Planning Your Visit to Machu Picchu
Day Tripping vs. Overnight
You can visit Machu Picchu on a day trip, but we recommend staying overnight at a hotel in Aguas Calientes. A day trip allows you about six hours at Machu Picchu, coinciding with the most crowded times. If you stay overnight, you can wander the ruins after most tourists have gone or in the morning before the bulk of them arrive. If you can, opt to spend two nights, one before visiting Machu Picchu so you can be on the first bus up to the ruins in the morning, and one after your visit to allow you time to recuperate especially if you hike Huayna Picchu.
Buying a Ticket
In theory, Machu Picchu tickets can be purchased online with a Visa card (www.machupicchu.gob.pe) but this option rarely works as there are often technical difficulties with the website; it’s advisable to purchase your tickets a month in advance. If you have your heart set on hiking Huayna Picchu, you need to contact a travel agency to purchase the ticket for you, at least 2–3 months in advance. If you arrive without an admission ticket, you must purchase one in Aguas Calientes at the Centro Cultural Machu Picchu (Av. Pachacutec 103, 084/211–196 S/152, no credit cards Daily 5:45 am–8:30 pm). Purchase must be made with your passport and in person. There is no ticket booth at the ruins’ entrance. If you are with a tour, the tickets are most likely taken care of for you. The ticket is valid only for the date it is purchased for so if you arrive in the afternoon and visit the ruins, then stay the night and want to return the next morning, you’ll have to buy two tickets. The ruins are open from 6 am to 5:30 pm.
Being high above the valley floor makes you forget that Machu Picchu sits 2,490 meters (8,170 feet) above sea level, a much lower altitude than Cusco. It gets warm, and the ruins have little shade. Sunscreen, a hat, and water are musts. Officially, no food or drinks are permitted, but you can get away with a bottle of water and snacks. Large packs must be left at the entrance. You have to show your passport to enter—if you want it stamped with an image of the ruins, stop by the stand just past the exit. The office at the entrance has a simple free map of the ruins.
A snack bar is a few feet from where the buses deposit you at the gate, and the Belmond Sanctuary Lodge has a US$40 lunch buffet open to the public. Bathrooms cost S/1, and toilet paper is provided. There are no bathrooms inside the ruins but you may exit and reenter to use them up to two times. After that, you may not reenter.
The Inca Trail, Abridged
Most Cusco tour operators market a two-day, one-night Inca Trail excursion. An Inca Trail permit is required and you must go with a licensed operator; book well in advance. The excursion begins at Km 104, a stop on the Cusco/Sacred Valley–Machu Picchu trains. All of the hiking happens on the first day, and you get to enter Machu Picchu through the Sun Gate and spend the night at a hotel in Aguas Calientes. The second day is a visit to the ruins.
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