As one of the New Seven Wonders of the World, Machu Picchu has managed to capture the attention and imagination of hundreds of thousands of visitors every year.
This is one of the most popular and most visited sites in Peru and South America, and with no doubt it will not disappoint you. But, visiting Machu Picchu may not be as simple or as straightforward as you might think, so here are seven things you must know before planning your visit.
There's Limited Access
A few years ago the government limited access to the archeological site to reduce the wear caused by tourists and help aid in the preservation efforts. Now Machu Picchu only welcomes 2,500 visitors per day, so it is recommended that you buy your tickets in advance. Machu Picchu is divided into three main areas, Machu Picchu ruins, Machu Picchu Mountain, and Waina Picchu Mountain. The main entrance ticket allows you to access Machu Picchu ruins and the mountain. For Waina Picchu, you need an additional ticket, and access to Waina Picchu is limited to only 400 visitors per day.
For Machu Picchu (ruins and mountain) it is fine to buy your ticket a day or two in advance. For Wayna Picchu, though, you should buy your ticket a month or so in advance. It is worth going up Wayna Picchu, so plan ahead to enjoy the unique views from the top of the mountain.
You can buy your tickets in the official Machu Picchu government site.
Only Inca Trail Hikers See The Sunrise From Intipunku (The Sun Gate)
Most people like to go to Machu Picchu early in the morning to see the sunrise there. The thing is that Machu Picchu opens at 6 am, and probably by the time you're allowed in, the sunrise might be over or halfway finished. In addition, Machu Picchu is nestled between mountains, so by the time you actually get to see the sun, it is quite high in the sky and shining bright yellow (forget about the pretty orange haze of the golden hour).
But, there's one sunrise worth seeing, and that's from the Sun Gate. From there, you can see Machu Picchu in the distance and witness how the sun rays hit the ceremonial city and slowly illuminate it from the most sacred point (the upper spaces) to the least sacred (the agricultural terraces). Unfortunately, only Inca Trail hikers have access to Intipunku before sunrise, since it is the end point of the Inca Trail. Regular visitors can reach Intipunku at any time, but by the time you hike there (about 25-30 minutes from the site), sunrise will be over.
Cusco Is The Closest City But It's Still Far Away
Cusco is the ancient Inca capital, and today it is one of the most beautiful cities in Peru. Also, Cusco is the hub most travelers use to visit Machu Picchu. Still, Cusco is at least six hours away by bus from Machu Picchu.
It is recommended to do a two-day/one-night trip and stay in Aguas Calientes, also known as Machu Picchu Town located at the base of the archeological site. Currently, a trip like this will cost you between $90 and $110. It includes the entrance fee (not including Wayna Picchu), basic accommodation, transportation to and from Aguas Calientes, lunch, dinner, and a breakfast snack.
There's also the option of visiting Machu Picchu in just a day by taking the train from Cusco to Aguas Calientes (which is a shorter ride). This day trip costs around $200.
Weather Is Unpredictable
Even though the best time of the year to visit is during the dry season (May to October), you're never really sure of how the weather will go once you're up there. It is common for mornings to be foggy and cloudy (especially around sunrise) and then to clear up later in the day, closer to noon.
Take your time and enjoy the site no matter the weather. It is impressive with all kinds of weather, and in my opinion, it is even more mysterious when it is covered in a veil of fog.
Also related to weather, don't forget to take sunblock and mosquito repellent. During the dry season, the site can be flooded with sun flies that may bite any exposed skin (speaking from experience). Surprisingly, I was not bitten once when I visited in the wet season.
You Need Your Passport To Enter
When you reserve your tour or buy your tickets online, you will need to input your passport information. In addition, you'll need your passport to enter Machu Picchu. Once in, or when you leave the park, take the time to stamp your passport with the official Machu Picchu stamp, located by the entrance.
Go In The Afternoon To Avoid Crowds
Inca Trail hikers, day tour visitors and most other visitors go to Machu Picchu in the early hours of the day. By 11:00 am or noon, most of them leave and are replaced by a few other visitors. If you want to avoid the crowds, visit after 1:00 pm or 2:00 pm. The park closes at 5:00 pm, so having three or four hours could be enough (depending on how much you want to do and see). You could also visit a bit earlier, but Machu Picchu gets really hot around noon if it is a sunny day.
The Llamas You See Are Not Originally From The Site
Those llamas are cute and quite friendly with people since they are so used to seeing them (and used to the snacks). But, National Geographic introduced these llamas for a documentary. They brought four llamas to the site, finished their filming, and left them there. Today, those four llamas are now fifteen. Even though they are not endemic to the site, it is fun to take pictures with them and have them pose next to the ruins.
Is Machu Picchu on your travel bucket list?