Who does not dream of visiting Machu Picchu? High above the Andean mountains, the beauty of the lost city of the Incas shines through. Still catching my breath from the climb up to the caretaker’s hut, I caught my first glimpse of Machu Picchu. Covered in morning mist, the old city was enveloped in so much mystery. After an hour, the clouds lifted and the whole sight finally presented its grandeur. Amazing! I couldn’t recall how many times I had said this word to exclaim how I admired Machu Picchu. I had seen the photos, I had read some stories but nothing can ever compare to that ecstatic feeling when I finally saw this wonder of the world.
Machu Picchu is the best-known archaeological site in South America. No trip to Peru would be complete without a visit to this amazing place. Machu Picchu was the third wonder of the world that Jon and I visited together (after the Coliseum in Italy and Chichen Itza in Mexico). We had high expectations for Machu Picchu and this Inca site did not fail to deliver.
Related Post: Exploring the Wonder of the World, Chichen Itza
There are many ways to appreciate Machu Picchu’s beauty. First is to search for the perfect viewpoint to get an overview of the whole city. There are various viewpoints in Machu Picchu: Huayna Picchu, Machu Picchu Mountain, the Sun Gate and the Caretaker’s Hut. The first two have to be booked ahead and require at least an hour’s trek uphill. We didn’t get the chance to do the first two, since we weren’t able to book the tickets ahead. I don’t think we missed much, though. The Sun Gate marks the end of the Inca Trail. If you didn’t do the trek it is possible to go up from the main site to the Sun Gate, which takes about an hour. It is not a must-do but if you do get the chance to reach the top, you will be impressed by how Machu Picchu was built on top of such immense mountain scenery. The best view for us was from the Caretaker’s Hut. This view is the postcard perfect photo that you see from most people who visit Machu Picchu. Stray away from the crowd to get a perfect spot, we saw a flat stone just a few meters away from the hut that had the perfect panoramic view of Machu Picchu.
The second way to appreciate Machu Picchu is to walk along the main site and admire the remarkable stonework of the different buildings. It is best to do this early in the day, before the tour groups arrive. After visiting different Inca ruins in the Sacred Valley, I was truly impressed by the craftsmanship of the Incas. In Machu Picchu, we saw the peak of their knowledge in engineering. You can hire a guide to brief you on the speculations about the functions of Machu Picchu, otherwise you can do what we did, stroll around the site and immerse yourself into this massive work of history. We looked at our maps every now and then, but the best times we had were going through different areas and just seeing them for what they were.
If you have more time, you can also visit the Inca Bridge, 15 minutes’ walk from of the main site. This unique narrow bridge used to be accessible to tourists but due to a previous accident, you can only have a look at it now. The walk isn’t hard so you may as well do it. You also get to see the jungle part of Machu Picchu.
How to Get to Machu Picchu (Aguas Calientes)
First, let’s get things clear. Most of these options (apart from the Inca Trail) end in Aguas Calientes (Machu Picchu Pueblo) from there you still have to take a bus or hike up. More on this later.
- Train – There are two train operators that have service to Machu Picchu: Inca Rail and Peru Rail. There are several train classes and the trains run from Ollantaytambo or from Cusco (Poroy) to Machu Picchu. Price ranges from $100 and above for a return ticket. We went to Machu Picchu with Inca Rail’s Inca Train (Executive Class) and highly recommend it if you plan to go to Machu Picchu by train. You can check my blog post about the scenic train ride to Machu Picchu with Inca Rail.
- Inca Trail – This 4 to 5 day trek is the most famous way to get to Machu Picchu. Make sure to book at least 6 months in advance during the high season (late May to early September). They limit it to 500 people each day (including guides and porters). Price ranges from $480 to $600 and above.
- Alternative Multi Day Treks such as Salkantay Trek, Lares Trek, and Inca Jungle Trail – These treks are popular among backpackers and hiking enthusiasts. Price ranges from $200-$500, some even include the Machu Picchu Ticket. Check the latest Lonely Planet Peru for further information on these treks.
- Walk along the Train Tracks – Note, this option is not for everyone. If you happen to find yourself in a tight financial situation but still want to see Machu Picchu, you can walk along (not on) the train tracks from Hydroelectrica to Aguas Calientes. The walk takes about 3 hours but the bus from Cusco to Hydroelectrica takes about 7 hours. I read recently that it is also possible to walk along the train tracks from Ollantaytambo to Aguas Calientes, which takes about 7 to 8 hours. That’s a really long day of walking.
How to Get from Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu
To get to Machu Picchu, you can either walk along an uphill trail for about 1.5 hours or take the shuttle bus to Machu Picchu for $12. If you choose to take the bus, the bus tickets can be purchased in advance, at the booth near the pedestrian foot bridge closest to the train station/ artisan market. I recommend spending a night in Aguas Calientes so you can go as early as possible to Machu Picchu. Make sure to buy the bus tickets once you get to Aguas Calientes. The bus service starts at 5:30 am and leaves when it’s full. The line starts as early as 5am (same time as the bus ticket counter opens in case you missed the chance to buy the day before). The journey takes about 30 minutes, so if you get the 5:30 am bus, you’ll be there in time for the opening at 6:00 am.
Where to Buy Machu Picchu Tickets
It is important to know that the tickets for Machu Picchu are not sold in the archaeological site itself. The tickets have to be purchased through the Peru Tourism Office in Cusco or in Aguas Calientes. You can also buy the tickets or check the availability of tickets online thru this website: www.machupicchu.gob.pe.
What Machu Picchu Tickets Should I Purchase
There are various Machu Picchu tickests to choose from. The tickets for Huaynapicchu and Machu Picchu Mountain usually sell out fast as there are limited slots for these view points. It is required to present your passport during ticket purchase.
- Machu Picchu – Price: 128 Soles
- Machu Picchu + Huaynapicchu – Price: 152 Soles
Huayna Picchu is the small, steep mountain at the back of the ruins. It takes about 1.5 hour to reach the top for a different view of Machu Picchu.
- Machu Picchu + Machu Picchu Mountain – Price: 142 Soles
Machu Picchu Mountain is a higher viewpoint on the same side as the Caretaker’s Hut. It takes about 1.5 to 2 hours climb to get to the rewarding view of Machu Picchu.
- Machu Picchu + Museum – Price: 150 Soles
Tips for Your Visit to Machu Picchu
Go Early – I can’t stress enough how important it is to go to the site early. Not only do you get the chance to see more stuff on your own, you also get the opportunity to take photos of Machu Picchu with less if not, no people. I recommend timing your visit at about 6am to 7am.
Take Your Time – Some people take the whole day (6am to 5pm) to take in the beauty of Machu Picchu. We took about 5 hours (6am to 11am) and that was about enough time to wander around the ruins twice and see the attractions just outside of the main site, such as the Sun Gate and the Inca Bridge. Weather changes pretty fast so be patient and wait for the clouds to clear to get good photos.
Bring Your Passport – You need to present your passport, aside from your ticket when you enter (and re-enter) Machu Picchu. Also, at the end of your visit, get that memorable Machu Picchu stamp for your passport at the station near the entrance.
Prepare for the Altitude – Take some coca tea, chew some coca leaves or take an altitude sickness pill if you are prone to this. It is best to stay a few nights in Cusco to acclimatize before doing any trek or going to Machu Picchu.
Wear Layers and Comfortable Shoes – Prepare for non-stop walking. Make sure you wear some comfortable shoes for all the uphill and downhill walks at the site. It’s pretty cold in the morning and quite warm around midday so prepare for the weather changes.
Do you want to visit Machu Picchu? Have you been to any other wonders of the world? Let us know!