Machu Picchu is one of the places that all travelers have on their bucket list. When planning a trip to the Inca city, there are several things to keep in mind so in this post I tell you everything you need to know to visit Machu Picchu on your own.
If you need help for planning your trip to Peru read: 2 weeks in Peru itinerary
GUIDE FOR VISITING MACHU PICCHU ON YOUR OWN
On this post you will find:
↣ When to visit Machu Picchu
The first thing to consider when planning a trip to Machu Picchu is when to visit. The weather is marked by 2 seasons:
- Rainy season (November to March): The temperature ranges from 8°C to 22°C. Although the rains are more frequent, it does not mean that it rains all day. During this season there is less tourism so you can get better prices for hotels and tours.
- Dry season (April to October): This is the best season to visit Machu Picchu as the rain is less frequent. The temperature is cooler, especially at night, when it can reach 0°C. May and June are the best months to visit Machu Picchu. Keep in mind that this is the high season and you will find more tourists and higher prices.
You can visit Machu Picchu at any time, but it is best to choose the time of your visit according to the activities you are planning to do. If you are planning to trek the Inca Trail, keep in mind that it closes in February due to the rains, so it is best to travel during the dry season. I traveled during March, which is the last month of the rainy season and although it rained some days in Cusco, they were just occasional short rains. Luckily the day I visited Machu Picchu we had a complete clear day.
↣ How to get to Machu Picchu from Cusco
Machu Picchu is located in the heart of Peru, about 80 km from Cusco. You can get there from all over Peru, but most likely, your route starts in Cusco. Machu Picchu Pueblo or Aguas Calientes, is the town located at the base of the ruins and a must stop before or after visiting them. There are several ways to get to Machu Picchu, each one is a unique experience and has its benefits. Here are the options:
- Inca Trail – the most authentic option
If you want to have the complete Machu Picchu experience, the Inca Trail is the best option. It is a trek through a network of roads that the Incas used to take to the citadel.
You can only hike the Inca Trail with authorized guides and there is a limit of people per day, so it is necessary to book your tour in advance. Tours generally include meals, porters (they carry your luggage), tent and the entrance ticket to Machu Picchu.
What is the cost of the Inca Trail? Prices vary according to each agency but in general the price of the short trek is around USD$500 per person. The trek goes through incredible landscapes that surely make it a unique experience. If you want to trek the Inca trail you need to be be in good shape, since you will be walking for many days.
- Hidroelectrica – the cheapest option
The “hidroelectrica” road consists in walking from an hydroelectric power station to Aguas Calientes (10 km away), bordering the train tracks.
To get to the hydroelectric station, you must first go from Cusco to Santa María by bus (5 hours). Then you have the option of going from Santa Maria to the Hydroelectric by taxi (30 minutes) or stopping in the town of Santa Teresa, where the hot springs of Cocalmayo are located. There are also vans that take you directly from Cusco to the Hydroelectric station (6 hour drive).
The walk from the hydroelectric takes about 3/4 hours and crosses incredible landscapes. It is a long trip with many transfers, but it allows you to reach Machu Picchu for less than USD$30. It is the cheapest option to get to Machu Picchu on your own and you don’t need to book anything in advance.
- Train – the most comfortable option
The easiest and fastest option to get to Machu Picchu is to take the train. There are two train companies that get to Machu Picchu which are Inca Rail or PeruRail. I took PeruRail train, you can read my experience in this post: taking the Vistadome train to Machu Picchu. There are several routes and train services. There are three departure stations that are: Poroy (Cusco), Ollantaytambo and Urubamba. The journey takes between 2 and 3 hours depending on the departure station.
These are the PeruRail train options:
- PeruRail Expedition: it is the cheapest train. It departs from Poroy and Ollantaytambo.
- PeruRail Vistadome: Vistadome train has panoramic windows and departs from Poroy, Urubamba and Ollantaytambo.
- PeruRail Sacred Valley: this train makes the Urubamba-Machu Picchu route, crossing the entire Sacred Valley.
- Belmond Hiram Bingham: it is the most luxurious service, inspired by Pullman cars of the of the 1920s.
For more information about the services, fares and schedules of each train, I recommend you check the official PeruRail website. The train route is an expensive option but it is worth it for the comfort and the incredible landscapes that are seen during the trip.
If you prefer to leave your country with everything organized, GetYourGuide offers a complete tour to Machu Picchu which includes the bus transfer, the train ticket, the entrance to Machu Picchu and an english speaking guide.
↣ Aguas Calientes
Aguas Calientes is the town where you arrive if you travel by train or take the Hidroelectrica road. It is a small town, surrounded by mountains where there are basically accommodation options and restaurants.
In my opinion, it is best to spend the night in Aguas Calientes the day before you visit Machu Picchu, to rest well after the trip by train or walk from the hydroelectric station.
Recommended accommodation in Aguas Calientes:
There is a wide variety of accommodation options in the town, but it is always best to make your reservation in advance, especially if you travel in high season (June, July, August).
- $$$ – Casa Andina Standard Machu Picchu: a modern hotel located just in front of the train station. See prices of Casa Andina in Booking.
- $$ – Gringo Bill’s Boutique Hotel: This was the hotel I stayed at. It is a labyrinthine hotel with many floors and stairs. It is located very close to the town’s main square and the train station. The staff was very friendly and prepared us a breakfast to take away the day we visited Machu Picchu. See prices of Gringo Bill’s Boutique Hotel on Booking.
- $ – Hostel Machu Picchu Land B&B: A hostel that offers private or shared rooms. It is located a few blocks from the train station and the price is really cheap. See prices of Hostel Machu Picchu Land B&B on Booking.
↣ How to get from Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu
You are already in Aguas Calientes but you still need another short trip to finally reach the ruins of Machu Picchu.
There are only two options to reach Machu Picchu from Aguas Calientes:
- Hike: The free option to get there is to hike for about 1h30/2 h. It is not a difficult hike but it is tiring so I don’t recommend this option if you plan to hike Huayna Picchu (I explain this bellow). The way down is through the same path but obviously it is faster and less tiring than the climb.
- Bus: The bus trip lasts 30 minutes and costs USD$24 (round trip) / USD$12 for children. There is only one bus company authorized to go up, so the prices are a bit abusive. The bus tickets do not have a schedule and can be purchased in Aguas Calientes (Hermanos Ayar St.) or in Cusco (Av. Infancia 433 Wanchaq). You do not need to buy them in advance, you can buy them at the moment you arrive in Aguas Calientes. You can buy the return ticket in Machu Picchu before boarding the bus.
My experience: me and my boyfriend had tickets for Huayna Picchu on the first shift, so we wanted to get to Machu Picchu as early as possible to walk around the citadel for some time before going up to Huayna. At 4:45 AM we arrived at the bus station in Aguas Calientes and there were already around 40 people lining up. At 5:25 AM we started boarding the buses and managed to get on the second one, which left the station at the same time as the first one. We arrived to Machu Picchu at 6 AM and were part of the first people who entered. Keep in mind that I went in March which is not the most tourist month. If you travel during high season there will surely be more people in line.
↣ Entrance ticket to Machu Picchu
Another thing that is essential to plan in advance is the entrance ticket to Machu Picchu.
The official site to buy tickets online is: https://www.machupicchu.gob.pe/inicio. Tickets are sold with the specific day and time you are going to enter.
There are 3 ticket options:
- Machu Picchu (adult price:152 soles): this is the most basic ticket that includes only the entrance to the city of Machu Picchu. There are two shifts for the visit: the first between 6 and 12 AM and the second between 12 and 4:30 PM.
Machu Picchu + Huayna Picchu (adult price:200 soles): this ticket includes admission to the city of Machu Picchu and the Huayna Picchu mountain, which is the one seen in any typical photo of Machu Picchu. There are two shifts to access Huayna: the first from 7 AM to 8 AM and the second from 10 AM to 11 AM. Only 200 people can enter per shift per day, so you have to buy the ticket as early as possible.
Machu Picchu + Machu Picchu Mountain (adult price:200 soles): this ticket includes admission to the city of Machu Picchu and Machu Picchu mountain. There are two shifts to access Machu Picchu mountain: the first from 7 AM to 8 AM and the second from 9 AM to 10 AM.
The entrance ticket is free for children under 8 years old. The rates are lower for Peruvian people or from countries of the Andean community (Bolivia, Colombia and Ecuador). There is also a discount for students (both foreign and national) but to access, you have to buy the ticket in Peru. To know all the prices and discounts I recommend you visit the official site of Machu Picchu.
- How far in advance do you have to buy tickets to Machu Picchu?
If you plan to climb one of the two mountains, it is best to buy tickets as soon as possible (even months in advance) since only 200 people can access in each shift. To access only the city of Machu Picchu there are more tickets per day, so they are rarely sold out. Still, it is better to buy them in advance, especially if you travel in high season. In the rainy season there is less request for tickets so you can even buy them once in Peru.
↣ Hiking Huayna Picchu
This is the hike that most people choose to do when visiting Machu Picchu. It consists in climbing the famous mountain that you see on the back in any photo from Machu Picchu. This trek has a medium difficulty so it is important to have good physical condition and more importantly: wear the right shoes and clothes. There are parts where the path is narrow and steep, and really high, so the trek to Huayna Picchu is not recommended for people suffering from vertigo.
The walk lasts about 2 hours (round trip). We made it in 45 minutes on our way up and 30 minutes down, walking at a good pace. Of course, once up we stayed for like an hour taking pictures and enjoying the view. For this trek there are two entry shifts: from 7 AM to 8 AM or from 10 AM to 11 AM. This means that during that time range you have to enter the trail that goes to the mountain. Right at the beginning of the trail there is a checkpoint where you have to show your printed ticket and they make you sign a form with the time you accessed.
Once you finish the trekking, you can continue touring Machu Picchu, although you will not be able to return to the view point located at the beginning of the complex. Therefore, what I recommend you do is: once you finish the trekking, exit Machu Picchu and re-enter the complex.
On some pages you will read that it is not allowed to exit and re-enter the complex, but if you have the entrance to Huayna Picchu or Machu Picchu mountain, YOU CAN EXIT AND RE-ENTER. You just have to save your ticket to show it again at the entrance.
↣ Tips for visiting Machu Picchu
- Altitude sickness: Due to the high altitude at Cusco and its surroundings (including Machu Picchu), you can suffer what is known as altitude sickness. As the body is not used to altitude you can have symptoms such as dizziness, nausea, headache, tiredness, etc. The best thing to avoid altitude sickness it is to take the first few days calmly, so that the body gets used to the altitude, drink coca tea and if necessary take some medicine for altitude sickness like these Altitude Sickness Relief pills.
To avoid feeling bad during your visit to Machu Picchu it is best not to plan your visit on the first days of your itinerary through Peru. You should first spend about 2 or 3 days in Cusco so that your body acclimatizes to the altitude.
- Is it necessary to hire a guide to visit Machu Picchu?
Although in some pages you might read that it is mandatory to enter Machu Picchu with a guide, this is not true. You can enter just with your ticket and visit the city and the mountains on your own.
If you want to know all the details about the Inca civilization and the ruins, you can hire a guide. In the entrance to Machu Picchu you will see many guides offering their service and the price will depend on how many people you are and your price negotiation skills.
If you prefer to have the guide booked before getting there, GetYourGuide offers this 2-hour guided tour of Machu Picchu with a guide in english.
- How long is the visit to Machu Picchu?
This will depend on how much time you take in each place but you can easily spend the entire day touring the ruins. We were there from 6 AM to 14 PM and we still left without seeing some places.
In my opinion, it is best to sleep in Aguas Calientes the night before and visit Machu Picchu in the morning or in the afternoon of the next day. If you go by train, you can visit the ruins on the same day (on the afternoon shift) and return to Cusco at night or sleep in Aguas Calientes.
While the tickets have an entry time, there is no exit time. If you enter on the first shift (from 6 to 12), you don’t have to leave at 12 PM. It only means that this is the time range in which you can enter the complex.
Important: there are no restrooms inside Machu Picchu. You can only find one restroom located next to the main entry gate, and you need to pay to use them.
- Take your time
Circuits in Machu Picchu are one-way direction. This means, when you pass through certain areas, you can’t go back. That’s why you need to take your time at every part of the ruins.
If you have a regular ticket to visit just the city, you are not allowed to re-enter the complex. But if you have a Huayna Picchu or Machu Picchu Mountain ticket, you are allowed to exit and re-entry the complex one time. So make sure you take care of your ticket so you can show it again at the main gate.
- What to pack for Machu Picchu?
I recommend you go to Machu Picchu with just a small and light backpack, carrying only the clothes you are going to wear during those days.
We decided to leave our luggage at the hotel in Cusco, and carry only one backpack with the minimum things. You can also leave your luggage at your hotel in Aguas Calientes. The basic things you have to pack are: sunscreen, water bottle, hat, a waterproof jacket and trekking shoes. I also recommend that you bring cash, since in Aguas Calientes many places do not accept credit card or charge you a fee to use it.
If you want to know what to pack for Peru read: The ultimate Peru packing list + downloadable checklist.
- What NOT to pack to Machu Picchu?
There are several objects that are prohibited in Machu Picchu such as: umbrellas, backpacks bigger than 40x35x20 cm, drones, tripods, strollers, etc. The complete information of prohibited objects and the regulation of Machu Picchu can be found on the official site.
- Get your passport stamped
If you want to have a memory of your visit, you can get your passport stamped. Just as you exit Machu Picchu you will find a wooden table where you can get the stamp.
That is all travelers! I hope that this article about how to visit Machu Picchu on your own has been useful when planning your trip. If you have any questions, feel free to leave them in the comment section!.
Other posts from Peru:
- 2 weeks in Perú Itinerary
- Rainbow Mountain tour from Cusco
- Peru packing list + downloadable checklist
- Things to do in Lima in 3 days
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