Just arrive in Cusco, buy a ticket to Machu Picchu, and off you go? Wouldn’t that be nice! Visiting Machu Picchu is a science in itself. It starts with the right time to travel, continues with a pretty complicated ticket purchase, and ends with the questions: How do I even get to Machu Picchu and where do I spend the night? Fortunately, we have great answers to all these questions!
Planning Your Trip across Peru? Our guide is the perfect travel companion, full of inspiration and ready to help you plan your Peru trip from A to Z. Be inspired by our route recommendations and insider tips from Peruvian locals. Begin your journey in one of the most fascinating countries in Latin America!
Up, up, and away! In 10 Steps to Machu Picchu
So let’s go!
1. Think about the right time to travel to Machu Picchu
Every travel period for Machu Picchu has its advantages and disadvantages. The dry season in the Andes lasts from June to September and Machu Picchu (mountain rainforest) also receives less rain during this time than in the remaining months. The dry season is a preferable time for trekking tours. June to September also marks the prime time for tourism, however, so expect long queues for the shuttle buses and many visitors to Machu Picchu. Machu Picchu is open all year round, including the rainy months from December to March. The ruins are often covered with clouds during this time, which can be very appealing and result in pretty impressive photos.
2. Think about how you want to travel to Machu Picchu
Many roads lead to Rome and also to Machu Picchu. There are three major ways to get to Machu Picchu. A) By train, B) By public transport (including a 3-hour hike), or C) On a multi-day hike (Inca Trail, Salkantay Trek, or Inca Jungle Trail).
- A) If you want to travel from Cusco to Aguas Calientes (the Machu Picchu village) and back by train, you should buy your train tickets on time. It’s a good idea to get them at least one month in advance during the main season from June to September, as well as for holidays such as Christmas, Easter, or the Peruvian independence day (28th & 29th July). You can book your tickets via Peru-Rail or Inca-Rail.
Our tip: It makes sense to combine the trip to Machu Picchu with excursions to the Sacred Valley, as it’s pretty much on the way. We recommend a visit to Pisac, Chinchero (Maras & Moray), and Ollantaytambo. From Ollantaytambo, the train will get you to Aguas Calientes in 1 1/2 hours.
- B) A journey by public transport can be planned at short notice and is also much cheaper than a train ride. You can either make your own way from Cusco to Hidroelectrica via Santa Maria and Santa Teresa, then hike along the railway tracks to Aguas Calientes in just under three hours (Important: Start very early and remember to bring a flashlight!), or book an pre-planned trip in a van, either locally or via an online travel agency (Note that there could be restrictions or delays due to landslides in the rainy season from December to March).
- C) Trekking is certainly the most impressive way to get to Machu Picchu! If you book a trekking tour to Machu Picchu, you’ll have almost nothing to worry about. The travel agency books all services for you, including the admission to Machu Picchu and the train ride back to Cusco. You could, in principle, book all treks (except the Inca Trail!) on location. But if you want to climb one of the mountain peaks in Machu Picchu, you should book your trekking tour well in advance and state that you would like to climb either the „Huayna Picchu“ or the „Montaña Mountain“ (very popular!).
3. Book the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu at least 6 months in advance
You want to walk along the famous Inca Trail to Machu Picchu? Then you should book the trek at least 6 months in advance with a travel agency. Yes, you heard right: The Inca Trail is the only trek for which the participant numbers are strictly limited. The Inca Trail is the original path of the Inca, a recognised UNESCO World Heritage Site, and therefore protected accordingly. The Inca Trail is regularly closed for maintenance in February.
4. Get your Machu Picchu ticket in Cusco
If you just want to buy an entry ticket to Machu Picchu, you can do so on location in Cusco. You can book your admission in the office of the INC, which is located on Calle Garcilaso. As a student, you can get a 50% discount with a valid ISIC card. Not a bad deal for an entrance fee of about 35 euros!
5. Or book your admission to Machu Picchu online
You can also book your admission to Machu Picchu online via this official booking page. This is only possible with a Visa credit card. You will also have to show it to enter Machu Picchu. Unfortunately, there is no student discount when you book online. Booking a Machu Picchu ticket through a travel agency will always cost a little more, but a travel agency can work with a copy of the ISIC card, which may be worthwhile for students.
6. Book your ticket to Machu Picchu at least one month in advance, if you also want to visit Huayna Picchu or Montaña Picchu
As mentioned, there are two very popular mountain viewpoints in Machu Picchu: The Huayna Picchu (the famous mountain in the background of Machu Picchu) and the Montaña mountain (on the opposite side of Huayna Picchu). Everyone was allowed to climb the mountains up until a few years ago. An advance booking was not necessary. This changed in 2011, however, and now you have to book your admission to Huayna Picchu or Montaña Picchu at least one month in advance. You can do this either through the aforementioned booking page or through a travel agency. Each mountain has two admission times, so book them depending on your travel plan.
7. Think about whether you want to start in Aguas Calientes or Ollantaytambo.
There are prettier places than Aguas Calientes, to be honest. It’s the starting point for trips to Machu Picchu and is completely swamped with the high volume of visitors. Accommodations are downright stacked on top of each other, it’s noisy, hectic, and the accommodation prices are outrageous. Many travelers, therefore, prefer to stay the night in Ollantaytambo, a quiet and idyllic village in the Sacred Valley. From here, you can take the first train to Aguas Calientes (early in the morning, at 5 AM), and then continue on to Machu Picchu. The train journey from Ollantaytambo takes 1 1/2 hours. You’ll definitely arrive later than the tourists who stayed in Aguas Calientes. If you stay the night in Ollantaytambo and want to climb one of the scenic mountains, you should choose the time slot of the second group.
8. Make sure to bring your original passport to Machu Picchu, because you’ll have to show it.
You need to provide your passport number when you book your admission to Machu Picchu — make sure you get it right! The Machu Picchu authorities are very petty and can deny you entry if you mess up any numbers or letters. Which brings us to the second point: You have to show your passport with your ticket at the entrance to Machu Picchu. If you booked your admission to Machu Picchu with an old, now invalid passport, you should definitely bring this old passport along to Peru and Machu Picchu!
9. Don’t forget to get the Machu Picchu stamp in your passport!
10. Remember to share your Machu Picchu travel experience with your friends!
Who is writing?
Hola! I’m Nora, Co-Founder of ALL ACROSS PERU. I cannot live anymore without Ceviche, mountain air and cumbia sounds. On this blog I share all my travel insights for Peru!