Located in the Andes Mountains of Peru, Machu Picchu is a bucket list destination for most travel enthusiasts. Known as one of the 7 New World Wonders, thousands of tourists flock here each year to explore the mysterious abandoned Incan city.
From the first time I saw a photo of Machu Picchu I had dreamed of travelling to this beautiful location. Exploring Machu Picchu was such a surreal experience, however I had so many unanswered questions before I went. This post is here to answer everything you need to know before travelling to Machu Picchu. Your Machu Picchu ultimate travel guide.
There are a number of ways to get to Machu Picchu. The kickoff point is from the city of Cusco. To get here you can fly domestically or internationally, or come by bus from surrounding cities or countries. From Cusco, decide on how you want to get up to Machu Picchu. The most popular way and cheapest way is by doing a 4-5 day hike. The two main options for the hikes are the Inca Trail or the Salkantay Trek. The Inca Trail is super popular so if this is the hike you want to do, you’ll need to book your tour 6-8 months in advance. For the Salkantay Trek you can book your hike online ahead of time or wait until you get to Cusco where you’ll find a lot of travel agents selling tours. Most tours you can book as little as a day or 2 ahead of time, and this will be a cheaper option than booking online ahead of time. From what I’ve heard from other travellers I met while travelling, the Salkantay Trek is a more picturesque hike, but the Inca Trail is more popular. If you are new to hiking, a word of caution – this isn’t any ordinary hike, you’ll be going up to altitudes of over 4000m making it very difficult to breathe.
Another option, and a much more time effective option is to go up by train with Peru Rail. This is a more expensive option but totally worth it in my opinion. I chose to go by train to avoid 4 days of hiking and also to guarantee good weather the day that we arrived since we only booked a couple days in advance. The train takes approximately 4 hours direct from Cusco to Aguas Calientes (Machu Picchu town). Once you get to Aguas Calientes you still need to get up to Machu Picchu from there. To do this you can either take the bus (15 minutes) or hike up to Machu Picchu which takes about an hour.
BEST TIME TO GO
Best time of year – Dry season is from April to October so this will be you best bet for good weather. That being said, this is also the highest tourist season so you’ll likely encounter big crowds. I do know people who have gone in December and the weather was fine. I’d recommend avoiding February which is when the rainfall is the heaviest and the Inca Trail closes for maintenance.
Best time of day – Most people like to go up for sunrise to get beautiful lighting. I prefer to keep an eye on the hourly forecast on my iPhone or Google which is generally pretty accurate. The day we went up it was cloudy all morning so we opted to go at 10am which turned out to be perfect. Keep in mind, since you are high up in the mountains when it’s cloudy the clouds cover all or most of Machu Picchu and you’ll likely not get much of a view.
WHERE TO STAY
Whether you’re taking the train or hiking, you’ll arrive into the town Aguas Calientes. This is a town full of accommodation, restaurants and shops where you can find everything you need. You can stay a night or two if you choose or you can easily head up to to Machu Picchu as a day trip if you take the train. I stayed here overnight so I could go up to Machu Picchu the following morning and leave that same night. There’s not much to see around the town other than Machu Picchu so a night or two here is more than enough. When you’re done visiting just head back to Cusco.
When you arrive into Aguas Calientes you’ll still need to make your way up to Machu Picchu. The only way to do this is by bus or to hike up. There is only one bus company that goes up so the price is regulated. You’ll see the bus stand in the middle of town, just grab your tickets from there. Be sure to bring cash since that is the only form of payment they accept. You’ll also need to buy an entry ticket to get into Machu Picchu. Again, the prices are regulated so grab your tickets from the tourist office. Bring cash and your passport for your tickets.
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW
IT’S A ONE WAY STREET
Before travelling here I had envisioned Machu Picchu as a place that you just wander around at your own free will, grabbing some photos and then leaving when you’re done. In reality it’s laid out more like a one way maze. When you first enter you immediately walk up the mountain to your left. This is where all the iconic Machu Picchu photos are taken from. Make sure you’re happy with your photos here because once you start walking down the mountain you are not allowed to go back up. There are staff everywhere and they’ll stop you from going back.
The altitude here is actually lower than Cusco so you shouldn’t have a problem in Machu Picchu. However a lot of people experience altitude sickness in Cusco and during the hike so be prepared for this. With altitude sickness you’ll usually experience shortness of breath, headaches, and sickness in extreme cases. You can purchase altitude sickness medicine from the local pharmacies.
This is something I wish I had know beforehand. Bug spray is a MUST! There are millions of tiny sand flies everywhere that will eat you alive. Save yourself the pain and spray yourself whenever you go outside, both in Machu Picchu and Aguas Calientes.
HOW TO GET THE PERFECT LLAMA SELFIE
Ok, so there was a lot of trial and error in attempts to get a llama selfie but eventually I figured out the trick! Normally when you walk up to the llamas they just ignore you, usually walking away or continuing to eat grass. I did see a few people get right up in their faces attempting to get photos and then getting spit on because they were annoyed, so be warned! I had eventually given up trying to get a photo with them, when I was just about to leave I saw someone open up a bag of chips and all the llamas started walking over to them. Now, please don’t feed them, but it is the sound of the wrapper that got their attention. I had an empty wrapper from a bar I had for lunch so I started making noise with that and sure enough all the llamas stated walking over to me allowing me to grab a bunch of selfies. Easy!
GET A PASSPORT STAMP
Something they don’t tell you and is not made very obvious, but right outside of the exit there is a little table with a passport stamp that you can add into your own passport. You’ll need to keep your eyes open for this since it’s kind of hidden and there’s no signs pointing you there. Make sure you have your passport with you, throw a stamp in there and you’re good to go.
Machu Picchu is such an extraordinary place and so unlike anywhere else you’ll ever experience.
If you have any more questions please let me know in the comments.