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 about hiking the Inca Trail, see our blog.
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:
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.
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.
>> Read about the history of Machu Picchu
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:
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.
With the new system of strict entry times introduced in 2019, at Apus Peru we are recommending the 7 am time slot for Machu Picchu Mountain and the 10:30 am time slot for Huayna Picchu. With corresponding entry times into the Machu Picchu site itself of 7 am and 8 am, respectively, we feel that this will allow you to maximise your time at Machu Picchu, ensuring that you enjoy a complete guided tour either before or after completing the hike.
>>See below for more details about Huayna Picchu and Machu Picchu Mountain, and whether hiking them is right for you>>
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.
>> Read more below about whether hiking Huayna Picchu or Machu Picchu Mountain is for you!
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 10:30am, and three corresponding entry times into Machu Picchu (6 or 7 am for the first intake period and 8 am for the second intake period), 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.
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 intake periods to Machu Picchu Mountain, 7 am and 9 am, with three corresponding entry times into Machu Picchu (6 or 7 am for the first intake period, and 8 am for the second intake period). 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 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!
Hiking Huayna Picchu or Machu Picchu Mountain after hiking the Inca Trail
The last night on the Inca Trail is spent either at Wiñaywayna or Phuyupatamarca campsites. Many people covet Wiñaywayna as it’s just a 2-hour hike to Machu Picchu from there, whereas it is 5 hours from Phuyupatamarca. Being the most popular, Wiñaywayna is allocated first. The plus side to Phuyupatamarca is that it is generally less crowded.
Campsites are only allocated by the Ministry of Culture the month before. We are very diligent, and 99% of the time, we are allocated our first choice of campsites. However, there is always a chance that someone who has booked Huayna Picchu will not able to do it because of the campsite assigned.
Given the distance from Phuyupatamarca to Machu Picchu, arriving in time for the 10 am intake will be challenging, though not impossible. We’re talking a 3am wake-up call, and getting on the trail by 4 or 4:30 am. This makes for a grueling morning, and you are likely to arrive exhausted and not fully enjoy your Machu Picchu visit.
It’s your choice. If you are assigned Phuyupatamarca campsite AND have already booked a Huayna Picchu or Machu Picchu Mountain hike, you may have to decide to cancel.