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Guide to Machu Picchu

September 20, 2012

Machu Picchu is perhaps the most famous ancient city in the world. Consequently it is also one of the most visited. However the Peruvian government has taken action to limit the numbers to “only” 2500 per day. The site is not particularly large and this number makes it seem pretty crowded at peak times.

Entrance Costs

The entrance fee to Machu Picchu is also pretty expensive:

Machu Picchu Entrance fee S128

Machu Picchu Entrance + Museum S150

Machu Picchu + Huayna Picchu S152 (at either 7am or 10am – 200 at each time)

Machu Picchu + Cerro Machu Picchu S150

Ticket Purchase

Tickets can be purchased in advance at , in Aguas Calientes at the ticket office or in Cusco at the ticket office (Oficinas de la Dirección Regional de Cultura Cusco,Av. de la Cultura 238 Condominio Huáscar.Cusco). Tickets are not available at the entrance gate.

If you buy tickets online you must pay by VISA. If you don’t have a Visa card you can pay at the following places:

Oficinas de la Dirección Regional de Cultura Cusco (Av. de la Culture)
Banco de la Nación del Perú (Any Branch)
Asociación de Agencias de Turismo del Cusco AATC
Dirección Regional de Comercio Exterior y Turismo DIRCETUR.

It is probably best if you don’t have a Visa to go to the Oficinas de la Direccion Regional de Cultura in Cusco to get it done.

There are also a number of Travel agents that can sell tickets, a list of which is available at :

Due to the limitations on tickets per day it is best to buy your ticket in advance in Cusco or online to avoid disappointment.

Machu Picchu Rules

Once you have arrived at the site you will need your passport for identification and this is checked at the entrance gate. Also note that big packs are not allowed in (only up to 20l or so) but there is a storage booth outside the gate and one just inside which are reasonably priced. The one inside is slightly cheaper than the one outside.  No food is allowed in the site but we carried food in our backpacks and didn’t have any problems. Also be aware that walking sticks or hiking poles are not allowed.

The only option to buy food is a restaurant just outside the gate and this is very expensive. There are many places in Aguas Calientes that sell packed lunches at reasonable prices so this is recommended.

There are no toilets actually in the site itself. At the entrance there is a toilet which costs S1 to use. A complete con considering how much you have paid to visit !

The day trippers from Cusco arrive about 10am and the site becomes really crowded by this time.

How To Get to Machu Picchu

There are a number of ways to get to the site itself.  Only the Inca Trail arrives at Machu Picchu directly, all the other ways end at the town of Aguas Calientes or Machu Picchu Pueblo, which lies at the foot of the mountain that Machu Picchu sits on top of.

1)      The Inca Trail

Perhaps the most famous way is to walk there on the Inca Trail. This is very popular and has been limited to 500 people per day – although this does mean 500 people arriving pretty much en masse at Machu Picchu, camping at the same places and hiking together. Don’t expect quiet and solitude. The 500 people however includes everyone on the trail (hikers, porters, guides, cooks etc) so there are actually only about 220 places per day for hikers. To do the Inca Trail a guide is required and due to the number limitations it is recommended to book at least 6 months in advance !

The Inca trail is 43km and takes 4 days arriving at Machu Picchu at sunrise on the 4th day. The prices for this trek vary between USD500 and USD800 per person.

2)      Do one of the other treks (eg. Salkantay)

These treks end at the town of  Aguas Calientes. The advantages are less people, no need to book way in advance and cheaper (we saw Salkantay for USD 160) . They are just as spectacular as well, if not more so.

3)      Take the Train from Cusco

There are three train services available. Peru Rail, Inca Rail and Machu Picchu Rail. Peru rail is by far the biggest though and also the cheapest.

The train station in Cusco is actually outside town (at a place called Poroy, about 20 minutes by taxi from central Cusco). There are a number of trains that leave throughout the day. The cheapest is the expedition (sometimes known as Backpacker), more expensive is the Vistadome and most expensive the Hiram Bingham.

The Expedition and Vistadome are broadly similar although the Vistadome has more windows and more comfortable seats. The Hiram Bingham is ridiculously expensive and run by the Orient Express – the tickets include entry to Machu Picchu, a guide for the site and gourmet meals.

The journey from Cusco to Machu Picchu takes 3 hours.

The pricing is very variable (by date and by time on the day) but expect to pay for a return trip per person: Expedition (USD 130), Vistadome (USD 150), Hiram Bingham (USD 660).

4)      Take the train from Ollantaytambo

Ollantaytambo lies at the far end of the Sacred Valley from Cusco and is a lovely little town with its own set of very interesting Inca Ruins.

Trains run from here to Aguas Calientes – the same types as from Cusco – but are much quicker, and therefore cheaper, taking only 1 .5 hours..

The pricing is very variable but expect to pay for a return trip per person: Expedition (USD 90), Vistadome (USD 130), Hiram Bingham (USD 600).

In general day trips are more expensive and going in the afternoon and returning the following evening is the cheapest way.

5)      Walk from the Hydroelectrica

The road continues from Ollantaytambo, following the river and railway tracks to the small town Santa Teresa. It is possible to take a collective from Ollantaytambo to Santa Maria where you change to another which goes to Santa Teresa.

Alternatively it is possible to drive to Santa Teresa. There is a campsite here (Genaro Moscosco la Torre (S13 07.903 W72 35.781). The road is paved half of the way (to the start of the Inca trail) and good dirt after this.

From Santa Teresa you need to either walk to the Hydro Electric plant (2 hours) or take a collectivo (about 5 Soles). Once at the plant it is a 3 hour walk along the train lines to Aguas Calientes or you can also take a train (much less frequent than from Ollantaytambo). Just remember to be careful when walking along the train lines as they are in use.

 How to get from Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu

There are two ways to get from Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu

1)      Walk

There is a trail from the town to the site entrance. It opens at 5am in the morning. It follows the road up from the valley but there are steps that cut the switchbacks. It is a pretty strenuous climb but should only take between 1 and 2 hours. It is recommended to tackle it early before the sun becomes too hot. Bus tickets can be purchased at the top if you want to avoid the walk down !

2)      Bus

From 5.30 in the morning buses leave the town of Aguas Calientes for the 30 minute journey to the site entrance. These depart when full and therefore leave very frequently. Early in the morning there is usually a large queue by 5.30 but there will also be a large number of buses leaving. The cost of the bus is USD 17 return.

The  preferred time to arrive at the site itself is for sunrise. However the sun does not hit the site until well after first light because of the surrounding mountains. This should be just before 7am.

The Climbs

At each end of the site there is a mountain. In order to climb either of these there is an additional charge and the ticket must be purchased with the entrance ticket. Most guidebooks claim that you can buy the tickets to climb at the site – This is no longer correct.

1)      Huayna Picchu

This is the shorter of the two climbs and there are more Inca ruins at the top. This is limited to 400 people per day (200 at 7am and 200 at 10am). The route to the top is stairs and the climb is fairly strenuous.

2)      Cerro Machu Picchu

This climb takes you well over the top of Huayna Picchu at the other end of the site and gives great views of the surrounding valleys and the site itself. There are no limits to the number of people although the climb must be started before 11am. The route is very steep and is stairs the whole way.

Aguas Calientes

Aguas Calientes is a new town and pretty ugly with it. There are a large number of accommodation options and it is not necessary to pre-book. Agents for many of the hotels/hostels meet the trains and rooms can be got for as little as S20per person. They may not be of very good quality though.

The restaurants in Aguas Calientes are expensive as befits a tourist town as are the shops. Aim to minimise the time that you spend in the town !

There is also  a municipal campground slightly out of town towards Machu Picchu.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. September 20, 2012 7:11 pm

    Thanks guys for the detailed write up. We just started researching and are SO HAPPY to have some up to date prices. See you on the road soon!!

    • September 20, 2012 11:44 pm

      It was a lot more than we thought it would cost ! Really recommend the Montana Machu Picchu climb – its a killer on the knees as its stairs all the way but much quieter than the other end. Great views. We’re in Arequipa at the moment and heading to Bolivia at the weekend. You’re catching us up. Hope to meet you guys sometime soon.

      • September 23, 2012 10:24 pm

        Awesome, we’ll look into that climb. We’re still in Cusco, been fighting the flu for the last week, not a good time. But should be back to sight seeing tomorrow. Do you have a plan for Bolivia? We’re thinking about driving the southwest circuit and crossing to San Pedro de Atacama in Chile, but looking for others to caravan with. Shoot us an email if you are interested: Cheers!

  2. October 13, 2012 5:16 pm

    One detail here as far as the Machu Pichu tickets, as of last month you were unable to purchase online via credit card due to recent fraud (This may be fixed now)

    Since you could not pay via VISA you had to make your reservations online and then had only 5 hours to get to the bank and make your payment before your reservation expired.

    Ask me how I know!

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