Machu Picchu travel guide

If they could, people would probably come in their millions to Peru to admire the ancient Incan citadel of Machu Picchu, situated at 2,430m in the Peruvian Andes. Yet in order to preserve this sacred masterpiece, where giant granite temples, ancient agricultural terraces, sacred stones and sundial, were all cut from the rock, with not one bit of mortar used to piece it all together, visitor numbers are strictly controlled, as is trekking there on the iconic Inca Trail.
The Spanish colonists never found Machu Picchu. If they had, they would have broken the sacred Intihuatana stone, dispelling all deities. Thank the gods, who feel like they may still be hovering
Entrepreneurs have long sought to build hotels, bridges, cable cars and offer fly pasts – all rejected. So, if you want to see this jewel of the Andes, join the queue for the train or the trails like everyone else – but make sure you book well in advance.
Read our Machu Picchu travel guide for more details.

What does visiting Machu Picchu involve?

Getting there

The small town of Aguas Calientes (Machu Picchu Pueblo) sits just below Machu Picchu. The Inca Trail finishes here, and this is where trains from Cuzco and Ollantaytambo arrive too. Most people will spend a night or two in Aguas Calientes either side of their visit to the ancient citadel. From Aguas Calientes to the entrance of Machu Picchu it’s either a half-hour bus journey on winding mountain roads, or a steep 90-minute hike. Note that because of the timed entry system introduced to combat overtourism, you no longer need to start queuing in the early hours for the ‘sunrise’ bus – but if you haven’t booked the right ticket, you won’t be able to get in to the site.
The Inca Trail, which begins in Chillca, is an arduous four-day trek through the Sacred Valley and the Andes. Camping is necessary, and because of the amount of food and equipment needed, most people sensibly opt to join a small group trip. You’ll be accompanied by porters who will carry practically everything, set up your tents every evening, and prepare your meals. A maximum of 500 people are allowed on the Inca Trail each day which includes porters and guides, so booking early is vital especially in peak walking season (July and August). For that reason, many people now choose to take an alternative Machu Picchu trek such as the Moonstone Trail or the Lares Trek, which are unrestricted and usually give a much greater sense of isolation.

Our top Machu Picchu Holiday

Cusco & Inca Trail holiday, tailormade

Cusco & Inca Trail holiday, tailormade

Peru's highlights of Cusco, Sacred Valley and Machu Picchu

From £1680 7 days ex flights
Tailor made:
This trip can be arranged at a time to suit you (except for January to March)
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If you'd like to chat about Machu Picchu or need help finding a holiday to suit you we're very happy to help.

Getting in

Access to Machu Picchu is via morning or afternoon tickets. If you want to spend the entire day there then you need to buy two tickets. You’re supposed to spend a maximum of four hours on-site, though that can be extended to six if you book to hike up one of the mountains overlooking Machu Picchu – they are Huayna Picchu and Machu Picchu respectively; both have restrictions on the number of people who can climb each day. Allow a couple of hours to get up there, say wow a lot, and go back down.

As part of efforts to protect the citadel, you have to follow a set route around on a guided tour. No food is allowed in (you’ll probably be able to sneak in the odd energy bar, but be sure and bring all rubbish back down the mountain with you). And to preserve the integrity of the ruins, the only toilets are located at the entrance, so if you’re caught short you’ll need to hold it in – do not be tempted to have a ‘wild wee’ in Machu Picchu, this is a sacred place and such disrespect is highly frowned upon.

Key sites in Machu Picchu include the Sun Gate, which is a 90-minute walk from the entrance, and the Inca Bridge. Many people choose to come early in hope of a magnificent sunrise over the mountains and citadel but in reality, it’s very often misty. For photographs you’re actually better off aiming for mid-afternoon, when most people have gone back down to Aguas Calientes and the light is beautiful.
Written by Catherine Mack
Photo credits: [Page banner: Bill Damon] [Getting there: nigel burgher] [Getting in: Sebastian Tapia Huerta]
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