Every year, millions of people visit the mysterious Inca citadel of Machu Picchu in Cuzco, Peru. But getting to the huge agricultural terraces, intricate stone constructions and magnificent views of the Machu Picchu citadel, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is not cheap and requires more complicated logistics than the usual tours and following Machu Picchu travel restrictions. We explain how you can get to this most famous destination in Peru.
When to go to Machu Picchu
Machu Picchu is open all year round. You should keep in mind that from October to April is the rainy season. And although the high season is the months of July and August, you should always expect crowds. Sundays can be the most crowded, because this day is allowed free entry to people living in the province of Cusco.
How to acclimatize
Your place of origin is likely to be at a much lower altitude than either Cusco (3,000 meters) or Machu Picchu (just over 2,000 meters). Unless you have booked a trip to Machu Picchu that requires an overnight stay in Cusco, we recommend that you immediately take the train from Cusco to Aguas Calientes (officially called Machu Picchu Pueblo), the closest town to Machu Picchu. Spend a night or two getting used to the relatively low altitude of Aguas Calientes, at about 2,000 meters, and then explore Machu Picchu before returning to Cusco. You can also spend time elsewhere in the Sacred Valley, which, by nature, has a lower altitude than the surrounding mountains. This will help minimize the unpleasant or even dangerous effects of altitude sickness, which often include headache, fatigue and nausea. Avoid alcohol and physical exertion while acclimatizing and drink as much water or coca tea as you can handle to help your body slowly adapt to the thinner air.
How to go from Cusco to Machu Picchu
The easiest way to get from Cusco to Machu Picchu is to take the train to Aguas Calientes. It is a scenic 3.5 hour journey each way along the tracks that run along the Urubamba River in the Sacred Valley, with dramatic canyon walls on both sides.
If you love to travel, you also have multiple alternatives to reach this wonderful place.
Sacred Valley to Machu Picchu: Overandes Travel offers this personalized tour so you can get to know the Sacred Valley of the Incas and then finish your tour in the wonder of the world.
Another of the famous treks is the classic Inca Trail 4 days and the short Inca Trail 2 days, both routes go through archaeological sites where you can learn more about the Inca culture and at the end of your tour you can visit the citadel of Machu Picchu.
If you want to know villages and animals such as llamas and alpacas the route from Lares to Machu Picchu will be a better option, where you can find small villages on your tour and spend some time with them and finally you can visit Machu Picchu at the end of your tour.
Finally if you love view mountains with snow, you have the option of Salkantay to Machu Picchu, where you can visit the famous mountain of Salkantay and in turn the Laguna Humantay where you can have magnificent places so you can connect with nature, after passing you can go into the mountains that will take you to the city of the Incas and wonder of the modern world that is Machu Picchu.
Tips for the visit to the citadel of Machu Picchu
Machu Picchu tickets: If you are traveling independently, you can purchase individual tickets to Machu Picchu here, although you should note that you will need to hire a local guide before entering the grounds. (There will be many waiting at the gates of Machu Picchu). If you book a tour package through an operator or hotel, entrance fees should be included. As of 2019, all entrance tickets are timed, allowing entry on the hour, and you are allowed to stay at the site for up to four hours.
Water and a rain jacket, even though it looks like a nice sunny day. combined with the altitude, makes the sun extremely strong here, so wear a hat and use plenty of high SPF sunscreen. Also carry insect repellent. And carry someone sol coins in your pocket. You will need them to access the restroom at the entrance of the site. To use the restroom or get food, you will have to go outside the gates, so carry your passport and keep your ticket.
Do not carry
Drones, umbrellas, or walking or trekking poles are prohibited in Machu Picchu. Travelers who need sticks or poles for mobility can bring them but only with protective rubber tips on the ends.
You can take a very steep 90-minute hike to the citadel from Aguas Calientes or you can take a 30-minute bus ride. You will need to buy your ticket in the town of Aguas Calientes, although you can do so on the day of your trip.
What is the perfect time to visit Machu Picchu?
There is no best time to visit Machu Picchu. Nowadays, the site is crowded at all hours and the weather is unpredictable. However, during the rainy season, mornings are most likely filled with fog. The fog ruins the view or adds to the mystery. Afternoons may be somewhat less crowded, as day hikers return to the train station for their trip back to Cusco.
Huayna Picchu Mountain
You will need a separate entrance to climb this elevation on site, and you must book in advance – the number of tickets are limited. Please note that some sections of this trail are very narrow and steep. You will have the choice of starting the climb at 7am or 10am.
Machu Picchu Mountain
The visit to this place also requires a separate ticket – and to be in good physical condition. The trail is almost entirely stairs. You will have the option of starting your ascent at 7 a.m. or 9 a.m.
Professional guides are necessary in Machu Picchu, whether you are on an organized tour or traveling independently. Hire one outside the gates or make a reservation in the town of Aguas Calientes (Machu Picchu pueblo).
Where to stay in Aguas Calientes
For a luxurious stay, you have two main options in town, the elegant Inkaterra Machu Picchu Pueblo resort, located near the train station, and the avant-garde SUMAQ Machu Picchu Hotel, a boutique property near the foot of Machu Picchu Mountain. But there are also plenty of mid-range options, as well as super-cheap hostels. You can also stay right on Machu Picchu’s doorstep, at the Belmond Sanctuary Lodge.
Where to eat and drink in Aguas Calientes
Aguas Calientes is not at the forefront of Peruvian cuisine. But if you walk along Av. Pachacutec you will find a number of discreet restaurants and bars, some of which serve a selection of Peru’s growing crop of craft beers. There are also upscale restaurants.
What to do in Aguas Calientes
Aguas Calientes owes its name to the town’s hot springs, which are open to the public for a small fee. You can also do a lot of souvenir shopping at the large market near the train station.
Tips for traveling to Cusco
Don’t skip the city of Cusco. Its pre-Columbian buildings have made this city a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and its cobblestone streets, museums, archaeological sites and relaxed atmosphere make it worth spending at least a couple of days in the city.
Where to stay in Cusco
Cusco has great hotels with all services, such as the Inkaterra La Casona, the Belmond Hotel Monasterio in a former Jesuit seminary; JW Marriott El Convento Cusco and the majestic Palacio del Inka Luxury Collection.
Where to eat and drink in Cuzco
Cicciolina: a classic meeting place, serving international and Andean dishes in an open kitchen.
Chicha: is the first restaurant in Cuzco of Peruvian superstar Gastón Acurio of Astrid y Gastón. Located on the second floor of a colonial building, the restaurant offers Andean haute cuisine in a large, well-lit space.
Cholos Pub: near the main square, it has a dozen Peruvian craft beers on tap and its owner is passionate and a great connoisseur.
What to do in Cusco
Cusco is full of historical sites from both Inca and colonial times: don’t miss the impressive Coricancha (Koricancha or Qorikancha) temple of the sun, an Inca temple converted into a Spanish church; the Inca ruins of Sacsayhuaman and the Cusco Cathedral. Stroll through the streets of the modern San Blas neighborhood, people-watch in the Plazas de Armas and shop at the San Pedro Market.