As one of the most respected architectural feats by the Incan Empire, Machu Picchu is a must do on any trip to Peru. Built 500+ years ago in the Andes Mountains, it was introduced to the world in 1911 by archeologist Hiram Bingham.
It now stands as one of the Seven Wonders of the World and a top tourist attraction for anyone’s bucket list. If you were wondering how to go about a visit, then this Machu Picchu itinerary is for you!
It will go over everything you need to know – getting to Machu Picchu, accommodation options, tickets and everything in between. So get ready for what will be one incredible trip!
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1) Getting To Machu Picchu
When going about a trip to Machu Picchu, you can either decide to do it on your own or join a fully guided tour from beginning to end. Either way though, you most likely will be doing so from Cusco.
Below are a few of the main ways to go about a Machu Picchu itinerary:
- Independent Day Trip from Cusco
- Independent Overnight from Cusco
- Tour from Cusco
Independent Trip from Cusco
If going to Machu Picchu independently (whether a day trip or overnight), then you will need to know the ins and outs on how to get there. Below is a walk through of the logistics and how to go about your trip.
Recap of Cusco to Machu Picchu Route:
- Taxi: Cusco to San Pedro or Poroy Train Station
- Train: San Pedro / Poroy to Aguas Calientes
- Bus: Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu
Taxi from Cusco to Train Station
If coming from Cusco, the first step in the process will be taking a taxi to either the San Pedro or Poroy train station.
The San Pedro station is in the city center of Cusco and the Poroy station is about a 30 minute taxi drive away. Although it is a short distance, you may find that some trains to Aguas Calientes are much longer from San Pedro.
Train to Aguas Calientes
To get to Machu Picchu from San Pedro or Poroy you will have to train to Aguas Calientes – the base town of the historical site.
The trains to Aguas Calientes can be anywhere from 3 – 5 hours long. Pay close attention when booking the tickets!
If you are going during regular season, there are several trains run by Perurail that can take you from San Pedro and Poroy to Aguas Calientes on a daily basis. You can also check out Incarail, which has a couple options a day.
Buy these tickets in advance as they also will be in high demand. And always be sure to check the latest schedules just in case anything changes!
Logistics Note: Another option is to catch a train from Ollantaytambo if you will be around the Sacred Valley area prior to your trip to Machu Picchu.
Luggage Note: The trains have a baggage allowance of just 11 lbs, which might be a problem if you are staying in Aguas Calientes overnight. There are a couple options here to help you out with this:
- The first option is to leave the majority of your luggage at your hotel in Cusco and pick it up on your way back.
- The second option is to only pack 11 or so pounds worth of luggage in the first place and then you will not have to worry about weight limits.
Traveling in the Rainy Season? During offseason (January to April) you might need to take a combination bus+train to get to Aguas Calientes. First would be a bus from Wanchaq station in downtown Cusco to Ollantaytambo, followed by a train from Ollantaytambo to Aguas Calientes.
Bus to Machu Picchu
Once you arrive in Aguas Calientes and are ready to begin your journey up, you will hop on a 20 minute bus ride ($24 round trip) that takes you zig zagging up the mountain.
These busses leave constantly to and from Machu Picchu but do expect a wait during peak times.
Return to Cusco
When booking your return train leg either on the same day or next, make sure everything is timed correctly so you have a hassle free experience.
You do not want to be rushed through the site and constantly worry about catching a train. The latest trains head back to Cusco around 5:00PM – 6:00PM, so you should have enough of time for the day trip (and of course plenty of time if doing an overnight).
You can also book the return leg to Ollantaytambo in the case you are continuing your trip to the Sacred Valley.
Guided Tour from Cusco
Now if you are joining a tour from Cusco, you most likely will not need to worry about the details as the tour company will have it all taken care of for you.
Instead of worrying about taxis, trains, busses, tickets, guides, etc., you will simply be picked up or meet at a certain location.
Machu Picchu Tour: Check out this highly rated Full Day Machu Picchu Tour from Cusco that takes care of it all for you
2) Machu Picchu Logistics Map
Below is a map highlighting the train station in Aguas Calientes (where you will be arriving), the bus station to take you up the mountain, and the winding bus route up to Machu Picchu itself.
Once you arrive at Machu Picchu, you can go ahead and begin to explore it all!
3) Tickets to Machu Picchu
As of 2023 there have been some important changes to the rules at Machu Picchu. Most notably this has to do with specific routes/circuits that you will need to follow.
Machu Picchu has had its fair share of rule changes throughout the years, so we will see what sticks and what doesn’t.
Machu Picchu Circuits
There are 5 routes to choose from when visiting Machu Picchu (numbered 1, 2, 3, 4, & 5). On the official Machu Picchu website, you can find more info about each circuit.
When going about the booking process, you do not need to choose a specific route (unless you are taking part of one of the more limited mountain hikes).
These main options include:
- Circuit 1, 2, 3 or 4
- Huayna Picchu Mountain + Circuit 4
- Machu Picchu Mountain + Circuit 3
- Huchuy Picchu Mountain + Circuit 4
- Circuit 1 or 2 + Inka Bridge
If you are deciding which Circuit to take part of, it seems like Circuit 2 is the most comprehensive of the options. This offers around 3 hours of walking to all the various areas of the Machu Picchu complex.
Now, if you want to take part of one of the three more limited mountain hikes, then you will be stuck with either Circuit 3 or 4. I have seen some people recommend buying two tickets (mountain hike in the morning / standard ticket in the afternoon), in order to see more of the complex.
You must purchase tickets to Machu Picchu in advance through the government website or an authorized ticket provider. The tickets can sell out, especially in high season so do buy your tickets beforehand.
If you opt for a prearranged tour of Machu Picchu, many of them will take care of tickets, transportation, lodging, tour guide etc. So just make sure you have an idea of what is and what is not included in your package.
Entry time slots are hourly starting at 6:00AM and ending at 3:00PM for a standard ticket.
If you want to take part of one of the mountain hikes, these will just have hourly entry time slots in the morning.
If purchasing tickets through the government website, here are the ticket costs for the various route offerings:
- Standard Ticket: S/ 152 ($42 USD)
- Huayna Picchu: S/ 200 ($55 USD)
- Macchu Picchu Mountain: S/ 200 ($55 USD)
- Huchuy Picchu: S/ 152 ($42 USD)
- Circuit 1 or 2 + Inka Bridge: S/ 152 ($42 USD)
4) Important Tips Before You Go
Here are some quick tips to better prepare you for this Machu Picchu itinerary:
» Bring your passport! You will need it to take the bus up and to enter the site. You can also get a Machu Picchu stamp in your passport when you arrive.
» There are no bathrooms within the Machu Picchu complex after you enter. You will only find them outside of the entrance and will have to pay 2 sol ($0.60) to use them.
» Right outside the entrance you can find a snack bar with all sorts of sandwiches, pastries and drinks. So if you were planning on having lunch up top this would be your only affordable option (the other more expensive option would be eating at the Sanctuary Lodge buffet nearby).
» Going off of the previous two points, you cannot re-enter Machu Picchu once you exit.
5) A Machu Picchu Guide in Pictures
Once you have arrived at Machu Picchu you will spend several hours alongside your tour guide learning the importance of this Incan site and some of the amazing stories to go along with it.
There will be plenty of pictures taking opportunities throughout the day as you wander around the sites and take it all in.
Looking for a Tour Guide? You can book a highly rated local tour guide for Machu Picchu, that also includes entrance & bus tickets
6) Hikes on Machu Picchu
As mentioned there are a few hiking opportunities to take part of on Machu Picchu if you are up for it:
There is limited availability for the three hikes – only a few hundred spots per day per hike, so book well in advance.
Remember, with these hikes you can only take part of a certain circuit. If you want to see more of Machu Picchu, you will need to purchase another entrance ticket.
Also, if you want to be less rushed you could also split between two days (afternoon session day 1 followed by one of the morning hikes on day 2).
7) Accommodation in Aguas Calientes
If you are not making this a one day tour, you will need to find a place to stay overnight in Aguas Calientes for your multi day experience.
Staying two days could be beneficial if you do not want to rush as much and want to have more time to tour around and possibly get in a hiking experience as well.
If you choose to stay the night there are multiple hotels options to choose from in Aguas Calientes depending on your preferences. Some top rated ones include:
- Tierra Viva Machu Picchu
- Casa Andina Standard Machu Picchu
- Taypikala Hotel Machupicchu
- Inkaterra Machu Picchu
- SUMAQ Machu Picchu Hotel
Now that you know everything about the rules, tickets, transportation, and accommodation it is time to enjoy Machu Picchu!
Take a look at the other Peru itineraries and guides to help out with any other trip planning. If you have any questions about this Machu Picchu guide please feel free to comment below!