The Ultimate Machu Picchu Travel Guide
I recently got to check the world wonder Machu Picchu off my travel list, and it was so surreal to see this incredible place in person! It was absolutely mystical and magical and picturing the Incas building it and living there in the 1400s is absolutely mind-blowing. It was just amazing, and I thought I’d share a Machu Picchu travel guide with info on how to get there (and lots of pics, of course!) because it’s actually not a very easy journey and can be really confusing to try to figure out on your own! There’s a reason why it took western archeologists until 1911 to find the lost city of the Incas—it’s not exactly easy to get to. 😂
How to get there: If you’re looking into visiting Machu Picchu, Cusco is going to be the closest major city. It’s doable to do a day trip to the Machu Picchu mountain from Cusco, which is what I did, but be aware that it is a long-ass day that is going to require you to leave your Cusco hotel ~4 am, and you’ll get back around 6:30 pm. If that sounds a bit brutal, you could also stay in Urubamba the night before (it’s a small town, but it’s about halfway between Cusco and Machu Picchu so you’d cut down on some of your travel time). Another option is to stay in the Machu Picchu Pueblo, Aguas Calientes, which is right at the base of Machu Picchu and very touristy—everyone there is only there to see Machu Picchu. You can even look into getting a room at the Inkaterra Machu Picchu Pueblo Hotel. If you have the time and a seventeen-hour day trip sounds too rough, I’d recommend taking an extra day to travel and staying in either Urubamba or Aguas Calientes. But if you’re trying to pack everything in like I was, the day trip is a great option and you can sleep on the car ride or train.
If you’re traveling from Cusco, you can either take a cab to Poroy and take the train from there to Aguas Calientes (3.5 hours train ride) , or you can travel by car to Ollantaytambo (about a two hour drive) to catch the train from there to Aguas Calientes (1.5 hour train ride), the town at the base of the mountain where Machu Picchu sits. From Aguas Calientes, you then need bus tickets to take the bus zig-zag style up the mountain to where you’ll finally find Machu Picchu. Besides your bus tickets, train tickets and transportation to the train station, you will also need to purchase your tickets to actual Machu Picchu. This blog does a good job breaking down the step-by-step process of purchasing Machu Picchu tickets on the confusing Ministry of Culture website. This Travel & Leisure article gives a really good overview of how to get to the Machu Picchu entrance as well. Anywhere from 4 – 6,000 tourists visit Machu Picchu per day, so it is crucial that you book your tickets ahead of time, especially during the high season (May – September).
My recommendation—buy a package tour through TripAdvisor: If you’re feeling confused after reading the “how to get there” section, don’t worry, I’m about to make your life a whole lot easier. Just buy this Machu Picchu day tour trip from Cusco on TripAdvisor. This is the day trip that I went with, and it made everything super easy. They took care of all the transportation, timing, and tickets so I didn’t have to worry about anything. Honestly, if you’re doing a day trip I’d say go with this package trip. I was super happy with it and the amount of time (a few hours) that we had at Machu Picchu felt perfect to me. We also had a guided tour (they had Spanish and English-speaking guides available) who took our group around and shared all about the history of Machu Picchu, which I think is clutch since the history is so fascinating. Our group size was also perfect with not too many people.
Hiking options: If you have a couple of days and are looking to do something with more hiking, I heard great things about this 2-day Classic Inca trail trip. Btw, when you’re planning your trip, be sure to let yourself acclimate to the altitude before heading to Machu Picchu to hike around. Even if you’re just visiting the citadel and not doing a true hike, you’re still walking around, up and down hills and stairs and you will likely be out of breath (but like really, really out of breath if you’re doing all that without giving yourself time to acclimate). Huayna Picchu peak is ~2 hour hike option where you climb up the famous peak that sits directly behind the citadel. You’ll need to purchase a separate ticket on the Ministry of Culture’s website in order to hike it. You can also try hiking in the Sacred Valley. I’d love to come back someday with Omied to do that one!
What to bring: The weather at Machu Picchu can be pretty unpredictable, so layers are key! One minute it’s cold and feels like rainy season (bring a light rain jacket for sure), and the next it’s warm and sunny. Remember that the ozone is compromised over Peru, and when you combine that with the altitude you get some seriously strong sun rays, so be sure to bring a hat, sunglasses, and plenty of sunscreen. You should also bring some mosquito repellant lotion (they don’t let you spray bug spray, but they allow you to put on lotion). This is the best mosquito lotion that my doctor recommended to me when I was traveling to a country with Zika. And this is my favorite non-greasy sunscreen. Be sure to bring your passport because for some reason they checked our passport every time we boarded a train or bus, but also because there’s a station at the main gates of Machu Picchu where you can get a cool Machu Picchu stamp on your passport! Also, bring some soles as the restroom right outside of Machu Picchu requires you to pay to use it. Also, in case you’re wondering, don’t bring your drone as you can’t fly it over Machu Picchu.
Where to eat lunch: It can be tough to find good food in a super touristy area like Aguas Calientes. Our guide recommended we have lunch at Full House in Aguas Calientes, once we took the bus down from Machu Picchu, and we had a pretty tasty lunch there. The restaurant also has a pretty outdoor area overlooking the river. I decided to be brave and try guinea pig for lunch because so many locals had told me it was their favorite thing to eat and that it was a delicacy. And you know what? It was actually pretty good. 😂 It was lightly fried and tasted like a flavorful, dark meat fried chicken. There wasn’t a ton of meat on the bones though, so I ordered an appetizer to go with it. Overall though, I was glad I tried it!
That’s my Machu Picchu travel guide! While it’s not the easiest place in the world to get to, it is 100% worth it to be able to see this world wonder in person, and group trips like the one I purchased on TripAdvisor at least make the planning and logistics easy for you.
The easiest way to visit Machu Picchu is by leaving Cusco and taking a train to Aguas Calientes. Aguas Calientes is located only a few miles away from Machu Picchu.
You do need to spend a few days to see Machu Picchu and any of the surrounding areas.
The best months to visit Machu Picchu are between April and May or September through October. These are the off-season months when the crowds tend to die down.
You can most definitely go to Machu Picchu without a guide, however, you won’t be hiking the Inca Trail to get there.