Everything you should know before going to Machu Picchu! How to get there? When to go to Machu Picchu? Where to buy the tickets and how much does it cost? What are the different ways to get there as well as the cheapest option to visit the famous Inca citadel. And what do the new regulations say?
24th of February, 2018 13°09'47.7"S 72°32'41.8"W
Machu Picchu, the unavoidable.
The Inca citadel is THE main attraction while visiting Peru. Everyone wants to see the fascinating and mysterious archaeological site. Considered as one of the new seven wonders of the world, Machu Picchu (“old mountain” in quechua) is the biggest symbol of the Inca civilisation.
HOW TO GET THERE
To reach the magnificent citadel, different options are available according to your budget, your physical conditions or simply the way you travel.
OPTION 1 – the backpacker’s favorite: walking !
If you are on a low budget, quite in good shape, short in time and not afraid to walk long distance then this option is made for you. Having said that, walking there can be done through 3 different routes !
ROUTE #1 – Cusco → Hidroeléctrica → Aguas Calientes → Machu Picchu
Duration: 2 days/1night
Total cost: approx. 63€ | $77 | S/246 (student price) or 82€ | 100$ | S/322
According to us, the best option in terms of convenience and value for money. This route is also very popular among the backpackers ! We personally chose this option as we were students when we visited Machu Picchu in 2016 i.e. before the new rules – we had few time and money.
From Cusco, we took a collectivo at 7 a.m which goes directly to Hidroeléctrica (departure of the walking part). We personally booked the day before leaving to Machu Picchu. It takes around 6 to 7 hours to reach Hidroeléctrica and costs approx. 70 soles back and forth. Make sure to keep the receipt and memorize the name of the company or the driver. On the way back tons of vans will be waiting and yelling the names of the passengers, so be a little attentive.
After being dropped off in Hidroeléctrica we finally started walking. The path is really easy to find but in case you seem a bit confused simply ask someone or follow the others. There is no chance to really get lost as the walk consists of following the train tracks. Be aware that this is an active railway and trains will eventually pass by during the day. Usually you can hear when a train is coming so if you are walking on the train tracks make sure to step aside and keep walking safely. Talking about safety, the path is very safe. Especially during high season (may to september), you will meet a lot of hikers going to Aguas Calientes or coming back from it. Nevertheless, we would always recommend to hike with at least another person. The walk itself is just beautiful, the nature is green and luxuriant, there is a river along the path, birds are singing and you’ll find a few houses along the way. We almost felt like in a movie following the train tracks, crossing some old bridges and passing through dark tunnels.
After approx. 2 to 2 ½ hours of walking we arrived in Aguas Calientes. The walk of 15 kms is pretty easy and should not take too long depending on your walking pace. Sitting in the van for 7+ hours was the most exhausting part. Usually, leaving from Cusco at 7 am gives you enough time to make it to Aguas Calientes before sunset. For us it was a little bit different, our collectivo had a flat tire on the way so we had to stop for quite long (the group also decided to have a lunch break). Consequently, we had to walk a few kilometers in dim light before arriving in Aguas Calientes – luckily we were well equipped and brought some flashlights !
We explored a bit the city and went directly to the Centro Cultural of Aguas Calientes to book our entrance tickets for Machu Picchu – do not forget your passport !
Tickets in hand, we checked into our hostel and went straight for dinner (around S/30 for dinner and snacks for the next day). We were pretty tired and the only thing we wanted to do is sleep. But make sure to pack your bag the night before ! You can not bring your big backpack while visiting Machu Picchu but there is usually a storage room in the hostel where you should be able to keep your backpack. Just bring a smaller bag with the essentials such as camera, sunscreen, a S/10 soles bill (this one is for a cool picture), water, passport, sunglasses and maybe a small snack.
And after a good night of sleep (or not) you are ready to wake up very early in the morning to start walking. We got up at around 4:30 am and walked through Aguas Calientes in direction of the starting point of the path to Machu Picchu.
There is also the possibility to take a bus from Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu for $12 ONE way. The price is exorbitant considering it only takes about 20 minutes to attain the entrance. But if you choose the bus option, make sure to book your ticket the day before. The first bus leaves at 5:30 am, followed by further departures each 10 minutes. The waiting line is pretty long to board the buses so make sure to arrive early enough ! For the way down, you can buy your ticket directly at the entrance of Machu Picchu. Keep in mind that the queue to purchase the return-ticket is very very long. In case you are sure to come back by bus, we advise you to buy also the return ticket the day before in Aguas Calientes.
Especially in high season, it might happen that you’ll have to queue in Aguas Calientes before starting the walk to the entrance of Machu Picchu. We don’t exactly remember at what time we actually started but we had to queue for quite some time until we finally could get going. It took us a bit more than an 1 hour to reach the entrance. Of course it depends on how fast and fit you are but it shouldn’t take more than 1 ½ hours. The path is relatively easy but steep. However it can be done with kids as we met many families on the way.
Finally passing the entrance, here we are contemplating the marvelous Machu Picchu in all its glory. We arrived before all the buses so the site was still calm and “empty”. We definitely recommend walking up there – first because you have to deserve it and second because you get to avoid the crowd for at least an hour or two. Except if it’s pouring rain then maybe consider choosing the bus.
We walked back at around 11:30 am and took exactly the same way down as we came up. We had enough time to pass by our hostel, collect our backpack and then walk back until Hidroeléctrica where our collectivo was awaiting us.
ROUTE #2 – Cusco → Santa Maria → Santa Teresa → Hidroeléctrica → Aguas Calientes → Machu Picchu
Duration: 3 days/2 nights
Total cost: approx. 69€ | $84 | S/270 (student price) or 88€ | 108$ | S/346
This route takes slightly more time, it is feasible in one day but spending an extra night in Santa Teresa (approx. S/22 the night) is highly recommended.
From Terminal Santiago in Cusco, take a collectivo (S/15 soles) or a bus (S/30 soles) in direction of Quillabamba and ask to be dropped in Santa Maria – it takes around 5 hours to get there. Once in Santa Maria take a colectivo for S/5-6 or a shared taxi in direction of Santa Teresa. This is another 2 hours drive and it should not be a problem to find a transport.
In Santa Teresa, you’ll have two options. Taking a 20 mn bus or a taxi for S/5-6 directly to Hidroeléctrica where a walk of approx. 2 to 2 ½ hours along the train tracks is waiting for you to reach Aguas Calientes. Or spending the night in Santa Teresa and start the walk the next morning. This decision is really up to you, accommodations are rather cheap in Santa Teresa but you may have to spend a bit more on food and snacks since the route is longer.
For the part from Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu, see the description in Route #1.
ROUTE #3 – Ollantaytambo → Aguas Calientes → Machu Picchu
Duration: 2 days/1 night
Total Cost: approx. 46€ | $56 | S/179 (student price) or 65€ | 80$ | S/255
This route is a bit more risky and exhausting. It is required to be fit and not afraid to hike long distance as it involves a 28 km walk from Ollantaytambo to Aguas Calientes. We’ve heard about this option but didn’t personally do it. However, we found a very complete article which explains how to get to Machu Picchu walking from Ollantaytambo – check here the article.
OPTION 2 – Pricy and convenient: by train (article coming soon)
OPTION 3 – Special trails such as the Inca Trail or the Salkantay Trail (article coming soon)
WHERE TO BUY THE TICKETS
Buying the tickets in Cusco or Aguas Calientes is the only way to benefit the student or kids discount if you don’t want to book through a travel agency. Passport is obligatory to buy a ticket.
Museo Histórico Regional, Casa Garcilaso – Calle Garcilaso (before the Plaza Regocijo and near the Museo de Chocolate)
Kusicancha – Calle Maruri 340
Centro cultural Avenida Pachacutec, cuadra 1 (cash only)
Online (slow and with visa card only)
WHAT ABOUT THE NEW REGULATIONS
Last year the Peruvian Ministry of Culture announced new entrance rules to any visitor of Machu Picchu. Because more and more tourists are visiting the worldwide famous Inca citadel, it has been decided to implement new regulations in order to preserve the archeological site. What did actually change ? Well, to our surprise the number of visitors allowed on the site did not decrease but increased ! These measures which came into force since July 2017 are still unclear and are being “tested” for a period of 2 years – so it might change. But basically, the new rules only affect the visiting hours, the circuits that visitors must follow, the re-entrance of the site and most importantly the “babysitting” of visitors with a guide.
VISITING HOURS → Each visitor is only allowed on the site for a maximum period of 6 hours. Entries are divided into 2 distinct groups:
– Morning entrance from 6am to 12pm
– Afternoon entrance from 12pm to 5:30pm
This means that each visitor MUST enter and leave during the timeframe set. Except if you really want to spend the whole day in Machu Picchu, but then you’ll need to buy 2 entrance tickets.
DETERMINED CIRCUITS → Apparently 3 defined circuits have been created in order to avoid crowds in one spot. It’s a one way circuit which you have to follow. Only the guides are aware of these circuits and will decide which one to take.
RE-ENTRANCE → Unless you have another ticket, re-entrance on the Machu Picchu site is NO longer allowed. In case you wanted to know, the only toilets are located outside of the site.
OBLIGATORY ENTRY WITH GUIDE → Certainly the most annoying rule, all visitors MUST be accompanied by an official guide. It’s obligatory and you can’t do anything about it. Therefore, visitors have to enter the site with a guide, follow its itinerary and leave with the same guide. Guides can take a maximum of 16 people in a group. They can be found directly in the entrance of the site or through an agency. However if you plan on visiting Machu Picchu for 2 days, there is the possibility to do it freely the second day – a guide is only needed the first day. Once again, these new rules are still not very crystal clear and might change.
DIFFERENCES BETWEEN THE TICKETS
Apart from the site Machu Picchu itself, there is the possibility to combine it with two additional hikes – the mountain Huayna Picchu or the mountain Machu Picchu. It is highly recommended to book your tickets months in advance as there are limited entries available. If you want to get a different experience and unforgettable view of the site then you should definitely consider booking this extra hike.
Huayna Picchu or Wayna Picchu (“young mountain” in quechua) is the mountain located in the back of the ruins of Machu Picchu. It is easily recognisable as it is in the background of all traditional and famous pictures of Machu Picchu. It offers an impressive and panoramic view of the citadel and its surroundings. To climb the 2700m high mountain it is necessary to be physically fit. The climb is pretty steep with a lot of stairs and often narrow. You may need to use your hands in some more challenging parts. How long it really takes depends on your pace and the time you allocate to admire the different parts such as the Temple of the Moon but generally it takes around 2 to 2 ½ hours to do the loop. It is also not recommend for people with fear of heights.
The montaña Machu Picchu is the highest mountain (3082 m) which is located in front of the Huayna Picchu, behind the Machu Picchu site. The climb is “easier” than the Wayna Picchu but also longer (2 to 3 ½ hours back and forth). There are a lot of stairs (some are a bit high) and few shadow on the way so prepare a good amount of water and sunscreen. If you are not much of a hiker we recommend to choose this ascension, the path is larger and less technical in comparison to the Huayna Picchu hike. On top of that, the montaña Machu Picchu is a lot less famous and less crowded than its neighbour – giving it a more original experience. The view is just spectacular and somehow powerful, you’ll feel very small on top of this mountain.
Number of tickets available/ Visiting hours:
The number of hikers on the two mountains is limited per day. In high season it is necessary to book months in advance to guarantee a spot. Besides, it is only permitted to climb during certain time slots.
Huayna Picchu → 400 tickets per day i.e. 200 persons per group
Group 1 – entry from 7am to 8am
Group 2 – entry from 10am to 11am
Montaña Machu Picchu → 800 tickets per day i.e. 400 persons per group
Group 1 – entry from 7am to 8am
Group 2 – entry from 9am to 10am
HOW MUCH DOES IT COST
Machu Picchu = S/152 | 39€ | $47
Machu Picchu + Huayna Picchu = S/200 | 51€ | $62
Machu Picchu + Mountain Machu Picchu = S/200 | 51€ | $62
It is only possible to benefit the -50% discount by presenting a student VISA. Only students doing an exchange program in a Peruvian university can get the discount.
The International Student Identity Card (ISIC) is NO longer valid to get the student price.
Entrance to Machu Picchu is free for children under 8 years old. Children aged between 8 and 17 years old pay the same price as students.
ACCOMMODATION IN AGUAS CALIENTES
Almost all the accommodation are below average. Further down you’ll find a list of the “best” hostels in Aguas Calientes – make sure to book early enough to avoid any bad surprises. Machu Picchu is the most touristy place in Peru and it is pretty likely that everything will be fully booked. We personally booked a few days before and ended up in a weird room which was not even in the hostel itself but at someone’s place (maybe, we are still not sure). We paid S/70 per person which is the average price in Aguas Calientes.
Inka Wonder, private rooms only
Vista MachuPicchu, private rooms only
Samananchis MachuPicchu, private rooms only
Eco Machu Picchu Pueblo, private rooms + dorms
Supertramp Hostel Machu Picchu, private rooms + dorms
Ecopackers Hostels, private rooms + dorms
Machu Picchu is opened all year long from 6am until 5pm (last entry to the site at 4pm)
Rush hour is around 1:30 pm to 4pm
Low season i.e. rain season: december to april // High season i.e. dry season: may to september
If you decide to visit Machu Picchu during the rain season, do NOT forget your raincoat
The weather is very unpredictable in this region make sure to pack clothes for sun AND rain even during dry season
As a souvenir you can get a stamp of Machu Picchu in your passport
Everything is bit more expensive in Aguas Calientes, if you can we suggest to buy the essentials before arriving there
ATMs are available in Aguas Calientes but with higher withdrawal fees
You’ll find in page 9 of this document, the full list of items which are prohibited in Machu Picchu such as tripods, selfie sticks, umbrellas, alcohol etc…