Machu Picchu, Machu Picchu Peru, Machu Picchu Tips, Peru, Sacred Valley

What You Need To Know To Visit Machu Picchu

Updated May 2021What you need to know to visit Machu Picchu was originally written in May 2017

Planning to visit Machu Picchu, one of the new seven wonders of the world? My best friend Tay and I visited Machu Picchu in June of 2016, I came with low expectations (I always assume places are overhyped) and left impressed. Machu Picchu has rightfully earned its spot as one of the new seven wonders of the world.

After our trip there I wanted to share some of the best Machu Picchu tips we learned along the way (and even things we wished we knew but didn’t until after we arrived). If you want to pick up a guidebook, I recommend purchasing Bradt’s guide to Machu Picchu, Cusco, and the Sacred Valley.

Since 2017 a new ticketing system has been in place, only allowing travelers to visit Machu Picchu in either the morning or afternoon (when I went your ticket was valid from open to close). New rules were also put into effect as well, including the ban of selfie sticks, tripods, monopods, food & utensils, bags over 40 x 35 x 20 cm (16 x 14 x 8 in) in size, and more. These changes put into place in an effort to help protect the historic site from the effects of mass tourism.

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Just two girls, two llamas, and Machu Picchu

Before you go

1. Purchase your ticket in advance

Machu Picchu is very popular and for good reason, I mean, look at it. At peak seasons Machu Picchu tickets can book up several months in advance, so once you know the dates of your trip, it’d be wise to choose a date and book them ASAP.

We visited in early June and we were able to buy the last couple of tickets on our date, back in February. In fact, the two dates we originally had wanted were already sold out!

Tickets can be booked directly here. The website is available in Spanish, English, Portuguese and Italian. Note that high season corresponds with Peru’s drier season, from May to August.

As of April 2021, the current currency rate was 3.74 s/. Peruvian Sol to $1 US Dollar

Machu Picchu ticket prices:

  • Foreign Adult: 152 s/.
  • Peruvian Adult: 64 s/.
  • Children 8yrs-17yrs 77 s/.
  • Students with ISIC card 77 s/.
  • Children under 8yrs are free.

2. Wanna hike? Purchase the correct ticket

Limited numbers of tickets are available for the Huayna Picchu Hike and the Montaña Picchu Hike. Huayna Picchu is available for hikes from 7-8 am and from 10-11 am. Montaña Picchu is available from 7-8 am and 9-10 am.

Only 200 tickets are sold for each time slot each day and they will be checked.

Tickets for either hike (include the standard entrance to Machu Picchu) are:

  • Foreign adult: 200 s/.
  • Peruvian adult: 112 s/.
  • Children 8yrs-17yrs: 118 s/.
  • Students with ISIC cards and children 8-17yrs 125 s/.

*These prices include one of the hikes (either Montaña or Huayna) NOT BOTH!


Planning to hike the Rainbow Mountain too? Here are my top tips and tricks for the Rainbow Mountain hike


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A view from atop Huayna Picchu

3. Best time to visit Machu Picchu

May to September is the peak season and the time when Peru is most likely to have clear, more stable weather, though Peru is notorious for having unpredictable weather, so expect anything any time of year. October to April is the wet season with a tendency for more rain and mist and sometimes even thick clouds that never break in the worst case.

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Getting to Aguas Calientes

4. Book train tickets to Aguas Calientes

Train tickets can be booked directly on Peru Rail’s website. Prices differ depending on class and time of day, however, the trains are downright expensive.

Train tickets can book out (especially the more affordable tickets) well in advance during the high season.

Shop Peru Rail tickets

5. Or hike the Inca Trail

Hiking the Inca trail is an option for getting to Machu Picchu. Different treks range from 2-8 days in duration and on average will set you back anywhere from $450 to $1,000 depending on the trekking company and duration of the hike (if booked in advance). Some travelers report $200-400 savings by booking last minute once you’re in Peru (though you may risk things being booked out in high season).

Shop Inca Trail Hiking Tours

6. Or with some extra effort reach Aguas Calientes for next to nothing

Take a collectivo from Cusco or Ollantaytambo up to Planta Hydroelectico and then walk for 2 hours off to the side of the train tracks to Aguas Calientes. Expect to pay about 30 s/. for a collectivo from Ollantaytambo to Santa Maria and another 20 s/. for a collectivo from Santa Maria to Hydroelectrico.

If you manage to get ahold of a topographical map of the area before you leave Cusco you can opt to trek Mollepata, Cachora, and Huanicapa if you’re feeling adventurous and want an alternative option.


Spending time in Cusco? Don’t miss the Tambomachay to Cusco walk


Getting to Machu Picchu

7. Get your bus ticket from Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu in advance (or walk)

Roundtrip bus tickets can be purchased from a little building just across the bridge from the train station in Aguas Calientes. The building has a sign that says ‘Venta Oficial de Ticket de Bus‘ on it.

Adult return tickets are 79 s/. ($24), children 40 s/. ($12). The first buses leave at 5:30 am and the line to purchase tickets will be lined up long before then, so get there early. I highly recommend purchasing your bus tickets the afternoon before.

If opting to walk from Aguas Calientes plan for the trek up to take 60-90 minutes on average, and you will gain about 2,000 meters in elevation on the way up there.

Where to stay

8. Don’t skip Aguas Calientes

Ah, Aguas Calientes, the gateway to Machu Picchu, the jumping-off point if you will. Most travelers seem to skip over Aguas Calientes because they heard it was ‘really expensive’ and go to Machu Picchu on a day trip from Cusco or just spend a quick night there in transit to the famed site.

Aguas Calientes is a sleepy little town set in a picturesque valley with a couple of attractions of its own, including a hot spring and a cloud forest hike. I spent two nights in Aguas Calientes and wished I would have had one or two more days there to have explored Aguas Calientes a bit deeper.

9. Yes, you can find cheap accommodation in Aguas Calientes

Aguas Calientes is known to be on the pricey side in comparison to the rest of Peru which is well known as an inexpensive destination in general. But don’t fear, with some planning you can stay in Aguas for less. Hostel dorms can be found for as little as 30 s/. to 50 s/.($10-20 USD) per night.

There is even the Camp Municipal where you can pitch a tent for 15 s/ per night. Plan to book well in advance to find the cheapest deals on accommodation, especially when planning a visit during the peak season.

Another great way to cut down on expenses is to hit the market or grocer before you leave Cusco and stock up on food. Food does cost more in Aguas Calientes (and boy is the restaurant at Machu Picchu expensive, but very good).

Where to stay in Aguas Calientes

Budget

Chakana Machu Picchu
Booking.com | Hotels.com |

Midrange

El Quetzal Machu Picchu
Booking.com | Hotels.com |

Splurge

Jaya Suite Machu Picchu
Booking.com | Hotels.com |


Exploring further in the Sacred Valley? Don’t miss the Maras Salt Mines


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Once You’re There

10. Don’t forget to acclimatize

Machu Picchu and Aguas Calientes sit a little lower in elevation than Cusco but don’t potentially ruin your trip by not giving yourself a few days in Cusco to adjust to the altitude. Altitude sickness is very real and can be dangerous.

11. Know the park hours

The gates to Machu Picchu open at 6 am and close at 5:30 pm every day. Plan your bus or walk to the park accordingly.

With the new ticketing system in place for Machu Picchu, as mentioned earlier, you’ll need to purchase either a morning or afternoon ticket. Morning ticket holders can enter the park at 6 am and need to leave by 12 pm (though, I’ve heard from friends that they stayed longer after the end of their morning ticket and were never asked to see it at any point).

Afternoon ticket holders can enter the park at 12 pm and will need to leave by 5:30 pm when the park closes. In my experience, I found that the late afternoon the last couple hours before closing was the best for photos with great lighting and almost no tourists.

12. Bring your ID

You will be ID’d when entering the park, to verify your ticket and passport match. Anyone paying the discounted student fee must provide their ISIC student card at the entrance.

13. Hire a guide

As of February 2019, it is mandatory to be accompanied by a guide at Machu Picchu. If you are booked on an organized tour you can disregard this step.

If you are visiting independently, know that there will be guides waiting at the entrance when you arrive that you can hire. Expect to pay around 140 s/. for a roughly two-and-a-half-hour guided tour of the park for 1-2 people, of course, this price will get cheaper the larger the group you are in.


See the Rainbow Mountains in 13 photos


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Machu Picchu Budget Ideas

Here are rough estimates of what you can expect to pay.

Budget backpacker

A no-frills Machu Picchu budget with two nights in Aguas Calientes tent camping, not including food can be done for a grand total of

392 s/. or ($118)

Budget breakdown

  • Minibus from Cusco to Ollantaytambo: 15-20 s/.
  • Mini bus from Ollantaytambo to Santa Maria: 30 s/.
  • Minibus from Santa Maria to Hydroelectrico: 20 s/.
  • Standard Adult entrance to Machu Picchu: 152 s/.
  • Mandatory Machu Picchu guide: 70 s/. (assuming you’re splitting with at least one other traveler)
  • Two nights camping at Camp Municipal 30 s/.
  • Minibus from Hydroelectrico to Santa Maria: 20 s/.
  • Minibus from Santa Maria to Ollantaytambo: 30 s/.
  • Minibus from Ollantayambo to Cusco: 15-20 s/.

Middle of the road traveler

A midrange Machu Picchu budget with two nights in Aguas Calientes in a decent hotel, not including food will cost around

815 s/. or ($244)

Budget breakdown

  • Minibus from Cusco to Ollantaytambo: 15-20 s/.
  • Train from Ollantaytambo to Aguas Calientes: 185 s/. booked in advance in the cheapest class.
  • Adult Machu Picchu entrance ticket incl. hike up Huayna Picchu or Montaña Picchu: 200 s/.
  • Mandatory Machu Picchu guide: 70 s/. (assuming you’re splitting with at least one other traveler)
  • Two nights in Aguas Calientes budget hotel (double room): 135 s/.
  • Train from Aguas Calientes to Ollantaytambo: 185 s/. booked in advance in the cheapest class.
  • Minibus from Ollantaytambo to Cusco: 15-20 s/.

Doin’ it up at Machu Picchu

Comfortable Machu Picchu Budget with two nights in a B&B in Aguas Calientes, not including food should cost at minimum

1,480 s/. or ($443)

Budget breakdown

  • Train from Cusco to Aguas Calientes: 280 s/. booked in advance in a midrange class.
  • Adult Machu Picchu entrance ticket incl. hike up Huayna Picchu or Montaña Picchu: 200 s/.
  • Mandatory Machu Picchu guide (private): 140 s/.
  • Two nights in Aguas Calientes Hotel: 330 s/.
  • Train from Aguas Calientes to Cusco: 280 s/. booked in advance in a midrange class.

Of course, prices can go up quite higher than 1,140 s/. Like, if you want to book the Hiram Bingham train, which can cost $447 each way depending on the day, want even higher-end hotels, or choose to book a full tour from Cusco.


Off to Bolivia next? Check out my guides to La Paz, the Death Road, and Salar de Uyuni


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My last few thrifty Machu Picchu budget tips

  • Book in advance for best deals on accommodation and trains.
  • Prepare your own meals with market or store-bought produce and goods.
  • Haggle- This is almost a fine art in Peru. Hone your haggling skills for the best prices in markets and on taxi rides.

Have any questions about visiting Machu Picchu?

Ask your Machu Picchu questions in the comments section below!

Need Travel Insurance for Peru?

Start shopping plans over at battleface, my go-to travel insurance choice, or over at World Nomads.

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