Everything you need to know to travel to Machu Picchu in Peru. Transport, trekking, entrances, security, equipment, routes
Machu Picchu, during the last decades, has become the most popular place in South America. The Old Mountain (Spanish translation of the Inca name Machu Picchu) is visited every year by almost a million tourists (no more because of the restrictions imposed for its better archaeological preservation) and proudly carries the honor of being one of the Seven Wonders of the World declared by Unesco.
To visit Machu Picchu, you will have to travel to Peru. I did it a couple of times, the first time in 2004, when Machu Picchu was still not so taken by the hordes of tourists and you could book your trekking of the wonderful Inca Trail without having to plan it months in advance.
All memories that are not erased, just as yours will not be erased if you travel to Machu Picchu.
To help you in your business, here are these practical tips for visiting Machu Picchu:
1.- How to get to Machu Picchu?
To travel to Machu Picchu you must first fly to Cuzco airport.
You can go from Cuzco to Machu Picchu in three different ways:
The Train. Getting on the train towards Aguas Calientes
Go from Cuzco to Machu Picchu in one day: you leave Cuzco on the train that leaves at 3 or 4 in the morning and arrive at the town of Aguas Calientes, located at the foot of Machu Picchu, in the morning. From Aguas Calientes you can go up to Machu Picchu on foot or by bus. Then you return to Cuzco in the same way.
Go from Cuzco to Machu Picchu in two days: you take the train from Cuzco to Aguas Calientes and overnight there, being able to leave very early the next day towards the ruins of Machu Picchu. After the visit, you can take the train back to Ollantaytambo and, after visiting the place, continue with a bus to Cuzco.
To go from Cuzco to Aguas Calientes you can take the bus that leaves you at the stop called Hidroeléctrica (last stop before reaching Aguas Calientes), via Santa María.
From here you have a good 3 hour walk, having as companions the train tracks and the river waters, to Aguas Calientes. Overnight in the village and visit Machu Picchu the next day. This option is a bit cheaper than the train (150-200 USD), but the fact is that the bus ride, which runs on bad roads in many stretches, will put your heart to the test.
Then I explain the different trekking options you will find to get to Machu Picchu.
2. When to go to Machu Picchu?
It is not so easy to choose when to visit Machu Picchu.
Basically, in Peru there are two seasons: wet and dry.
The dry season runs from May to October. During this time you will have a more pleasant visit in terms of the time you will find, but it is also true that you will have to share your experience with many more people and you will find everything more expensive (accommodation, guides, trekking, etc.).
From November to April (the rainy season), prices are lower and there are fewer people, but sometimes there are landslides caused by the rains that hinder the visit. In February, the Inca Trail is also closed for maintenance (although you can visit Machu Picchu).
The Inca Tour in the Jungle
It is arriving at Machu Picchu having lived an adventure on the way.
It combines walking and pedaling through a mix of mountain, jungle and ancient Inca Trail. It also includes rafting on the Vilcanota River and a zip line in the Santa Teresa canyons.
It has become a very popular option and there are outings every day-
This adventure – considered by National Geographic magazine as one of the best trekkings in the world – takes you 4 days through the beautiful and hard Vilcabamba Mountain Range.
It is a less crowded and more beautiful route – in terms of nature, with glaciers and vast valleys – than the conventional Inca Trail. They say Mount Salkantay is the guardian of the area, so respect it.
To choose this trail you must be quite fit, because you will cross the passes that cross mountains as huge as Salkantay (6270 masl) and Humantay (6070 masl).
The trekking of Lares.
This option has less demand than others, but is an excellent alternative to the most famous routes.
Here you will combine glaciers, valleys, lakes, forests and mountains with a visit to Quechua communities that still live from textile handicrafts.
4. Entrances and access to Machu Picchu
The main access point to Machu Picchu is the town of Aguas Calientes. Its charm lies in the fact that it is impossible to reach by road, so you will have to do it in one of the ways I described above.
Then don’t be lazy and walk up to the old town of Machu Picchu (although you also have the bus if you look tired).
To enter the city of Machu Picchu you must have a valid ticket. Attention, because the tickets are not sold, in any case, in the same door, but you must have bought it in advance in one of the many agencies that market them, either together with tours or individually.
5. What to bring to Machu Picchu
This point is fundamental:
- Don’t forget your passport! You will not be able to enter without it. It’s like you’re crossing the time border.
- The entrance to the city of Machu Picchu and, where appropriate, the mountains of Huayna Picchu and Machu Picchu.
- Some money to stamp your passport (1 sun), go to the bathroom (1 sun) and buy something to eat or souvenirs.
- You don’t want to run out of pictures of Machu Picchu! We arrived in the Inca city (after multiple camera thefts)
- Good walking shoes or trekking boots.
- Water, especially if the sun hits.
- Something to eat (the nearby restaurant is very expensive).
- Sunglasses and sunscreen.
- Umbrella or raincoat (if you see the sky threatening).
6. What not to take to Machu Picchu
- Camera tripod: forbidden.
- A big backpack: you can take a small backpack for the road, but nothing of the big backpackers’ backpacks that carry the house on their backs.
- Large umbrellas.
7. Safety tips in Machu Picchu
- Be a little careful when you climb Huayna Picchu. The ascent is somewhat precarious.
- If you go by bus to Aguas Calientes, don’t look at the cliffs on either side.
- Hire anything related to Machu Picchu with an authorized agency to avoid being ripped off or getting into a tour that does not meet minimum quality and safety standards. Make sure the agency has the certificate of the Ministry of Tourism and that of the city.
- Watch your belongings.
8. What to do around Machu Picchu
Getting straight to Machu Picchu and forgetting about the rest of the area is a big mistake. Stay for a while in this area and enjoy, as we did, its beauty and mysticism.
- Hardly anyone spends more than one night here, but it is a nice town that allows for good walks around and warm thermal waters.
The Sacred Valley
- This is one of the tours we did, from Cuzco, before starting the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu.
- Among the beautiful mountains of the Sacred Valley you will find villages such as Pisac, with its colorful Sunday craft market, and Ollantaytambo, whose streets date back to the time of the Incas.
- You can visit the Sacred Valley by bus (as we did), bicycle, horse or on foot.
- Next to the town of Chinchero you can do kayaking in the lagoons of Piuray and Huaypo or visit the farms in the area.
9. Health in Machu Picchu
The subject of altitude sickness is no nonsense, especially if you are going to get to Machu Picchu doing one of the trekkings.
The most normal thing is that your body is not used to walking at these altitudes and you will need to acclimatize for two or three days before leaving. The ideal is to do it in Cuzco (at 3,400 meters above sea level), a beautiful city with a lot of life and walking.
Don’t walk too fast and don’t get too tired. Get hydrated and drink the famous coca teas. I tried them and I can assure you that they work.
10. What to wear to Machu Picchu
The clothes you bring to Machu Picchu depend on many factors.
If you do any of the trekking, the nights will be cold and you will have to bring good warm clothes, regardless of the time of year in which you are.
Good boots or hiking shoes, a raincoat (or quality raincoat), sunglasses, sunscreen and a hat complete a fairly neat outfit (bearing in mind that the agency will give you a good warm sleeping bag).
If you do not have good warm clothes, take the opportunity to buy some llama wool in the area. They are extremely warm.
And well, with this guide of practical advices to visit Machu Picchu surely you will be able to enjoy calmly one of the most beautiful places of the Earth. Any other advice is more than welcome.