Visiting Machu Picchu: How to Make the Most of Your Trip to ‘The Lost City of the Incas’

Situated high in the Peruvian Andes, Machu Picchu is an archaeological masterpiece and there is good reason it features on bucket lists of travelers around the globe. 

The deep valleys and towering rugged peaks encompass the spectacular ruins that will leave you speechless as you walk through the stonework structures, contemplating their history and their mystery. A day spent in Machu Picchu will undoubtedly ensure you fall in love with Peru (in the unlikely event that you hadn’t already).

Here, we cover some of the tips for traveling to Machu Picchu to help you make the most of your time at this iconic site.

When to visit Machu Picchu

You can visit Machu Picchu at any time of year but it’s important to consider the seasonality while planning your visit. Peru has two distinct seasons, the wet season (November to March) and the dry season (April to October). Although it still rains in the dry season, you have a much better chance of getting clearer, drier weather.

With better weather comes more visitors, but whenever you decide to visit, its imperative that you book well in advance. The site typically has over 6,500 visitors in a given day so you’ll need to purchase tickets with plenty of time to minimize queuing and avoid disappointment.

Tip: If you are planning on taking the Inca Trail to the ruins, ensure you steer clear of visiting in February, typically the wettest month of the year, where the trail is closed for maintenance.

What to bring

When packing for your trip to Machu Picchu, there are a few must-haves:

• A rainproof jacket (regardless of the time of year)
• Plenty of water
• Plenty of sunscreen – the ozone layer over Peru is compromised, and with the high elevation of the Andes, the sun is extremely strong – you can experience some pretty nasty sunburn even on the cloudier days
• Insect repellant
• Hiking clothes and shoes
• Hat
• Trekking Poles with plastic protection on the tips
• Some 1 sol coins for the toilets.

You must bring your passport with you as it will be required at the control gate. As a tip, just outside the entrance there’s a station (blink and you’ll miss it) where you can get the novelty Machu Picchu stamp to mark your visit. 

How to get there

From Aguas Calientes
The closest settlement to Machu Picchu is Aguas Calientes, and from here you walk to the boarding point to catch one of the 25-minute shuttle buses to the site entrance.

From Cusco
Cusco is the gateway city to Machu Picchu. If you are traveling from the city, you can catch the train from Poroy Station, a journey of approximately 3 hours 40 minutes.

From Ollantaytambo
We highly recommend you explore the Sacred Valley before or after your visit to Machu Picchu, and Ollantaytambo is one of its main hubs. 

The 1.5 hour train ride from Ollantaytambo to Aguas Calientes is an experience in itself. One of the highest train routes in the world, each wagon has a see-through roof offering some breathtaking as you travel through The Sacred Valley of the Incas.

Via The Inca Trail
Hiking The Inca Trail is an experience that if you choose to embark on, you’ll carry close to your heart for the rest of your life. At each twist and turn of the majestic path, you’ll experience a different world, full of wildlife, ruins and glorious views.

The 4-5 day hike (depending on which you choose) is a challenging, but overwhelmingly rewarding route. It concludes with an incredibly climactic, early morning view of Machu Picchu from the Sun Gate at Inti Punku.

If you choose to embrace your adventurous side and take the trail, you don’t need to be an athlete but a moderate level of fitness is needed as you can probably guess, there are a few hills to climb! Ensure you break in your walking boots and pack a few blister plasters before you set off.

You’ll need to book your tickets months in advance to secure your spot which will include a permit and a set of guides and porters to ensure the utmost safety and enjoyment of your trip.

Where to stay

Aguas Calientes
Better known as Machu Picchu Pueblo (town), Aguas Caliantes is located just 30 minutes away from the historical site. The town offers a number of hotels and restaurants and is the ideal rest-stop before or after your visit.

Two of the best places to stay in Aguas Calientes are Sumaq and Inkaterra. Both lie in tranquil corners of the town and provide luxurious settings to unwind in, with lush greenery as your backdrop. There’s nothing better than returning from a day’s adventure in Machu Picchu to an indulgente spa treatment, exquisite Peruvian meal, and peaceful night’s sleep.

Sanctuary Lodge
The most perfectly placed hotel for exploring the ancient Inca Citadel, this hotel is the only overnight accommodation that is situated close to the site. A stay at Sanctuary Lodge is the best way to beat the queues and is certainly worth considering factoring into your trip’s budget, especially if you want to experience Machu Pichu at sunrise or sundown golden hours.

Mountains and hikes to do at Machu Picchu

While you’re visiting Machu Picchu, you might want to consider hiking one of the iconic mountains in the vicinity. Each of them offering their own uniqueness while boasting impressive views of the citadel from their summits. 

Some of these hikes are subject to availability and will allow only a reduced number of visitors per day. Make sure to book them in advance, along with your classic visit to Machu Picchu, ideally over two days.

When you reach the peak of the Putucusi, you’ll be greeted by the glorious views of the sacred city of Machu Picchu, Huayna Picchu Valley and the Urubamba River. The 2-hour hike requires a fair bit of physical effort and moderate hiking experience as the near-vertical scales require sure footing. 

On your way to the top, you’ll pass through abundant vegetation and flora including Alisos, Pisonayes Q’eofias, puya, ferns, palm trees, and over 90 different species of orchids.

Huayna Picchu
Standing 2,720 meters above sea level, the cone-shaped mountain of Huayna Picchu sits behind the ruins. At a glance, it appears to be a steep and challenging traverse, but it is easier than it looks and is often climbed by families with children. Reaching the peak of Huayna Picchu offers some impressive, panoramic views of the ruins. The ascent takes around an hour.

Machu Picchu Mountain
For an alternative hike that takes you even higher than Huayna Picchu, you can climb Machu Picchu Mountain. This route tends to be less busy, so you will have more of the path to yourself. And because it isn’t as well-known, you can buy your ticket last-minute, which is perfect if you’re the spontaneous type!

The Machu Picchu Mountain hike takes around 4-5 hours, round-trip. Some scrambling is required and it isn’t recommended for children and the elderly.

Huchuy Picchu
During your visit to Machu Picchu, you could opt for a hike up Huchuy Picchu, or ‘Little Mountain’ in the Quechua languages. It’s a relatively easy hike of just 1 kilometer, which takes around 1 hour. From the summit you’ll be rewarded with a beautiful view of the citadel.

Inca Bridge
Another special highlight at Machu Picchu is the Inca Bridge. Located on the western edge of the site, this wooden bridge clutches the side of the mountain on a path built by the Inca. In case of invasion, they would raise the bridge so that intruders couldn’t enter their sacred home.

To get there, you walk for 1 kilometer to the western part of the archaeological site. 

How to explore Machu Picchu

When you visit Machu Picchu, you’ll buy a ticket for a specific route within the archaeological site. This is to protect the ancient Inca citadel and to ensure the safety of all visitors.

You can choose from the following tickets, depending on how much of the site you want to explore:

In all cases, there is a 4-hour maximum stay time on every scheduled entry, and regulations are strict. Your Atelier Travel Designer will check all the components of your next Machu Picchu adventure to be perfectly geared to train departures, buses and entry times. 

You may also need an official tourism guide when visiting the Classic Circuit (Llaqta of Machu Picchu), at least, on your first visit.

Altitudes of the Machu Picchu region

Machu Picchu is a mountainous area of Peru, so you can expect fairly high altitudes here. These are the heights above sea level of Machu Picchu and the surrounding mountains and important sites:

  1. Machu Picchu: 2,430 meters (7,972 feet) 
  2. Machu Picchu Mountain: 3,061 meters (10,042 feet) 
  3. Sun Gate (Inti Punku): 2,720 meters (8,924 feet) 
  4. Huayna Picchu: 2,720 meters (8,920 feet) 
  5. Huchuy Picchu: 2,479 meters (8,133 feet) 
  6. Cusco: 3,399 meters (11,152 feet) 
  7. Sacred Valley: 2,900 meters (9,514 feet)

Atelier Tips:

Here are some of our bonus tips from our Peru experts to make your visit as smooth and enjoyable as possible:

1. Be flexible
Entrance tickets to Machu Picchu are high in demand, especially during peak season or long holidays. Consider traveling during a less busy period for a quieter experience. If you do travel during the peak season, make sure to book far in advance.

2. Remember your documents
Your Atelier’s Travel Designer will request the following information to secure the most accurate schedules according to your itinerary: full name, passport number, date of birth and nationality. Once issued, tickets are not refundable.

If your entrance was issued with an expired document, make sure to bring the old one together with the new valid one.

3. Ride in a luxury train
Don’t miss the opportunity to board one of the luxury train services to Machu Picchu, the Belmond Hiram Bingham. This is a one-of-a-kind experience with entertainment, cocktails and fine dining onboard. You even have the chance to ride in a private carriage for an ultra-luxurious and discrete ride to the lost city of the Incas.

No matter how you choose to experience Machu Picchu, these ancient ruins will offer an experience that will last with you for an eternity. Speak to an Atelier travel specialist today and let them take care of your visit to this Peruvian masterpiece.

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