Visiting Machu Picchu is one of the first picks for any tourist travelling in Peru. Machu Picchu is a mysterious Incan city, sometimes referred to as the “city above the clouds” because of its altitude. It is one of the Seven Wonders in the World and a UNESCO World Heritage site. You really don’t want to miss this out once in Peru!
However, visiting Machu Picchu can be quite daunting to organise. Even if there are many options available, it is not that easy nor cheap to get there. This article is a collection of all the information you should know before visiting Machu Picchu, including how to get there and some tips about how to organise your trip.
Some Historical Facts on Machu Picchu
Before getting started, a bit of history can help to get a general sense of what Machu Picchu is. Don’t worry, it won’t ruin you the surprise. If you decide to visit the site, you’ll realise how much more interesting the story is and how many secrets are hidden there.
Machu Picchu is an ancient citadel, that appears to have been built during the mid-15th century as a shelter of the elite of the Inca civilisation (priests and aristocrats), or a location for leaders’ retreats. The real purpose of the city is still unknown. The site was suddenly abandoned after a century or so. Historians haven’t found an explanation for that either. But it is not only the history of Machu Picchu itself to be intriguing: the discovery of the “aristocratic city” during the first decade of the 20th century also has its share of mystery surrounding it. After its abandonment, the city had been forgotten. In fact, lower cast Incas did not know of its existence and the position is difficult to reach without knowing the route.
The discovery has been officially attributed to archaeologist Hiram Bingham, who found it by chance, guided by a local farmer. However, some say that a local tenant from Cusco had already discovered the ruins before the American archaeologist and his claims of an “Incan lost city” had attracted Bingham to the site. What seems to be true is that at the time of the discovery, two local families were living there, taking advantage of the rich, fertile soil of the area.
New Rules for Travellers Visiting Machu Picchu
Today, Machu Picchu is an exciting destination for any traveller. However, because of the many tourists visiting Machu Picchu each year, the site needs to be controlled. To preserve the site in good conditions, the Peruvian government had to take action. This resulted in new rules and regulations for anyone visiting Machu Picchu. For example, visitors are only allowed to enter the site with an official guide. This, might not appeal to everyone, but I can assure you that for this site, having a guide can help you. Guides do a very good job unlocking or interpreting many hidden secrets and symbols. Overall, you’ll have a better, informative overview of history. You can have a guide through a tour, if you plan to visit Machu Picchu in an organised group, or you can hire your own.
Additionally, the limit for the visit is set to 4 hours. This means that tourists are not allowed to stay in Machu Picchu for more than 4 hours. Also, you’ll have to book your ticket with a designated time which you have to comply with. Your four hours will start from the entrance hour you registered for during the purchase of the ticket.
Also, you need to bring your physical passport with you and I suggest a printed copy of your online ticket. It will make things a lot easier!
How to purchase your tickets for Machu Picchu
You can buy your tickets for Machu Picchu online, through the official government website or physically, from Cusco (in the Ministerio de la Cultura, in Casa Garcilazo, from 8 AM to 5 AM) and from Aguas Calientes (in the cultural centre located here, open from 5.30 AM to 8.30 PM).
Don’t forget to bring your valid passport. If you are looking to apply a discount (e.g. student discount) bring one proof (for example, your student card). Remember that the Aguas Caliente’s office only accepts cash payments.
How to Get there
You can get to Machu Picchu from Cusco via train or hiking. There are plenty of great places to stay in Cusco. There are also some combis or minivans offering the trip but there’s no time schedule for them and, since they stop along the road a lot they can get a bit “dangerous”.
Taking the train is the quickest but most expensive way to get to Machu Picchu. There are two main companies: Peru Rail and Inca Rail. The two don’t differ much in what they offer: same route and similar prices. Pick the one that most appeals to you and that has times that fit with you. From Cusco, the easiest way to take the train is to travel to Ollantaytambo. The Train from Ollantaytambo will arrive at Aguas Calientes, from there you can hike up to Machu Picchu or take a shuttle bus.
Hiking is definitely the most unforgettable way to reach Machu Picchu. The longer hikes usually take 3-4 days, but if you are not daunted by the prospect of walking, the spectacular views you’ll get along the way will make the journey even better than the final destination. Being able to hike Inca Trail is one of those experiences you want to tick off your bucket list if you are into nature, like me. There are many trek operators offering services that you can easily look for online or ask the hotel or hostel you’re staying at.
The Best Time to Visit Machu Picchu
Between July and October, the weather is dry. This means the sun is shining and the sky is clear. But it is also the peak of high season, meaning that the site gets quite crowded, which might affect your experience of the Incan citadel. November through April is the time of the rainy season, but it is also when fewer tourists are around. If you are planning to go hiking, remember that each year the Inca Trail is closed for maintenance. No matter the weather, you’ll still love the experience. I went during the low season, and I felt the experience to be even better because of the clouds surrounding the site. It was like in the movies!
Some more tips and reminders
For obvious reasons, there are no toilets inside the site, so make sure you go to the toilet before entering Machu Picchu.
If you are carrying a large backpack or a drone, you can’t enter the site. But you can store your backpack at the entrance if you like, they do offer lockers.
To cut litter to zero at the site, you can’t bring food inside Machu Picchu. Therefore organise yourself with that either before or after. In Aguas Caliente, everything is pricier than in the rest of Peru given the many tourists passing by.
The site has enormous historical and cultural value. If some rules might sound silly or just too much for you, try to respect them anyway. If they are there, there are reasons for it. We would all love to be able to visit Machu Picchu in the future, therefore let’s avoid it being destroyed by some careless tourists. Remember, you’re not alone in the world!
That said, visiting Machu Picchu is one of the best things you can do in Peru. I am sure you’ll be intrigued by its story and get trapped in its mysterious atmosphere. When I visited it, the whole time I was there felt pretty surreal. The guides do a very good job of explaining the history, the science and the secrets of the citadel, and supporting them is a way to help the local economy too!
This was the ultimate guide on Visiting Machu Picchu, if you want to read more or are planning a Peru trip, you might also like this article about the Best Places to Visit in Peru.
Get ready for a new adventure!