History of Machu Picchu
Machu Picchu was known to only a few Peruvian farmers until 1911. An American historian named Hiram Bingham almost stumbled across it while searching for the lost city of Vilcabamba. The ancient mountaintop citadel was originally built sometime around 1450 for the Incan emperor Pachacuti. Machu Picchu would be named a UNESCO World Heritage Site and would begin welcoming tourists.
Aguas Calientes is the town where Machu Picchu is located. You will arrive in this cute little mountain town before trekking up to Machu Picchu. There are a few hotels in this small town and some travelers will opt to spend the night here before going up to Machu Picchu.
The Many Roads to Machu Picchu
Machu Picchu is a very popular destination with millions visiting each year. Cusco is the main gateway to Machu Picchu. Most visitors travel via a train out of Cusco, although the more adventurous will hike the Inca Trail to arrive at the fortress via an old road that was used by the Inca themselves.
HIKING: Trekking to Machu Picchu is a dream for many visitors, but there are a few hiking trails that lead you there.
The 4-Day Inca Trail is a popular hiking trail. It is a 4 day/3 night 26-mile hike that passes many ancient Inca sites along this route, such as Llactapata, Sayaqmarka, Phuyupatamarca. Entrance into Machu Picchu is through the Sun Gate in the morning on the final day. The Peruvian government 200 passes per day to hikers so if you’re booking last minute you won’t be doing the hike. To hike the Inca trail will run you $500-$1000.
The Salkantay is a 5 day 46 mile trek which offers beautiful mountain scenery along the way. This trek is longer and higher than the Inca Trail, but the less crowded route gives hikers a chance to see wildlife. Deer, chinchillas, and spectacled bears roam in this area. On the final day hikers arrive at Aguas Calientes. You then visit Machu Picchu the following day.
BUS: From Aguas Calientes town you can hike up or take a bus up to the top. The buses run all day, every ten minuets, with the first bus to Machu Picchu leaving at 5:30 am and the last bus down at 5:30 pm. The bus ticket prices to Machu Picchu are defined according to the schedule, type of service, age. Round trip tickets for foreign adults is $30.00, and children ( 5-11 ) $18.00. To purchase bus ticket to Machu Picchu you can easily go to HERE, and follow the steps.
TRAIN: The Peru Rail runs from Cusco directly to Aguas Calientes. I highly recommend taking the Vistadome train for the best views of the Andes Mountains! Ollantaytambo is another popular train stop which is a short hour and a half drive from Cusco. If you don’t feel like trekking for days the train is a great option to Aguas Calientes.
LUXURY OPTION: The Hiram Bingham train is a beautiful private train with champagne and live music. The train is named after the explorer, Hiram Bingham, who rediscovered the citadel of Machu Picchu. If you want the full luxury experience you can stay at the Belmond Sanctuary Lodge, located at Machu Picchu. It is the only hotel situation at Machu Picchu. At $1400 per night, this hotel may not be an option for everyone.
Cuzco sits at 3,400m above sea level, while Machu Picchu stands at around 2,450m. At these heights, there’s less oxygen in the air. I would recommend all tourists to spend a day or two in Cusco to acclimatize yourself before venturing off to Machu Picchu.
Exposure to high altitudes increases ventilation and it becomes more difficult to breath as the body responds to less oxygen. A lot of water is lost in the first few hours which can result in dehydration. Many people who climb to high altitudes experience the effects of acute altitude sickness. It’s impossible to predict who will be affected. As a former elite athlete, altitude sickness hit me my first day in Cusco. I had a headache and felt nauseated for about five hours.
In most cases, symptoms of altitude sickness are mild and should wear off in a day or two.
When to Visit Machu Picchu
The city has become an extremely popular tourist destination. Machu Picchu is open year round and travelers can make plans to visit during any month of the year. But if your goal is to hike the Inca Trail to Incan city you’ll want to avoid visiting in February. The trail is actually shut down for the entire month to perform routine maintenance on the route to ensure that it stays safe, scenic, and sanitary.
There are two seasons in Peru, Rainy Season and Dry Season. The rainy season in Peru runs from November into April. Peru’s dry season runs from about mid-April to the end of October.
January through March gets the most rain, so keep that in mind as you make your travel plans.
Time of Day to Visit
There are two time slots to visit Machu Picchu. Each day you can spend a maximum of 4 hours. For example, if you enter Machu Picchu at 10am, then you have until 2pm to visit. Travelers who want to spend a full day at Machu Picchu (more than 4 hours) need to buy two entrance tickets for the morning and afternoon time slots.
The site is open from 6 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day, with the largest crowds arriving later in the morning and staying until mid-afternoon. Arrive there first thing in the morning and take advantage of the smaller crowds.
Note: Use the restroom prior to entering Machu Picchu as there is no restroom once you enter. The restroom costs 2 soles, but it’s a must as there is no re-entry into the ruins once you leave.
As the crowds arrive, climb Huayna Picchu, the mountain that sits north of the skeletal citadel. Huayna Picchu hikers have a maximum of 6 hours total to visit Machu Picchu. This includes time to do the hike and take their tour. To hike Huayna Picchu I recommend booking months in advance because there are only 400 permits they give out each day.
Take your experience up a notch and watch the sun rise from Intipunku (the Sun Gate). The Sun Gate was once the entrance to Machu Picchu. This hike takes about an hour and a half to the gate. Once you enter Machu Picchu you will find signs directing you to the Sun Gate. The Sun Gate is the only hike that is free with your ticket to Machu Picchu.
Hiring a Guide
The Government has made it mandatory that a tour guide is required to enter Machu Picchu. A tour guide is a really good idea because they can explain all the history of Machu Picchu. Also tour guides direct tousirts along the desired path and restrict from walking around freely.
If you are looking for a guide you can easily book one in advance online, get one in Agua Calientes at a travel agency, or hire one at the entrance of Machu Picchu. I would advise hiring a tour guide in advance as it is a lot more expensive to get one at the main entrance.
What to Pack to Visit Machu Picchu for a Day
A trip to Machu Picchu is a long day. Plan layers. I left my hotel for Machu Picchu at 3:30am and it was cold outside. By the time I got to the train station the sun was coming up and it started getting a little warmer. I arrived at Machu Picchu and the sun was nice and warm. I spent a few hours walking through Machu Picchu and near the end the sun was blazing hot. Here is a list of items I suggest packing for your day trip.
- Extra T-shirt, in case of sweat or rain
- Light jacket or a rain poncho if you are travelling during the rainy season
- Soft, comfortable socks
- Hiking shoes because Machu Picchu is mainly steep stone stairs and grassy ground
- Cap or sun hat
- Insect repellent
- Bottled water
- If you are dealing with altitude sickness, try chewing on coca leaves or have some coca candies
- Energy bars or something small as there is no where to purchase meals.
- Passport, you can stamp your passport for FREE before leaving Machu Picchu.
- Extra cash in Peruvian currency
- We suggest you bring a backpack for all the items. Machu Picchu restrict the size backpack you are allowed to carry in, but there is a place where you can store your luggage for a small fee.
- Don’t forget to bring your camera, these are unique, astounding landscapes
- Respective charging cords, adaptor and extra batteries
My Machu Picchu Highlights
I’m often asked if Machu Picchu really lives up to its name. YES!!! And for a number of reasons. The Spanish never made their way up the mountains and so Machu Pichu was left untouched. When I visited I was in awe by the setting. The surrounding mountains were stunning. This long time kept secret is extraordinary in person.
After exiting Machu Picchu you will find a small stand with a stamp and inkpad to document your trip to one of the seven natural wonders of the world.
Where to eat at Machu Picchu
After a day visiting Machu Picchu make sure you reward yourself with Peruvian food. There are a number of restaurants in Aguas Calientes to suit your taste. My favourite spot is Toto’s House, located right on the main street. I ate a delicious meal after climbing Machu and enjoyed coffee with a view.
If you have some extra travelling time you can make your way over Lake Titicaca or the Colca Valley, plan on visiting Machu Picchu in the summer, make sure to follow our 6 top items for summer travel.