following:
- The introduction of 5 different circuits to visit the Inca site, more information here.
- There are only 4,500 tickets available per day for Machu Picchu.
- All tourists must be led by a tour guide in order to preserve the site.
- Tourist groups can have a maximum of 10 people per guide.
- Reentry to the site is prohibited.
- The guided tour duration is 2 hours in order to free up room for more groups.
- There are specifict schedules to visit Machu Picchu and you must respect it.
Getting Tickets to Machu Picchu
Pro Tip: No tickets are sold at the entrance, so you must secure them in advance. If you are traveling during high season, you would purchase tickets a month or more in advance, to avoid disappointment.
If you’d rather plan it all yourself, you can buy tickets online through the official government website or authorized agencies. As of 2024, tickets cost 152 soles ($40USD) for adults and 70 soles ($19USD) for children under 18. You’ll be charged a %5 fee to book online which is pretty common in whole Peru.
If you’re looking to hike up Huayna Picchu or Machu Picchu Mountain (Montana), you’ll need a special combination ticket that’s 200 soles for adults (includes Machu Picchu ticket). The Montana ticket allows re-entry to the main citadel, while the Huayna Picchu one doesn’t. If you want tickets for the Huayna Picchu mountain climb, try to buy them at least 3 months in advance because tickets are limited to 200 per day.
Machu Picchu Circuits
The Machu Picchu authorities have implemented specific circuits (or routes) for visitors to follow, aimed at safeguarding the archaeological site for years to come. The path you’ll take depends on the type of ticket you purchase.
Options include a standard Machu Picchu ticket, as well as combo tickets that add on attractions like Huchuy Picchu or the Inca Bridge (same cost), Huayna Picchu Machu or Picchu Mountain (for an extra cost) .
Which Circuit is Best for First-Time Visitors?
We recommendation getting a ‘Machu Picchu only’ ticket and following Circuit 2. This route allows you to tour the upper and lower parts of the archaeological site and includes the main parts of the Inca citadel. It takes about 2 hours and 30 minutes. If this is a return trip, consider doing the ‘Machupicchu with Huayna Picchu’ ticket and taking Circuit 4. If you choose the Huayna Picchu tickets, you can only do Circuit 4.
The Machu Picchu Experience – Start to Finish
Starting Out in Cuzco
Cuzco, a UNESCO World Heritage site, is a city located at just over 11,000 ft above sea level in the Peruvian Andes, once the capital of the Inca Empire. It is the main launching point for visits to Machu Picchu. And it’s an authentic and vibrant city.
here is plenty to do in Cuzco, including hiking and adventure tours to nearby archeological ruins, such as the Sacred Valley of the Incas, and the Ollantaytambo ruins you’ll find in the valley, learning about the culture and customs of the Incas, shopping and exploring the ancient city, and dining on new and exciting local cuisine.
Once you land in Cuzco, catch a bus or taxi to the town center and find your accommodations, you will want to settle into a routine and get as much rest as possible in order to acclimate to the elevation.
If you are planning to hike the Inca trail to Machu Picchu, you’ll need to arrive a few days in advance to prepare yourself. The elevation is no joke and symptoms can sneak up on you, so get plenty of rest and drink lots of water and the local remedy, Coca tea.
You can also get altitude sickness pills from your doctor before leaving home or from a local pharmacy, which will help. Really, the best way to acclimate is to slow down. Take it easy and build in time to relax.
Getting to Machu Picchu from Cuzco
- You can book this tour that arranges all the transportation for you (easiest possible way!).
- You can hike the Inca trail, following the route the Incas themselves took to reach the capital city. If you choose to hike, the trail is 26 miles long and trips range in length from one to four days, depending on what side trips are included. Only 200 visitors are allowed passes each day, so plan ahead, and be aware that this is a strenuous hike through a very mountainous region.
- You can buy your own tickets and take the train.
The train is perhaps the easiest way of getting there. When I went, knowing that I didn’t need to spend an enormous amount of time exploring, I chose the day trip option. The train leaves San Pedro station at 6:40am and takes about 4 hours to lumber up the mountain arriving at 10:52am in Aguas Calientes, the town at the base of Machu Picchu, where you’ll catch the bus.
You’ll arrive around 11am at Machu Picchu and have the entire day to explore before returning on the train to Cuzco in the late afternoon. If you’re the type who likes to explore every nook and cranny, you may want to arrive in Aguas Calientes the night before and stay the night to get an early start up to the ruins, which open at 6am.
Another option is from Poroy station, which is a bit further north, which leaves at 6:40am and arrives at 9:54am. The ExploorPeru tour we recommend leaves from this station (saving you an hour on the train!)
Just be sure to plan ahead if you’re visiting in high season, as tickets are limited and you wouldn’t want to be disappointed after having traveled so far. Here’s where to book the train tickets.
Arriving in Aguas Calientes
Once you’ve arrived in Aguas Calientes, the journey up to Machu Picchu begins. You’ll need to catch a bus up to the top, which involves a whole lot of switchbacks and may not be pleasant for anyone who gets car sick. Another option is to walk up, but that is reserved for only the most fit, and it will take about an hour, while the bus takes only 20 minutes.
In high season (July & August), pre-book your bus trip, or risk waiting in an atrocious line (like 2-3 hours long) or being turned away altogether. Once you’ve reached the top, you can embark on a tour of the ancient city.
Useful Tips for Visiting Machu Picchu
Here are some useful tips and things to expect once you arrive at Machu Picchu:
- Pack a sweater and/or rain jacket. The weather can change quickly from sunshine to fog, wind and rain. Choosing the best time to go to Machu Picchu can be a challenge, as you need to consider factors such as weather, crowds, and overall travel experience.
- You technically can’t take drinks or food into the site, but do take water and a snack in your bag anyway. They often don’t check your pack.
- Plan to skip lunch. Eat a big breakfast so you can avoid eating an expensive lunch on site or wasting time going back to Aguas Calientes in the middle of your day.
- Buy your train tickets and Machu Picchu tickets in advance online to avoid disappointment, especially during high season (April – August).
- You can get your passport stamped at the tourist office once you arrive at Machu Picchu, not far from where the bus drops off.
- Don’t underestimate altitude sickness. Take it easy, don’t overexert yourself.