What You Should Know About Visiting Machu Picchu
Sprawling across a craggy, 7,000-foot-high hilltop in the midst of the Andes, the ancient Incan ruins of Machu Picchu mystify and intrigue travelers and historians alike. A trip to the remote Peruvian site is a must-do for tourists in Peru, and while some visitors join organized tours prior to their departure, many others venture to the site as independent travelers. If you're planning your own trip to the iconic site, read our top tips to make the most of your visit.
1. Where to Stay
It's also possible to take the train from the city of Cusco or the town of Ollantaytambo to Aguas Calientes and visit the ruins in a day trip, though this option can leave some tourists feeling their time in the ruins was rushed.
We recommend staying in Aguas Calientes so you can take your time exploring the ruins rather than having to run to catch a return train.
Regardless of where you choose to stay, each of the 3 towns serves as popular hubs for tourists seeking to visit Machu Picchu. Travelers will find a variety of accommodations in each town, ranging from budget hostels to luxury hotels.
2. How to Get There
For travelers who prefer a less arduous route to the ruins, your best option is to take a train from Cusco or Ollantaytambo to Aguas Calientes.
Three train operators run trips to Aguas Calientes (Machu Picchu): Perurail, Inca Rail and the Machu Picchu Train. The most popular trains are via Perurail which offers 3 levels of service -- the Backpacker, the upscale Vistadome and the ultra-luxe Hiram Bingham train.
Once you've arrived in Aguas Calientes, specially sanctioned buses run regularly (every 15 to 20 minutes) to the ruins. The bus stop is a 5-minute walk from the train station.
3. Tours to Machu Picchu
There are also a number of guides waiting outside the entrance to Machu Picchu and it is possible to set up a group or private tour with one of them upon your arrival to the ruins. If you do so, speak to a few of the guides to get a sense of their level of knowledge of the site and proficiency in English. Also, know that it is common to bargain with these guides for a fair price, typically around $50 USD for a 2-hour tour.
Keep in mind that much of the history and purpose of Machu Picchu remains a mystery to historians, and quality guides will be sure to make that clear, rather than selling you definitive (and potentially false) information.
4. Tickets to Machu Picchu
5. What to Do and What to See at Machu Picchu
Many travelers plan to hike Huayna (Wayna) Picchu, the peak overlooking the ruins, which often appears in the backdrop of photos of Machu Picchu.
6. When to Go
The ruins can be unpleasantly crowded with travelers visiting on a day tour from Cusco or Ollantaytambo, particularly during peak season. These tours generally crowd the ruins between 10 am and 2 pm. If you're staying in Aguas Calientes, you'll have the option to arrive well before the influx of tourists and stay well after they depart, allowing you to enjoy some quiet time exploring the ruins.