Guide updated in May 2020
1. Mountain sickness
I think that 100% of the visitors of Machu Picchu must pass first by Cusco before going to Machu Picchu. Cusco is at 3 400m of altitude, so if you come from Lima (or any place < 2500m of altitude), you risk to have the mountain sickness ( soroche). Allow 1-2 days of acclimatization in Cusco. Even if Machu Picchu is only at 2500m, the route Cusco – Machu Picchu will pass by places higher than 3800m, which is starting to do a lot 🙂
To remedy this, chew coca leaves (all hotels and hostals in Cusco will provide you with free coca leaves, don’t hesitate to ask), or drink coca leaf infusions. Walk slowly! At the pharmacy, you can buy Sorojchi pills (pills to calm mountain sickness), without prescription.
2. No direct way to the ruins
You will take at least two buses and a train because there is no way to go directly from Cusco to the ruins of Machu Picchu. This sacred city lost in the jungle is deserved! (see my advices to go to Machu Picchu here).
Aguas Calientes is the closest city to Machu Picchu, where many people spend a night before visiting Machu Picchu the next day. We recommend our Hostal Cusi Qoyllor(link Booking), very well located and which serves breakfast at very early hours (they can also prepare a snack for you if you leave early).
To make things more complicated for tourists, the train station in Aguas Calientes is called “Machu Picchu” and the city itself is called “Machu Picchu Pueblo”, or even “Machu Picchu” for short on booking.com, which tends to lead to confusion. Be careful, the trains serve the Machu Picchu station in Aguas Calientes. No train goes directly to the ruins (see my advices to go to Machu Picchu here).
If you prefer to go trekking, more info here: https: //machupicchu.fr/entree-au-machu-picchu/
3. There are fewer people at the end of the day than at the beginning of the morning
And this for 3 reasons:
- The economic tours sold in Cusco force their customers to visit Machu Picchu at dawn
- Few people remain in Aguas Calientes after the visit of Machu Picchu. Everybody has to rush to go down, seen the (very) long road that awaits them, they have to leave quite early. As a result, the economic backpackers leave as of 12h and the large groups and those who take the train, as of 14h. The ruins are open until 5:30 pm so that makes 3h30 with less crowds.
- Those who paid the right of visits of the two mountains around Machu Picchu must present themselves either at 8h or at 10h otherwise they will be refused the entry. That represents in theory 1200 people having to be on the place before 11 am, on the 5000 people authorized on the whole site per day, that is to say almost one person out of four.
So, if you can, visit in the late afternoon.
Anyway, there are 2 tickets corresponding to 2 schedules now, for the same price (you have to choose at the time of purchase) :
- 1st turno : from 6:30 am to noon
- 2do turno : from noon to 5:30 pm
As you can see on the official ticket sales website http://www.machupicchu.gob.pe/, visited on July 16th
There are no more morning tickets until July 21st.
While there are many more tickets left for the afternoon:
At 4pm, you can guess it on this picture, there is almost nobody on the site:
4. Some tickets must be purchased before the visit
- the ticket for Machu Picchu, on sale online or on the spot in Cusco and Aguas Calientes, to be bought obligatorily before the visit (2-3 days in advance).
- moreover, if you visit the Machu Picchu mountain or Huaynapicchu(which are within the Machu Picchu site), but the number of entrance is even more limited, and these sites are only limited in the morning. Remember to buy well in advance (2-3 months in advance for Huaynapicchu, 1 week in advance for Montana Machu Picchu )
- the bus ticket from Aguas Calientes to the ruins of Machu Picchu, to be bought preferably the day before, otherwise you will have to go through the long queue twice: one to buy the tickets, the other one to get on the bus
Attention, for the purchase and use of these tickets, you will always be asked to show your passport. Don’t forget to take it with you at all times, otherwise you may have unpleasant surprises.
You can go out and re-enter 3 times in the same day with the same ticket This is because the washrooms are located off-site, and in theory you aren’t allowed to bring food/drinks inside the site.
From now on, you can only visit the site once.
There is a kind of path to follow. If you come across the “one-way path” (it will be specified on the signs), you will not be allowed to turn back. This path will lead you straight to the exit and you risk losing an entrance.
To avoid taking this one-way path as soon as you enter the site, follow the sign “Inca Bridge” instead, this path is two-way and gives panoramic views of the ruins.
6. It is forbidden to bring bottled water and food
In theory. But the bags aren’t controlled. Still, remember not to leave any garbage on the site. Bring cereal bars or something discreet to eat to regain strength. There is a cafeteria near the entrance that doesn’t cost that much (20 soles for a small pizza). A buffet restaurant is also available if you want a more complete lunch.
I strongly recommend that you go out and have lunch, so you can escape the crowd between noon and two, while having a good lunch and enough energy to stay until the site closes (around 5:00-5:30 pm).
7. You can stamp your passport with a Machu Picchu stamp
As for Ushuaia, Machu Picchu tampons exist, near the toilets(baños). For passport stamp collectors like us, it’s a good souvenir and it’s free.
8. We can take a guide on site
In high season, we can be grouped together to pay less (barely 15 soles per person vs. 40usd for a private guide). Make the request next to the entrance where you will be met by guides. Some guides are present as soon as you queue to take the bus to Machu Picchu.
In low season, we were able to negotiate a private guide for 2 hours at 100 soles (90 of negotiated price + 10 of tip).
9. Inca Trail, the Inca Trail is closed in February, but not Machu Picchu
But that does not necessarily mean that there will be less people in Machu Picchu in February. According to the statistics of the travel agencies, it is rather in January that one sees the least world.
It depends on the seasons and the rain, but many tourists complain of mosquitoes or insects that leave very painful bites. Don’t forget your insect cream! You will find plenty of it in Ollantaytambo and Aguas Calientes. If it doesn’t work, I was advised to spread shampoo on the skin, to create a kind of “second skin”, I don’t know if it really works 🙁
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