If you’re planning to visit Machu Picchu, make sure you read my post for seven essential tips to make your trip unforgettable.
Machu Picchu was the top-rated landmark in the world according to TripAdvisor’s Travellers Choice Awards in 2016.
This most familiar icon of Inca Civilization attracts visitors from all over the world, and it is very hard to find someone who doesn’t want to visit it. In 2013 alone, over 1.2 million people visited Machu Picchu. It seems that almost everyone dreams of exploring the enigmatic complex of palaces, plazas, temples and homes and learning more about the “Lost City of Incas.”
I visited Machu Picchu for the first time in May of 2016 and it was everything I wanted it to be, and more. Just gazing up at this extraordinary 15th century citadel perched on top of the Andes Mountains gave me goose bumps, and for a moment it was hard to believe that I was actually there…
Machu Picchu was declared a Peruvian Historic Sanctuary in 1981 and a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1983. In 2007, Machu Picchu was voted one of the New Seven Wonders of the World in a worldwide Internet poll, so it is indeed one of the must-see places in the world.
Before I visited Machu Piccu, I did extensive research and based on this, and my own experiences while being there, I’ve put down these 7 tips to help you get the absolute most out of your visit.
Choose the right month
Because Machu Pichu is located high up in mountains covered with tropical forests, you have to be aware of the seasons in Peru. After all, you wouldn’t want to travel all the way to Machu Picchu only to discover it is raining – and very slippery, or, even worse, the citadel is obscured by dense fog, so there are no good pictures to be taken, would you?
There are two main seasons in Peru: the rainy season between October and April and the dry season between May and September. Considering that July and August are usually the busiest months, I would recommend that the best time to visit Machu Picchu is during the shoulder seasons, ie May-June and September-October.
Of course, no one can guarantee that it’s not going to rain during those times, but if you want to get that National Geographic picture and ultimately enjoy your time there, follow my first tip to visit Machu Picchu and go during the right months.
I would say that May and June are the best months. I went in May, and look at this picture…
Buy your ticket in advance
Machu Picchu is in danger of being permanently damaged because of the sheer number of tourists, and as a result, the Peruvian government introduced new entrance rules to reduce the effect. Since July 2011, only 2500 visitors are allowed to visit Machu Picchu every day, and only 400 per day to Huyana Picchu.
So, I urge you to buy your ticket in advance to visit the citadel because tickets cannot be purchase there. How far in advance should you book your ticket? I’d say as soon as you make your travel arrangements, or even before that, if you can.
When I was in Aguas Calientes (Machu Picchu Pueblo), I did see some people buying tickets the day before visiting Machu Picchu. This is very risky!! Are you really going to take the risk of flying to Peru, travel to Cusco, then taking a 3h train journey to Aguas Calientes (or a 7h minivan journey, plus a 2h walk on train tracks, like I did), just to get there and discover there are no more tickets available?
By planning your trip in advance, you can get your tickets online on the Peruvian government site, or contact any of the agencies listed there. You can pay either by credit card (for some) or send them payment using Paypal, Western Union or Money Gram.
This is the second, but some would say the most important tip for visiting Machu Picchu!
Even though the limit of daily visitors of Machu Picchu is supposed to be 2500, this number has been consistently exceeded since 2011 and in 2015, over 1.2 million people visited the citadel.
Most of the visitors arrive in Aguas Calientes (the closest city to Machu Picchu) by train from Cusco, and the first train arrives around 10:00. This means that after 10:30 the citadel usually gets very crowded.
So, my third tip to make the most of your visit to Machu Picchu is to stay over in Aguas Calientes the night before, and get to the citadel early in the morning. The park is open daily from 6:00 AM to 5:00 PM.
How about getting there to see the sunrise as I did? I arrived at 6:30am and there were already many people in line at the entrance.
But seeing the sunrise behind the colossal mountains was magical and unforgettable and well worth getting up early for!
Hire a guide
So, you’ve planned your trip for the right month, bought your tickets in advance and arrived early in the morning before the massive groups of tourists. You’re fresh and ready for your guide to take you on a two-hour tour around the citadel.
You didn’t hire a guide? Are you going to walk among the ruins, take tons of pictures while reading a book with the information about Machu Picchu? Maybe, but you should know that there aren’t any information boards to explain what you’re looking at, so it will take you at least twice as long to see everything. So, please, if you want to get the most out of your visit, hire a guide.
Guides are incredibly inexpensive in Machu Picchu, only around 20 Soles (US$6). I think that not hiring a guide is a big mistake, as they will provide all the information you need to know about the Lost City of the Incas, and even more.
My fourth tip to visiting Machu Picchu is to hire a guide, which you can do in Cusco, Aguas Calientes, or even at the park’s entrance.
Take your time (No Rush!)
After the two hour guided tour, you will have some free time to yourself. What most people do then is take lots of pictures and leave.
Very few visitors stay there in the afternoon, or until the park closes. Actually, the peak visiting time is between 11:00 and 3:00, so before and after this is the perfect time to walk around the alleys once again, this time without having to wait for people climbing the steps ahead of you or coming into your pictures.
Machu Picchu is one of those mythical and mesmerising places that you just don’t want to leave. And remember that it’s not just a landmark but also a sacred place.
So, take your time during your visit, rest on one of the lawns, and enjoy the breathtaking vistas as much as you can, because you may never come back…
Do a Hike
There are several optional short hikes that you can do at Machu Picchu. The Sun Gate, a 3h round trip, and the Inca Bridge, a 1h round trip, are free hikes and very easy to do.
But if you want some real adventure and a privileged view, you should definitely hike Huyana Picchu or Machu Picchu Mountain (Montaña).
Huyana Picchu, a mountain facing the citadel and the one we see in every picture of Machu Picchu, is not as high and easier, therefore the most popular. The peak of Huayna Picchu is about 2,720 m (8,920 ft) above sea level, and 360 m (1,180 ft) higher than Machu Picchu. The hike takes in general 2h, and there are some slippery steps and steel-cables to provide support during the climb.
Montaña, a huge mountain across Huyana Picchu, is higher and more difficult, but the views are actually better. The altitude of the summit is 3,082 m (10,11 feet) above sea level, and 652 m (2,139 feet) above Machu Picchu. The terrain is made up of stone path steps (Inca Trail style), and the hike takes about 3h.
Only 400 people per day are allowed to climb those mountains, and tickets have to be purchased in advance.
I hiked Machu Picchu Mountain and it’s the most difficult hike I’ve ever done. There isn’t a single flat part, only ascents, and the high altitude makes everything harder. But the view is absolutely stunning and it’s totally worthwhile.
Be adventurous and follow my sixth tip when visiting Machu Picchu!
Stamp your passport
When visiting the Inca citadel you need to present a valid travel document with your ticket, so don’t forget to bring your passport with you.
Once you’ve followed all these tips to visiting Machu Picchu and it’s time to leave the park, don’t forget to get your passport stamped at the booth located on the right, just before you pass the exit gate.
Very few tourists attractions in the world have their own stamp, so don’t miss the opportunity to get yours. I have to admit I almost forgot myself but luckily I remembered right in front of the gate. Now my passport is proudly boasting a Machu Picchu stamp.
Machu Picchu is truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience, a journey through the Inca Civilization and a chance to experience a bit of the early history of mankind.
Enjoy your visit and safe travels.
¡Hina kachun! – Good Luck in Quechua, the language of the Incas
About the Author
Péricles Rosa is a Brazilian-born adventurer who has been to over 40 countries. Previous to traveling and blogging, he obtained a science degree, lectured in chemistry, mathematics and physics, worked as a model, and studied Travel, Tourism and Hospitality Management. He has lived in Brazil, Europe and the US and speaks four languages: Portuguese, English, Spanish and Italian. His blog 7Continents1Passport combines his passion for travel with a unique and personal perspective on the diverse destinations he’s visited.