Visiting Machu Picchu: Travel tips for exploring the world wonder

Visiting Machu Picchu: Travel tips for exploring the world wonder

Visiting Machu Picchu is the ultimate bucket list adventure, an awe-inspiring site stretching over two mountains that’s ranked as one of the 7 Wonders of the World.

Those who make the journey deep into the Peruvian rainforest and up a series of hairpin turns to reach the former home of the Incas are rewarded with getting to explore features of the Lost City like the Sun Gate and Inca Bridge.

Whether you take the train or choose to hike the Inca Trail, climbing Machu Picchu is truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience and a highlight of a Peru itinerary.

Visiting Machu Picchu: Travel tips

This Machu Picchu travel guide outlines everything you need to know about planning a trip to the iconic site, and some tips and tricks I learned along the way.

How to get to Machu Picchu

There are a few ways to get to Machu Picchu, including joining a guided tour through the Sacred Valley from Cusco, hiking the Inca Trail, or booking a train ride.

  • Inca Trail: The Inca Trail is the famous multi-day trek that ends in Machu Picchu. When people say they’re climbing Machu Picchu, this hike is typically what they mean. 
  • Sacred Valley Tour: For a fully guided option, consider a two day Sacred Valley tour from Cusco. This is how I did it, and we spent a day exploring the Sacred Valley, took the train to Aguas Calientes where we spent the night, headed up to Machu Picchu bright and early the next morning to spend most of the exploring before hopping on the train and bus back to Cusco.
  • Train: Most trips to Machu Picchu begin with a train ride via IncaRail or PeruRail, or the luxurious Hiram Bingham. All of them head to the town of Aguas Calientes, where you can spend the night then take the bus to the entrance of Machu Picchu in the morning.

READ MORE: How to get to Machu Picchu: The ultimate travel guide

The Hiram Bingham train. Courtesy of Belmond.

Unless you’re hiking in via the Inca Trail or staying at the base of Machu Picchu in the dreamy Sanctuary Lodge, the typical starts at sunrise with a bus ride from the town of Aguas Calientes up to the base of Machu Picchu, which takes about half an hour.

There may be light, drizzling rain as you step off, and fog hanging over the lush, green mountains surrounding the mesmerizing site.

To actually get to the Lost City, you’ll walk for about 10 minutes up a series of steps and pathways. There are few things in life as indescribable as the first moment you lay eyes on Machu Picchu, which seems even more mystical as it peeks out from behind the hanging, puffy clouds.

Chances are you’ll stop here to take loads of pictures, but keep in mind there will be countless opportunities to get unobstructed photos throughout the day so don’t go crazy at the beginning!

You might also have to make way for the many llamas who graze the site, who unapologetically push wide-eyed tourists aside.

Touring the Machu Picchu ruins

It’s incredible just how massive the entire site is—it covers two mountains, after all—and chances are if you only give yourself half a day you’ll leave wishing you could have explored more.

Most tourists visit the site as part of a group, which includes a guide who will point out interesting spots like the sundial or burial grounds while sharing Inca history.

However, a big joke is that you get a different story depending on which guide you get—so don’t bet the family farm on their version!

Tours usually take a couple of hours, and will lead you through the ruins, stopping numerous times along the way. Different groups shuffle to get past each other, while straining to hear their guide over the din of explanations being given in countless languages around them.

After that history lesson, you’re free to explore the site for the next few hours—and trust me when I say you will need every minute of it.

A popular pick is to head to the Inca Bridge which takes about an hour round trip, or walk 45 minutes to the Sun Gate which is the traditional end of the Inca Trail and has beautiful views of the valley below. En route, you’ll come across grassy plateaus where tourists are sprawled out, enjoying a perfect view of Machu Picchu while resting their weary feet.

Remember all those pictures you want to take? This is a great spot to do that! But if there’s one thing you can’t afford to miss, it’s a hike up Huayna Picchu.

Hiking Huayna Picchu

Huayna (also called Wayna Picchu) is that mountain you see in the famous pictures behind the ruins, and only 400 people per day are allowed to explore it so you’ll need to get a permit for Huayna Picchu in advance.

Due to the limited access, these tickets can sell out several months ahead of time, so if this is something you want to do (which I highly recommend), reserve them here as soon as you start planning your trip. Hikers start between 7 and 8 a.m., or 10 and 11 a.m., and the journey takes two to three hours round trip. Click here to book

The view from Huayna Picchu

I’m not going to sugar coat it: it’s a tough climb with steep drop-offs. But keep in mind that we passed seniors and families with young children who were braving it, so really anyone can do it!

As you ascend, you’ll navigate narrow pathways that are either dirt or steps fashioned out of rock. There are also guardrails in many places to help hoist climbers up, and a number of spots where you can stop and take in the breathtaking view of the ruins, lush greenery and swollen, brown river below. 

This is one of the best places to take in the sprawling spectacle of Machu Picchu.

Once you near the very top it gets a little dicey, with pathways that are on the edge of sheer cliffs, or small caves that you’ll need to shimmy your way through. But once you get to the highest point…wow.

Standing on that very top boulder with everything stretching out below you literally makes you feel like you are on top of the world. It is an incredible feeling, and an even better vantage point! 

Machu Picchu travel tips

When you visit Machu Picchu, there are a few important things you’ll want to keep in mind. 

Get there early

Dawn is the magic hour on the mountain, where the mist and fog hang in the air, clouding the ruins. Not only does this make for fantastic photos, but there are also WAY less people around. Early birds get to enjoy the scene in relative quiet, and the pathways won’t be clogged with slow-moving tourists.

Get there are early as possible, as the window of time before the morning rush is quite limited.

Use the washroom before

The only washroom on the whole site is at the base where the buses drop people off, near the restaurant (make sure you have small change on hand). This can present quite the problem after you’ve been hiking around the grounds for hours (or are on the top of Huayna Picchu like I was!), especially since you have to go all the way back down and out to get to the bathroom.

Don’t even try tucking away in some inconspicuous spot instead—they don’t exist.

Bring your passport

It is crucial that you bring your passport when visiting Machu Picchu, as you will need to present it at the gate with your ticket. 

Line up for the bus early

Unless you plan on hiking all the way back down, you’ll be hopping on a bus to get back to Aguas Calientes. The lines can be ridiculously long, so plan accordingly if you have a tour or train to catch.

How to buy tickets for Machu Picchu

Tickets for Machu Picchu need to be purchased in advance through a tour company or on the official Ministry of Culture site (though the site is a bit clunky, so I recommend booking here instead). Tickets are broken down by “circuits” which include access to different hikes, such as only Machu Picchu or the Machu Picchu + Huayna Picchu combo. 

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Travel Machu Picchu: FAQs

Here are some common questions and important information you should know about travel to Machu Picchu. 

How many days should you visit Machu Picchu?

You’ll only need one day to explore the actual site, but you may want additional days for the Inca Trail or other nearby hikes and treks. I recommend getting to Aguas Calientes in the afternoon, then visiting Machu Picchu early the next morning. You can opt to spend a second night in Aguas Calientes or catch a train/bus to your next destination. 

What city to stay in when visiting Machu Picchu?

You’ll want to spend at least one night in Aguas Calientes on your trip to Machu Picchu. It is the closest town to the ancient site. 

What time of year is best to visit Machu Picchu?

Visit Machu Picchu during dry season, which runs from April to November. The summer months of June, July and August are the are peak tourist season and have the best weather. Note that Machu Picchu is closed every February. 

Do you need to be fit to visit Machu Picchu?

Not necessarily. While you do need to be relatively fit to hike the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu (or other similar treks), you can also reach Machu Picchu by train and bus. You’ll still need to walk up some stairs to access the site and do some walking but you can do it at your speed and ability level. 



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5 thoughts on “Visiting Machu Picchu: Travel tips for exploring the world wonder”

  1. We visited Machu Picchu on our honeymoon in 1982. We’ve been all over the world since then, but our Peruvian honeymoon still jockeys for first place on our best trip list. I’m glad we went when we did. Aguas Calientes was little more than a train stop. The hotel next to the ruins was pretty much the only option for staying overnight. It was pricey for us, but not outrageous and having the place pretty much to ourselves at sunset was worth it. We climbed Huayna Picchu without needing a reservation and the trail wasn’t crowded.

    1. Wow Suzanne, sounds like a totally different experience than what it’s like today! While Machu Picchu is popular, I found they do a pretty good job regulating it so we were never getting trampled by tourists or anything.

  2. Wow! I always felt like Machu Picchu was such an other-worldly place – it looks truly incredible. Great pictures! And how cute are those llamas? 😀

  3. Hi!
    I don’t hope to be here in Machu Pichu but when i do trips in Nepal with my clients who have already been there, then we talk about this place. As i heard this is really really beautiful place to visit and i often see the posts on Facebook, too.

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