Machu Picchu, the ancient Inca site in Peru has become extremely popular with travelers from all over the world. Years ago it was still more of an adventurous destination, but now Machu Picchu is easily accessible and therefore a destination for many.
I’ll be honest. I saw photos all over Instagram of Machu Picchu the last years, so somehow the Inca site first lost the magic to me, but on our trip to Peru we decided to give it a try and in the end I was overwhelmed by the beauty. There is something magical about this place, either because of the surrounding mountains, or because of the history of Machu Picchu. Even though there are a lot of tourists, the magic remained and it made me stand there in awe.
To make your stay easier, I want to share my tips about Machu Picchu with you.
What is Machu Picchu?
For those who may know Machu Picchu from pictures, but who are not aware of what it is all about, here are a few facts. In Peru and many other South American countries there is the indigenous people of the Incas, who had ruled over a large empire between the 13th and 16th century. During those times they constructed a lot of incredible buildings. Machu Picchu is one of them and today, due to its location in the middle of the mountains, one of the most impressive. What exactly the ruins of the city are, is not completely clear until today, but it is assumed that at the time of the Incas, up to 1000 people lived there. In 1532 the spanish decided to conquer those areas and they fought the Inca and destroyed a lot of their remaining buildings, history and culture. Only Machu Picchu remained in a pretty good condition. The exact history of the Incas, the Spanish conquests and also the history of the rediscovery of the Inca city is recommended to read up.
Where is Machu Picchu?
The ruined city of Machu Picchu is located at an altitude of 2430m in the middle of the mountains between the peaks of Machu Picchu and Huayna Picchu in the Andes in Peru. Cusco, the largest city in the area, is located at an altitude of over 3400m and is usually the first stop to reach the sacred valley of the Incas. Directly at the foot of Machu Picchu is the small tourist village Aguas Calientes. In order to travel Machu Picchu by train, you will have to pass Aguas Calientes.
How to get to Machu Picchu?
There are several ways to discover the Inca ruins.
Several-day hiking routes to Machu Picchu
The Inca Trail
You can walk in the footprints of the Inca on the Inca Trail which takes several days to reach the Sacred Valley. You will find some other remaining Inca ruins along the way, before finally arriving at Machu Picchu. Hiking the Inca trail you need to walk around 44km, usually done in a couple of days, staying overnight in tents. If you want to hike the Inca trail, you will have to book it soon in advance, as it’s limited to 500 people daily.
5 days, many sweaty kilometers and meters of altitude, this is how you can make your way over the Salkantay Trek to Machu picchu.
The Inca Jungle Trek
If you are looking for a more comfortable alternative, which does not only include hiking, but also ziplining or mountain biking, you can do the Inca Jungle Trek.
Hiking from Hidroelectrica to Aguas Calientes in a few hours
The cheapest way to get to Machu Picchu is to take the path along the railroad tracks of Hidroelectrica. This is a power station you can travel to by bus from Cusco. From there it takes about 2 hours walking next to the train tracks to get to Aguas Calientes. On this track you will find many backpackers who set out to travel Machu Picchu at low cost. The transfer to Hidroelectrica costs about 11 Euro by bus and can be booked in Cusco.
From Cusco or Ollantaytambo by train to Aguas Calientes
The most comfortable, but also one of the most expensive ways to travel Machu Picchu is by train to Aguas Calientes. The train company (PeruRail or InkaRail) can be very expensive, the tickets from Ollantaytambo to Aguas Calientes will leave you spending around 70 USD in one direction per person for a 2 hour trip. The earlier you book, the cheaper the ticket. It also depends on what time of day you are travelling. The more flexible you are, the cheaper. Additionally, it is much cheaper to start from Ollantaytambo and not in Cusco. Going to Ollantaytambo and the sacred valley is worth the trip, because then you can combine the trip to Machu Picchu with a trip to the ruins of Moray, Chinchero and Ollantaytambo and the salt mines of Maras.
Important to know: You’ll need your passport to enter the train and only one small luggage is allowed. I would recommend leaving most of the luggage in Cusco and only taking with you what you’ll need for those couple of days you’re spending in the sacred valley.
Go to Machu Picchu with an organized tour
If you do not want to get to Machu Picchu on your own, you can always book a tour in Cusco. There are a lot of tour operators who offer to organise your trip, either for hiking or going by train. Be aware that this will probably be the most expensive way to get to Machu Picchu, but probably also the most informative, as you will probably hava e tour guide with you.
Reiseführer für Peru – Amazon
Overnight stay near Machu Picchu
If you want to visit Machu Picchu in the morning, you have to stay overnight in Aguas Calientes . In general, it is recommended to stay overnight in Aguas Calientes to be able to completely visit the ruins without having to stress about getting back out of the valley. Aguas Calientes though is a very very very touristy place, be aware that everything there is pretty expensive and everybody tries to sell something to you. We actually brought our own food from Cusco, because the restaurants in town are outrageously expensive by Peruvian standards. Our fairly priced accommodation Hostal Machu Wasi[Englischer Link fehlt] can be recommended for an overnight stay.
Tickets for Machu Picchu
As mentioned above, Machu Picchu is a popular tourist destination and has been so crowded that since 2019 there is a new regulation for ticket sales.
Important! You need to show your passport for entering the ruins, so don’t leave it in the hotel!
Limited tickets since 2019
To the Inca site itself, only 2500 people are allowed daily. Whoever wants to climb Machu Picchu, there is a limit of 800 people per day, and at Huayna Picchu it is even less, 400 people are allowed daily to climb here. In addition, the tickets are given for a specific time slot, which is also directly related to the bus. If you want to hike one of the mountains, you have 2 different time slots. Between 7 and 8 a.m. (thus admission either from 6 a.m. or from 7 a.m. at the entrance for the general area) or between 10.30 and 11.30. All information and the official ticket sale can be found on this page[Englischer Link fehlt].
Buy your ticket way in advance! Tickets between April and November are usually sold out. We bought our tickets for October 2 months prior arriving and there were only 100 tickets left, Huayna Picchu we got the last 2 tickets for the whole week….
Who wants to save the Hustle & Bustle on the Peruvian website when booking, can book a ticket via GetyourGuide. Here are a few links:
Price for a ticket for Machu Picchu
The price for Machu Picchu is at least 45 USD per person. If you want to climb one of the mountains, you have to spend 62 USD (or 200 Soles) – this was our price from 2019. You can find all information at the official ticket office here.[Englischer Link fehlt]
Important! You NEED TO PRINT the ticket, only printed tickets are valid
From Aguas Calientes to the Inca site of Machu Picchu
From Aguas Calientes you can get to the Inca city in 2 different ways. Either hiking on a relatively steep, 1 1/2 hour ascent hike, or, like most tourists, with a 20 minute bus ride. The bus ride can be booked the evening before in Aguas Calientes and since the new regulation for dayticket maximum, it is very well organized. There are several buses leaving at the same time, so you don’t have to be afraid that you won’t get a spot on one of the busses. In addition, since 2019 you save yourself hours of waiting for the bus, because you are only allowed to take the bus that fits the time slot on the entrance ticket. You can buy a ticket for the return trip (as far as I remember for 25 USD) or a ticket only for the single trip. We decided to buy a one-way ticket and after our visit we walked back to Aguas Calientes on the hiking trail I mentioned earlier. Price was around 11 Euro per person for the bus ride up. We payed by credit card, which wasn’t a problem at all.
Hiking Huayna Picchu
Hiking the mountain top Huayna Picchu was one of the highlights of our visit to Machu Picchu. When you hike up the mountain, you start to realize the dimensions of the Inca city and how beautiful the surrounding area really is. This place is absolutely magical. We decided to go to Huayna Picchu because we had read that it’s the best hike there and it was the best decision. The view on the way and also from the summit is magnificent.
We had a ticket in the morning, were admitted to the Inca site at 7 am and went directly to the entrance to the Huayna Picchu hike. In my opinion it makes sense to start the hike immediately and then enjoy the Inca site afterwards. The only thing you have to consider is the time limit – you have to get back to the entrance agai in time to explore the ruins afterwards. But don’t worry, we spent a lot of time on the mountain and we easily made it back in time.
The ascent to the Huayna Picchu
The ascent itself is strenuous, because it is really steep all the way up. For me as an enthusiastic hiker the trail was easy to do, others, who were less fit, had a harder time getting up. If you plan to climb Huayna Picchu, you should also take some decent hiking boots with you, as the path is sometimes relatively slippery and muddy. Make sure you’re not wearing too much (or just take different layers with you), because even if the summit is at over 2700 meters altitude, the steep ascent can make you sweat, even if it was cold in the morning, we did sweat quite a lot.
Pro Tip: Also climb Huchu’y Picchu
On the way back from the mountain, be sure to make a detour to the smaller hill Huchu’y Picchu, which is located at just under 2500 meters altitude. The view is magnificent and as a bonus we had it all to ourselfes, because most hikers are so exhausted after the hike to Huayna Picchu that they skip the short detour (about 10 minutes ascent). We were completely alone up there and enjoyed the silence and the butterflies that were flying around at the summit at 2497.50m.
For me, the trip to Machu Picchu was definitely something special, even if I didn’t really feel like going there before. Let yourself be enchanted by the magic of the place!