The Inca city of Machu Picchu, one of the World Wonders, is without doubt a major highlight in South America. The ancient city is an engineering marvel on a spectacular location. Its grandeur and mystery breathe throughout the place. Combine that with its intriguing history and you’re in for a lot of ‘oooh’s and ‘aaah’s. Not sure if there are many places on earth that are as awe-inspiring and breathtaking as MP. Be prepared for your visit; you’ll want to make the very best of it.
12 tips & tricks to visit Machu Picchu
If anyhow possible for you, avoid high season from (end) May until (early) September, or when the Inca Trail is closed for maintenance in February.
Don’t forget to buy your ticket in advance. Make sure your personal information on the entrance ticket is correct and bring your original international passport; a copy is not enough! Otherwise, you will not be allowed to enter the site (the heartache will never end).
Lonely Planet recommends to count on 2 to 3 hours at Machu Picchu. I recommend to count on a day. 2 to 3 hours only covers exploring the center of the site, but you want to have time to do optional hikes too. For round trips count on: 3 hours for the Sun Gate, 1 hour for the Inca Bridge, 4 hours for Machu Picchu Mountain and 2 hours for Wayna Picchu Mountain.
Climb Wayna Picchu Mountain or Machu Picchu Mountain. Both hikes are beautiful on their own, so combine that with the spectacular view on Machu Picchu and you’re in for a treat.
If convinced to climb one of the mountains, make sure to book a ticket well in advance. Only 400 people are allowed on each mountain a day; 200 from 7-8 am, 200 from 10-11 am.
Stay long enough. Early morning was a lot busier than expected, while late afternoon the big crowds had disappeared. Therefore, if you want to do one or more optional hikes, schedule them as early as possible, to enjoy the calm at the site later the day.
Take only a daypack with you. Big backpacks (bigger than 20 liter) are not allowed on the site. You can store big boys just past the main entrance for S3 (€0,8/$0,9) a day.
Weather at Machu Picchu has only two states: heavy rain or burning sun. Bring your poncho/raincoat and sunglasses/sunscreen; you are likely to need everything.
Walking sticks are not allowed on the site as they can cause damage. Exceptions are made for the elderly or disabled people. If you have good reason to take them, make sure they have rubber tips, which is required for both Machu Picchu and the Inca Trail.
Plastic bottles and food are not allowed on the site. Some guards don’t seem to make a problem of it, others do. Just make sure to pack as package/waste-free as possible, and don’t even think about letting some trash behind you. There is a snack bar near the entrance of the site or you could have lunch at the Tinkuy Buffet Restaurant at the Machu Picchu Sanctuary Lodge.
Toilets at the Sun Gate or squatting next to the Priests House? Not an option. The only toilet is located outside the site. Do not overestimate your blather, or underestimate the time it takes to reach the toilet: it can easily be a 30-minute walk + time to wait in line.
+++BONUS: Get your passport stamped with the one and only Machu Picchu stamp. You can get this done at a small office at the entrance.
Getting there and away
There are only two options to reach Machu Picchu: hike, or take the bus.
Hike: It’s a 20-minute walk from Aguas Calientes to Puente Ruinas at Urubamba River. The bridge opens at 5am. Then you can start the steep 1(,5)-hour hike up to the entrance of Machu Picchu that opens at 6am. Although exhausting, the hike is not too difficult.
Take the bus: Frequent buses drive between Aguas Calientes and Machu Picchu. Buses depart from 5:30am to 3:30pm at a ticket office on the main road in Aguas Calientes and drop you off right at the entrance of Machu Picchu. The last departure from to ruins to Aguas Calientes is at 5:45pm. The cost for a round-trip is S72 (€21/$23). It’s a good idea to buy your bus ticket a day in advance, to avoid waiting in line in the morning.
Entrance fee for a day is 65 soles (€18/$20) for students and 128 soles (€36/$39) for adults. The price for a ticket for Machu Picchu Mountain is S24 (€6/7$), same for Wayna Picchu Mountain.
Read our experience at Machu Picchu on our 5th day of hiking the Salkantay Trail here!