Machu Picchu & Machu Picchu Mountain

You can’t go to Peru without visiting Machu Picchu right? In fact, I bet many of you plan your entire trip to Peru around going to Machu Picchu – and who can blame you! It’s an amazing site to see.

We were fortunate enough to be able to visit the site twice while we were there but we didn’t have time to walk the Inca Trail. We were only in Peru for 16 days and had to fit in a number of other places and sites while we were there so we dedicated one night / two days to Machu Picchu.

Where is Machu Picchu? And how do I get there??

Machu Picchu is basically in the middle of nowhere! It’s 80km northwest of Cuzco in the middle of a tropical mountain range. The nearest town is Aguas Calientes and the main ways tourists get there is via train or the Inca Trail (which starts at km 82 along the railway).

We went by train as we didn’t have time to do the hike (the most popular hike is 4-days) and see other places in Peru. We decided that the site itself was more important than the hike so we skipped it – I probably would have died along the way anyway lol! I’m not the fittest and I’m super clumsy!

There are three trains from Cuzco to Aguas Calientes – Belmond Hiram Bingham, PeruRail Vistadome and PeruRail Expedition. You can also catch the train from Ollantaytambo, which is between Cuzco and Aguas Calientes, so I imagine the tickets are slightly cheaper and if you’re planning to stay in Ollantaytambo you won’t have to travel back to Cuzco for the train.

PeruRail Expedition is the cheapest option (at $63 USD per person/one way in 2019) and the option we went with. The trip should only take about 2-3hrs each way and it should go pretty quickly as you get lost in the amazing views along the way.

Tripadvisor | PeruRail Expedition Train to Machu Picchu provided ...

It’s quite a comfortable train and there is food and drinks cart that comes around so you buy something to snack on. Though I would recommend taking food and drink with you on the train in case of delays – we had a major delay (6hrs stuck on the train!) on the way back to Cuzco and they ran out of food and drink which was really unpleasant!

Aguas Calientes

This is the final stop on the train to Machu Picchu. The train station is right on the edge of the small town so it shouldn’t be too much of a walk to your hotel – and you will need one as there is no way you will have enough time to only visit for the day!

As you walk out of the train station you’ll step straight into the markets so you’ll need to navigate your way out. The town itself straddles the Urubamba River with the main town square located on the opposite side to the train station. You’ll also be able to see the road that leads to Machu Picchu with all the buses coming and going, taking tourists up the mountain.

Where To Stay

We stayed in a small hotel called Andino Hotel. It was located on the same side of the river as the train station and only a 5-10 min walk to the main square in town. The room was really comfortable and the staff were friendly, they were happy to arrange packed breakfast for us to take with us on our way up Machu Picchu mountain.

There are a number of different places to stay in Aguas Calientes though and a quick search on Booking.com will bring up something for everyone! If you’re staying there after having done the trek you might want to look for something a little more luxurious to spend an evening relaxing in – like Jaya Suite Machu Picchu. We looked at this one when we were originally thinking about staying a couple of nights.

Where To Eat

OMG there are so many choices! The main square is surrounded by restaurants and you’ll find even more down the streets leading off the main square.

We found one that runs along the same street as the railway lines called Mapacho Craft Beer & Peruvian Cuisine. The food was amazing and if you like craft beer, this is a good place to check out a few local ones. It was pretty busy but we were able to walk in and get a table though I would recommend you try and book first.

Everything You Need to Know About Entering Machu Picchu

We went up to Machu Picchu on our first day in the area as we had tickets booked for entering the site at 1pm. To get to the site from Aguas Calientes you will need to either walk (approx. 1.5hrs uphill) or take one of the frequent buses.

The buses are a little terrifying as they move at quite a pace as they zig-zag up the hill on a one lane road so be prepared for the bus to do what it needs to do when another one needs to get past in the opposite direction. I highly recommend you don’t look out the window as the bus is reversing on the edge of a steep cliff!

To get one of the buses up, which is what we did, you will need to buy tickets for the bus from the booking office in Aguas Calientes. You’ll need to show some ID so make sure you have your passport handy. Tickets are $24USD (return) per foreign adult or £12USD if you only want to go one way and walk the other way.

You will need tickets to enter the site and while you can buy them in Cuzco or Aguas Calientes, it is an extremely popular place so I highly recommend you book tickets online. All you need to do is visit the Ministry of Culture website and follow the steps, but if you’re struggling you can visit Thrifty Nomads step by step guide – “How To Buy Machu Picchu Tickets: A Step-By-Step Guide.”

You cannot enter until your time-slot and you will need to show your ticket and your passport.

Machu Picchu Site Only Tickets

Adults – $45USD per person (or 152 Soles)

This gives you entry to the main site only, so you’ll still get to see all the buildings and temples but you won’t be able to go up Machu Picchu mountain or Huayna Picchu.

Machu Picchu & Machu Picchu Mountain Tickets

Adults – $62USD per person (or 200 Soles)

This ticket gives you entry to climb up Machu Picchu Mountain as well as the main site. There are only two time slots available to choose from – either 7-8am or 9-10am. Only 400 tickets are available for each time slot per day so I recommend you book as early as you can.

Machu Picchu & Huyana Picchu Tickets

Adults – $62USD per person (or 200 Soles)

This ticket gives you entry to climb up Huyana Picchu Mountain as well as the main site. Again, there are only two time slots to choose from – either 7-8am or 10-11am. Only 200 tickets are available for each time slot per day so again, I recommend you book as early as you can.

Hiring A Guide

I’ve read a number of posts online that say you MUST have a guide to enter Machu Picchu but I saw many people wandering through the site without guides so I’m not sure this is something that is enforced, or still correct. This may have changed now (we were there in 2019) as new rules were introduced in Jan 2020 plus there is the current Covid-19 situation.

We hired a guide we met at the bus stop on our way up to Machu Picchu and had him for 3hrs. I think we paid around 150 Soles. There are many guides at the entrance as well so if you decide you want one you should be able to find one easy enough. They all have khaki coloured vests on that say Official Guide and they’ll have ID as well.

Food & Drink

Visitors are restricted as to what they are allowed to bring into Machu Picchu. Snacks and drinks (no plastic water bottles) are allowed but visitors must take all rubbish away with them. There are no rubbish bins located within the site and there are wardens patrolling the site to make sure visitors adhere to the rules.

There is a restaurant at the entrance but it is not cheap! I would recommend eating before heading up or once you’re back in Aguas Calientes.

Toilets

There are no toilets in the site! Make sure you hit the toilets before you go in – you will have to pay to use the toilets but it’s a minimal amount. You’re allowed to leave and re-enter once

Best Time To Go

Afternoons are generally quieter than the mornings but there is still a large number of visitors passing through. However, the new rules introduced in Jan 2020 have limited the number of tickets available so there is only a maximum amount of people passing through each day.

Winter (May – Sept) is the best time of year to visit as it’s the dry season and generally a bit cooler while the summer months (Oct – Apr) are warmer, though wetter. We were there at the end of May and it was a perfect day to be there with bright sunshine, warm but not too hot.

For all the new rules and regulations introduced in Jan 2020, check out the Inca Trail Machu website – it is very detailed and has a FAQ section as well.

Machu Picchu

Now that you’re finally through the gates you’ll be guided through the citadel by a loose one-way system – you can divert from the path but you’ll still have to travel around the site in a certain direction to stop traffic jams.

If you’re with a guide, chances are you’ll stop in this same spot for your first photo in Machu Picchu with Huyana Picchu Mountain in the background. From here you’ll head up the steps that are on the left which will bring you out higher up so you’ll see the amazing view down over the citadel.

There are no information panels located around the site but if you’re with a guide they’ll be able to tell you everything you need to know as you move around the site. I would recommend taking a guide book with you as well though as you may want to spend some time exploring on your own once your time with your guide finishes.

Machu Picchu sanctuary map
Photo credit: Machu Picchu Sanctuary Map – https://www.machupicchu.org/machu_picchu_sanctuary_map.htm
History of Machu Picchu

This 15th Century citadel is located 2,430m above sea level, in the middle of a canyon surround by mountain ranges. It was built around 1450 but abandoned only 100 years later at the time of the Spanish Conquest, however it was never discovered by the Spanish so when it was abandoned it remained hidden to the outside world until Hiram Bingham rediscovered it in 1911.

Bingham was actually looking for Vilcabamca (“The Lost City of the Inca”) – the city where the last Inca rulers led a rebellion against the Spanish. He believed he had found it when he was led to Machu Picchu, however that is no longer believed by most archaeologists today.

There have been a few theories over the years as to what the site was used for. Bingham’s initial theory was that it was a sanctuary for the Virgins of the Sun (or the Chosen Women), after he discovered what he believe to be multiple female skeletons excavated in 1912. However, through technology available today, archaeologists have found that Bingham’s findings were incorrect and that a significant proportion of the skeletons were actually male.

Today it is most widely believed that Machu Picchu was a summer palace for Emperor Pachacuti. Though it is still unknown why it was abandoned.

Machu Picchu Mountain

This is the easier of the two mountains but it will take longer.

Huyana Picchu Mountain is a shorter climb but it’s much steeper and narrower, though there is the added bonus of seeing the Temple of the Moon once you get to the top.

Machu Picchu Mountain will take approx. 3hrs return, but the path is wider and not as narrow so if you’re like me, and maybe not as fit or you’re afraid of heights – this is the better option. Though be prepared for LOTS of steps!

I highly recommend going up as early as you can to stay out of the sun. On our trip up the mountain it was in the shade for the most part which is great as we worked up quite a sweat! Also, make sure you take lots of water with you and some snacks or even a picnic to eat on the top while you look down over Machu Picchu.

As I already mentioned, I’m not the fittest person but I kept pace pretty well with only a few stops along the way. We saw a few people heading up and then heading down again while we were still heading up! They can’t have stayed at the top for long!

The views down over the gorge are absolutely spectacular! Make sure you take some time up at the top and not just have a quick look and disappear back down.

Honestly, I didn’t find the way back down much easier but I have issues with my ankles and knees and I’m incredibly clumsy! When you get to the bottom you’ll be able to spend some time exploring the ruins.

I hope you enjoy Machu Picchu as much as we did! I’d love to go back again one day and maybe even take on the Inca Trail to get there!

Chel xx

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