Hiking to Machu Picchu is an incredible experience not to be missed when you’re in Peru. As a prominent symbol of the Incan civilization, it was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site and has become one of the most famous ruins in the country.
Whether you’re doing the Inca Trail or not, here’s a comprehensive guide I’ve put together. It covers everything you need to know about Machu Picchu.
BEST TIME TO GO
Machu Picchu is open all year-round. The dry season is from April to October, and the wet season is from December to March.
So if you want the best chance of trekking with clear views, go during the dry season. Keep in mind that it can get crowded with tourists during this timeframe if that matters to you.
If you’re planning to do the Inca Trail, avoid February. It’s the wettest month of the year and the trail path will be closed for maintenance.
The Machu Picchu site comprises of the main grounds (including the museum), and two mountains (Huayna Picchu and Machu Picchu Montana).
Whether you arrive at the main site via the Inca Trail or not, you would have the option to climb up one of these two mountains. Ticket prices for both are the same.
But you may ask, what’s the difference between both of them?
As the peak that appears behind Machu Picchu in the classic photo, Huayna Picchu is the more popular option for climbers. However, it’s also risky and terrifying especially for those with fear of heights. It’s quite steep and narrow to climb, and require holding onto security cables to maintain their balance at some point.
Machu Picchu Montana
Also known as Machu Picchu Mountain, it’s less steep and wider than Huayna Picchu, though it does take a longer time (approximately an hour and a half) to climb.
Types of Entrance Tickets
There are three types.
- Machu Picchu’s main site only
- Machu Picchu’s main site + Huayna Picchu
- Machu Picchu’s main site + Montana
There are two time slots each for both mountains.
Huayna Picchu’s typically runs: from 7 am to 8 am, and 10 am to 11 am.
For Machu Picchu Montana, it is: from 7 am to 8 am, and 9 am to 10 am.
Where To Get Tickets
You can get tickets either from the Machu Picchu government website or tour agencies.
But if you ask me, waiting until you arrive in Peru is probably the best option! There’re so much competition between tour operators here offering trips to Machu Picchu, so you’ll likely find some good deals. Depending on where you stay prior to the hike, your hotel or hostel might offer tour reservation services.
If you’re from Peru, Bolivia, Colombia or Ecuador, you’ll generally pay less for entrance than travelers from other countries.
HOW TO GET THERE
There are generally three options for getting to Machu Picchu – trekking, going via the regular route or traveling by train.
If you want to have the full experience of a lifetime, this tour is highly recommended.
Dead Woman’s Pass
The entire hike typically lasts for 4 days and starts from KM 82.
It will take you to Wayllabamba Camp (over a span of about 11 kilometres) on the first day, Dead Woman’s Pass on the second, and Phuyupatamarca on the third (the longest day of all).
On the final day, you’ll take a pre-dawn hike to Machu Picchu and get to see it from the Sun Gate. In most cases, you will have a guided tour of the main grounds and free time to roam around yourself.
This is a great alternative to the Inca Trail, especially if you’re on a budget.
Depending on the tour operator you book the trip with, this trek lasts between three and five days, and takes you through spectacular sites such as the Humantay Lake and snowcapped Salkantay Mountain.
It ends at Aguas Calientes where you would most likely have to spend overnight before getting to Machu Picchu the next morning either by bus or walking (for about an hour and a half).
Not planning to trek there? No problem.
You just need to get to Hydroelectrico (where a hydroelectric plant is located) first. This is where you will start your three hour hike (more like walking) to Aguas Calientes, which is the closest access point to Machu Picchu. For this reason, it serves as an overnight stopover for travelers choosing this path before they venture off to Machu Picchu the next morning.
To make your way to Hydroelectrico, you can either rent a car in Cusco or book a trip with a local tour operator.
Tour packages usually include round-trip transportation to Hydroelectrico and overnight accommodation.
You can take a shuttle bus from Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu’s main site for around USD 12 (one way) or USD 24 (round-trip). Tickets are available for sale at the main ticket office in Aguas Calientes. This is also where buses usually depart from every 15 minutes from 5.30 am to 3 pm. It takes about 20 minutes to reach the main site.
Otherwise, you can hike your way to Machu Picchu, which takes about an hour and a half.
|NOTE : Look around for tour options for Machu Picchu only when you’re in Cusco. They are usually cheaper than the ones you book online in advance. Moreover, you can compare prices between each tour package.|
You can travel with Peru Rail from either Ollantaytambo or Poroy station.
Due to its proximity to Cusco, tickets for the rail journey from Poroy station tend to sell out pretty fast. Only 4 departures are available each day on this route. So I highly recommend booking tickets in advance.
Traveling from Poroy is also more expensive than from Ollantaytambo. If you’re on a budget and want to have flexibility in planning your trip, getting to Aguas Calientes from Ollantaytambo is probably the better option.
If you prefer extra comfort and can afford to spend more, Inca Rail is probably what you’re looking for. It comes in 4 different categories, each with its own set of services. The only thing is, you would need to take a bus from Cusco to Ollantaytambo first, where the train will take you to Aguas Calientes.
WHAT TO PACK
This depends on whether you’re trekking or not. But generally these are the items I recommend everyone to bring along.
It is mandatory for those doing the Inca Trail to present their passport at the official government checkpoint before starting the trek. This is to enforce a limit on the number of trekkers allowed into the trail each day. You will get a stamp on your passport, which will remind you of the fact that you’ve kicked one of the best world adventures off your bucket list!
Even if you’re not trekking, I don’t recommend leaving your passport at your overnight accommodation in Aguas Calientes. It’s your most prized possession for traveling after all.
2. Water Bottle
Getting one close to Machu Picchu costs as much as 8 Peruvian Sol, compared to only 2 Sol in Cusco. So bring yours prior to your trip.
3. Appropriate Hiking Attire
Whether you’re trekking to Machu Picchu or not, comfort is extremely important for a great hike. So you would definitely want clothes that can layer.
I highly recommend Uniqlo’s HeatTech top for its heat retention and anti-odour properties. It will keep you warm inside so you can just wear a short or long sleeve shirt underneath and put on a light waterproof or windbreaker jacket.
Do bring along at least two trekking pants. It gives you a peace of mind in case one of them gets dirty while trekking.
You wouldn’t want to lug around heavy baggage especially if you’re trekking for four days. Depending on the amount of items you need, I recommend carrying a bag not exceeding the weight range of 30 and 35 Litre.
|NOTE : Only small bags are allowed into Machu Picchu. If you are coming from Aguas Calientes, transfer only the essential items to a smaller bag and store your large backpack in your accommodation.|
5. Appropriate Footwear
Generally, hiking boots are perfect since they provide ankle support and can withstand wear and tear for quite a while.
While trainers are not as sturdy as boots, they are lightweight. It has become increasingly popular with hikers as more trainers come with an excellent grip and torsional rigidity these days.
6. Scarves and Knit Cap
A knit cap comes in handy in case it rains and you don’t have an umbrella.
7. Sleeping Bag
For trekkers, it’s obviously the most important basic item for ensuring a good night of sleep and keeping yourself warm. In this case, a four season sleeping bag would be recommended for visiting Peru (or the rest of South America) at any time of the year.
8. First-Aid Kit
You never know what’s going to happen while trekking. In case of injuries, a first-aid kit would be a lifesaver!
You might need it to buy essentials or snacks when passing by locally-run stores over the course of your trek.
It’s useful when the need to navigate around your campsite or search for essentials at night arises.
11. Camera and Electronic Gear
That’s pretty obvious. But aside from your own camera, having a power bank, extra batteries and memory cards are key to ensuring that you’re ready to capture images on the go.
|NOTE : However, don’t bring your tripod as they’re not allowed. You can store them in the lockers outside though.|