Kicking off our new Bucket List Destinations Feature we start with the legendary Inca Site of Machu Picchu, likely to make most people’s top ten must visit destinations.
This iconic 15th century Inca site sits high up in the Peruvian Andes at a height of over 2,000 metres above sea level. Since gaining worldwide recognition in 1911 Machu Picchu has been the subject of ongoing restoration work which continues today. Named as a Unesco Heritage site in 1983 almost half a million people flock to this ancient wonder every year.
Arriving In The Area
This guide assumes you’re not visiting as part of an extended trip attempting the Inca Trail (look out for our Inca Trail article coming soon). The closest town to Machu Picchu is Aguas Calientes which is reached by train from the city of Cusco, most likely where you will fly into. There are three choices of trains which vary in comfort and of course price, but the journey with either takes around 3.5 hours. For up to date timetables and to book tickets in advance (strongly recommended) check out the Peru Rail Website here.
Traveller Tip– The train to Aguas Calientes doesn’t leave from Cusco itself but from the smaller neighbouring town of Poroy which is a short drive away by taxi; allow yourself half an hour to be sure of catching your train.
Getting To The Top
From Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu itself you have two options; a strenuous 8km trek up the mountainside or a 25 minute winding bus ride. If you do opt for the walk allow yourself plenty of time, make sure you are suitably prepared and don’t underestimate the impact of altitude.
To take the bus you must purchase tickets in advance, don’t wait until trying to board the bus. Tickets can be bought from the Consettur office in Cusco or Aguas Calientes. The return journey as a foreign visitor costs approx. £13.
Buses leave from the main bus terminal in Aguas Calientes with the first departing at 05:30, arriving just before sunrise, and the last departing Machu Picchu at 16:00. Buses depart when full, roughly every 10 minutes. Be prepared to wait a while both to buy tickets and board a bus, particularly in high season.
Traveller Tip- If you do decide to walk to the top consider at least taking the bus back down. The journey back down can be just as hard as the journey up, especially at the end of the day.
Tickets for Entry
It is strongly recommended to book entry tickets in advance. For preservation purposes there is a limit of 2,500 visitors per day and tickets can often sell out well ahead of time so don’t take the risk! To book your tickets if you are not travelling as part of a tour visit the official website here. Tickets for a foreign visitor cost 128 Peruvian Sols which is roughly £26 and can be paid for using a debit/credit card.
This is the steep mountain at the far end of Machu Picchu which can also be visited as part of your trip, but tickets for this cost extra. Restrictions on visitors are even smaller for this part of the site (400 per day), and so booking in advance is strongly recommended. You can do that on the same website and have the option of one of two visiting times; 07:00-08:00 or 10:00-11:00. Tickets cost an extra £5 and while it is definitely a must see the climb to the top is pretty steep so only pay the extra if you think you can make it.
How Long to Stay
You could (and probably should) spend a whole day at Machu Picchu to get a full experience and appreciate it at various times of day. At a very minimum though plan to stay at least 4 hours.
The busiest times of day are between 11 and 3 when the guided tours frequent the site, but expect it to be fairly busy at all times. Probably the best time of day is late on as the crowds start to thin and the light is at its best for photographs.
To get the most from your visit it is recommended to spend the night before and after your visit in Aguas Calientes. If you’re pressed for time however it can be done in just day from Cusco.
Be mindful of the impact of altitude however and ensure you allocate yourself enough time to adjust; don’t run the risk of ruining your trip by underestimating the impact this can have.
Some people choose to spend a few days in Cusco acclamatising; however at 11,000 feet above seas level this can be quite a shock to the system so others opt to head straight to Aguas Calientes as soon as they land in Cusco which, sitting at 8,000 feet allows for a more gradual adjustment.
- Always take some water with you
- Be prepared for it to rain- bring a jacket
- Bring your passport- you may have to show it to enter and re-enter having stepped out of the site to use the toilet or grab some food
- Don’t forget suncream
When To Visit
The main tourist season at Machu Picchu is May to September, so be prepared for crowds, especially in July and August. Rain is heaviest and most common in January & February, with November to April being the rainy season.
With that in mind try the shoulder months of April & October, where the risk of rain is less (however showers are still likely), and crowds are smaller.
Have you been to Machu Picchu? How did you get there? Share your stories and photos with us or leave a comment below!