Machu Picchu

Travel Guide South America Peru Aguas Calientes Machu Picchu



machu picchu

machu picchu

© mark92

Machu Picchu is one of the most famous historical sites in South America, let alone Peru, but it remained unknown by the outside world until about 100 years ago. Hiram Bingham, a United States senator and explorer, rediscovered the Incan ruins in 1911 making this famous ruin known all over the world nowadays.

Close to a century later, Machu Picchu is one of the world's most popular destinations, listed since 1983 as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. More recently, it was voted one of the New Seven Wonders of the World.

Although it can be reached by train, more intrepid travellers prefer to hike there via the Inca Trail, a multi-day hike along ancient Inca roads and there are even cheap alternative ways to get there by minibus and walk along the tracks of the railway (see getting there section).




Experts think that Machu Picchu was originally constructed around 1450 while the Inca Empire was at its height. It was only inhabited for around a century and up until now it remains unclear what its purpose exactly was. Its location near sacred geographical features suggests that it was at least spiritually significant to the Incas.

The Spanish conquistadors, who destroyed many Inca sites, never discovered Machu Picchu, despite its location near Cusco. It was only by chance that Hiram Bingham discovered it in 1911, as he was brought there by some of the few locals who were aware of the presence of this place. In 1948, he published a book about how he found the ruins, named The Lost City of the Incas.

Since its rediscovery, tourists have flocked to Machu Picchu, which now receives over 400,000 visitors each year. Even though it isn't the biggest or most complete of the Inca sites, its beautiful and convenient location has made it the most popular Inca site in Peru or even South America.

Recently, the influx of visitors has led to concerns about the environmental impact of tourism on the site. In order to limit the negative effects of tourism somewhat, the Peruvian government has limited the number of people allowed to get to the site.



Flora and Fauna

Both are abundant and varied. Typical plant life in the historic reserve of Machupicchu includes pisonayes, q'eofias, alisos, puya palm trees, ferns and more than 90 species of orchids. The fauna in the reserve includes the spectacled bear, cock-of-the-rocks or "tunqui", tankas, wildcats and an impressive variety of butterflies and insects unique in the region. The lay of the land, the natural surroundings and the strategic location of Machu Picchu lend this monument a fusion of beauty, harmony and balance between the work of the ancient Peruvians and the whims of nature.




Daytime highs are quite constant around the year, but the nighttime lows are much more pronounced during the Southern Hemisphere winter. As is common in the tropics, most of the yearly rain falls during the rainy season which in Machu Picchu isOctober to April. Due to the altitude, extremely hot temperatures that one may expect this close to the Equator are absent. However these two factors contribute to very high levels of UV-radiation (nearby Cuzco actually has the highest average level of UV-radiation in the world for any major city) so do take precautions. its mostly between 12 and 27 °C.



Opening Hours

Machu Picchu

Machu Picchu

© shinenyc

Machu Picchu is open from 7:00am to 5:00pm daily. It's also possible to organise a nocturnal tour between 6:00pm and 1:00am through several agencies in Aguas Calientes.

In case you would like to hike up to Wayna Picchu (from the top of which there is an incredible view towards Machu Picchu itself), you have to get up early. The guard at the beginning of the path will only let you in until 1:00pm. Regardless of the opening time of the guarding hut only 400 visitors are allowed to hike to Wayna Picchu per day.




The current fee schedule and online tickets are available at the official government website of and from ticket offices listed on that website. The website is shockingly difficult to use. Reservations made on the website only give you the right to then pay for the tickets--they do not guarantee entry, which is only accomplished after paying for the tickets. The reservations made online are only valid for 2-6 hours, depending on who you ask, and must be paid for either at one of the banks using the code on the reservation, or from one of the other payments means. It is not clear what these means are, however. The safest option is to buy tickets at the Ministerio de Cultura in Cusco or Aguas Calientes. Whatever you choose, make sure that the confusing website does not end up leaving you with an invalid reservation and hamper your visit.

As of December 2017, the entrance fee for Machu Picchu is US$31 for citizens of Peru, Ecuador, Bolivia or Colombia. For others, it is US$63 in the morning US$44 in the afternoon. For Machu Picchu and Huayna Picchu, it is $48 for Andean citizens, and US$81 for others. There are discounts for children and students with an ISIC card. When preparing your budget, do not forget to include train tickets and bus tickets, and perhaps food at the site.

Most hostels can sell entry permits and bus tickets. Don´t buy them at the travel agency at the Ollantytambo train station, as they don´t actually sell you tickets, but a receipt that you need to give to a person to get your tickets, you´ll end up running all around Aguas Calientes looking for this person. You can buy your ticket at the Aguas Calientes Ministerio de Cultura. 5:30am-9:00pm.

Be sure to bring your passport, as it is requested upon entry. Some travelers have been able to enter with other forms of ID. There is a popular stamp booth as you exit where you can prove to your friends you've been there, though it is technically illegal to mark your own passport.

Only small packs are allowed in the park (no more than 20 litres), but there is a luggage storage at the entrance mostly used by Inca Trailers. If your pack is checked, any food you carry may be confiscated.

Only 2,500 people are allowed to enter Machu Picchu each day. The government website lists how many tickets are available for each day. Also, visitors must purchase tickets for Huayna Picchu in advance and there is now an additional fee to hike Huayna Picchu.



Sights and Activities

  • Sun Gate (Inti Punku) - if you've just arrived via the Inca Trail, this will be your first experience of the ruins. Others can backtrack from the ruins along the trail and up the hill. From here you can see back down each valley offering excellent views, if it is cloudy you cannot appreciate the view (avoid doing it or just wait for a clearance). It's a fairly strenuous hike (probably 1-1.5 hours each way) but well worth it.
  • Temple of the Sun - Near the summit of the main city, the stonework on the temple is incredible. Look closely and you will see that there are a variety of stone walls throughout the city. Most are rough stones held together with mud, the common stone walls found throughout the world. But many buildings or parts of buildings are done with the more distinctive and impressive closely-fit stonework. The temple is the absolute pinnacle of this technology. Observe it from the side, descending the stone staircase in the main plaza.
  • Intihuatana - A stone carved so that on certain days, at dawn, the sun makes a certain shadow, thus working as a sun dial. From Quechua: Inti = sun, huatana = to take, grab: thus grabing (measuring) the sun. (pronounce 'intiwatana'). While most early risers view the sunrise from the watchtower, the Intihuatana offers the best vistas, and you'll have it all to yourself.
  • Temple of the Three Windows -
  • Main Temple -
  • Temple of the Condor - The tour guides will try to tell you that this was a temple, but look closely: between the wings of the condor is a chamber with grooves cut in the stone to secure manacles, a walkway behind where a torturer may walk to whip the prisoner's backs, and a scary looking pit to let the blood of prisoners drain. Clearly the condor was a symbol of cruel justice, but a sanitized version is told for the benefit of middle-aged tourists and their children.
  • Fountains - As a testament to Inca workmanship, these 500 year old spring fed fountains still function to this day. It is speculated that these provided drinking water to the city or were for ritual bath purposes.



Getting There

By Train and Bus

The easiest way to get to Machu Picchu is via the train from Cusco to Aguas Calientes. The train leaves fairly early in the morning and returns to Cusco around 4:00pm, which only allows you a few hours at the site. There are several trains to choose from, so try and stay as long as you can. If you can, it's worth trying to stay at Aguas Calientes overnight. There is also a second, much cheaper train, which is used by the inhabitants of the villages in the Sacred Valley. Unfortunately, it is not open to tourists.

If arriving by train into Aguas Calientes, walk out of the station and keep going roughly straight through the warren of handicraft stalls and over a foot bridge to the bus departure area. Frequent buses leave to the ruins, starting at 5:30am. There's often a queue, so if you're intent on being on the first bus up, you should arrive at least 90 minutes early. The journey takes around 1/2 hour to slowly wind around the switchbacks and up to the park. Busses depart when full, which typically means they run quite regularly. At popular times, there may be a lengthy queue for the busses, so plan the return trip accordingly in order not to miss train departures. Advance train bookings are recommended, as trains are often sold-out, particularly return trains.

Inca Trail

The other way to get to Machu Picchu is on foot along the Inca Trail. This is a very popular trek with several different options. There is a one-day trail, a 4-day trail and even a longer one than that.

In an effort to keep the negative impact from tourism to a minimum, the Peruvian government has limited the number of people allowed to hike the Inca Trail on any given day to a maximum of 500. Therefore, if you're planning to visit the ruins during the high season (from June to August), it is a very good idea to book ahead.


Two other cheaper, but equally as good, options are the Salkantay Trek and the Inca Jungle Trek. Most, if not all, tour agencies in Cuzco offer these. The Salkantay Trek is a 5-day trek through the Salkantay Mountain Pass. The scenery is amazing and if you go in the rainy season you will be rewarded with dozens of waterfalls. Though, at the same time, you will be wet for the most part anyways. The other option, the Inca Jungle Trek, is a three day trek that begins with a drive to the top of a mountain and then a bike ride down to the bottom. A full day of hiking follows the next day to Aguas Calientes.

Both of these alternatives can be booked a couple days in advance when you arrive in Cuzco and can be much cheaper options and good ways to stay away from the crowds before getting to Machu Picchu. Prices, as of December/January 2011, were from US$180–200 for the entire trek. Do your research in Cuzco and pick the tour company you feel most comfortable with. Some groups will offer slightly more (sleeping bag included, etc.) than others.

The Inca Jungle Trek is an agency tour, but the "backdoor" route they use is also an option for independent travellers wishing to go it alone. Minivans and buses are cheap (S/15-30) from "Terminal Santiago" in Cusco and take you to either Santa Maria or Santa Teresa. Santa Maria is further away from Aguas Calientes than Santa Teresa but is a nice option for those wishing to hike an alternative Inca trail used locally. The walk takes you through the mountains and tiny villages, even people's farms and offers impressive views of the valley. You can end up in Santa Teresa the same day and there are villages, such as Huacayupana and Quellomayo en route which offer an alternative view of local life and accommodation if you don't make it to Santa Teresa that day. Walking on from here to Santa Teresa is along the river (May - November) and by road during rainy season, although it is advisable to get advice before taking this route between December and April due to severe weather. From Santa Teresa to Hidroelectrica is a 25-minute taxi or minibus ride and from here you can walk the 2- to 3-hour flattish trek to Aguas Calientes which is one of the nicest parts of the journey.

The Non-Gringo Way

If you fancy something a little different, are strapped for cash or simply just want to avoid the commercial routes and the Gringos, then there is another route which is a much cheaper alternative. First of all you will need to take a bus to Santa María. The bus terminal is basically a street outside of the centre so you´ll need to get a taxi there. This is a long and winding trip with great scenery that should take around 6 hours. When arriving there will be people waiting to take you in a Combi to a Hydroelectric plant. From the Hydroelectric plant you can walk along the train tracks to Aguas Calientes (the town next to Machu Picchu). The walk is beautiful if you can do it in the day (2 hours) but you may arrive at night (3 hours) so it's a good idea to bunch with other travellers and take a torch as there are some dodgy bridges to cross over the treacherous river Urubamba.

To return you'll need to set off in the morning before lunch time to make it in time for the train that arrives at the Hydroelectric plant (around 1:00pm for us but ask the locals). It's quite an experience seeing the train arrive and the chaos that ensues and as so many people pile off the train there are many little stalls selling drinks, chocolates and even meals if you need one. There is normally a bunch of Combis waiting to take people to either Santa María or many more to Cuzco.

This way you have no guides, it can be a lot of fun as you meet other travellers and travel with locals, at the end it will give you a good sense of achievement and you'll still have spare cash in the wallet.



Getting Around

There are no vehicles of any kind in the park, so bring some comfortable walking shoes, especially if you plan to do any of the hikes such as Wayna Picchu. No walking sticks are allowed in the main area, except for visitors who have difficulty walking; however, they are allowed on Wayna Picchu, where they help significantly with the climb, especially down. The main ruins are fairly compact and easily walkable.

Mobility-disabled visitors can arrange wheelchair/accessible tours via private tour groups, and see a substantial portion of the site.




There are a basic café and a restaurant at the entrance to Machu Picchu, but these are pretty expensive. There are also a few restaurants around the railway station in Aguas Calientes.

You are not supposed to eat at the site itself, but as long as you don't litter and aren't sitting right in front of a guard, you're likely to be left to eat in peace.

Make sure you buy plenty of water from the sellers in Aguas Calientes as it's not possible to buy at the site itself and the restaurants at the top sell water at a vastly inflated price.

  • Tinkuy Buffet Restaurant (At Belmond Sanctuary Lodge), ☎ +51 84 211038. 11:00am-3:30pm. A casual lunch buffet. The food is decent and the restaurant quite busy at peak times. A discounted train and buffet ticket is available on certain trains from Peru Rail. After lunch, do a circuit of the restaurant's poster-size photographs from Hiram Bingham's 1911 "discovery" of Machu Picchu. US$40. edit
  • Tampu Restaurant Bar (At Belmond Sanctuary Lodge). 5:30am-9:00am, noon-3:00pm, 6:30pm-9:30pm. Open to hotel guests only, also high prices




There is only one hotel inside Machu Picchu, which is the Machu Picchu Santuary Lodge. It is very expensive, with the cheapest room costing an extraordinary $795 USD per night. The cheaper option is to stay in Aguas Calientes.

You can use the form below to search for availability (Travellerspoint receives a commission for bookings made through the form)


Quick Facts


  • Latitude: -13.158330
  • Longitude: -72.531390

Accommodation in Machu Picchu

We have a comprehensive list of accommodation in Machu Picchu searchable right here on Travellerspoint.


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Machu Picchu Travel Helpers

  • Rhmyers

    took the long way assisted by friends in the state department:

    How to avoid altitude sickness, fog in airport.
    When to visit timing is everything to avoid the crowds.

    Cusco and the Sacred Valley, ... River and Rail.

    Ask Rhmyers a question about Machu Picchu
  • Erwin_mochilero

    I went to Machu Picchu last year, first time, I didn't know much about the history of the place, I had a guide but it was a pretty bad experience.
    Back in Cusco, I met with a local, we talked for like a couple of hours about Machu Picchu. I realized how impressive the place is when you actually know all the history and culture.
    I decided to stay in Lima and started working on an app for iPad that would give tourists the full experience: A plethora of accurate information, interactive maps, and a 3d model of Machu Picchu with information about all the hotspots.
    The app is called “Virtual Series – Machu Picchu” and is available on iTunes, I hope it'll help travelers and tourists enjoy this amazing place!
    Tell me what you think! ;)

    Ask Erwin_mochilero a question about Machu Picchu
  • real-adviser

    i m working in tourism business for many years and i organize myself trips to Machu Picchu every day.
    I have plenty information about train services , tour guides , hotels, great places to visit and non tourist destinations too.

    Ask real-adviser a question about Machu Picchu

This is version 42. Last edited at 11:49 on Mar 27, 18 by Utrecht. 15 articles link to this page.

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