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Know Before You Go: Visiting Machu Picchu

Here’s what you need to know regarding the best time to visit Machu Picchu, Peru's most famous destination.
Hi, I'm Karen!

Karen Catchpole is an award-winning travel journalist from the US with a focus on Latin American travel. She’s been traveling through and reporting from the Americas full-time since 2006 on her ongoing Trans-Americas Journey working road trip through North, Central, and South America.

The Machu Picchu archaeological site contains the remains of a city that was built by the Inca at the beginning of the 16th century (shortly before the Spanish colonized the area, ending their empire). Today, Machu Picchu is the most-visited tourist destination in Peru. Thousands of visitors come every day to see the mysterious structural and cultural remains of the Incan civilization; some also come hoping to absorb the site’s energy.

But strict visitor regulations and the site’s remote location mean that experiencing this spectacular site requires travel planning. Here’s what you need to know about this popular destination and the best time to visit Machu Picchu.

How can I visit Machu Picchu?

People aboard a train.
Taking the train is the most popular way to get to Machu Picchu.Bildquelle: Antonio Franco / Viator

Planes, buses, trains, and trails are all ways you can visit.

To get to Machu Picchu, you first have to get to Cusco; the easiest way is a domestic flight from Lima (though bad weather can cause flight delays or cancellations). From Cusco, travelers can get to the Incan citadel of Machu Picchu a number of ways.

By road and train: The most common approach is to travel by road through the Sacred Valley to the town of Ollantaytambo (where the road ends). From Ollantaytambo, you’ll take a scenic 2-hour train ride to the town of Aguas Calientes, which is located below the Machu Picchu site. There, you’ll find tourist buses that shuttle visitors to and from the Machu Picchu site.

On foot: If you’re in good shape, and you have a few days, you can also choose to take a multi-day hike to Machu Picchu, camping along the way (either with a guide or on your own). Hike-in options include: the Inca Trail (the most popular route); the Salkantay trek (which includes a wide range of spectacular scenery); the Lares trek (which affords many cultural encounters along the way); and the very strenuous Choquequirao trek (which passes by other important archaeological sites).

Split the difference: A Short Inca Trail trek allows travelers with limited time to spend just a few hours on the trail up to the site. This option involves taking the train to Aguas Calientes and starting your walk just outside the town. (The trail is well marked and easy to do on your own.)

What tickets do I need to book for Machu Picchu?

Cloudy day at Machu Picchu.
Machu Picchu has a number of visitation regulations in place.Bildquelle: Antonio Franco / Viator

You should prebook both your site access and transportation tickets well in advance.

Site tickets: Visiting Machu Picchu is complicated, not only because of its remote location but also because there are a number of regulations governing who can visit and when. Visitor numbers are capped at 4,044 people each day (to reduce wear and tear on the site), and all must reserve entry tickets. Make sure to book as far ahead as possible, as the daily quota fills up in advance; you can reserve your spot online.

Some visitors also choose to hike up Huayna Picchu peak or Machu Picchu peak. These strenuous treks offer stunning views of the site from above, but you’ll need to get separate permits before you arrive.

Booking transportation: You’ll also need to book your transportation to the site ahead of time (including road transportation and tickets on the train to Aguas Calientes, as noted above). Train tickets from Ollantaytambo have to be booked separately; they’re not part of your Machu Picchu entrance fee. You can choose from a variety of train companies and class fares for the trip to Aguas Calientes (train companies offer online booking). The bus from Aguas Calientes up to Machu Picchu does not require reservations. Once you arrive in Aguas Calientes, look for the ticket sellers and book in person.

This means that any visit to Machu Picchu requires planning. For some travelers, it’s easiest to leave all this planning to a tour company.

When is the best time to visit Machu Picchu?

People waiting by a train in Machu Picchu.
The warmer months see the most traffic.Bildquelle: Alex Washburn / Viator

September through February is considered the best time to visit.

The rainy season in Peru stretches from October through April; during this period, hiking trails can be muddy and slippery and camping conditions soggy. The rainy season can also mean cloudy skies, which can impact your ability to capture photos of the archaeological site and can obscure views of the Andes. It’s best to go in South American spring and summer (September to February).

Can you visit Machu Picchu in one day?

Machu Picchu on a cloudy day.
Reaching Machu Picchu takes planning, but it's worth it.Bildquelle: Antonio Franco / Viator

It's possible, but perhaps not recommended.

It is possible to see Machu Picchu on a day trip from Cusco, and there are a number of tour companies that offer this option, but be prepared for a very, very early departure and a very, very late return. Travelers looking for a less-exhausting 2-day trip can opt to spend one night in Aguas Calientes.

What should I pack when visiting Machu Picchu?

Tourists taking a photo of an alpaca at Machu Picchu.
Selfies are allowed; selfie sticks aren't.Bildquelle: Antonio Franco / Viator

A raincoat, sunscreen, sunglasses, and a hat to name a few.

Bring a raincoat and wear layers; the temperature changes as you ascend into the mountains (and at different times of day). Make sure to have sunscreen, sunglasses, and a sun hat—at more than 7,900 feet (or 2,400 meters) the sun’s rays are strong, and there is very little shade at the Machu Picchu archaeological site. Comfortable shoes are also important. If you’re hiking in, boots and specialized hiking clothing will also be necessary; tour companies that offer guided hikes to Machu Picchu generally provide camping gear.

Do not bring: drones, walking sticks, trekking poles, selfie-sticks, tripods, umbrellas, food, or large backpacks. None of those items are allowed inside the Machu Picchu archaeological site. If you need these items for your trek, you can store them in lockers located near the site entrance.

Frequently asked questions

Machu Picchu Inca Trail.
Machu Picchu is known for having some of the world's best views.Bildquelle: Antonio Franco / Viator

Everything you need to know about Machu Picchu.

  • Where do you stay to visit Machu Picchu? Staying in the town of Aguas Calientes is recommended so you don't have to cut your experience short to catch a return train. However, each of the surrounding towns also serve as popular tourist spots.

  • Why should I visit Machu Picchu? Most people visit Machu Picchu because it is a world heritage site with some of the best views on the globe. It also showcases a glimpse into the life, culture, and architecture of the Inca Empire.

  • Can you visit Machu Picchu without hiking? Yes, you can witness Machu Picchu without hiking by taking a train. There are two train companies available: the PeruRail and the Inca Rail.

  • Can you visit Machu Picchu without a guide? Yes, you can hike Machu Picchu without a guide. However, this is only possible if you are not planning on trekking the Inca Trail.

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