07 Nov How To Get The Most Out Of A Trip To Machu Picchu
Many people have Machu Picchu on their bucket list. Visiting the breathtaking Inca citadel that the Spanish conquerors never found is an incredible experience. You want it to be perfect and you don’t want to regret this and that. Here are my best tips on how to get the most out of a day at Machu Picchu.
How to get to Machu Picchu
There are a few ways to get to Machu Picchu, you can do a guided day trip from Cusco, get to Aguas Calientes by train, do the Inka trek or other treks or get there by taking many local buses.
If you have the time and money and health for it. It is recommended to do a trek. The most common one is the classic 4-day Inka trail .
There are also shorter option and other longer treks like Salkantay trek and Lares trek. They all end up at Machu Picchu, usually around 8 AM on the day of arrival.
There are two train companies going to Machu Picchu. Perurail and Inca Rail. Inca Rail is cheaper but Perurail might be more luxurious. Perurail has three options. The Expedition which is the cheapest option, Vistadome that is with huge windows all around you. And the most expensive one Hiram Bingham. I travelled with Vistadome and absolutely loved it. It is pricey but the staff was amazing and funny. On the way back they usually do a show for you and both ways you get a tasty snack. You can also buy additional drinks etc. I recommend taking the train during the daytime so you actually see stuff outside of the windows.
Daytrip from Cusco
You can get deals on Tripadvisor or other travel agents before you go. However, the cheapest option is to get it when you are in Cusco. You will constantly be asked for a trip or a trek-deal to Machu Picchu. It is way cheaper than to book it online, but it might be a risk if you need to get to Machu Picchu on a specific date.
When to go?
Rain season is from October to March. Chances of rain and fog are high during these months. The best weather will be June to August but that is also when it will be crowded all over Peru. Shoulder season is April and September, with fewer tourists around and the weather is still ok. From July 2017 only 2500 people were allowed at Machu Picchu. So unless you go in December it will most likely be 2500 people there on any day of the year. If you are planning to do a multiday-trek I recommend to go when the weather is better that will mean June-August.
Stay a night in Aguas Calientes or not?
If you are not planning to sleep what is the point of staying in a hostel at all? Be aware that Aguas Calientes is a noisy town, often loud nightclubs and you will hear the trains no matter where you stay. The hostels are ridiculously expensive and many of them are not good. It is no need to stay in Aguas Calientes unless you planning to be early at Machu Picchu then it is cheaper to stay in Ollantaytambo or Cusco.
El Tambo Machu Picchu
Where to stay?
I stayed at El Tambo Machu Picchu, it was not fancy but ok. There are plenty of hostels to choose from in Aguas Calientes. The important thing here is to read as many reviews you can. Check at Booking, Hostelbookers, TripAdvisor and all other places. I first booked a room at Eco Machu Picchu Pueblo but read so many reviews of the place being too noisy. It was right next to a nightclub. I also had a big problem contacting them to cancel the booking. El Tambo was ok, but I still heard the train and it was a concert in the town the evening before I went to Machu Picchu. There are some luxurious places to stay in around Aguas Calientes like Inkaterra Machu Picchu and Belmond Sanctuary Lodge.
How to get from Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu?
There are only two ways. You take the small Consettur bus from Aguas Calientes which costs $25. I recommend buying the tickets online or a day before you actually go. If not you need to wait in another line to get the tickets as you no longer can buy it directly on the bus. You need to bring the ticket and your passport with you before you go on the bus.
Walk the stairs
If you don’t want to line up for the bus you can walk from Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu. It takes roughly 2 hours and it is steep and exhausting. I don’t recommend this if you plan to do one of the hikes at Machu Picchu.
There is no other way to get up to Machu Picchu, no taxis or tour buses are allowed.
When you arrive at Machu Picchu it will be a line to get in. You need your Machu Picchu entry ticket and your passport to enter.
How early should I get up?
If you want to be on the 5:30 AM bus to Machu Picchu you need to be at the line before 3 AM. I was on the line at 2:45 AM and at 0310 AM the line was 15 meters long and that was in September (Shoulder season.) It is common for hostels in Aguas Calientes to offer some snacks for you if you are leaving before breakfast. With that, you need to ask the day before being clear about what time you will leave the hostel and check out. Many hostels also accept leaving the bag in a storage room. If you want to walk up you should not get up later than 4 AM if you want to be there when it opens.
Will I see the sunrise?
Not always, Machu Picchu is in a cloud forest and that means yes, it is often cloudy and foggy. You can google sunrise at Machu Picchu and see if it is worth it.
What about fog and clouds?
As mentioned over, it gets cloudy. A full day at Machu Picchu without any clouds in the sky is pretty much impossible. It is often foggy in the morning. But don’t panic they will most likely disappear as the temperature rises. When I was there in September it was completely foggy until 9:30 AM. The key here is to stay patient. You will see it. I was at Huayna Picchu and luckily I waited at the top until the clouds disappeared.
Can I skip the crowds?
If you are the first one to get in at 6 AM and walk up the Guardians Hut really fast it will not be many people yet in the pictures. Other than that it will always be people in the pictures. Many people leave around 12 pm and it might be less around then and around 5 pm, but it will always be someone in the pictures.
My suggestion is to not be so hung up on it. Your pictures will look amazing even though there are people in the pictures. If you hike up to Huyana Picchu or Machu Picchu Mountain. You can also walk to the Sun Gate to get a great view of Machu Picchu, this is where the people that treks walk in.
The new rules
In September 2017 the new rules were not so strict yet, but they said by the end of October 2017, the new rules will be followed 100%. The new rules say that you can only see Machu Picchu with a guide, no more than 2500 people can enter a day and there are multiple things you can not bring with you in like food, walking sticks, drones and heavy camera gear etc.
Getting a guide or not?
Even though I didn’t need a guide. I wanted to get one because if not I would be looking at ruins and rooms and have no idea what that particular place was. Yeah, you can listen to other groups, but it is not the same. Make sure to get a guide with an ID sign and look for the Directur logo. Agree on language and price before you get the guide.
If you didn’t get the guide before the hike to Huayna Picchu or Machu Picchu Mountain, you have to go outside and enter again. The guide will lead you through everything and explains and lead you OUT of the ruins. That means you can’t go back in. You can only re-enter once. So you have to make a decision. The tip here is to finish everything you want all the pictures, walk to the Sun gate etc before you go out because the guide will not spend more than 2 hours with you.
Huayna Picchu is the tall mountain in the background of the iconic Machu Picchu photos. It is very steep, however, the views from the top are breathtaking. You need to book tickets for this at least 4 months before to get the date you want. It is called the Stairs of Death and listed one of the most dangerous hikes in the world. However, I didn’t think it was scary at all.
The only thing you need to do is to look down when you go up and down as the steps suddenly change from small to big. It is not like you will fall over a cliff. You can hit your head or bum if you slip, but not if you have the proper shoes and look where you walk. You should hike with good sneakers with a good grip, forget the flip-flop or heels on this one. The guards will laugh at you if you try to hike with that. Make sure you bring at least 1 litre of water and some snacks, sunscreen, mosquito repellent and a hat are essential as well.
Next step: What to pack for a trip to Peru
How many times can I re-enter?
You can only re-enter one time. That means they will not let you in more than two times. This sucks because it is only toilets outside. So that means you can only go to the toilet once!
Catching the train later the same day? Don’t miss this!
You are catching the train at 3:20 PM and think you can leave Machu Picchu at 2 PM? Forget it, you won’t make it. If you are catching a train around that time. The latest you should exit Machu Picchu is at 1 pm. Allow yourself at least two and a half hours to exit to be on the train. The lines for the bus back to Aguas Calientes will be longer than the morning one.
It will take at least an hour to wait in the line. An option is to walk down the stairs from Machu Picchu to Aguas Calientes, but allow 2 hours for this as well. The bus drivers said they have seen people missing their train because they left Machu Picchu too late. And that sucks, as the train tickets are very expensive.
Getting entry tickets to Machu Picchu
I had some trouble getting the tickets. The official website didn’t work so I bought tickets from a non-official website: MachuPicchuPass. I was concerned if it was not valid. However, It worked perfectly fine and it is exactly the same ticket system just different website. The Machu Picchu Pass website shows a list of the different times to enter Machu Picchu and the climbing options. As mentioned earlier, normal Machu Picchu tickets sell out around 2 months before, the climbing options sell out 4 months before, so do yourself a favour and book early.
Next step: What to pack for a trip to Peru
Must have for a trip to Peru:
Lonely Planet Peru Guide was a life-saver on my trip to Peru. I am so happy I had this book already some months before travelling to Peru. It gives you ideas where to eat, stay, travel and of course what to do and see. It contains professional tips about safety and general everything you need to know before and during your trip to Peru. It also got a 3D map of Machu Picchu and tips on what to see within the citadel and the best photo spots etc. It is kind of old-school to still walk around with a guidebook, but you can also get the kindle version
Have you been to Machu Picchu? How was it?