Machu Picchu is a bucket-list destination for many travelers, and with good reason. This ancient Incan city perched high in the Andes Mountains of Peru is a marvel of engineering and an awe-inspiring testament to human ingenuity. However, visiting Machu Picchu requires a bit of planning and preparation to ensure a smooth and enjoyable trip.
In this travel blog, we’ll cover 15 things to know before going to Machu Picchu that will help you make the most of your visit and avoid any unnecessary stress or complications. From practical tips like buying tickets in advance and staying hydrated, to cultural insights like exploring the Sacred Valley and immersing yourself in Cusco’s vibrant culture, this guide has got you covered. So grab a cup of coca tea and let’s dive in!
1. Stay overnight in Aguas Calientes
If you’re planning on visiting Machu Picchu, staying overnight in Aguas Calientes, the town at the base of the ruins, is highly recommended. Not only does it save you from having to rush and make the trek up to Machu Picchu in a single day, but it also allows you to experience the charming town and its local markets and restaurants.
The town is surrounded by lush green mountains and boasts a variety of accommodations, from budget hostels to luxury hotels. One of the biggest advantages of staying overnight is that you can enter Machu Picchu first thing in the morning, avoiding the crowds and the heat of the midday sun.
2. Buy tickets for Machu Picchu in advance
It’s important to buy your tickets to Machu Picchu in advance to ensure your entry into the ruins. Tickets can be purchased online or at the official government office in Cusco, but they do sell out quickly, especially during peak tourist season. It’s recommended to purchase tickets at least a month in advance to secure your desired date and time.
Additionally, there are different types of tickets available, such as the standard ticket, which allows access to the ruins only, and the ticket that includes entrance to Huayna Picchu, the famous peak overlooking the ruins. Be sure to do your research and purchase the ticket that suits your needs.
3. Bring your passport and get it stamped
When visiting Machu Picchu, it’s important to bring your passport with you and get it stamped. The stamp is a great souvenir and serves as proof that you’ve been to Machu Picchu. The stamp is available at the entrance to the ruins, and it’s recommended to get it on both the way in and out.
Additionally, it’s important to keep your passport with you at all times while in Peru, as it may be required for identification purposes when checking into hotels or boarding transportation.
4. Visit Machu Picchu in the morning
Visiting Machu Picchu in the morning is highly recommended, as it allows you to experience the ruins during the cooler and less crowded hours of the day. The site opens at 6:00 am, and it’s best to arrive as early as possible to avoid long lines and large crowds.
In the morning, the sun is rising over the mountains, creating a beautiful and serene atmosphere. You’ll have the opportunity to explore the ruins at your own pace and take in the breathtaking views without being rushed or interrupted. It’s also easier to get good photos in the morning light. Overall, visiting Machu Picchu in the morning is a must-do for any traveler.
5. Take the shuttle bus from Aguas Calientes
One of the most convenient ways to reach Machu Picchu is by taking the shuttle bus from Aguas Calientes. The bus departs regularly from the town and takes about 25 minutes to reach the entrance to the ruins.
The shuttle bus is a comfortable and efficient way to travel, especially if you’re not interested in making the steep trek up the mountain to the ruins. The views from the bus are also quite stunning, providing a preview of the magnificent landscape you’ll see at Machu Picchu.
It’s important to note that the shuttle bus tickets must be purchased in advance, and there may be long lines during peak season. Be sure to plan accordingly and arrive early to avoid any delays.
6. Bring plenty of water
When visiting Machu Picchu, it’s important to stay hydrated, especially at high altitude. It’s recommended to bring plenty of water with you, as the price of bottled water at the site can be quite high.
It’s important to stay hydrated not only during the tour but also during the trip to Machu Picchu, including the shuttle bus ride and any trekking you may do. The weather at Machu Picchu can be quite hot and dry, particularly during the peak tourist season. Additionally, the altitude can exacerbate dehydration symptoms.
Be sure to pack a reusable water bottle, as there are refill stations available at the site. Staying hydrated will ensure that you’re able to fully enjoy your Machu Picchu experience.
7. Keep all travel documents with you
When traveling to Machu Picchu, it’s important to keep all of your travel documents with you at all times. This includes your passport, visa, travel insurance, and any other important documents related to your trip.
It’s also a good idea to make copies of these documents and keep them in a separate location, such as in your hotel safe or with a trusted friend or family member. This will ensure that you have a backup in case your original documents are lost or stolen.
Additionally, it’s important to keep your valuables, such as your wallet and phone, secure and out of sight. Pickpocketing and theft can occur in crowded tourist areas, so be vigilant and take necessary precautions to protect yourself and your belongings.
8. Hire a knowledgeable guide
One of the best ways to fully appreciate the history and significance of Machu Picchu is to hire a knowledgeable guide. A guide can provide insights into the ruins and share stories and legends about the Inca culture and their way of life.
Guides can also help you navigate the site and avoid crowds and long lines. They can provide recommendations for the best viewpoints and photo opportunities, and help you make the most of your visit.
There are many tour operators and guides available in the area, so be sure to do your research and find one that is reputable and knowledgeable. Hiring a guide may be an additional cost, but it’s well worth it for the enhanced experience and understanding of this incredible site.
9. Use the restrooms before entering Machu Picchu
Before you enter Machu Picchu, make sure to use the restrooms located at the entrance. Once inside, there are very limited restroom facilities available, and they can be crowded and difficult to access. It’s best to take care of this beforehand so you can fully enjoy your visit without any discomfort.
Additionally, it’s important to pack any necessary medications or personal hygiene items with you, such as hand sanitizer and tissues. These items can come in handy if the restroom facilities are not fully equipped.
10. Bring appropriate equipment
Machu Picchu is located at a high altitude, and the climate can be unpredictable. It’s important to bring appropriate equipment with you to ensure your comfort and safety during your visit.
Wear comfortable, sturdy shoes that are suitable for hiking, as there are many steep stairs and uneven pathways throughout the ruins. Dress in layers so you can adjust to the changing temperatures throughout the day. Sunscreen, a hat, and sunglasses are also essential, as the sun can be strong at this altitude.
If you plan on hiking Huayna Picchu or Machu Picchu Mountain, make sure to bring a backpack with water, snacks, and any other necessary gear. Keep in mind that bags larger than 40x35x20cm are not allowed into the site, so be sure to pack accordingly. By bringing appropriate equipment, you can fully enjoy your visit to Machu Picchu and have a memorable experience.
11. Explore the Sacred Valley of the Incas
While Machu Picchu is the main attraction, the Sacred Valley of the Incas has many other historic and cultural sites worth exploring. The valley is home to numerous Inca ruins, including Ollantaytambo and Pisac, both of which offer stunning views and fascinating historical significance. You can also visit local indigenous communities and learn about their traditional way of life and cultural practices.
One popular activity is to take a guided tour of the Sacred Valley, which can be arranged through local tour operators in Cusco. Alternatively, you can explore the valley on your own by renting a car or hiring a taxi. Make sure to allocate enough time to fully appreciate the valley’s beauty and history.
12. Choose the best train option
The train is the most popular way to get to Machu Picchu from Cusco, with several options available depending on your budget and preferences. The most luxurious option is the Belmond Hiram Bingham train, which offers gourmet meals and live entertainment onboard. The Vistadome train is a more affordable option that provides panoramic views of the surrounding landscape through its large windows. Finally, the Expedition train is the most economical option, but still provides a comfortable and scenic ride.
It’s important to book your train tickets in advance, as they can sell out quickly during peak season. You can purchase tickets online or through a travel agency. Keep in mind that the train ride is an essential part of the Machu Picchu experience, as it offers stunning views of the Andean countryside and the Urubamba River. By choosing the best train option for your needs, you can fully appreciate this unforgettable journey to the iconic Incan ruins.
13. Immerse yourself in Cusco’s vibrant culture
Cusco, also known as the “Historic Capital of Peru,” is a city that is full of history, culture, and tradition. Before heading to Machu Picchu, take some time to explore this vibrant city, as it will give you a deeper understanding and appreciation of the Incan culture. One of the best ways to immerse yourself in the local culture is by visiting the many museums and historical sites in the city, such as the Inca Museum and the Cathedral of Santo Domingo.
In addition to its rich history, Cusco is also known for its lively festivals and celebrations. If you have the chance to visit during one of these events, such as the Inti Raymi (24th June) or Corpus Christi, you’ll get to witness the vibrant and colorful traditions of the Andean culture. Finally, don’t forget to sample some of the delicious local cuisine, which features dishes such as ceviche, alpaca steak, and quinoa soup. All in all, a trip to Cusco is the perfect way to start your journey to Machu Picchu.
14. Try coca leaves for altitude sickness
One of the biggest challenges of visiting Machu Picchu is dealing with the high altitude, which can cause symptoms such as dizziness, headaches, and shortness of breath. Fortunately, one of the best ways to combat these symptoms is by trying coca leaves, which have been used by the local Andean people for centuries. Coca leaves contain alkaloids that can help reduce altitude sickness symptoms and increase oxygen uptake.
You can find coca leaves in many forms, including chewing the raw leaves, drinking coca tea, or using coca candies. While it’s important to be mindful of the potential legal and health implications of using coca leaves, many travelers find that it’s a safe and effective way to cope with the effects of high altitude. So if you’re planning a trip to Machu Picchu, be sure to pack some coca leaves to help you acclimate to the high altitude.
15. Watch out for llamas at Machu Picchu
One of the most unique and charming aspects of Machu Picchu is the presence of llamas roaming freely throughout the ruins. While these gentle animals are certainly adorable, it’s important to be aware that they are still wild animals and should be treated with respect. Llamas can be unpredictable and may become aggressive if they feel threatened, so it’s best to keep a safe distance and avoid getting too close.
16. Hike Inca Trail or alternatives treks (Optional)
If you’re up for a challenge, consider hiking the famous Inca Trail to Machu Picchu or one of the alternative treks, which offer stunning views and a unique perspective on the region’s history and culture. But before you embark on your adventure, be sure to plan ahead and prepare properly to ensure a safe and enjoyable experience. Here are some things to keep in mind as you plan your trek.
There are many things to know before going to Machu Picchu. From practical tips, such as buying tickets in advance and bringing appropriate equipment, to cultural experiences, such as immersing yourself in the local culture and traditions, careful preparation can help make your trip to Machu Picchu an unforgettable experience.