Quick Travel Guide •  Machu Picchu, Peru

Machu Picchu: The Ultimate Guide For Your First Visit

Last Updated On: August 13, 2020


The Lost City of the Incas is one of the most visited tourist attraction in the world. With almost a million people exploring this famous UNESCO heritage site every year planning your first visit can get quite overwhelming. But don’t worry we have taken the time to put together a step by step guide explaining in great detail how to get to Machu Picchu, how to buy your tickets, which tickets to choose and even where to stay. To protect and preserve the archaeological beauty of Machu Picchu, the government has restricted the number of daily visitors to 2500. While the weather and crowds can greatly influence your experience, there is so much more to take into consideration than the weather forecast for Machu Picchu. Before we get started, you can find below a quick checklist of all the things you should think about, book and take care of before your visiting this famous sight:

The Ultimate Guide To Machu Picchu | Bare Escape

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Best time to travel to Machu Picchu

Once you start looking for the best times to visit Peru, you will find many different answers. The main reason for this is simply because Peru's climate varies amongst its different regions. Peru is in the southern hemisphere so, generally speaking, summer falls during the months of November - March, but this is also the rainy season in most regions. With that said, the best time to visit Machu Picchu is typically between May - September. These months align with the region’s dry season. If you are looking for the picture-perfect blue sky as a backdrop behind the iconic UNESCO World Heritage Site than June, July, and August are your best bet. We traveled to Peru at the end of October with the hopes of a delayed start in the rainy season, but we weren't very lucky. Machu Picchu is located in the high jungle so rain is always a possibility. In order to avoid disappointment, I would suggest staying two nights in Aguas Caliente, just in case your first day is as misty and rainy as ours. To help you decide when to go, you can find a breakdown of the different seasons below. Overall we recommend the months of May or September for good weather conditions and fewer tourists.

  • February: Peak Rainy Season. Inca Trail is closed for maintenance.
  • March-May: Shoulder Season. Pleasant temperatures. May is just the beginning of the high season with the chance of no rain.
  • June - August: Dry Season. Winter. Cold early mornings & nights. High Season. Perfect weather for trekking to Machu Picchu.
  • September & October: Shoulder season. Pleasant temperatures. Fewer crowds. Expect the rainy season to start slowly at the end of October.
  • November - March: Rainy Season. Summer. During these months you can expect daily rain, anything from heavy downpours to light drizzles and thick clouds covering the sky. On the bright side, there will be much less foot traffic with the exception of Christmas and New Year.

The Ultimate Guide To Machu Picchu | Bare Escape

The different kind of tickets for Machu Picchu explained

There are 3 different tickets that can be purchased for visiting Machu Picchu: Machu Picchu Main Grounds, Machu Picchu + Machu Picchu Mountain and Machu Picchu + Huayna Picchu Mountain (Waynapicchu). You can find more information about these 3 different tickets below, but no matter which option you chose, they all have access to the famous Inca Archaeological site.

This ticket gives you access to the main Inca ruins of Machu Picchu including the terraces, the archaeological highlights such as the Main Temple, Royal Tomb and the Sacred Plaza as well as the Sun Gate and Temple of the Sun. The ticket does not give you access to climb to the peak of Machu Picchu Mountain or Huayna Picchu. Price:Adult (18+): $45 (154 Soles)Child ( <18): $21 (72 Soles) Students that have an International Student Identification Card (ISIC) can get a discounted price

This ticket gives you entrance to the main Inca ruins of Machu Picchu including the terraces, the archaeological highlights such as the Main Temple, Royal Tomb, the Sacred Plaza as well as the Sun Gate and Temple of the Sun and most important Huayna Picchu Mountain. The hike to Huayna Picchu Mountain takes around 1.5 - 2hours roundtrip and is therefore often the most preferred one of both mountain hikes. The mountain sits behind the Machu Picchu ruins and offers a phenomenal view over the site.

The amount of visitors is restricted to a total of 400 visitors a day. Two groups of 200 visitors are allowed between 7 am - 8 am and 10 am - 11 am. Be prepared to show your passport and ticket before starting the incline. Everyone is also asked to leave their name, age, country of origin, and departure time in a book and sign out after the return to the checkpoint.

The hike is incredibly steep with wide steps, one placed after the other like a never-ending StairMaster. Sometimes the steps are so steep that it almost feels as if you are climbing on all four.

 Price:Adult (18+): - $62 (212 Soles)Child ( 8- 17): $35 (120 Soles) passport in-person required for proof of age Students that have an International Student Identification Card (ISIC) can get a discounted price

This ticket gives you access to the main Inca ruins of Machu Picchu including the terraces, the archaeological highlights, the Sun Gate, and Temple of the Sun, as well as access to Montaña Machu Picchu.  A maximum of 800 tickets per day are sold. The hike takes around 2.5- 3hours round trip with a total elevation gain of 2,038ft / 621m. Entry is permitted anytime between 7 am and 11 am every day, but only recommended to those in good physical shape. Machu Picchu Mountain is higher in elevation (10,010ft / 3,051m) than Huayna Picchu Mountain (8,924ft / 2,720m) and located behind the ruins so basically opposite to Huayna Picchu. Price:Adult (18+): - $62 (212 Soles)Child (8- 17): $35 (120 Soles) passport in-person required for proof of age Students that have an International Student Identification Card (ISIC) can get a discounted price

Please note, you can’t climb Machu Picchu Mountain & Huayna Picchu on the same day. Machu Picchu Mountain takes longer to hike than Huayna Picchu and while it is not as steep as Huayna Picchu Mountain the elevation gain is twice as much. Both hikes offer birds-eye views of the Machu Picchu ruins, the surrounding peaks as well as the Urubamba River valley. You can expect both hikes to be challenging but the hike to Huayna Picchu is known to be steeper and often leads past big drop-offs with no protection. So if you have fear of heights then this might not be for you. I personally find the view from Machu Picchu Mountain more beautiful because you can see Huayna Picchu Mountain in the backdrop with the incredible Inca city. 

NOTE: While purchasing tickets yourself is the cheapest approach, a hassle-free alternative is to buy a package deal. That way you can book your visit in an instant and receive confirmation right away. We recommend any of the tours listed below. Always make sure you communicate with your tour guide what you would like to get out of your visit to Machu Picchu to find the best tour operator for you. For access to Machu Picchu and the more desired mountain hike to Huayna Picchu Mountain, we recommend booking your ticket via Get Your Guide. For the best birds-eye view we recommend taking on the 4h roundtrip hike to Machu Picchu Mountain for outstanding birds-eye views of the ruins and to see the sight from a different angle. Tickets available here.

What is the best time of the day to visit Machu Picchu

The dream scenario of every visitor is to have Machu Picchu all to yourself but let me tell you that no matter how early you get there, this is almost impossible. With around 2500 people visiting this archaeological site every day you want to make sure you book your ticket during the least busy time. There are only really two-time slots that will get you close to snapping a couple of shots without masses of tourists ruining the idyllic vibe of these sacred mountains. Selecting a specific time slot for your visit is actually required when purchasing tickets online or in person. The crowds are at their heaviest from around 9 am - 3 pm. That's usually when the big tours arrive and the first trains roll into Aguas Calientes from Ollantaytambo and Cusco.

Like with most places, sunrise and sunset are the best times to visit. However, it is quite difficult to get to Machu Picchu for sunrise since often the sun rises before the gate to Machu Picchu even opens at 6 am. If watching the sunrise above Machu Picchu is on your bucket list make sure to plan accordingly. But be warned the mornings can also get quite foggy, meaning you might not even be able to see the ruins until the wall of clouds dissolves, especially during the rainy season. For the best of both worlds, I would recommend visiting Machu Picchu once during the early morning and once during the afternoon. But if I had to choose then I would say it is probably best to be the last one to leave than the first ones to enter. Being one of the last people will allow you to snap images of the ruins without masses squeezing through the marked trail below.

Your best bet is therefore to book the earliest time slot available or the latest time slot. There are hourly slots available, beginning at 6 am until 5.30 pm.

The site itself opens at 6.00 am sharp and the earliest bus from Aguas Calientes leaves at 5.30 am and takes 10 - 15 minutes. To be on the first bus leaving be prepared to stand in line at the bus station around 4.30 am. If you really want to be the first person at the entrance then we recommend walking from Aguas Calientes or joining the Inca Trail trekkers as they are usually the first ones to arrive, eagerly waiting in line for the gates to open. It takes around 5 - 10 minutes to reach the first viewpoint once you have entered Machu Picchu. If you are really eager to get a fairly empty shot of the ruins then we would recommend skipping the first viewpoints and making your way to the top from where you get the best view of this iconic historical sight.  Machu Picchu is open 7 days a week, every day of the year, including holidays.

The Ultimate Guide To Machu Picchu | Bare Escape

How to buy your ticket for Machu Picchu

Tickets to Machu Picchu must be purchased in advance and can not be bought at the entrance of Machu Picchu. There are three ways to obtain your ticket to Machu Picchu, in advance online, in-person in Cusco, Aguas Calientes, or at any Banco De La Nacion in Peru, or via a third-party travel agent. Tickets in Cusco can be bought at the Ministerio de Cultura which is open Mon-Sat from 7 am - 8 pm and located just before the Plaza Regocijo. Don’t forget to bring your passport. Tickets in Aguas Calientes can be bought at the Machu Picchu Cultural Centre which is open from 5 am - 10 pm and located just off the main square. Don’t forget to bring your passport and CASH, tickets can only be bought in cash here. No matter if you decide to buy your tickets online or in-person, you will need a valid passport.

Though you can obtain your entrance tickets for Machu Picchu up to a day prior it is recommended to purchase your tickets far in advance. I would even suggest purchasing your tickets online as soon as you have a date in mind. The Peruvian government caps the number of daily visitors, so tickets can easily sell out, especially during high season (June - September) Our visit to Machu Picchu was everything but how I imagined it to be like, it was cold, windy, wet, and overcast. The entire ruins were covered in a never-ending mass of grey clouds. Actually when we got there at 6.30 am we couldn't even see the ruins. While we did our research prior, you just never quite know what the weather is going to be like. We choose October and while other guests who were staying with us in the same hotel in Cusco came back with stunning images of a sun-flooded Machu Picchu and clear blue sky we got the total opposite only a couple of days later. While everyone always says “no matter how the weather is going to be like, you will have a great time”, I sadly have to disagree. I am not arguing the feeling I had arriving at Machu Picchu, a place I have always dreamed of visiting in person but the weather for sure does add to the experience. It was just a bunch of tourists in shiny yellow rain covers hoping for the sky to clear. We got to see the ruins for a quick minute when the rain stopped and the clouds opened up for approximately 10 minutes. But we wanted more, we didn’t come all the way to Peru, flew from Lima to Cusco, and traveled by train to Aguas Calientes to not see Machu Picchu in its full glory. Luckily we had our return train ticket to Cusco booked for the late evening the next day with enough time to return to Machu Picchu in the early afternoon for a second visit. So we ended up buying last-minute tickets for Machu Picchu for the next day and finally got to see the Machu Picchu not covered in heavy clouds.

The Ultimate Guide To Machu Picchu | Bare Escape
Town of Aguas Calientes
The Ultimate Guide To Machu Picchu | Bare Escape

How to get to Machu Picchu from Cusco

Cusco is everyone's central hub on the way to Machu Picchu. What most people don’t realize is that it still takes almost 4 hours to get to Aguas Caliente from Cusco, the city at the base of Machu Picchu also known as the Gateway to Machu Picchu.

After a ton of research, I found that the easiest and most comfortable way to get from Cusco to Aguas Caliente is by train.

There are really only two ways to get to Machu Picchu from Cusco: hiking the famous Inca Trail, Salkantay Trek or Lares Trek or taking a train. If hiking is not really your forte or if you are on a limited time schedule then taking the train is really your only other option. Choose between IncaRail & Peru Rail, the only two companies with authorization to travel the train tracks to Aguas Calientes, offering everything from budget to high-end train ride experiences. Both trains offer a similar service, are well maintained, clean, and offer unique experiences. Tickets can either be bought online or in-person at any of the PeruRail or IncaRail ticket offices in Lima, Cusco or Aguas Caliente. Simply select your dates, train type, and purchase. Just like with the entrance tickets to Machu Picchu it is recommended to obtain your train tickets in advance as these are almost as desired as the ruins themselves. We decided to book our tickets via IncaRail online. Should you decide to do the same, then you can pick up your ticket during your stay in Cusco at the IncaRail ticket counters located at Ollantaytambo and Machu Picchu train stations. Or do it like us and collect your ticket a day prior directly at the IncaRail sales office located at Plaza de Armas. Tickets can be collected up to ten days prior to the departure date and up to 30 minutes before the departure of the train. Depending on your train ticket you will either leave directly by train from San Pedro Station to Aguas Calientes or you will get transferred via a small van from San Pedro Station to Ollantaytambo from where you will board the direct train to Aguas Caliente also known as Machu Picchu Pueblo. PeruRail & IncaRail pick up passengers from either San Pedro Station (in Cusco), Poroy Station (around 30min from Cusco and closed from January to April due to the rainy season in Cusco), Ollantaytambo Station (around 1.5h from Cusco) or Urubamba Station (around 1.5h from Cusco). In most cases, you will board your train in Ollantaytambo station and get off at the one and only train station in Aguas Calientes, less than 2h later. The train station is only a blog away from the bus station transferring excited tourists every 15 minutes up and down the hill to the famous Machu Picchu. When boarding the train, you must show your travel ticket along with your passport.

PeruRail vs IncaRail:PeruRail:Peru Rail is known to be the cheapest option with slightly more departure times and 3 different categories:

  1. Expedition (Basic with Panoramic windows and most popular amongst backpackers)
  2. Vistadome (Bigger Panoramic windows, comfy leather seats, a traditional Saqra show, and Peruvian fashion show)
  3. Hiram Bingham Luxury Train (Most luxurious train, includes Brunch, Dinner, unlimited Peruvian cocktails, afternoon tea at the Machu Picchu Sanctuary Lodge, entrance to Machu Picchu and a tour guide while in Machu Picchu)
 IncaRail:IncaRail is not as popular but is known for a slightly more luxurious experience and offers a total of 4 different categories:
  1. The Voyager (Budget train, panoramic windows, selection of drinks)
  2. The 360° Train (large panoramic windows, lunch box, selection of drinks, and an outdoor observation carriage)
  3. The First Class (welcome drink, 3-course gourmet menu, an exclusive selection of wines, outdoor balcony and live music at the observatory lounge with cocktail classes)
  4. The Private (welcome Champagne followed by Pisco Sours, 3-course gourmet meal, an exclusive selection of wines, personalized cooking classes, live music, and an open balcony to enjoy the beautiful landscapes)

It is totally possible to visit Machu Picchu within a day from Cusco. Simply book a roundtrip train ticket leaving in the early morning and returning in the late afternoon. However, we recommend staying at least one night at Aguas Calientes especially if you would like to visit Machu Picchu right when it opens. Check Peru Rail train times here, and Inca Rail train times here. We purchased our train tickets to Aguas Calientes mid-morning so we could still enjoy a slow breakfast in our hotel in Cusco and arrive at our hotel in Aguas Calientes just in time for check-in. We chose The 360° Train so we could enjoy the views of Sacred Valley via the open observation carriage and decided to splurge on the way back by taking The First Class inclusive of a three-course meal. It was honestly the perfect way to round up our memorable trip to Machu Picchu. We enjoyed the surprisingly delicious dinner and spent the rest of our drive in the entertainment cart offering live music and complimentary pisco sour lessons.

The train to Machu Picchu is an experience in itself and worth every penny as you drive alongside the gushing Urubamba River and through the enchanting Sacred Valley of the Incas.

The Ultimate Guide To Machu Picchu | Bare Escape

How to get to Machu Picchu from Aguas Calientes

Machu Picchu is only 6km from the small town of Aguas Calientes and there are only two ways to reach the entrance to Machu Picchu. You can either hike to Machu Picchu or take the bus. The hike takes around 1h.30 minutes and as explained above, this will be your best bet if you would like to be one of the first to enter Machu Picchu. Always make sure to match your walk with the entrance time on your entry ticket to Machu Picchu. You will not be allowed to enter earlier should you get there before you stated entry time.

The Ultimate Guide To Machu Picchu | Bare Escape
Can you spot the bus in the picture? This is where the bus drops you off and pick up is just across the street.

Where to buy your bus tickets to Machu Picchu

The bus tickets from Aguas Calientes to the entrance gate of Machu Picchu can be purchased directly in Aguas Calientes or Cusco. Simply ask your hotel for the ticket office in Aguas Calientes, the town is pretty small and the office is super easy to find. A more convenient way would be to purchase your tickets online. Machu Picchu Pass is a reliable place to do so. You will get a copy of the electronic ticket sent via email and I would recommend printing it prior. The ticket has no specific schedule, however, in order to get on the bus, you must show your passport as well as the entrance ticket to Machu Picchu, and from experience, you are not allowed on the bus unless your entry ticket time is within the next hour. The bus ride only takes around 30 minutes and boards just before the intersection of the train tracks and the main street.

The Ultimate Guide To Machu Picchu | Bare Escape

Tips and Tricks you should know before visiting Machu Picchu

  • Patience is everything. If you have come here in hopes to get images with little to no people in it then you have to make sure you get here either as one of the first or stay as one of the last. People come and go and eventually, you will get a photo without the crowds. 
 
  • Stay at Machu Picchu. If you have the budget you can also choose to stay at Belmond Sanctuary Lodge. The only hotel located at Machu Picchu. Though expensive, it gives you the most optimal access to visiting and taking the best photos of Machu Picchu. 
 
  • Machu Picchu is a one-way street. Keep in mind that touring Machu Picchu is a one-way street. It is not really allowed to backtrack meaning you have to make sure you get the image you want when you are there since you are most likely not going to get back to the same location. There are a total of three circuits to choose from, however, I found them rather confusing and am not sure if I walked any circuit at all. 
  
  • Go pee before you enter. The site is hundreds of years old so don’t expect that there are toilets scattered throughout this historical site. There will be no toilets once you enter Machu Picchu so be sure to pee prior. There is a toilet at the entrance near the restaurant and for 2 Soles you can use it. These might be the best 2 Soles you will spend on your whole trip through Peru. 
 
  • Best places for photography. The Classic shot of Machu Picchu is located right in front of a little hut with a thatched roof also known as House of the Guardians or the Watchman’s Hut. The path here is divided into two - the first one leading you through the tourist circuit through Machu Picchu and the second one leading you to Intipunku (Sun Gate) and the Machu Picchu Mountain. Both offer incredible views of the ruins and truly provide a different angle and perspective of this famous sight. However, both hikes are extremely physically demanding and not recommended to do in one day. If you decide to take on the 2h roundtrip hike to the Sun Gate keep in mind that its not necessarily the Sun Gate that provides the best views but the new perspectives along the way. 

Photo Tip: Overall I would recommend bringing a wide-angle lens so you can snap a few images of the entire scenery and possibly even a snippet of the below passing Urubamba River. As well as your close up lens so that you can get some closer shots for when you hike up to any of the mountains of the Sun Gate. But try not to look too professional, large tripods are not allowed and big camera bags are recommended to leave at home since you are most likely be asked to store them in the lockers.

The Ultimate Guide To Machu Picchu | Bare Escape
The Ultimate Guide To Machu Picchu | Bare Escape

Where to stay in Aguas Calientes

Choose between basic hotels and the most luxurious hotel at the foot of Machu Picchu.


Luxury Boutique Hotel

Belmond Luxury Lodge

This is the only hotel located next to the entrance of Machu Picchu providing easy access all day long. The 5-star luxury hotel boasts a total of 32 eco-friendly rooms and suites. After an exciting day exploring, enjoy fine Peruvian cuisine, using fresh produce grown in the onsite garden.


Luxury Boutique Hotel

Inkaterra Machu Picchu Pueblo Hotel

For the most authentic experience, I can only recommend Inkaterra Machu Picchu Pueblo Hotel. A luxurious jungle retreat featuring 83 casitas located amidst waterfalls and connected with stone pathways. Set on 12 acres this unique lodge will bring your experience to the next level from the in-house excursions to the first-class restaurant with views of Vilcanota River.


Boutique Hotel

Casa Del Sol Machu Picchu

A welcoming boutique hotel overlooking the enchanting river, located right in the heart of Aguas Calientes only minutes from the train station. Listen to the sound of the river as you fall asleep at night after a divine 4-course meal at the onsite restaurant. This one is a must for those looking for an authentic experience.


Boutique Hotel

El MaPi Hotel byInkaterra

A new and stylish 8 room boutique hotel in Aguas Calientes. The hotel provides a transfer between the train station and the hotel. The spacious suites offer panoramic windows and can be booked including a breakfast buffet and a la carte dinner. The hotel includes a lively bar and hip cafe.


Affordable Boutique Hotel

Tierra Viva Machu Picchu

The hotel is located in Aguas Calientes and faces the Urubamba River. The rooms are clean and spacious and the hotel is a short walk from the bus stop going up to Machu Picchu. Room 504 comes with a big terrace, the perfect place to start your day with a cup of coffee.


Affordable Boutique Hotel

Hotel La Cabaña Machupicchu

An adorable rustic boutique hotel in a quiet street of Aguas Calientes. The rooms feature tiled floors and wooden furnishings with extremely comfortable beds and a nice breakfast spread. This is a great place to stay when traveling to Machu Picchu on a budget.


More hotels in Aguas Calientes

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The Ultimate Guide To Machu Picchu | Bare Escape
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