By Briana Seftel
So you’ve made the decision to travel to one of the New Seven Wonders of the World. Congrats! Now that you’ve decided to visit Machu Picchu, it’s time to start thinking of how you’re going to travel there. With these helpful tips, you’ll be well on your way to discovering this bucket list destination every traveler dreams of.
The ancient citadel of Machu Picchu remains a mystery to even the most seasoned historians. Built around the mid-15th century, it's debated whether the site was an estate for nobility, a military stronghold or a sacred religious site for Inca leaders. While the Inca civilization was nearly wiped out by Spanish invaders, the "Lost City of the Incas" was never discovered until 1911 by archaeologist Hiram Bingham. After his discovery, it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983.
The architectural wonder of Machu Picchu is astonishing still to this today. Built on a 7,000-foot-high hilltop in the midst of the Peruvian Andes, the site’s carefully crafted stonework are prime examples of the Inca’s engeneering feats.
When to Go
Machu Picchu is open year-round. The high season runs from late May until early September, while June through August are the busiest months. October through April is the official rainy season, meaning less crowds but more unpredictable weather. The site is most visited between 10am and 2pm, so to beat the crowds, arrive early!
Tip: Sundays can be more crowded because Cusco residents get in for free.
How to Get There
There is more than one way to get to Machu Picchu. Whatever route you choose, keep in mind that you will need to finalize your plans and book well in advance.
This 4-day, 26-mile trek is one of the most popular ways to visit Machu Picchu. If you are in good physical form and up for the challenge, hiking the Inca Trail can be an incredibly rewarding experience. If you choose this route, you will need to book months if not a year in advance. Keep in mind the trail is closed in February every year.
Riding the rail is by far the easiest and most comfortable way to get to Machu Picchu. You have a few different options regarding departure location and train type. You may choose to depart from Cusco or Ollantaytambo in the Sacred Valley directly to Aguas Calientes, the riverside town sitting below Machu Picchu. Once you reach Aguas Calientes, you will need to take a bus to the entrance of Machu Picchu. Buses run daily every 15 minutes starting at 5:30am (more on that below).
There are three train companies to choose from: Inca Rail, Peru Rail, and the Belmond Hiram Bingham train. Ranging from standard class to luxury, what train you choose depends on the experience you’d like (and how much you’re willing to spend).
Once you reach Aguas Calientes, you can either walk up to the citadel (a strenuous 90 minutes) or take a 20-minute bus ride. Bus tickets cost around $24 USD round trip for an adult. There is often a long line to board the bus, so you can’t miss it.
Every visitor to Machu Picchu is required to purchase a permit. It is always recommend to book in advance, especially if you plan to visit during high season (there is a limit of 2500 permits issued per day). Permits are available from Dirección Desconcentrada de Cultura Cusco, via their website or at the official office in Cusco. Tickets cost around $40 USD.
You may also purchase an additional permit to hike Wayna Picchu, the steep mountain at the end of the Inca site. Permits sell out quickly, so plan accordingly.
Your permit allows entrance from 6am to 4pm (you are allowed to leave and come back). Closing time is a strict 5pm.
If you prefer to visit Machu Picchu on a guided tour, you have plenty of options. You can book a tour online in advance or organize a tour through one of the many agencies in Cusco or Ollantaytambo. If you’d rather not be a part of a tour, you can ask your hotel to arrange a private guide. For super last-minute travelers, you can also find guides at the entrance to the site. It’s common to bargain with these guides for a fair price.
What to Bring
For any traveler to Machu Picchu, it’s important to pack light. A small backpack with a few necessary items will do. Wear comfortable clothes and good walking shoes, and bring a light waterproof jacket - it is not uncommon to have rain in the morning at the top of Machu Picchu. While no food is allowed inside, you may pack water and a few snacks, just don’t litter. Bring your passport and get a novelty Machu Picchu stamp at the entrance!
- Permit and proper identification
- Light waterproof jacket
- Insect repellent
What not to bring: Umbrella, walking stick or trekking pole, drone
Enjoy the experience
After all is said and done, the most important part of your Machu Picchu experience is being in the moment. Find a quiet spot away from the crowds, say hello to the resident llamas, put away your camera and take in this unforgettable site! You'll be glad you did.
For more information on traveling to Machu Picchu, visit the official Peru tourism site.