Machu Picchu Visitor Information
Machu Picchu (Peru Highlights - Category: Best Destination & Best Historical Site - Editors Pick)
*** Important: In the last couple of years the government has limited the number of visitors to Machu Picchu to just 2500 people per day. Tickets are no longer on sale at the entrance to Machu Picchu so to avoid disappointment it is essential that visitors purchase their Machu Picchu entrance tickets in advance either in Cusco (still ok during the low season) or much further in advance (during the high seaon June, July & August) either online directly with the government or authorized ticket agent or by booking a package tour. In 2014 there were a couple of weeks in August when the entrance tickets sold out 6 or 7 days in advance so visitors who arrived in Cusco hoping to buy tickets to visit Machu Picchu for the following days were disappointed not to be able to obtain tickets (disappointed is putting it mildly!).
Names and passport numbers are needed in order to buy a ticket and these details are checked at the entrance to Machu Picchu and cannot be changed once the ticket has been issued. Therefore when the tickets have sold out they have really sold out. Companies can't buy up all the tickets with the intention of selling them on since they need real names and passport numbers to buy the tickets. There is no black market for entrance tickets since they cannot be resold or transferred to other people. As more people realise that it is important to buy their entrance tickets in advance more of them will be doing it and the tickets are likely to sell out even further in advance. Luckily now you know, so make sure it's not you who visits Peru but doesn't get to visit Machu Picchu. Details how and when to buy your tickets are included in summary below with links to pages with more detailed information. ***
Introduction to Machu Picchu
"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 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 popular it is important to try and make your arrangements as far in advance as you can. During the peak season (June, July & August) there were several weeks last year when the entrance tickets to Machu Picchu sold out more than a week in advance and many visitors who arrived thinking they could buy tickets on the door were turned away and never got to see Machu Picchu. Imagine after spending so much money on your airfares and travelling half way across the world only to be turned away at the door to Machu Picchu because all the tickets had sold out !! Luckily, after reading this, that won't happen to you.
In order to plan your trip to Machu Picchu you have to understand a little bit 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 covered in dense vegetation overlooking the Vilcanota River. Nowadays a very steep and narrow zigzagging dirt track connects Machu Picchu with the nearest village of Aguas Calientes (Aguas Calientes literally means "Hot Waters" in Spanish and is so named because of the thermals baths that can be found there). Regular buses run the route between Aguas Calientes and Machu Picchu approximately every 15 minutes between 5:30am and 6pm. The 6km journey takes about 25 minutes.
Getting to Machu Picchu
The first thing that you will notice from the map above is that the starting point of all routes to Machu Picchu is 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. The second thing you'll notice is that there are no direct roads between Cusco and Machu Picchu. There's a good paved road from Cusco to Ollantaytambo which is in the Sacred Valley but the river valley between Ollantaytambo and Aguas Calientes is so narrow and winding that there is only just enough room for a single line railway which hugs the edge of the fast flowing River Vilcanota and passes through several tunnels (it is prohibited to walk along the railway track for obvious reasons). Therefore unless you plan to trek to Machu Picchu via the Inca Trail then you will end up taking a combination of bus and train to Aguas Calientes and then take the short bus ride up to the ruins at Machu Picchu.
Options for getting to Machu Picchu by combination of bus and train (most popular method, about 80% of visitors travel by bus & train)
Option 1: Train from Ollantaytambo Station
Take a bus or taxi from Cusco to Ollantaytambo Station in the Sacred Valley. 2 hours > Travel by train from Ollantaytambo to Aguas Calientes. 1 hour 30 minutes > Take the shuttle bus from Aguas Calientes up to the ruins of Machu Picchu. 25 minutes > Visit Machu Picchu > Return to Cusco by the same route.
Option 2: Train from Poroy Station
Take a bus or taxi from Cusco to Poroy Station. 20 minutes > Travel by train from Poroy to Aguas Calientes. 3 hours 15 minutes > Take the shuttle bus from Aguas Calientes up to the ruins of Machu Picchu. 25 minutes > Visit Machu Picchu > Return to Cusco by the same route.
Options for getting to Machu Picchu by road of trekking, bus and train (about 20% get there by some sort of trek)
Option 3. Classic Inca Trail to Machu Picchu* (4 days).
You can't do this trek independently, you have to book it through a licensed Inca Trail operator. Trek permits have to be bought several months in advance. The tour involves:
Taking a bus from Cusco to the start of the trek at km82 (about 6 km beyond Ollantaytambo) > trekking from km82 to Machu Picchu (3 nights camping) > Visit Machu Picchu > Take the shuttle bus from Machu Picchu to Aguas Calientes > Travel by train from Aguas Calientes to Ollantaytambo Station > Take a bus from Ollantaytambo back to Cusco.
Option 4. Short Inca Trail to Machu Picchu* (2 days):
Again this trek has to be organized with an authorized trekking company and trek permits have to be purchased several months in advance. The tour involves:
Taking a bus from Cusco to Ollantaytambo station > Travel by train Ollantaytambo to km104 > Trekking to Machu Picchu (you usually don't get the chance to visit Machu Picchu on this day) > Take the shuttle bus from Machu Picchu to Aguas Calientes (1 night in hotel in Aguas Calientes) > Take the shuttle bus to Machu Picchu > Visit Machu Picchu > Take the shuttle bus from Machu Picchu to Aguas Calientes > Travel by train from Aguas Calientes to Ollantaytambo Station > Take a bus from Ollantaytambo back to Cusco.
* both of the above treks arrive at Machu Picchu by way of Inti Punku (Sun Gate) offering spectacular views of Machu Picchu weather permitting. The trail then descends to the Guardhouse (Caretakers Hut)
Option 5. Santa Teresa Trek (5 days):
Bus from Cusco to Mollepata > trekking to Aguas Calientes via Hidro-Electrica (Santa Teresa) > Bus Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu 20 minutes > Machu Picchu > Bus Machu Picchu to Aguas Calientes 20 minutes > Train Aguas Calientes to Ollantaytambo 1 hour 30 minutes > bus/taxi Ollantaytambo back to Cusco 2 hours
Options for getting to Machu Picchu by road via Santa Maria & Santa Teresa
Option 6. Journey by road from Cusco to Santa Teresa via Santa Maria
This is a long, tiring and potentially dangerous bus ride from Cusco to Santa Maria and then either trekking to Aguas Calientes or taking the train from Hidro-Electrica. This journey is hardly worth considering unless (a) you are really really counting your pennies (b) you decide to mountain bike down much of the down hill section of road between Abra de Malaga and Santa Maria which is quite spectacular but still quite possible you will meet face to face with a large truck on the wrong side of the road during any of the numerous hairpin bends along the route (c) all Peru Rail train tickets have sold out and this really is your last hope of seeing Machu Picchu.
There are a number of travel agents in Cusco advertising Machu Picchu by private car - it's this route they are referring to. Good luck.
Arranging your trip to Machu Picchu in 10 easy steps.
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).
If you are planning on visiting Machu Picchu without using the services of a tour company then you will need to book all of the separate components of your trip yourself. This website was set more than 15 years ago with the intention of helping independent travellers plan their trip to Peru. However as the numbers of visitors to Peru and Machu Picchu is on the increase each year it becomes more important that you arrange your trip further and further in advance and as you'll see below it can sometimes be a difficult and frustrating process. You may end up deciding to make your life easier and just pay a reputable travel company to arrange everything for you. At least by reading through the information below you'll be in a better position to decide what suits you best.
Step 1: Machu Picchu Entrance Tickets - ticket types and prices
The official Machu Picchu government website can be found at www.machupicchu.gob.pe Sometimes you can buy tickets for Machu Picchu but quite a lot of the time it just doesn't work. However it can be quite useful for checking ticket availability (see step 3 below).
There are basically four ticket types: Machu Picchu only, Machu Picchu + Museum, Machu Picchu + Huayna Picchu and Machu Picchu + Machu Picchu Mountain
All tickets are valid only for the date indicated on the ticket. You can enter and leave Machu Picchu as many times as you want throughout the day but if you want to return to Machu Picchu again the following day you have to buy a new ticket.
Machu Picchu Only
2015 price: Adult 128 soles (approx US$43)
This is the most popular ticket and allows entry to Machu Picchu all day from 6am to 6pm.
Machu Picchu + Museum (Museo)
2015 price: Adult 150 soles (approx US$50)
Allows all day entry to Machu Picchu from 6am to 6pm plus entry to the "Manuel Chavel Ballon" Museum which is located on the road between Machu Picchu and Aguas Calientes just beside the bridge over the River Vilcanota.
Machu Picchu + Huayna Picchu
2015 price: Adult 152 soles (approx US$51)
Allows all day entry to Machu Picchu from 6am to 6pm plus allows you to climb Huayna Picchu. When buying this ticket you have to select which time you want to start the climb. Only 400 tickets are available each day. 200 entrance tickets to start between 7am and 8am and return by 10am and 200 entrance tickets to start between 10am and 11am returning by 12pm.
Machu Picchu + Machu Picchu Mountain (Machu Picchu Montaña)
2015 price: Adult 142 soles (approx US$48)
Allows all day entry to Machu Picchu from 6am to 6pm plus allows you to climb Machu Picchu Mountain. Only 400 tickets are available each day. You must start the trek between 7am and 11am.
For full detailed information about ticket prices and how to buy your ticket visit our webpage Machu Picchu Entrance Tickets
Step 2: Decide how many days do you want to spend at Machu Picchu.
The vast majority of people visit Machu Picchu as part of a day tour from Cusco. However sometimes people fail to appreciate just how far it is from Cusco and most visitors don't arrive at the ruins of Machu Picchu until mid-morning when the sun can be high in the sky and not ideal for photos and up to 2500 people are crowding the ruins. Day-trippers usually leave Machu Picchu by around 3pm to have lunch back in Aguas Calientes and take the late afternoon train back to Cusco. If you really want to see Machu Picchu at its best then you need to get there early as soon as it opens at 6am. That means spending the night in the nearby village of Aguas Calientes and taking one of the first shuttle buses up to the ruins departing at 5.30am.
If you decide to spend a night in Aguas Calientes then a really good recommendation would be to book one of the trains that leaves Ollantaytambo for Aguas Calientes the evening before you want to visit Machu Picchu such as the Expedition 75 train service with Peru Rail (full list of train times and prices can be found on our webpage Trains to Machu Picchu). Of course you will have to book a night in a hotel in Aguas Calientes.
Trains: Ollantaytambo (Sacred Valley) to Aguas Calientes (Machu Picchu)
Since the train doesn't depart Ollantaytambo until 7pm you could buy a Sacred Valley tour from Cusco and then just ask to leave the tour in Ollantaytambo. Sacred Valley tours run everyday and are quite cheap. Most Sacred Valley tours leave Cusco around 9am, first stopping at Pisac and Pisac Market (some tours visit the ruins at Pisac which are well worth seeing but you'll have to check), the tour will stop in Urubamba for lunch and then arrive in Ollantaytambo for around 2pm where you'll get a guided tour of the ruins. Ollantaytambo is a great little town to visit and there are plenty of restaurants where you can relax in before catching the train. Sound like a good plan?
The other advantage of staying the night in Aguas Calientes and visiting Machu Picchu early the next morning is that you will get there early enough to be able to climb Huayna Picchu. Its a bit of a steep & hairy trek along a narrow path with near vertical drops at the side so its not suitable for everyone, but if you are fit and adventurous and don't have problems with heights then the view from the top can be breathtaking on a clear day.
Step 3: Check Machu Picchu Ticket availability 2015
When should you buy your tickets to Machu Picchu? Well this depends on when you plan to visit. If you plan to visit during the low season January, February and March then you should be fairly safe arriving in Cusco and buying your Machu Tickets just one day in advance. You can see by clicking on the links to ticket availability for Jan, Feb & March 2015 below that many days never even reached the maximum of 2500 visitors so you could still have bought an entrance ticket on the same day of entry. Only during the first week in January did the tickets sell out a day in advance. However tickets could sell out much quicker in 2016.
If you have spend a small fortune on international flights and accommodation then why take the risk in waiting till the last minute to buy your tickets. During the high season June, July & August and around Easter and Christmas the tickets are likely to sell out several days if not weeks in advance. My advice would be you keep an eye on ticket availability by following the links below. Available ticket numbers are taken directly from the government website and are given in real time. The maximum number of tickets available each day is 2500, if the number starts to fall below 1000 tickets its time to get a bit nervous and buy your ticket as soon as you can before they sell out.
Ticket availability is shown only in Spanish. To help you understand what this all means in English here is an example translation:
DISPONIBILIDAD DE ESPACIOS PARA EL MES DE: JUNIO 2015 = Availability of Spaces
for the month of: June 2015
Disponibles = Availability (the number of remaining entrance tickets). If this is zero then all entrance tickets have sold out for that date.
Step 4: Book your international flights to Peru including domestic flight from Lima to Cusco
Probably the most important (and expensive) part of your trip to Machu Picchu is buying your international flights. Best prices are usually obtained by booking as far in advance as possible. Your international flight will arrive at Lima, Peru's capital city. There are no direct international flights to Cusco. You will have to book a flight from Lima to Cusco which is the nearest airport to Machu Picchu. If you have plenty of time and a very adventurous spirit and want to save money you could take a long and bumpy 24 hour bus ride from Lima to Cusco. However most sane people will want to fly to Cusco (1 hour 15 minutes). Cusco is a beautiful city and a great destination in itself and an easy place to spend 3 or 4 days. Again, domestic flights are best booked well in advance and can sometimes be much cheaper if you book your international and domestic flights together. Last minute flights are often much more expensive in Peru so don't wait until you arrive in Lima to book. Once you have booked your flights you are ready to book your tickets to Machu Picchu.
Step 5: Buying your Machu Picchu entrance tickets
As discussed in Step 1 above, the official website for buying your Machu Picchu tickets is www.machupicchu.gob.pe The website is useful for checking prices and availability of tickets but quite often, when it comes to actually buying a ticket, it isn't working and doesn't allow you to complete the booking process. However if you are feeling really lucky and want to give it a try then you'll find more detailed information to help you on our webpage Machu Picchu Entrance Tickets
If you have problems with the official government website then you can buy a Machu Picchu Entrance Ticket from one of the licensed Machu Picchu Tour Companies
Step 6: Buying your train ticket from Cusco to Machu Picchu.
Step 7: Book your accommodation
Step 8: Getting from your hotel in Cusco to the Train Station
I am sure that your hotel receptionist will be happy to arrange a private taxi from your hotel to the station or call you a taxi from your hotel to the place where the local buses or collectivos depart for Poroy or Ollantaytambo. You can get an idea of the approximate prices below. Make sure you agree the price and the currency! it's not unheard for visitors to bargain a taxi price down to 75 only to find out the price was in US$!!
A collectivo is the name given to a small public bus typically a 12-16 seater minibus. A private taxi will usually carry up to 4 persons, the price is the total price not the price per person!
There are some travel agents around the main Plaza de Armas in Cusco that can arrange a seat in a tourist bus from Cusco to Ollantaytambo or Poroy for around US$5 per person. This is probably the best method as they can collect you from your hotel and drop you right outside the station.
Cusco to Ollantaytambo (2 hours)
A private taxi from Cusco to Ollantaytambo takes about 1 hour 45 minutes, 100 Soles (US$35)
Tourist bus or collectivo takes about 2 hours. 15 Soles (US$5)
If on a tight budget you could take a public bus Cusco to Urubamba 2 hours 6 Soles (US$2) + Collectivo Urubamba to Ollantaytambo 30 minutes 3 Soles (US$1)
Cusco to Poroy (30 minutes)
A private taxi from Cusco to Poroy takes about 25 minutes, 35 Soles (US$12)
Collectivo takes about 35 minutes. 6 Soles (US$2)
Step 9: Buying your bus ticket from Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu
The bus from Aguas Calientes up to Machu Picchu takes about 25 minutes and costs US$12 each way (US$24 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.
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 5am. The first group of buses depart from Aguas Calientes at about 5:30am 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 4.45am since during the peak season there can be quite a queue for the buses 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 Infancia 433 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 5:45pm, 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 45 minutes downhill if you follow the more direct route rather than follow the road)
Step 10: Booking Machu Picchu Independently vs Buying a Machu Picchu Tour Package
Estimated cost for booking a 1 day tour to Machu Picchu independently on a budget (per person)
If you booked the same tour with a travel agent in Cusco you can expect to pay between US$310 (large group size of 12+) and US$400 (smaller group sizes 6 - 12 persons). Remember travel agencies have overheads and profits to add to the operating price and will also be liable for much higher sales taxes than if you buy the individual parts of the tour yourself. Note that these costs are based on meeting up with a guide at Machu Picchu for a 2 hour guided tour and not based on a guide who is going to accompany you all the way to and from Cusco which can work out much more expensive. Some of companies operating larger group sizes may include a guide throughout your journey but expect to pay a hefty premium for this if you only have a small group. The above price is also based on using the cheapest Peru Rail Expedition train service. Expect to pay extra for the Vistadome service.
For a list of recommended tour operators in Cusco offering day trips to Machu Picchu please see our webpage Machu Picchu Tours
Machu Picchu Useful Information
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 entrance tickets can sell out several days in advance. Even during the low season Machu Picchu can attract between 1500 and 2000 visitors per day.
Arranging a Guided Tour of Machu Picchu
Guides are available at the site. Expect to pay around US$25-30 for a 2 hour private tour. You may be lucky and find a group that you can join for as little as US$5 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.
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/.152 per person (S/.128 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. 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.
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.
Andean Travel Web Guide to Peru. Copyright Andean Travel Web Guide to Peru 2000-2015. 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 2015.