Everything you need to know to visit Machu Picchu

Machu Picchu, one of the main reasons I wanted to go to Peru so badly. After years of seeing photos online, this was finally the year I made it there. Almost 600 years ago Machu Picchu was built by the incas or Quechua people as the locals call them. The city is incredibly well preserved and because of it’s unique location and building style that could withstand earthquakes, its world famous. Over 1.8 million people visit the ruins each year, so to get the best experience there’s a couple of things to keep in mind. In this article, I’ll describe the best way to visit Machu Picchu, including the different ticket options, treks and costs.

The different tickets for Machu Picchu

Over time, the rules for visiting Machu Picchu have changed a lot. These days, you have to choose the circuit you want to explore and the time you’d like to visit. Tickets sell out months in advance. They do however release some tickets in Agua Calientes every morning, but there’s no guarantee you’ll get them. You’ll have to wait in line and see if you get lucky. That’s why its much better to book your ticket to Machu Picchu in advance. Besides the regular ticket, there’s 3 different mountains that require an additional ticket if you’d like to climb them. They only allow 400 visitors per mountain per day. You can buy your tickets on the official website.

Machu Picchu ticket: It’s obligatory to choose a walking route when buying your ticket. Circuit 2 is generally considered the best, but I’ll give a quick description of the routes:

Circuit 1: This route takes about 2 hours and passes through the upper part of Machu Picchu. This route offers great views of the ruins, but you don’t really enter into the city.

Circuit 2: This is the most complete route as you enter both the higher and lower parts of Machu Picchu. It takes around 2,5 to 3 hours to explore.

Circuit 3: This is the shortest route and takes you through the lower parts of Machu Picchu in around 1,5 hour.  If you get a ticket to Machu Picchu mountain you get this circuit as an extra. We had tickets to Circuit 2 and Machu Picchu mountain. We explored circuit 2 at 06:00 in the morning, the mountain around 9 and when coming down we were allowed to enter circuit 3.

Circuit 4This is the longer route through the lower parts of Machu Picchu and takes 2,5 hours. You also get entry to this circuit when you have a ticket to Huayna Picchu Mountain.

Huayna Picchu ticket: Huayna Picchu is the mountain you see in every photo, right behind Machu Picchu. Round trip takes around 2 hours. It’s a steep climb! Huayna Picchu is 2720 metres high.

Machu Picchu Mountain ticket: This mountain offers you the most spectacular view, because you’ll look down on the ruins with Huayna Picchu in the background. Machu Picchu Mountain is a bit higher at 3051 metres. The hike takes 1,5 to go up and an hour to go down. This ticket also gives you entree to Circuit 3. Even if you start your day doing a different circuit and climb the mountain afterwards, you can still enter circuit 3 after climbing the mountain. This means you get to explore more of Machu Picchu if you get both the mountain ticket and a regular ticket to another circuit.

How to get to Machu Picchu (without a trekking)?

The town near Machu Picchu is called Aguas Calientes. The only way to get here is either by trekking or by train as there is no road for cars going there.

The train ride is extremely beautiful and worth it just for the views. Again, the train tickets are something you need to book in advance. There’s two train companies that both offer services with different levels of luxury. Peru Rail has 4 different quality services: Vistadome trains, Expedition, Sacred Valley and the Hiram Bingham luxury train. Inca Rail also has 4 different services: The Voyager, The 360º, The First Class and The Private. The cheapest return ticket is $140. For our return to Cusco we had tickets for the Expedition train and I can only recommend the experience.

From Agua Calientes you can either hike up to Machu Picchu or take the bus. If you decide to hike, it will take around 1,5 our. Since we had early morning tickets, we opted for the bus. A return ticket by bus costs $24.

Technically it’s possible to travel from Cusco to Machu Picchu in a day, but it’s a long journey and you wouldn’t be able to make the early morning slot, which offers the best experience. That’s why it’s best to travel to Agua Calientes the day before you’re heading to Machu Picchu. If you have the early morning slot to visit Machu Picchu, you can either take the train back to Cusco in the afternoon or stay one more night in Agua Calientes and head back the next day.

Choosing a trekking to Machu Picchu

One of the most special ways of experiencing Machu Picchu is by trekking there over several days. There is the world famous Inca Trail, but there are several other treks that are worth considering!

The Inca Trail

The most popular option is the Inca Trail. This is the trail that is the most well known. This is the route the Incas used to take to reach Machu Picchu. The trek takes 4 days and you’ll see lots of Inca ruins along the way. After 43 kilometers you’ll finally reach Machu Picchu. You can only do this trek with a guide and spots fill up quickly. It’s advised to book it well in advance. Count on paying between €500-€1000.

Salkantay Trek

This is the trek I’d personally recommend. My mom and I did this trek together and it was the highlight of our trip. The Salkantay Trek is cheaper and less busy. This trail will take you to Machu Picchu in 4 or 5 days and past the most incredible views! While the Inca trail is more focused on seeing lots of ruins, this trek has more spectacular nature. The 5 day version of the trek also takes you past the Humantay Lake, which is gorgeous and many tourists visit during a day trip. The Salkantay trek is considered the toughest, but in my opinion also the most beautiful. We paid $420 including the train, entry to Machu Picchu and ticket to the mountain.

Lares Trek

The Lares Trek is an alternative to the Inca Trail. It’s slightly lighter than the Inca trail, with 33 kms instead of 43. It also takes 4 days. It ends in Ollantaytambo from where you take the train to Aguas Calientes.

Cost of visiting Machu Picchu

With the cheapest return train ticket, bus to the entrance and standard entree to Machu Picchu, you’ll spend around $204/€190. If you’d like to climb one of the mountains that will add $53/€50.

Best time to visit Machu Picchu

The best time to visit Machu Picchu is the dry season, because it gives you the best chance of good weather. The dry season runs from May until September. The months June, July and August are the busiest. Rainy season is from November until March. April is considered shoulder season and has half the amount of rain compared to March. However, in April it can still be very rainy if you’re unlucky. We visited in April and got extremely lucky with the weather. The biggest advantage of visiting in April was less crowds and beautiful green surroundings, because of the rain the previous months.

Additional tips for Machu Picchu

Spend the night Aguas Calientes and choose the 06:00 entry 

By spending the night in Agua Calientes, you’ll be able to get to Machu Picchu bright and early. This means you’ll get there before hundreds of people just coming for the day arrive. Especially in high season, Machu Picchu can be extremely busy. Buy the 06:00 ticket and watch the sun come up over Machu Picchu.

Queue early for the bus 

Machu Picchu opens at 06:00. The first bus leaves at 05:30 . By getting in line around 05:00 you’ll be able to get into the first bus, which means you’ll be able to get in quicker. If you have a ticket for later in the day, I’d also recommend getting in line an hour before departure, because the lines only get longer during the day.

No food is allowed inside 

Make sure to bring enough water. They never checked my backpack, but food is not allowed. We also had to leave our trekking poles behind.

Bring your passport 

You’re required to show your passport when entering .

Mosquito spray 

Depending on the season, there may be a lot of mosquitos. I personally chose to wear long pants to avoid getting stung, but bringing spray is a good idea.

Use the toilet before entering

There are no toilets inside  Machu Picchu, so make sure to go before you enter.