It’s easy to see why this sprawling Inca citadel surrounded by lush vegetation and mystical mist is one of the world’s most iconic archaeological sites.
Meaning ‘Old Mountain’, Machu Picchu is an Incan city surrounded by temples, terraces and water channels built on a mountaintop. Built with huge blocks of stone joined together without any mortar, the site was built in the 15th century by the Inca Pachacutec.
Located in the province of Urubamba, 70 miles northeast of the city of Cusco, Machu Picchu was linked to the entire Inca Empire via the Qhapaq Ñan, the famous roads of the Incas.
Divided into two areas (the agricultural area consisting of terraces and urban section for administrative purposes), the UNESCO site is 8047 feet above sea level.
The site opens at 6.00am and closes at 5.00pm.
No entrance tickets for any of the hikes are sold at the access checkpoint.
You need to buy your ticket in advance online at machupicchu.gob.pe with a Visa, Mastercard or a Banco de la Nación Multired card.
An overseas adult ticket for the Inca City of Machu Picchu costs 128.00 soles. An Inca City of Machu Picchu + Montaña Machu Picchu ticket costs 142.00 soles and an Inca City of Machu Picchu + Wayna Picchu ticket costs 152.00 soles.
Once payment is made, you must return to the website http://www.machupicchu.gob.pe and go to the ‘Check In’ tab, where you should enter the reservation code in order to print the entrance ticket.
Visitors cannot enter the Huayna Picchu zone without the correct ticket.
The maximum capacity of visitors is 400 per day, so be sure to book early.
When to visit:
November to March is the rainy season in Machu Picchu, while between April to November is dry. The best months are May to October. June and July offer the most hours of sunlight and the least chance of rain. Generally, Machu Picchu is hot during the day and cold at night.
Keep in mind that the site tends to be foggy in the morning. It’s advised to check the weather the night before to know when the fog might clear for that all-important viewpoint. Click here for updated weather conditions.
Tip: Consider visiting in the afternoon when it’s less busy because those visiting for the day tend to leave around this time to catch the train back to Cusco.
What to pack:
Comfortable, breathable trousers
Waterproof walking boots
How to get there:
Tip: If travelling to Cusco from Lima you can either take a flight or bus. A flight takes 1 hour 15 mins while the bus takes 20-24 hours. The bus is popular as it offers two routes both heading south from Lima to Nazca. Peru Hop is the only company offering a hop-on-hop-off service in Peru and the Machu Picchu route in accessible only via Cusco. Click here to learn more.
If coming from Cusco, the easiest way to get to Machu Picchu is catching a taxi from central Cusco to Poroy train station. The taxi ride takes around 25mins but we suggest allowing enough time due to traffic – so plan a 40 min- 1 hour journey. The price is around 25 soles.
By train: There are several train services that you can take to get to the site, which offer different experiences. The prominent train companies offering these services are PeruRail and Inca Rail:
- PeruRail’s Train Expedition line starts from Poroy Station (Cusco) with its first departure at 6.40am, taking 3 hours 50 mins to reach Machu Picchu. Along the route, it stops at Ollantaytambo Station, which takes 1 hour 50 mins to reach the site.
Click here for Peru Rail’s schedule.
The outbound trip on the Peru Rail Expedition trains 71, 73, 75 and 51 ends at the Aguas Calientes / Av Imperio stop.
- PeruRail’s Vistadome train has panoramic windows allowing you to enjoy the views along the route. The Vistadome has air conditioning and comfortable seats. The route starts from Poroy (Cusco) and then goes onto Ollantaytambo, Urubamba to Machu Picchu.
- PeruRail’s Hiram Bingham train is modelled on the 1920’s Pullman cars offering a luxurious and unforgettable experience. Travellers can enjoy an elegant dining car, a bar car, an observatory and sip on a traditional Peruvian cocktail while listening to live local music.
The route starts from Poroy (Cusco) Station and stops at Ollantaytambo Station before journeying on to Macchu Picchu.
The Belmond Hiram Bingham train operates every day except for the last Sunday of each month.
- PeruRail’s Sacred Valley train enables you to enjoy the Andean landscapes from its dining car or observation bar car. This train accommodates 33 passengers. The train travels from Urubamba Station to Machu Picchu in around three hours, making a brief stop at the Belmond Hotel Rio Sagrado.
The train operates every day of the year, except for the first Sunday of each month.
Tip: The regular service on the Cusco – Machu Picchu – Cusco route operates May – December. Train services may vary during the rainy season in Cusco, when part of the railway is closed for safety reasons. Subsequently, PeruRail runs the Bimodal Service (bus + train) for the Belmond Hiram Bingham service.
- Inca Rail offers two alternatives from Cusco city: train services or the Bimodal Service.
- Train: There are three different services you can catch: The Voyager, The 360° or the Firstclass all depart from San Pedro station located just a few blocks away from Cusco city’s main square. They all go straight to Machu Picchu Pueblo (Machu Picchu Town).
- The Voyager (08.28am departure – 12.41pm arrival) offers a less crowded service. The 360° (05.00am departure – 08.48am arrival) is ideal of travellers of the Inca Trail or for those who will ascend the Huayna Picchu. There is also an (08.43 departure – 13.06pm arrival) for a less crowded service.
- The Firstclass (08.28 departure – 12.41pm arrival) is also less crowded.
- The second option is the Bimodal Service a few blocks away from the Plaza de Armas of Cusco (main square) at Av El Sol 843. You must arrive 20 minutes before the departure time. The bus will depart from this point to the private parking lot of Inca Rail in the city of Ollantaytambo, where the main train station is located. This journey takes around 2 hours.
Tip: Once you arrive at Machu Picchu Station you must proceed to the bus station to buy the ticket that will take you to the Machu Picchu citadel. The ride takes approximately 25 minutes. Your train ticket does not include the bus ticket. The bus operates every 15 minutes, with its first departure at 5.30am. An adult round-trip costs $24.
Walking: You can walk the ancient Inca trail to Machu Picchu which can vary from four days to 12 days to complete. The end of most treks is nicknamed the ‘Sun Gate’, where mist-shrouded views of Machu Picchu make the climb worth the effort. It’s recommended to trek the trail in July or October when it’s less crowded but still warm. Some parts are steep, especially the three high passes – the Inca Trail itself, plus the Choquequirao and Salkantay routes.
Tip: It’s important to book any trail in advance as trek permits for the Inca Trail are limited to just 500 people daily. In order to complete the Inca Trail you need to have a reasonable level of fitness and the most important thing is to be well acclimatised to the altitude, so it’s recommended that anyone coming from the coast should spend at least two days in Cusco before attempting the trek.
By Bus: If staying in Aguas Calientes town in the Urubamba River Valley, there is a shuttle bus service to Machu Picchu that takes around 35-40 minutes. The main bus stop is located on Avenida Hermoas Ayer (where you can buy the shuttle bus tickets) close to the train station.
The first bus leaves the town at 5.30am but generally, buses depart when they’re full. They follow the river before crossing and ascending to the mountain. The bus terminates outside of the Sanctuary Lodge hotel, just a few meters from Machu Picchu entrance.
You can purchase a shuttle bus ticket up to seven days in advance and they are valid for three days. You need to present your passport to purchase tickets. A round trip costs $24 (as of 2018). You can purchase a single ticket a choose to walk down from Machu Picchu to Aguas Calientes.
What to see:
Tip: The mountains of Wayna Picchu and Machu Picchu are excellent for taking panoramic photos of the entire architectural complex.
The Temple of Three Windows
Located on the Sacred Plaza in the main urban section, the windows are made up of much larger blocks of stone, some weighing over three 3 tons. US academic, explorer and politician Hiram Bingham believed that the three windows represented the place where the Incas originated.
The Gate of the Sun (Inti Punku)
The Sun Gate or Intipunku is one of the most important archaeological constructions for Machu Picchu as those who entered after traveling the Inca Trail had their first view of the Inca city from here. The stairs leading up to the gate are believed to have been used as a control port for people entering and exiting the city.
Temple of the Sun
A semi-circle construction, the temple housed the royal tombs. The Solar Observatory is believed to have been where pieces of pottery were placed to equilibrate the position of the sun. Inside the temple, there is also a stone that was an altar where a priest performed rituals and sacrifices, and offered the sacred drink of the Incas, Chicha.
Surrounded by roofless stone structures and steep terraces, with a great view of Huayna Picchu, this plaza is the green island amid the Inca stone buildings that make up Machu Picchu. The Central Plaza’s grassy field separates the Sacred Plaza and Intiwatana from the residential areas on the far side of the complex.
At the lower end of the Central Plaza is the ‘Prison Group’, a labyrinthine set of cells, passageways, and niches extending both underground and above it.
The Funerary Stone
The rock represents the entrance to the cemetery in the city of Machu Picchu. Some believe the rock was used as a sacrificial alter.
Temple of the Condor
This is a carving of the head of a condor above a rock pile. Behind the bird is a door to a tiny underground cell. Under the temple is a small cave that contained a mummy.
There are approximately 700 terraces carved into the mountain and Inca farmers used such terracing throughout the empire to control erosion and increase surface area in their Andean enclaves.
Take a stroll along these grassy areas or or simply sit to enjoy the view.
Tip: The circuit is one way, so only move on once you’re ready as the site’s guides will not let you turn back.
Tip: Your ticket allows you to enter multiple times between from 6am – 4pm, as the site closes at 5pm.
Don’t forget: Just outside the entrance gates near where the buses and taxis wait, there’s a station where you can get a Machu Picchu passport stamp.
Checking out C & J