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Visiting Machu Picchu

Visiting Machu Picchu is a bucket list item for many people and you’re sure to want to get the most out of this magical experience.

Here we outline the basics of any visit to Machu Picchu so you’re in the know about how it works and what to expect. We also share our top tips for how to have an amazing time at this incredible site!

Hiking the Inca Trail

into Machu Picchu

Many people choose to hike into Machu Picchu, following the incredible Inca Trail. Hiking the Inca Trail definitely gives you a unique perspective on visiting Machu Picchu as it’s the only trail that actually lets you walk through Inti Punku, the famous Sun Gate, into the Inca Citadel.

The Inca Trail is controlled by a strict permit system operated by the Peruvian government. In the past, it was recommended you book your Inca Trail at least 3-4 months in advance to make sure you received a permit. Since 2017, the rules have changed and they have opened the permits for reservation much earlier: permits for May and June of 2018 went on sale in October of 2017!

To ensure that you get the dates you want, especially if you want to hike during high season (May through August), you should aim to book your Inca Trail permits 6 to 8 months in advance.

>>For more tips on hiking the Inca Trail in 2018, see our blog.

 

Entering Machu Picchu

In 2017, visiting Machu Picchu  changed, with new rules announced by the Peruvian government. We wrote about these changes on our blog. A “turn” system was instituted, providing for 3 distinct entry times to the site:

  • First entry period: 6am to 12noon
  • Second entry period: 12 to 5:30pm
  • Third Entry period:  1pm to 5:30pm

Most people enter in either the first or second entry period.

The objective of this new system for visiting Machu Picchu is to allow for better management of visits. It is also to encourage better preservation of the site, by limiting the number of people who can enter during any given period.

The drawback is that your time at Machu Picchu is now more limited, and in order to exit and re-enter the site on the same day, or simply spend more time there, you will have to purchase a second entry ticket.

There are more rules coming in 2019, which will cap your time to visit Machu Picchu to just four hours. Visit our blog or Contact Us for the latest information!

Visiting Machu Picchu

In the past, it was possible to enter Machu Picchu without a guide and explore the site on your own. Now, you must be accompanied by a licensed guide to visit Machu Picchu. In addition, your visit to Machu Picchu must follow one of 3 defined Circuits.

Circuit 1 is considered the “classic” circuit, and a bit more physically challenging. This route takes 3h to walk.  Circuits 2 and 3 spend time in the lower areas of the site, are less physically demanding, and take 2.5 and 2h, respectively, to walk. Circuit 3 is recommended for those with mobility issues.

In addition to visiting Machu Picchu along the classic circuit, there are also 4 alternative routes that you can add. These alternative routes do not require a guide; you can still visit these areas on your own. The four alternative routes include:

  • Huayna Picchu
  • Machu Picchu Mountain

Both of these alternative routes require an extra permit to hike. Just like permits for the Inca Trail, these permits can sell out months in advance. It’s always a good idea to book early! If you purchase a permit to hike Huayna Picchu or Machu Picchu Mountain, you get extra time to spend visiting Machu Picchu.

>>See below for more details about Huayna Picchu and Machu Picchu Mountain, and whether hiking them is right for you>>

  • The Inka Bridge – This path takes you from the upper terraces of the agricultural sector to northeast of the Guardhouse. The walk takes about 1h round trip.
  • Inti Punku, the Sun Gate – You can hike from the Machu Picchu citadel along the Inca Trail towards the Sun Gate. This route takes about 2h, there and back.

Best time to

visit Machu Picchu

Almost anywhere you look, you will find that people talk about visiting Machu Picchu at sunrise as being the ultimate way to experience this magical site. In the past, going early (around 6am) meant that you were rewarded with fewer people making for a less crowded, more peaceful and serene experience. Today, that is not necessarily true.

Statistics show that only a little over a 1/3 of the day’s visitors enter in the afternoon. Our favorite time to capture people-free shots of the incomparable Machu Picchu is towards the end of the day, around 4pm when most people have already gone back down to Aguas Calientes. Furthermore, in the early morning, Machu Picchu can be shrouded in mist – which can either be a beautiful effect or an annoyance – but in the late afternoon, the site is bathed in a gentle light.

What can I see and do at Machu Picchu?

Here are some of our favorite things to do!

 

  • Hike up Huayna Picchu. If you’re not afraid of heights, the views are spectacular! Don’t forget you must purchase a Huayna Picchu permit at booking if you’d like to do this.
  • Climb Machu Picchu Mountain. A good alternative to Huayna Picchu if permits are sold out or you get vertigo!

>> Read more below about whether hiking Huayna Picchu or Machu Picchu Mountain is for you!

 

  • Hike to Inti Punku. If you didn’t walk through the Sun Gate at the end of the Inca Trail, then don’t miss checking out this amazing feature.
  • Visit the Inka Bridge.
  • Check out Putu Cusi. This is located outside Machu Picchu itself, but the views make straying worth it.
  • Skip the bus and hike up (or down) to the site! About 1.5h one way, get a feeling for the lush vegetation and marvel at the audacity of Machu Picchu’s builders!
  • Splurge and have a leisurely lunch at Tinkuy Restaurant, located inside the Machu Picchu Sanctuary Lodge. The buffet offers a wonderful mix of Peruvian and Western dishes, and the close location makes it a great choice for when you exit Machu Picchu after the morning turn, or just before you enter for the afternoon turn. Lunch at Tinkuy means you can make the most out of every minute spent near Machu Picchu!
Should I Climb

Huayna Picchu?

Huayna Picchu, which means “young peak” in Quechua, is the mountain peak at Machu Picchu captured in those iconic shots of the archaeological site. The climb is steep and certainly not for the faint-hearted, with steep drop-offs on either side of the trail. But if you are not afraid of heights – and you have extra energy while visiting Machu Picchu! – the views are spectacular and totally worth the exertion. We repeat: if you have a fear of heights, or experience vertigo or balance problems, do not do this hike!

The hike to Huayna Picchu takes about 1.5-2 hours round trip. There is also a back route from the top of Huayna Picchu down to the Temple of the Moon, an even more heart-pounding route with little between you and the rushing river below!

Just like the Inca Trail, hiking Huayna Picchu requires a permit that you must purchase at the time of booking. There are two intake periods, one at 7am and one at 10am, so keep this in mind when booking and let your Travel Consultant know your preference.

If you are already doing an Apus Peru trek other than the Inca Trail, you can purchase a Huayna Picchu permit alone. Unfortunately, due to government regulations, if you are hiking the Inca Trail, you will need to purchase an extra Machu Picchu entry ticket that includes the Huayna Picchu hike.

Should I climb

Machu Picchu Mountain?

Machu Picchu Mountain (which means “old peak” in Quechua, and is also referred to by the Spanish, Cerro Machu Picchu) is the mountain above the Machu Picchu citadel in the direction of Inti Punku, the Sun Gate.

This moderate three-hour hike is a good alternative to climbing Huayna Picchu if you are unable to purchase a permit for it, or if you are afraid of heights! Located 601m above Machu Picchu itself (at 3051m in altitude), Machu Picchu Mountain offers quiet, natural surroundings, lots of fresh air and a fantastic view over the ruins and mountains beyond.

There are two daily entrance periods to Machu Picchu Mountain: 7-8 am and 9-10am. As with Huayna Picchu, the price for hiking Machu Picchu Mountain is less for those doing a non-Inca Trail Apus Peru trek. For those who are hiking the Inca Trail, you must to purchase a new entry to Machu Picchu which includes the price of hiking Machu Picchu Mountain. You must tell us at the time of booking if you are interested in hiking Machu Picchu Mountain to ensure we are able to obtain entry tickets for you.

The hike follows the Inca Trail out of the Machu Picchu ruins past the Caretaker’s Hut (also called the Watchman’s Hut) and towards Inti Punku. You will hike for about one hour through a habitat of exotic birds, orchids, lichen, moss, and trees, until arriving at the bottom of a set of Inca stairs. From here, it is a steep, 45-minute uphill walk. In total, allow about 3h for the return trip.

Luckily, those who hike Machu Picchu Mountain or Huayna Picchu are allowed extra time to visit Machu Picchu, so you do not feel like you have to rush!