22/02/2024

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10 Things to Know Before Visiting Machu Picchu

10 min read
10 Things to Know Before Visiting Machu Picchu

The ancient citadel of Machu Picchu, which is hidden high up in the Peruvian Andes, draws with a sense of mystery and majesty. It is a location that has captured travelers’ attention for many years, and its historical value cannot be ignored.

However, there are certain things you should be aware of before entering the sacred grounds of Machu Picchu. Therefore, we’re here to provide you with the ten things to know before visiting Machu Picchu, so you have an unforgettable visit.

Make sure also to check out our complete guide to visiting Machu Picchu.

Let’s get started! Here is an overview:

Things to know before visiting Machu Picchu

1. Have all of your travel documents at hand

You need to have all the train, bus, and entry tickets at hand when doing your Machu Picchu tour. It’s fine if you have them as electronic tickets on your phone. Scroll down to the bottom for more tour information.

To be on the safe side, it’s wise to print them out in case you experience internet issues or run out of battery. If you did not print the tickets at home, don’t panic; your hotel in Cusco or Aguas Calientes will help you.

This also applies to your passport. For your visit to Machu Picchu, always bring your original passport with you.

2. Take the shuttle bus instead of hiking

Bus shuttle for visiting Machu Picchu in Peru.
Bus shuttle for visiting Machu Picchu in Peru.

You have two options for getting to Machu Picchu’s entrance from Aguas Calientes: hiking or using a shuttle bus.

The hike lasts about 90 minutes and isn’t particularly impressive because there aren’t any amazing sights along the way. Given that the trail twists steeply into the jungle, it is a rather challenging trek. By the time you get to the entry, you’ll probably be drenched in sweat.

That’s why we advise taking the 25-minute bus ride. You need to purchase the tickets in advance, each way being $12.

If you’re a keen hiker, check out our guide to hiking the Inca Trail Trail to Machu Picchu.

3. Pack smart for Machu Picchu

Your backpack needs to have a special size if you visit Machu Picchu. You won’t get admission to the ruins if it is larger than 15.7 inches by 13.7 inches by 7.9 inches (40 cm x 35 cm x 20 cm), and you will need to store it in a locker.

In your backpack, you can only put a camera, a phone, a small water bottle (ideally one that can be reused), sunscreen, insect repellent, etc. Food, however, is forbidden. Because of this, we strongly advise you to eat a filling breakfast and/or bring snacks with you on the trip to Machu Picchu.

Additionally, you are not allowed to bring tripods, drones or selfie sticks with you. Sometimes the guards are very strict, sometimes they aren’t and don’t even check your backpack. However, you should be prepared for the former and follow the rules.

Also, wearing appropriate clothing is key because the Andes’ climate is prone to unexpected shifts. We advise wearing sturdy shoes, multifunctional clothing, rain ponchos, hats or caps, and zip-off shirts and pants. We advise checking out Merino Wool clothing for any outdoor adventures.

4. Beware of the fixed routes

View onto the ruins of Machu Picchu in Peru.
View onto the ruins of Machu Picchu in Peru.

You must stick to a set path the entire time you are on the guided tour. This means you can only go in one direction.

Returning to one of the previously seen locations is not possible!

The purpose of this rule is to improve the organization of the Machu Picchu tours. In the regular tours, you will visit Circuit 1, which lasts about 2.5 hours and explores both the high and lower areas of Machu Picchu. This circuit allows you to capture the well-known postcard image of Machu Picchu.

5. Avoid getting your passport stamped

You may have seen other travelers who had a Machu Picchu stamp added to their passports on Facebook or Instagram. Despite how exciting and memorable this sounds, we can only strongly warn you from doing it.

You may now be questioning, “Why?” It’s because this stamp is not an official passport stamp. There have been various travelers who had difficulties entering other countries, as this stamp invalidated their passport.

We recommend you bring a postcard, a note block or a T-shirt if you really want the Machu Picchu stamp. But don’t get your passport stamped.

6. Purchase your tickets early

Huayna Picchu Mountain in Peru.
Huayna Picchu Mountain in Peru.

In general, the earlier you book your tickets, the better. This way, you can choose your preferred entrance time to Machu Picchu.

If you plan to visit Huayna Picchu or Machu Picchu Mountain, booking early is even more important. Yet, what does “early” actually mean?

As there are only 400 visitors allowed per day during the high season of May through October, you should reserve your tickets to Huayna Picchu at least two to three months in advance. For Machu Picchu Mountain, booking a few weeks before is usually fine.

You will enjoy a breathtaking view of the Machu Picchu ruins and the surroundings from both summits.

7. Use the bathroom before entering

As there are no bathrooms inside the archaeological complex of Machu Picchu, we urge you to use them before entering especially as you are unable to leave and re-enter Machu Picchu after you pass the entrance.

In other words, unless you have purchased a second admittance ticket, there is no way back in once you are outside.

Our advice: bring some tissues with you because many bathrooms in Peru don’t have toilet paper. The usage of the restroom often costs S/1 ($0.30).

8. Explore the Sacred Valley before visiting Machu Picchu

Visit Moray before you visit Machu Picchu Mountain in Peru.
Visit Moray before you visit Machu Picchu Mountain in Peru.

As Cusco is in the Andes at a height of over 11,000 feet, it’s crucial you acclimate yourself to avoid altitude sickness in Peru.  

Before traveling to any high-altitude sites after arriving in Cusco, it is best to first explore the Sacred Valley and Machu Picchu, as they are less elevated. This allows your body to gradually adjust to the altitude.

Apart from getting used to the altitude, another advantage of doing the Sacred Valley tour before visiting Machu Picchu is that it will help you understand the Incas’ history and put it in chronological order.

This specific and comprehensive tour of the Sacred Valley allows visitors to experience local life, architectural wonders, Inca history and beautiful natural landscapes before heading to Machu Picchu. The tour includes visits to Chinchero, Maras, Moray and Ollantaytambo and lasts 12 hours. The tour is designed to give visitors an authentic experience of life in the Peruvian Andes.

Book your Sacred Valley experience directly with the tour operator here.

9. Choose the “best” train option

There is no train that stops directly at Machu Picchu. The last stop is Aguas Calientes. From there you can either take the bus, which takes about 20 minutes to the entrance and has to be paid for, or you can hike for about 1.5 hours.

Peru Rail and Inca Rail are the only train companies that offer trips to Aguas Calientes. We have tested both and prefer PeruRail because of their seemingly newer train and included snack service. Our ride on Inca Rail was so bumpy that we were afraid our coffee would fly through the train. Normally the price difference between the two trains is very small and can increase slightly during the high season.

You can’t control your choice of seat. However, if you are traveling as a couple, it is almost always possible to get seats next to each other by arranging them accordingly, and the train staff will help with this even if no prior seat arrangement has been made”.

Going to Machu Picchu by train leaves you with three different train options. Let’s take a look at them.

Expedition train – the standard train

The large windows of the PeruRail Expedition train allow you to admire the breathtaking scenery as you travel to Machu Picchu.

The train is equipped with comfortable seats, tables, air conditioning, heating and toilets.

You can use the PeruRail Expedition Train for one-way or round trips between Cusco and Machu Picchu. It is also possible to board the train in the Sacred Valley. The train departs from Poroy (Cusco), Ollantaytambo and Machu Picchu.

During the trip you will have the opportunity to buy food and drinks.

Vistadome train – slightly more comfortable, panorama windows and on-board entertainment

The Vistadome trains offer a unique and special way to travel to Machu Picchu.

This is the more luxurious option, where you can sit in cars with panoramic windows on the sides and ceiling and enjoy the scenery from the comfort of leather seats. On board you will also be offered a snack with regional products from the Andes.

On the way back, you can even enjoy a fashion show in your carriage where authentic alpaca baby wool garments are presented, including exclusive alpaca clothing trends for sale.

On the way to the Inca citadel, the Vistadome offers breathtaking views of landscapes and natural phenomena, creating a true connection between you and your surroundings.

Enjoy the beautiful route to Machu Picchu and indulge in the flavors of the Andes.

Hiram Bingham train – luxurious train with on-board meals, open bar and more

Have you ever dreamed of traveling through the Peruvian Andes in a train that resembles a 1920’s Pullman car? The Hiram Bingham Train not only makes it possible, it makes this magical journey an unforgettable experience with personalized service that takes care of every detail of your trip.

The most expensive of the three train options is the Belmond Hiram Bingham Train, named after the discoverer of Machu Picchu – Hiram Bingham. This luxury train journey is one of the most luxurious train experiences in Peru.

The exclusive Belmond Hiram Bingham Train features an elegant dining area and bar, and the open roof of the train car offers unique views of the breathtaking scenery.

Begin your experience with a welcome cocktail. Once on board, you’ll be treated to a gourmet lunch by the maître d’. A delicious dinner is also included on the return trip. In both cases, you will be able to accompany your meals with non-alcoholic beverages and an excellent selection of wines.

The carriages have been specially designed in the style of 1920’s Pullman cars and are furnished with gleaming wooden furniture and large comfortable armchairs.

Traditional Peruvian and international music is played live throughout the trip – to the rhythm of Peruvian cajóns and tambourines – giving this excursion to the citadel of Machu Picchu an unforgettable atmosphere.

If you plan on a “regular” trip to Machu Picchu, we suggest taking the Expedition train to go to Aguas Calientes and the Vistadome as your return train. 

More than that, we recommend taking the train to Machu Picchu from Ollantaytambo after your Sacred Valley tour, staying the night in Aguas Calientes and taking the train back on the next day. This allows you to have a more relaxed experience. More about this below.

10. Spend the night in Aguas Calientes

Aguas Calientes near Machu Picchu Mountain in Peru.
Aguas Calientes near Machu Picchu Mountain in Peru.

Why should you stay the night in Aguas Calientes? This is definitely your best option if you want to visit the Machu Picchu ruins at sunrise before the crowds arrive.

The early morning Machu Picchu day trips starting from Cusco begin at 2.30 a.m. Since the first train from Ollantaytambo to Aguas Calientes departs at 5:05 a.m., Machu Picchu cannot be seen until 7:30 or 8 a.m.

Spending the night in Aguas Calientes allows you to sleep in a little longer and enter Machu Picchu at 6 am, before the crowds.

The day trip from Cusco or Aguas Calientes are both excellent choices. However, you should stay in Aguas Calientes if you want to experience Machu Picchu without the crowds.

Private 1 day Machu Picchu train tour

A day trip to Machu Picchu is often hailed as the most breathtaking experience in Peru. This special tour eliminates the usual travel headaches of late pick-ups, overcrowded groups and disinterested guides reciting rehearsed lines.

Rest assured that your time exploring Peru will be flawless with this carefully curated excursion. You’ll discover picturesque locations ideal for capturing unforgettable moments through the lens of your camera.

Get ready to travel back in time with our enthusiastic guide who will regale you with captivating tales of Machu Picchu’s rich history. Their passion will transport you to another era and make this an extraordinary encounter.

Price: from USD 369 per person
Choose from all three train options, mentioned above.
Start in Cusco and choose if you want to stay overnight in Aguas Calientes or not

Book directly with the tour operator

This tour includes:

  • Return train tickets
  • Private guided tour of Machu Picchu with a knowledgeable English-speaking guide
  • Entrance ticket to Machu Picchu
  • Entrance fee to Huayna or Machu Picchu mountain (if selected)
  • Shuttle bus Aguas Calientes – Machu Picchu – Aguas Calientes
  • Hotel pick up or drop off in Cusco or the Sacred Valley
A couple visiting Machu Picchu in Peru.
A couple visiting Machu Picchu in Peru.

Enjoy a spectacular time at Machu Picchu

As you can see, there are a few things to be aware of before traveling to Peru’s Machu Picchu. Booking the tour with enough time in advance is one of the most crucial things to remember. Staying in Aguas Calientes before your tour is another key point.

With the previous recommendations, we hope that we were able to prepare you for your unforgettable trip to Machu Picchu.

While you’re planning your Peru itinerary, check out these other places to visit besides Machu Picchu!

  • Exploor Peru

    Having crafted unique travel experiences for over 7 years, Exploor Peru is your one-stop shop for Peru travels. Staying in tree houses in the Amazon jungle, hiking with alpacas to a local community in the Andes or trying the traditional dish “Pachamanca” cooked underground are some of the things we offer. With over 20,000 travelers and more than 1100 5-star reviews on TripAdvisor, you can rest assured that your trip will be unforgettable. Exploor Peru is known for small groups, itineraries that avoid the crowds and authentic experiences.

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