Valley between two steep mountains with Machu Picchu civilization on the right mountain.
There are many ways to get to Machu Picchu — pick the one that works best for you.
Photo Credit: iStockPhoto / skouatroulio

What You Need to Know Before Touring Machu Picchu

One of the World’s Most Astonishing Wonders

Seeing the ancient Lost City of the Incas emerge from the morning mist as you reach the summit of a Peruvian peak will send chills down your spine.

While there are many wonders of Northern Peru that are far lesser known but equally stunning, there is just something about Machu Picchu that begs to be explored.

Machu Picchu is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that is known for being one of the most spectacular set of ruins in the world. No one knows exactly why these stone structures, perched high in the Andes above the Urubamba River, were created.

The site was hidden from the Spanish when they conquered the Incas, so it has been remarkably preserved. Machu Picchu was not known about by the scientific world until 1911, when American archaeologist Hiram Bingham was led to the site by the locals.

Seeing this mysterious stone ruin is an absolute must if you are traveling in Peru. So how do you get there?

Here are some of the main things you need to know when it comes to Machu Picchu travel and planning your trip.

How to Get to Machu Picchu

There are several ways to visit Machu Picchu — depending on your budget, the amount of time you have and how strenuous you want the experience to be.

While you could go above and beyond and sign up for a tour that will take you to every UNESCO World Heritage Site, we know adventure luxury travel options that cost in the millions aren’t within everyone’s means. Let’s take a look at a few of the other options for exploring Machu Picchu that are a little more reasonable.

Day Visit

If you don’t want to hike to Machu Picchu, it is possible to visit the site as a day trip. That would mean staying overnight in the small town of Aguas Calientes, located at the base of the mountain. Then, in the morning you can take a bus up the winding switchbacks to the site of Machu Picchu.

You can walk around the site as long as you like, exploring the ancient ruins.

This can be a great option if you don’t have the time or the physical ability to do the Inca Trail trek. Also, it is a lot cheaper and it gives you the freedom to visit on your own without hiring a guide.

It is possible to visit Machu Picchu as a longer day trip starting and finishing in Cusco. However, there are disadvantages to this.

Staying in Aguas Calientes allows you to visit the ruins early in the morning or later in the day so you can avoid the main crowds and the heat of the sun.

Hike the Inca Trail

The classic Inca Trail through the Peruvian mountains is one of the most famous treks in the world. This four-day, 20-mile journey takes you through cloud forest, steep passes and ancient places of worship to arrive at Machu Picchu just as it is illuminated by the sunrise.

If you have the physical stamina for the four-day hike, the experience is incredibly rewarding.

Peru imposed trekking regulations in 2001 that require all hikers to travel with a licensed guide, which ensures the trail is kept preserved. There are a limited number of hikers that can be on the trail at a time, which is why it is important to book ahead.

Your guide will supply the food and tents. You bring your own backpack, rain gear and boots (there are many outfitters in the area).

The Machu Picchu hike is a challenging journey and there are many uphill sections, so make sure you are in decent physical shape and that you are wearing sturdy hiking shoes.

Alternate Treks

The Inca Trail isn’t the only trek that will take you to Machu Picchu. There is also the Salkantay Trek, which is a five-day trek through the rugged and gorgeous Salkantay Mountain Pass.

This is a gorgeous route that has many spectacular waterfalls during the rainy season.

Another option is the Inca Jungle trek, which is a three-day journey that includes driving to the top of a mountain, biking down to the bottom, then hiking for a full day. Either of these alternative adventures can be booked with local tour companies in Cusco.

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Best Time to Visit Machu Picchu

The weather in Peru is unpredictable and no matter what time of year you visit it’s hard to know what you are going to get. In the rainy season from October to April the weather will be cooler and the mountaintops will be shrouded in mist. However, there will be fewer crowds and cheaper prices.

From May to September you will have an increased chance of sunshine, but also higher rates and more people. May can be an ideal time to go, as the weather will be clearing up but the crowds will not have peaked yet.

The only time you cannot visit the Inca Trail is during February, when it is closed down for yearly maintenance.

Tips for Visiting Machu Picchu

When you are planning your Machu Picchu vacation, make sure you allow yourself time to adjust to the altitude before you start out on a hike.

You will need to bring your passport to enter Machu Picchu. You will also need to buy tickets, which are available online or at various ticket offices. The tickets are not sold at the entrance gate.

When you book a ticket online, this will only give you the right to pay for the tickets — you are not guaranteed entry until you have paid for the tickets at a local bank using a code on your reservations.

Only small packs are allowed in the park, but you can keep your belongings in the luggage storage at the entrance so you don’t have to carry your bag around with you.

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