It’s easy to see why Machu Picchu is Peru’s biggest tourist attraction. It was our primary reason for wanting visit to Peru (although during our trip we discovered so many amazing places including the Amazonian jungle) and we had high expectations. We weren’t disappointed. Here is our guide about the best time to visit Machu Picchu, how to get tickets and what to expect when you get there. This post has been updated to incorporate the changes to visiting for 2024.
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Best Time To Visit Machu Picchu
Machu Picchu can be visited year round. The most popular time to visit is June to September with shoulder seasons in May and October. Peru’s rainy season runs from November to March.
But the rules for visiting Machu Picchu have changed for 2024. The reason for this is that the authorities want to protect the site as much as possible and control the crowds. The total number of people allowed to visit is 4,500 each day. This number is split between the people who walk the full Inca trail, the short trail and day visitors.
For visitors to the site the morning and afternoon tickets have been replaced by hourly slots of 190 visitors each.
The Ministry of Culture has introduced 5 circuits. Follow this link to check the route for the sites you wish to see. The tours are of varying duration and are guided. There may be some time for self-exploration at the end of the tour. It is mandatory to have a guide. Because of this it may be worth considering taking an organised trip.
You are allowed to stay for a maximum of 4 hours.
Tickets can be purchased from the Ministry of Culture website.
If you wish to climb Huyana Picchu (the mountain behind the site as seen in the most famouse pictures) you have to purchase a separate ticket. Three hundred tickets will be available each day. There are hourly entrance slots (75 tickets each) from 06:00am to 13:00pm.
If Huyana Picchu sells out, it is possible to climb Huchuy Picchu and get a great alternative view of the site.
How To Get to Machu Picchu
There are several ways to visit Machu Picchu. The most famous is probably the hike along the Inca Trail. The Incas built an intricate and sophisticated network of trails throughout their enormous empire that encompassed Quito (Ecuador) in the north to Santiago (Chile) in the west and to Mendoza (Argentina) in the east. The trails ran to around 40,000km. But the best known trail is that which runs approximately 43km from Peru’s Sacred Valley to Machu Picchu via the sites of Runcuracay, Sayacmarca, Phuyupatamarca, Wiñay Wayna.
You can’t just turn up with your walking boots and rucksack – you have to book via a tour operator who is both registered and owns a licence. Access to the trail is controlled and can get extremely busy – up to 500 people, including guides and porters, make the trip each day. This mean that only about 200 visitors can walk the trail.
High season for this trail runs from April until October and should be booked well in advance. The classic four day Inca Trail starts at a place called Km82 (82 km along the railway track that runs between Cusco and Machu Picchu). It reaches a maximum altitude of 4200m so it is really important to have acclimatised fully before attempting the hike. Some operators offer a shorter trek, about 15km, which starts much closer to Machu Picchu, and can usually be completed within a day.
An alternative approach is to travel from the Cusco area, Urubmaba or Ollantaytambo by train. There are a number of options depending on your budget, from the relatively cheap to the downright decadent. Some trains are for Peruvian visitors only, so that local people can visit their country’s most famous attraction. We travelled on the mid-range Vistadome from Poyroy, a station located around 20 minutes from Cusco. It was an early start and the trip took around three and a half hours to arrive at the valley. A light meal and drinks were provided on the way and the views were stunning.
Transportation will be waiting close to the station when you arrive and you will need to buy a ticket to catch a bus that will take you up a road with an inordinate number of hairpin bends to the entrance, on a journey that takes around half an hour.
Arriving At Machu Picchu
Whether you arrive by trail or train it’s the most spectacular sight.
Machu Picchu was an Inca city that wasn’t located by the Spanish Conquistadors and hence wasn’t plundered or destroyed. It was discovered by American professor Hiram Bingham in 1911. Inca architecture really is remarkable (there are many examples throughout the Sacred Valley between this site and Cusco). The dry stone wall structures are not square, doorways are trapezoidal and the stones are laid in such a way as to provide strength and flexibility. Many of the stones have multiple angles and are cut and sometimes polished to fit together perfectly. They have survived centuries of earthquakes, remaining standing long after the Conquistadors’ flimsy structures had toppled over.
Although the functions of many of the buildings are not known for sure, archaeologists and anthropologists have determined that Machu Picchu was an important ceremonial site built as a royal estate for the Inca emperor Pachacuti.
The function of the Funerary Stone is not fully clear but it is thought that it might be a sacrificial altar.
The Temple of the Sun was likely to be an astronomical observatory. Niches in the walls may have been used for offerings. There is a rock in the centre which lines up with the morning rays of the sun at the summer solstice.
The Royal Tomb – Palace of the Princess may have housed the Sun princesses or Ñustas. This structure takes full advantage of the natural rock formation.
The Temple of Three windows is in the area considered to be the Royal Sector. Most archaeologists now believe that the site was built as an estate for Pachacuti Inca Yupanqui, the ninth Sapa Inca, that is, the emperor of the Inca empire.
The Principal Temple is the largest of the temples in the Royal Sector and has three sides with huge foundation blocks and carefully cut stones.
It is thought that Intihuatana was used by the Inca people as a sundial. It could have been used to predict the solstices. The shape of the rock resembles Huayna Picchu, the mountain located directly behind the stone.
The mortar district is characterised by the stone circles carved into the rock. The area is also known as the industrial sector. It was originally thought that the mortars were for crushing grain but there doesn’t seem to be evidence for this.
The Condor Temple was originally considered to be part of a prison zone but experts these days believe it was more likely to be a temple. One of the rocks has the appearance of the head of a condor, a bird considered to be sacred to the Incas.
And the terraces – both internal and external – are simply spectacular.
The site is huge and there’s still more of the city still to be reclaimed from the jungle – archaeologists are working at uncovering more ruins.
Most visitors who visit Machu Picchu are day-trippers but we decided to spend one night at the local village Aguas Calientes (which literally means ‘hot water’ on account of the hot springs) also known as Machu Picchu Pueblo or Machu Picchu Town, in the valley below. We visited before the new restrictions came in which meant that we could hang around the site until sunset when it becomes significantly less busy. (There is just one hotel at Machu Picchu itself and it is expensive.)
Aguas Calientes is set up for tourists – there are plenty of places to stay and restaurants to eat at. There are also thermal baths if you feel the need for a good soak at the end of a day’s exploration.
Climbing Huayna Picchu
Another essential thing we wanted to do as part of our visit to Machu Picchu was to climb Huayna Picchu on our second day. We recommend buying two tickets – one to visit the main site and another to climb Huyana Picchu the following day.
Only 300 people are allowed up there each day, and entrance is timed into hourly slots.
We started off early in the morning and caught the first bus from Aguas Calientes.
It’s actually an easier climb than it looks, although you do need to be reasonably fit, and took us about an hour to get right to the very top.
There is a need to wiggle through some rocks on the path.
Needless to say, the view was stunning.
A rufus collared sparrow clearly took the easy route up.
There are llama and alpaca lawnmowers roaming freely around the whole site and they’re clearly very used to hordes of tourists passing through.
Practical Info About Visiting Machu Picchu
With the new restrictions on visitors book your tickets early! Really early – several months in advance.
There are no toilets on site. It is advisable to bring water, but take in a reusable bottle if possible.
Don’t bring loads of luggage. Bring ID – your passport will be fine.
You have a maximum of four hours at the site. Once you have exited you will not be allowed back in.
Other rules for visiting can be found here. https://www.machupicchu.gob.pe/prohibiciones/
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