Machu Picchu Tourist Information
Machu Picchu (Peru Highlights - Category: Best Destination & Best Historical Site - Editors Pick)
Latest News: The government has limited the number of visitors to Machu Picchu to just 2500 people per day. To avoid disappointment it is now essential that visitors purchase their Machu Picchu entrance tickets well before arriving at Machu Picchu. We recommend buying your tickets at least 5 days in advance but as more people learn about the changes you may need to buy your tickets much further in advance. The government have introduced an online booking system. The have also started to charge admission to Huayna Picchu (the tall mountain that you can see behind Machu Picchu). In order to climb Huayna Picchu you now have to buy a new combined Machu Picchu - Huayna Picchu entrance ticket. Tickets to Machu Picchu can be bought online at the official website www.machupicchu.gob.pe A helpful guide to explaining the rather confusing booking process can be found at www.machupicchutickets.com
"Machu Picchu is a trip to the serenity of the soul, to the eternal fusion with the cosmos; where we feel our fragility. It is one of the greatest marvels of South America. A resting place of butterflies in the epicentre of the great circle of life. One more miracle." - Pablo Neruda, The Heights of Machu Picchu.
Located 120 km northwest of Cusco, the Inca city of Machu Picchu lay hidden from the world in dense jungle covered mountains until 1911. This 'Lost City' is one of the world's archaeological jewels and is one of South America's major travel destinations.
The well preserved ruins of Machu Picchu seem to almost cling to the steep hillside, surrounded by towering green mountains overlooking the Vilcanota River Valley. Even after having seen the classic photos of Machu Picchu in guide books, web sites and postcards you still cannot fail but to be impressed by the awe-inspiring location of the ruins.
When you read about its discovery and the unsolved mystery of its purpose and how it came to become 'lost to the world' you will realize why so many people make the pilgrimage to visit this fascinating and spiritual site.
With the right information, getting to Machu Picchu shouldn't be as much a mystery as the place itself. You can either book all the components of the trip yourself or you can buy a ready made package tour from one of hundreds of tour operators offering this service. However as Machu Picchu becomes more and more of a popular destination it is important to try and make your arrangements as far in advance as you can.
In order to plan your trip to Machu Picchu you have to understand a little about the geography of the area.
Machu Picchu lay hidden from the world for such a long time because its location is fairly remote and inaccessible. Machu Picchu is located high up on a mountainside. The nearest town is Aguas Calientes which is located down in the valley beside the Vilcanota River.
As you can see in the map above the main way of getting to Machu Picchu is by bus along a steep, narrow zigzagging dirt track from Aguas Calientes. Regular buses run this route throughout the day with a journey time of about 20 minutes. For the really fit and adventurous the only other way of getting to Machu Picchu is on foot either along the Classic 4-day Inca Trail starting at km82 or along the shorter 2-day Inca Trail starting at km104.
Apart from the dirt track to Machu Picchu there are no roads that connect Aguas Calientes to the outside world and there is no airport. Aguas Calientes can only be reached is by rail, either by train from Ollantaytambo or Poroy (this is the most popular route - more details given below) or from Santa Teresa (Hidro-electrica).
So if you are planning a trip to Machu Picchu then the best place to start your journey is from the city of Cusco, the historic capital of the Incas located about 120km to the south-east. Cusco is a beautiful and fascinating city and a great place to base yourself for a few days.
How to get to Machu Picchu from Cusco
Information about trekking to Machu Picchu is covered in the relevant sections of this website (see our webpage Trekking to Machu Picchu for more details).
STEP 01a: Getting from Cusco to Aguas Calientes by Train (most popular option)
STEP 01b: Getting from Cusco to Aguas Calientes via Santa Teresa (adventure option)
The bus from Aguas Calientes up to Machu Picchu takes about 20 minutes and costs US$8 each way (US$16 return). The ride itself is spectacular as the narrow track winds its way up the mountainside. It can be a bit scary at times with almost vertical drops plunging down into the Vilcanota Valley below especially when you meet a bus coming in the other direction! The scenery is lush cloud forest with great views of the sacred mountain Putucusi on the opposite side of the valley. If it wasn't for the rush to get to Machu Picchu this ride would be an attraction in itself. If you look closely out of the window you can see splashes of pink and orange flowers growing on the slopes - these are actually the orchid Wiñay Wayna which can be commonly seen throughout the region.
The buses are clean and modern with air-conditioning (the whole fleet of 20 buses were renewed in 2006).
You have to buy your bus ticket before you get on the bus in the morning. There is a small ticket office just opposite the departure point which opens at 5:15am. The first group of buses depart from Aguas Calientes at about 5:20am then at 10 minute intervals throughout the day depending on demand until about 4pm. However if you really want to get to Machu Picchu early I would recommend arriving by about 5:00am since during the peak season there can be quite a queue by 5:15am!! It speeds things up if you buy your bus ticket in advance, either from the ticket office in Aguas Calientes the night before or from the Consettur offices in Cusco (located in Avenida Pardo opposite Parque Espana - its a short walk from the main post office or just ask a taxi driver to take you there which will cost 3 Soles / US$1). Each bus departs when its full so by the time the 20th bus departs Aguas Calientes the 1st bus is already on its way back.
The last buses depart Machu Picchu at about 5:30pm, be sure to check the time of the last bus as it can be a long walk back to Aguas Calientes if you miss it (well about 1 hour if you follow the more direct route rather than follow the road)
Machu Picchu opens at 6am and stays open until 6pm. You can take small bags into the ruins but anything larger must be left at the luggage store near the entrance for 4 Peruvian Soles a piece (about 1.5USD) - remember to take exact change!.
Machu Picchu is a lot quieter before 11am and after 3:30pm. Monday is the busiest day, as many people head off to Machu Picchu after visiting Pisac market on Sunday. Sunday is one of the quietest days. June, July, August and September are the busiest months when as many as 3500 people visit the ruins everyday. Even during the low season you can expect between 1500 and 2000 visitors per day.
Guides are available at the site. Expect to pay around US$20 per guide for a 2 hour private tour. You may be lucky and find a group that you can join for as little as US$3 per person depending on the size of the group. Check that the guide speaks a language that you understand !! If you don't want to spend half your time listening to the descriptions again in Spanish go with a guide that is going to speak just in English (the information will be more in-depth and informative). Guides are not mandatory and you can enter Machu Picchu and explore it on your own or with the help of a guidebook (or you can just stand next to one of the several places of interest and listen to the explanations given by someone else's guide!)
A description of the ruins in detail is beyond the scope of this web site. For an excellent guide try Peter Frost's Exploring Cusco which can be bought quite inexpensively in Cusco. As the name suggests it also has plenty of information about Cusco, the Sacred Valley and the Inca Trail. The website www.machupicchuperu.info has some good photos.
Climbing Huayna Picchu
Huayna Picchu is the large mountain that you can see behind Machu Picchu. There is a narrow winding path leading to the top where you can find some interesting Inca ruins. There are stunning views over Machu Picchu and the surrounding mountains and the Vilcanota River below. Entry to Huayna Picchu is by way of a combined Machu Picchu - Huayna Picchu entrance ticket. The tickets costs S/.150 per person (S/.126 for the entry to Machu Picchu and S/.24 to climb Huayna Picchu). You must buy the entrance tickets well in advance. Although tickets can be bought from an official ticket office in Cusco they can sell out several days in advance so it is best to buy your entrance ticket online as soon as you can. Details how to make a booking can be found on the website www.machupicchutickets.com. A maximum number of four hundred persons per day can climb Huayna Picchu. Two hundred people will be allowed to start the climb between 07:00 and 08:00 (Group 01) and must return by 10:00. Another two hundred people will be allowed to start the climb between 10:00 and 11:00 (group 02) and must return by 13:00.
Optional: Staying an Extra night
If you want longer at the ruins or want to see them at sunrise when the light is more gentle and there are fewer visitors then you'll have to stay the night. You can stay at the super expensive US$900 a night Machu Picchu Sanctuary Lodge, which is the only hotel adjacent to Machu Picchu ruins, or you can spend the night in one of the many hotels in Aguas Calientes.
There's not a great deal to do in Aguas Calientes - it doesn't rate as a particularly pretty town being built mostly of concrete, much of which looks half finished, but I think visitors will agree that it does have its own individual charm and character. There's a feel of a frontier town about it, with the railway forming the high street and the steamy jungle-clad mountains closing in on all sides.
There are plenty of restaurants and hotels in the town and its main attraction are the thermal springs which gives Aguas (waters) Calientes (hot) its name. The outdoor springs are situated 15 minutes walk up from the town centre. They are fairly basic, with facilities to change and shower, and are used by the locals as much as the tourists, but it's a great place to relax, buy a beer, and enjoy the views.
Taking the easy option - buying a tour
There are hundreds of tour companies in Cusco and Lima queuing up to sell you a space on their tours to Machu Picchu, as well as specialist (and not so specialist) international tour operators. Most local operators offer a simple one day excursion from Cusco to Machu Picchu including all transport and a professional guide (check to see if the guide speaks good English). It is also worth checking to see what is the maximum number of people in the group. A group of up to 16 persons is easily manageable for a tour guide but more than 20 becomes difficult. I've seen plenty of guides in Machu Picchu with groups as big as 40 people trailing after them so make sure the maximum group size is put in writing when you sign up. Also make sure that everything included in the price is clearly listed. Consider items such as the transfer from you hotel, train tickets to Aguas Calientes (service and departure times), bus tickets between Aguas Calientes and Machu Picchu, Machu Picchu entrance fees, guide (is the tour in English only), any meals etc. You'll usually have about 4 hours at the ruins themselves
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Andean Travel Web Guide to Peru. Copyright Andean Travel Web Guide to Peru 2000-2012. All material used within this web site is original work and is subject to international copyright law. Unauthorized reproduction is strictly prohibited without prior permission from the editor. This web page was last updated in March 2012.