Machu Picchu
South America, Trips and Destinations

Tips About Visiting Machu Picchu, Peru

No trip to Peru is possible without Machu Picchu! Nestled on top of a mountain in the Andean jungle, this beautiful place is a magnet for thousands of tourists from all around the world. Machu Picchu was not discovered until 1911, when the American historian Hiram Bingham found the city with the help of the local Quechua farmers.

The biggest value of this hidden Inca city is in the fact that it was found practically intact. Due to its remoteness, the Spanish never found and never plundered it. This is why it needs to be protected even today.

Machu Picchu

Booking the Tour to Machu Picchu

The trips to Machu Picchu typically originate from Cusco (Check out our article about Top 10 Most Interesting Places in and around Cusco). Due to the fact that the daily amount of visitors is strictly limited, it is generally recommended to book as early as possible, at least a month ahead. We didn’t know exactly when we would be visiting, so we had to find a way to book almost last-minute. Thankfully, it was not the highest season and although the online system didn’t let us buy, there were still tickets available.

We called one of the tour operators recommended by Peru Hop. They told us to book the first available date (a month or so ahead) and then they changed it back to our desired date internally. It was quite confusing, but worked out well in the end. Apparently, even though there is an attempt to distribute the number of visitors to later dates, there is often no issue with buying tickets last minute. Try not to risk it though, you might not be so lucky, especially during high season.

📍 To book, you will need your passport. The tickets are non-transferable and generally non-refundable.  

In our trip, we opted for a 2 day/1 night Machu Picchu tour, where the first day was dedicated to traveling to Aguas Calientes (which is now called the Village of Machupicchu). The next day we did the actual tour and came back to Cusco late the same night.  The price for all this was US $250 each and included:

  • transfers (a bus from Cusco to Ollantaytambo and back and a train from Ollantaytambo to Aguas Calientes and back)
  • a night in a dorm room in Aguas Calientes (we upgraded to a double room later)
  • a guided tour of Machu Picchu.

At first we were a bit shocked by the price, but later we realized that we actually had a good deal.

📍 The train that you have to take to get to Machu Picchu doesn’t allow a lot of luggage. You will possibly need to leave your suitcases in Cusco and just take “carry on”. Most of the Cusco hotels will store your luggage for free.

Getting to Machu Picchu

In order to reach Machu Picchu, first you have to travel by bus to a picturesque mountain village called Ollantaytambo. It is famous for yet another mysterious ancient structure called the Temple of the Sun. We visited it separately later within out Sacred Valley Tour, so this time we walked straight to the train station. Our tour included the train tickets and we found out that the price was $55 each way, which made up for a big portion of the tour price.

Ollantaytambo Train Station
The ticket booth

Ollantaytambo Train Station

Ollantaytambo Train Station
The entrance and a small market where you can buy snacks and drinks

Train to Machu Picchu

This ride was a fun thing to do in itself! The train makes its way through thick jungle along bubbling brooks and nature trails. There is a food and drink service so we bought a glass of wine and thoroughly enjoyed the beautiful scenery.

Aguas Calientes

Aguas Calientes, or Machupicchu Village, was basically built to accommodate tourists traveling to see Machu Picchu. In a very short period of time it developed from a poor village into a luxury and a bit artificial Vegas-like tourist town. The train tracks run in the middle of the main street and on each side there are hotels, restaurants, bars, shops and boutiques. Everything is generally more expensive in Aguas Calientes than in Cusco, so make sure you have everything you need with you. Restaurants are expensive, too, but keep your eyes open for menu del dia. We had a great one of these in a small restaurant called Centenario for only 30 soles, which included a home-made ice-cream as well!

Aguas Calientes (Village of Machupicchu)
Aguas Calientes

Aguas Calientes (Village of Machupicchu)
A Statue of Pachacutec in Aguas Calientes

Machupicchu Village
The next day… Local musicians teach me how to play Peruvian pan-flute… 😉

…and then play beautiful Peruvian music for us !

In Aguas Calientes, we stayed at Ecopackers Hostel. Everything in this town is relatively new, including this hostel, so the rooms were crispy clean and modern. Our tour included two beds in a dorm, but we easily upgraded to a double room and just paid the small difference. The hostel stored our backpacks the next day so we only took a small lightweight bag to Machu Picchu. Our train was late at night, so after dinner we happily hung out at their bar and played pool. Everyone was really friendly and made us feel very welcome. I will most definitely recommend this hotel.

Ecopackers Hostel, Machupicchu
The bar upstairs at the Ecopackers Hostel, Machupicchu

Eco Packers Hostel, Machupicchu
With Yuliana at the front desk

The Tour of Machu Picchu

All the tours to Machu Picchu have an assigned time. There is a walking trail that beautifully winds through the woods and a road for buses. Go at least 1,5 hours before the assigned time on your ticket. Even though buses depart one after the other, you will probably stand in line for about 30 minutes.

📍 The bus rate is not included in the tour. You will have to pay separately ($12 each way).  

Machu Picchu
The entrance to Machu Picchu

There is no need to tell you about Machu Picchu itself.  There is plenty of literature available about this amazing wonder of the world. We especially loved watching some curious llamas grazing along the walls. There are a lot of them and they are supercute!

I am not an expert on archaeology, but I did notice something interesting… The official version tells us that it was all built by Inca, namely the Emperor Pachacutec. However, if you look closely, you will notice a striking difference between three types of architecture. There is that perfect no-mortar monolith masonry of some of the temples, such as the Principal Temple and the Temple of the Three Windows. Those are more similar to Saqsaywaman or Tihuanaku in Bolivia. Then there are clean lines, but smaller stones of the Sun Temple that will remind you of the walls of Coricancha.  And then there is the regular Inca construction, almost sloppy in comparison to these other styles.

Machu Picchu

Machu Picchu
The Temple of the Three Windows

Machu Picchu
Gorgeous views from the windows

Machu Picchu
Giant monoliths at the base of the Principal Temple

Machu Picchu
More monolithic construction

Machu Picchu

Machu Picchu
The Temple of the Sun

Machu Picchu

What can it tell us? Doesn’t it imply that the less advanced buildings were erected around the buildings that were already there: amazing, awe-inspiring monolith structures that were regarded as sacred because they had been built by the gods? But then again, I am just a curious admirer.

Inspired by our experience in Saqsaywaman, we took the bus up the mountain and hiked the trail down. Different guides will tell you it takes about one hour to hike it, but it took us a bit over two hours. The trail was pretty strenuous (at least for us!) even downhill, but we took our sweet time and rested a lot. Also, the epic views opening before your eyes make you stop a lot and just hold your breath in awe. The pedestrian trail is made mainly of stairs, but every now and then we followed the bus road when the trail crossed it. It proved to be more gentle to our legs! Just be careful of the buses!

The Hiking Trail to and from Machu Picchu
On the way down

The Hiking Trail to and from Machu Picchu
The trail to and from Machu Picchu

The Hiking Trail to and from Machu Picchu

Recommendations for the Tour of Machu Picchu

I give a lot of advice based on my personal experience. So here’s one for you: make sure your camera is charged and working, and if you can, bring a back-up. The trail through the archaeological site is one-way only, and you won’t be able to return if you miss a photo opportunity!  My camera acted up in the middle of the tour and only later I found out I had lost some good photos.

Another recommendation: don’t despair if it’s foggy and cloudy. Our guide waited patiently till we finally caught an opportunity to make that million-dollar shot! Just look at the difference between one of our first photos at Machu Picchu and the one we finally managed to take!

Machu Picchu
Before…

Machu Picchu
…and after!

Conclusion

All in all, it was a great once-in–a-lifetime experience. However, if I did it again, I would do it a bit differently.

Instead of buying a tour from Cusco, would travel to Ollantaytambo and stay there for a couple of days. I regret that we didn’t spend more time in this beautiful village. Then, I would take a train from Ollantaytambo to Aguas Calientes by myself (the train station is really well organized and it’s easy to buy tickets). Lastly, I would buy a Machu Picchu tour directly in Aguas Calientes. Of course, there is more risk that something may go wrong, but it would definitely allow for a much more relaxed pace. Whatever way you do it, just take your time to stop and inhale this magical place. There is a definite power in it.

Besides the tour of the archaeological site of Machu Picchu, you can hike Machu Picchu Mountain and Huyana Picchu Mountain. You can find more information HERE.

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2 thoughts on “Tips About Visiting Machu Picchu, Peru”

  1. I have to take umbrage with your statement: “a luxury and a bit artificial Vegas-like tourist town”. Now I admit, we were there nearly 12 years ago but we found Aguas Calientes to be a fly-blown, biting-bug infested dump. Each day we were so happy to get away on the bus up the mountain. However, the rest of the Machu Picchu experience was fantastic. The only thing we did like about Aguas Calientes was a chic chic resort where we met friends (that had hiked in) for dinner. Nice place, good food and lots of wine. Their local guide explained to us the “dance of the flaming assholes”. Don’t know if it was the wine or the explanation but we laughed until wine came out our noses!

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    1. I guess it changed a lot! Another friend of ours has been there about 15 years ago and said it was nothing like it is today. They really built the whole town from the ground up and a lot is still being built now. It’s all brand new, modern and pretty, nice flowerbeds, paver walkways etc…

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