The Ultimate Machu Picchu Travel Guide

The Ultimate Machu Picchu Travel Guide

The Lost City of Machu Picchu is one of the most iconic archeological treasures in all of South America. Tucked away in the cloud forests of the Andes, Machu Picchu is believed to have been a royal estate or sacred religious site for Inca leaders.

Today, its mountain top location, finely crafted stonework, and ancient history make Machu Picchu Peru’s most sought-after destination.

Ready for an adventure? Here’s a rundown of everything you need to know before you head off to one of the world’s most famous man-made wonders.

Table of contents:

Plan Your Visit

Machu Picchu is the most popular Inca site in Peru, which means that you need to plan your visit well in advance.

When planning for Machu Picchu, there are some key milestones to hit before you start packing. For an enjoyable adventure, your first steps should be focused on deciding on the best time to go and how to best adjust to the altitude difference.

Here are some pointers to help you kick-start your planning.

 

When To Go

The ancient citadel of Machu Picchu is open all year round. Before booking, though, it’s sensible to note how much rain (and slippery paths) you are willing to handle.

Peru has two main seasons: dry and wet. The peak travel season coincides with the region’s dry season – from April to September. During this time, the Machu Picchu weather is usually milder, making it easier and more comfortable to walk the ancient paths of the Incas.

couple sitting back to back in front of Machu Picchu

Our travelers enjoying their time at Machu Picchu and making use of our guide’s great photography skills.

 

During Peru’s wet season (October/November to March), Machu Picchu, and the trails leading to it, are typically less crowded. During those months, rainfall and storms can be unpredictable and heavy, so this might not be the best time to hike to the site.

That said, rain at Machu Picchu rarely lasts for more than 2 hours, so whenever you choose to go, you’re unlikely to be covered in rain during your entire visit.

Note: When planning your itinerary, remember that the trails to Machu Picchu are closed during the entire month of February due to restoration work.

 

How To Get Acclimated

Altitude sickness is triggered by a rapid change in elevation. At higher altitude destinations, such as Machu Picchu, the oxygen is less dense and, if not properly acclimated, your body will have a tough time adapting to the lower air pressure and oxygen levels.

Because altitude sickness symptoms include shortness of breath, nausea, fatigue, and vomiting, you’re going to want to acclimate before you embark on any adventure in Peru.

To let your body adjust, be sure to acclimate in Cusco (a captivating city near Machu Picchu) for at least a couple of days. Other tips to help you with high elevation include:

  • Drinking plenty of fluids (before and during your stay in Peru)
  • Stocking up on coca leaves and coca products
  • Eating lightly, but including a sufficient amount of carbohydrates and vegetables
  • Consulting your doctor/pharmacist on suitable altitude sickness medication

 

Top Sights to Visit

Machu Picchu is an archaeological gem and a fantastic example of the architecture, agriculture, and engineering of the Incas. Adding to that, the site is located atop a mountain ridge, between the two peaks of Machu Picchu Mountain and Huayna Picchu.

Apart from the ancient citadel, those peaks are among the best sights to visit during the Machu Picchu day tour and witness the site from above.

woman at machu picchu mountain

This picture offers great overview of where Machu Picchu Mountain, Huayna Picchu and the actual Machu Picchu site is located.

 

Machu Picchu Mountain

At Machu Picchu, you can opt for an additional hike to Huayna Picchu or Machu Picchu Mountain (the two mountains situated in front and behind the site). Some of the main differences between Machu Picchu Mountain and Huayna Picchu include the elevation level and the duration of the hike.

Machu Picchu Mountain sits at an elevation of around 3,082m (10,111ft) and climbing up to the top and back will take you around 2.5 – 3 hours. Huayna Picchu, on the other hand, has an elevation of 2,693m (8,835ft) and the hike takes 1.5 – 2 hours to complete.

Although you’ll need to purchase an extra ticket, hiking up Machu Picchu Mountain (as pictured below) offers an unforgettable view of the surrounding landscape.

 

Huayna Picchu

The Huayna Picchu Mountain rises in the northern area of Machu Picchu. It is also featured in the background of some of the most famous photographs of the site. Many historians believe that this mountain was a sacred place for performing religious ceremonies and giving offerings to the gods.

Just like the Machu Picchu Mountain, climbing up the Huayna Picchu Mountain will require a separate entrance ticket.

To get to the top, you will need to follow a strenuous trail with some narrow and steep sections. The panoramic view of the ancient Incan ruins, however, is something that you’re unlikely to forget.

The Sun Gate

The Sun Gate, also known as Inti Punku, is another site that deserves a visit. Offering a fantastic view over the whole of Machu Picchu, the Sun Gate hike is a fantastic alternative to Machu Picchu Mountain and Huayna Picchu.

The viewpoint is located to the side of Machu Picchu Mountain at an elevation of 2,720m (8,924ft).

Sun gate ruins with traveler

The Sun Gate is the only additional hike at Machu Picchu that is free and it’s absolutely worth it.

 

If you’ve embarked on one of the Inca Trail hikes, you will enter Machu Picchu through the Sun Gate, where you’ll also get your first glimpse of the mysterious Lost City of the Incas.

If you’re coming from Aguas Calientes, you can get to Inti Punku once you’ve entered the site. From the Guardhouse at Machu Picchu, you can climb to the viewpoint in about 1,5 hours.

 

Trails to Machu Picchu

Some of the most mesmerizing scenery in the world can only be reached by foot, and Machu Picchu is no exception.

Undoubtedly, two of the most mesmerizing Machu Picchu treks are the Inca Trail and the Salkantay Trek. Here are some things you should know before booking your hike.

 

Inca Trail

The Inca Trail is by far the most popular way of how to get to Machu Picchu.

The classic Inca Trail tours follow the route the ancient Incas took. As you hike your way to the ancient site, you’ll notice that a big portion of the original stonework along the way is still in place. You will also pass through mesmerizing mountains, alpine tundra, and cloud forests.

 

Salkantay Trek

The Salkantay Trek is an excellent alternative to the Inca Trail tour. Although the Inca Trail offers more ruins along the road, the 5-day Salkantay Trek tour is often less crowded and offers nature-rich experiences with a wide variety of breathtaking scenery.

Snow-capped Salkantay mountain

Hiking past the majestic Salkantay mountain and sleeping in the sky domes are some of the things that make this trip really unique.

 

Not for the faint of heart, the Salkantay Trek will take you to altitudes above 4,600m (15,091ft), the flora and fauna of the Andean jungle, and the sacred Salkantay Mountain before reaching Machu Picchu. Before hopping on your trip to Machu Picchu, check out which trail could be the best for you!

 

Food and Lodging

Whether you’re going on a day trip or a multi-day hike in the Salkantay Mountain, an overnight stay at Aguas Calientes is highly recommended if you want to experience Machu Picchu early in the morning.

Because of its proximity to Machu Picchu, Aguas Calientes has a whole range of hotels, restaurants, cafes, and small shops.

It’s also good to know that food is not allowed inside the archaeological site of Machu Picchu. Be sure to have a good breakfast before heading off.

 

Expert Tips

  • Because Machu Picchu is a very popular destination, it’s best to book your tour as far in advance as possible.
  • For additional hikes (such as the Machu Picchu Mountain and Huayna Picchu), there is a limited number of tickets sold per day. Remember to book on time as spots aren’t guaranteed.
  • If you plan to hike to Machu Picchu or visit the sites around it, wear proper trekking shoes to help avoid accidents.
  • The weather in the Peruvian Andes can be unpredictable. Be sure to pack sunscreen, a hat, and rain gear.
  • Water is not available inside Machu Picchu. You can buy bottled water just outside the site or bring your own water bottle.

 

Which Tour Should I Choose?

Overall, your hike experience will depend on a number of factors, such as your fitness level, hiking experience, and your hike group’s approach.

To help you figure out the best itinerary for you, here’s our rundown of the most popular tours to Machu Picchu.

blue train with yellow writing peru rail surrounded by valley

The train to Machu Picchu is one of the most special train rides ever for many travelers.

 

Day Tour to Machu Picchu

The day tour to Machu Picchu is the fastest way to get to the site. The tour starts at Cusco and a big portion of it is done by train. While this trip makes for a long day, the amazing sites that you’ll see are well worth the effort.

The main benefit of the day tour is that it gives travelers who want to visit just Machu Picchu – or are not up for a hike – a chance to explore and learn more about the site with an experienced tour guide.

With this in mind, there is a lot of traveling involved in a single day and you’ll need to leave your hotel as early as 2:45 am.

 

2-Day Tour: Overnight in Aguas Calientes

If you’re a little short on time, but still want to see the most important highlights of the area, we recommend the 2-day tour to Machu Picchu. Check out our post about why combining Sacred Valley and Machu Picchu is a must before planning your tours.

This is the perfect way to pack in a mini adventure, during which you will get to soak into the local Inca culture and get the right context before visiting the ancient citadel.

At the end of your tour to the awe-inspiring Sacred Valley on day 1, you will get to take the train to Aguas Calientes, where you can have a good night’s rest before heading off to Machu Picchu. Also, the cost of a Machu Picchu trip in 2022 with us will be much better!

woman at maras salt mines

Combining the Sacred Valley with Machu Picchu is one of the best tour combinations you can do.

 

Multi-Day Tours

The amount of breathtaking scenery and ruins accessible from Cusco leaves adventurers with no shortage of options. If you want to explore more of the area and local Peruvian culture and traditions, you should definitely consider a multi-day tour.

The Best of Cusco in 3 days is a tour that features trips to three different destinations – the Sacred Valley, Machu Picchu, and the Rainbow Mountain (Palccoyo or Vinicunca). The tour allows you to choose the order of the trips as you see fit and, if preferred, take a day off in between.

The Best of Cusco in 4 days tour features all the trips and benefits of the 3-day tour plus a day trip to the mystical Humantay lake. With glistening turquoise waters set in front of a snowy mountain, the Humantay Lake is a perfect place to experience nature at its finest.

If you have some time to spare, the Best of Cusco in 5 days is an excellent choice. The tour includes all trips featured in the 4-day tour, as well as a Cusco City tour. During the Cusco City tour, you will explore Cusco’s must-visit sites without being rushed. Together with a professional guide, you’ll get to discover the city’s best spots and hidden gems.

 

Ready to Explore the Lost City of the Incas?

Whether you hike your way up to Machu Picchu through one of the ancient Incan trails or hop on a bus from Aguas Calientes, first impressions of the site rarely disappoint.

Taking a guided tour is a great way to bring the place to life, learn more about its history and the incredible Machu Picchu facts, and take a peek at the Inca’s astonishing ingenuity.

Feeling adventurous? Check out our Machu Picchu tours and find the best itinerary for your journey.

8 Comments
  • 5 May, 2022 at 10:22 am

    This is very compact and useful! Thanks for the interesting insights and that will help us to plan our Peru trip.

    • 5 May, 2022 at 1:30 pm

      Thank you Omar, we’re happy to hear that the content helps! If there’s anything else you need, feel free to shoot us a message! 🙂

  • 13 March, 2022 at 5:26 pm

    Which train company do you guys recommend, Peru Rail or Inka Rail?

  • 28 February, 2022 at 12:33 pm

    We are short on time and have around 4-6 days to visit Lima&Cusco.

    Any tour recommendations or what would be the best tour itinerary for us?

    Cheers

    • 1 March, 2022 at 6:45 am

      Hello Carol, thanks for reaching out to exploor! In case you are staying for only 4-6 days in Peru I would highly recommend you the following itinerary:
      1. Arrival in Lima (probably afternoon)
      2. Flight to Cusco (get used to the altitude) and discovering during our Cusco City tour the best sites such as San Pedro Market, San Blas neighborhood, Sacsayhuaman etc.
      3. Sacred Valley
      4. Machu Picchu
      5. Rainbow Mountain Palccoyo or Vinicunca
      6. Flight back
      In case you are interested to learn more about this adventure feel free to visit the tour page: https://www.exploorperu.com/tour/3-day-trips-from-cusco-sacred-valley-tour-machu-picchu-tour-alternative-rainbow-mountain-trek/ in addition to that you can request our guided Cusco City tour.

      Let me know if you have any further questions.
      Best,
      team exploor

  • 27 January, 2022 at 10:18 am

    Veryyy interesting! This complete guide is really helpful for our trip to Peru in May. Is it possible to get assistance with finding the right hotels for Cusco and Lima?

    • 28 January, 2022 at 5:52 pm

      Hey Josh, glad the content is useful for you guys! Yes of course, feel free to send us an e-mail to info@exploor.pe and we’d be happy to help you out. 🙂

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