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How To Get To Machu Picchu: 10 Things You Need To Know

There is TOO MUCH information about Machu Picchu! There I said it. I love scanning through blogs to find the best, most unique tidbits to craft a one-of-a-kind itinerary. This is how authentic trips are made and how you don’t miss out on seeing something important. That whole lovely experience was ruined for me by Machu Picchu; talk about information overload! Here is ONLY the need-to-know information about how to get to Machu Picchu, no excessive details or fluff necessary.

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1) When To Go

June through August is busy and dry season. That makes April, May, September and October shoulder season when the weather is still mostly dry. November through March will be rainy, hot and just generally less than ideal.

2) How To Get To Machu Picchu:

Although you could find a dozen options, there are really only two, hiking or taking a train.

  • Hiking can take anywhere from 1-8 days depending on your starting point. The average is 3-5 days, be prepared to camp!
  • Make your way to Ollantaytambo where you will board a train to Aguas Caliente. From there, a bus will take you to Machu Picchu. Although it is possible to do all of this in the same day you should definitely spending a night in Aguas Caliente.

3) Do I Need A Guide?

Yes. Hiking the Inca trail without a guide has been prohibited since 2001. Since July, 2018 you need a guide inside Machu Picchu although it isn’t enforced yet. Regardless, unless you are a seasoned traveler, purchasing train, bus and Machu Picchu tickets is a lot to navigate on your own.

There are tons of rules for Machu Picchu and if something goes wrong in your travel plans a good guide will be the difference in seeing Machu Picchu and being stranded. We had a good experience with  Sam Travel Peru.

How to get to Machu Picchu Peru-min

4) Do I need to wake up at 3am to wait in line for buses at Aguas Caliente?

Nope and I am unsure how this ridiculous rumor started. In early August (busy season) we stood in line beginning at 5am and were gazing at the glory of Machu Picchu by 6:15am. At 5:30am there are 6-8 buses lined up waiting to open their doors so the line moves quickly. The only reason you would need to get up at 3am is if you want to be on bus #1 to see the sunrise.

5) What to Wear

You should wear hiking clothes that are appropriate for the season you are traveling in. Duh. Tennis shoes are fine even for the hikes but hiking boots would be a better choice. You will want a light jacket while you wait in line at 5am but will probably layer down to a t-shirt as it heats up. As innovative as they were the Inca’s did not conquer the mosquito problem so wear repellent. Sunscreen is always a good life choice. 

Interested in learning more about Peru?  Check out my other Peru Travel Tips & Tricks

6) What To Bring

As little as possible! There are rules against large backpacks so daypacks only. Pack your layers and plenty of water (especially for hikers). Skip the snacks as they are not allowed inside (sneak in a power bar if you are going on a hike but don’t tell anyone you heard that here. Just don’t be dick and leave your trash somewhere). You cannot buy food or water inside the park and you cannot leave to get it and come back so eat a good breakfast and pack what you need. You also cannot leave to use the restroom so definitely use the bathrooms before you enter. Don’t forget your camera!

7) Will the hiking be hard?

Walking around the ruins is not hard. The ground is uneven and there are stairs but it is not challenging. If you are hiking  to the sun gate there are stairs and a steady incline. Machu Picchu Mountain and Huayna Picchu are challenging especially at altitude. You will sweat, you will take a lot of breaks and you will probably be exhausted. It’s a good thing the view is incredible!

Hiking at Machu Picchu and how to get there-min

8) Will I get altitude sickness?

Maybe. Cusco is actually higher in altitude than Machu Picchu so if you are affected it will likely be after landing in Cusco. If you feel sick be sure to drink water and the coco leaf tea. The tea leaves are everywhere and normally free. If you are really worried bring altitude sickness medication with you. If you get drug tested at work then skip the coco leaf tea within 72 hours of being back at work. Otherwise you might text positive for cocaine. And now that’s a thing you know so don’t go leaving nasty comments on my page after you lose your job, you can’t say I didn’t warn you.

9) How much time should I plan for?

Touring just the Machu Picchu ruins will take most people 2-3 hours. If you’re an incredibly slow walker or you literally want to look at every fricken rock then obviously plan for more time.  Your ticket will have a time limit of either 5:30am-12:00 or 12:00-5:30pm. You are supposed to stay in Machu Picchu only during your ticketed time. However, like any recess attendant, they don’t have a good way to enforce getting morning people out by noon. You also get additional time if you do the Huayna Picchu (2 hours) or Machu Picchu Mountain (3 hours) hikes.

Here is a fun fact that no one ever mentions. There is a “one-way” rule in effect for all of Machu Picchu, you can only travel through the ruins in one direction. This info is not posted well AT ALL  and I also never read about it prior to our trip (what the hell other blogs!?!?!). In addition, all tickets are 1 entry only so you cannot go out and back in.This means that if you forget to look at something you cannot go back and look again. The rule is STRICTLY enforced so take your time and don’t miss a thing!

If you do Huayna Picchu or Machu Picchu Mountain you can enter the ruins a second time by showing your hiking ticket at this sketchy side entrance that is located before the official exit and that you are not very likely to ever find on your own without a guide. It is not labeled at all and there is nothing saying you can have an additional entry on your ticket. If you pass this tiny, unlabeled entrance and accidentally exit you are shit outta luck. Machu Picchu employees are stone cold and don’t care if you’re sad because they deal with crazy tourists all day asking for favors.

*Hint: if you want pix of llamas at Machu Picchu, get them first thing upon entering the park, that is when the best view is and likely the only time you will be able to get the shot.

10) Will it be worth it?

Yup and also this is kind of a dumb question. Although the planning process can seem daunting, all your effort will absolutely be worth it. The ingenuity of the Inca’s and the expanse of these ruins are astonishing. The view of the most famous Incan ruins set against the stunning cloud covered Andes is incomparable. Perhaps there is a reason it is one of the 7 wonders of the world (DUH!) and now you can say you have been to Machu Picchu!

Huayna Picchu Mountain hike Machu Picchu Peru-min

Need more precise details for your Machu Picchu trip? Check out my more detailed post here.

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