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Exploring the Wonders of Machu Picchu: A Comprehensive Travel Guide

Unfortunately, visiting Machu Picchu can't be a spontaneous action and must be planned. How long in advance should you book your tickets to Machu Picchu? It is recommended to book the tickets two months before.


This travel guide to Machu Picchu contains all possible ways to get to Machu Picchu, how to purchase a ticket to Machu Picchu, and all the needed information before going to Machu Picchu.


🤫 Shhh... If you don't have the chance to book a Machu Picchu ticket beforehand on Peru's government website - don't panic, I got you. I made the same mistake, and when I figured it was too late to book a ticket, I already thought there was no hope for it. Traveling to Peru and not visiting Machu Picchu would have been a disaster. But as I said, don't worry, you can still make it to Machu Picchu. I'm going to explain in detail how in this blog post as well.

Machu Picchu

Table of Contents:


Important Things to Know Before Visiting Machu Picchu

Before we start with all the details, I'd like to provide you with the important stuff. All things you need to know before heading to Machu Picchu in a nutshell:

Why Do I Need to Buy a Ticket in Advance?

Machu Picchu belongs to one of the Seven New World Wonders in the world and is the most popular tourist attraction in Peru. The site was experiencing a high number of visitors. In 2016, Machu Picchu had over 1.4 million visitors, and due to that, the site's preservation was at risk.


In 2018, the Peruvian government decided to implement daily visitor limitations. That should help to reduce the number of visitors to a more manageable level and lead to a more enjoyable experience for those who visit Machu Picchu.


The daily limits vary, and it's advisable to check the newest information on the government's website. As of October 2023 around 4000 people are allowed to visit the site, around 3000 tickets per day are sold on the government's website, and 1000 tickets on the day before in the ticket office.


Which Machu Picchu Circuit is the Best?

Another measure to regulate and control the number of visitors is the introduction of different circuits to explore the site and its surrounding areas. In total, there are five circuits to choose from. The choice of which circuit is "best" depends on your interests, physical fitness, and the amount of time you have available.


Unfortunately, figuring out which circuit is the best is quite confusing. The government's website only provides maps for each circuit. However, it does not match the selection at the ticket office.


I am providing you with the information I got from a tour operator. Please note that this information is from October 2023 and that the government might have changed everything.


Circuit Llaqta Machupicchu (red)

This is probably the most popular circuit to visit and is also known as Circuit 1 (on the government's website). On this circuit, you're able to visit the main archaeological sites, such as the Inca citadel, the Temple of the Sun, Intihuatana, and the agricultural terraces.


It's also the circuit where you're able to take the famous overview pictures of Machu Picchu on an upper platform.


Circuit 4 + Waynapicchu (blue)

The blue tickets include the tour to the top of Huayna Picchu and the route through the Inca citadel. You're able to re-enter the site again and walk through the designated areas for Circuit 4.


Circuit 4 includes the entry point to Huayna Picchu, the main Inca constructions in the urban sector of Machu Picchu, which includes the following archaeological sites:

  • the Sacred Rock

  • the Temple of the Condor

  • the Temple of the Sun

  • the Water Mirrors

  • the Temple of the 3 Windows


Montana Machupicchu + Circuit 3 (orange)

With this ticket you're allowed to hike the highest mountain in the area: Machu Picchu Mountain. You enter the site, leave it for the hike to Machu Picchu mountain, and re-enter the site again to visit the area called "Circuit 3" which includes the platform sector, the Temple of the Sun, the House of the Inka, the Ceremonial Fountains, the Hall of Mirrors, the Temple of the Condor, and other minor constructions.


Circuit 4 + Huchuypicchu (light blue)

Choosing this ticket you're allowed to hike the newly opened route to Huchuy Picchu and walk around the designated areas for Circuit 4.


Circuit 4 includes the entry point to Huchuy Picchu, the main Inca constructions in the urban sector of Machu Picchu, which includes the following archaeological sites:

  • the Sacred Rock

  • the Temple of the Condor

  • the Temple of the Sun

  • the Water Mirrors

  • the Temple of the 3 Windows


Circuit 1 and 2 + Puente Inka (green)

This circuit is very similar to the first circuit (red). It allows you to visit the upper part to take the classic postcard photo and to visit the main archeological sites as well. Additionally, you're able to make a short walk (20 minutes) to the Inka Bridge.

Machu Picchu Travel Guide

Book a Machu Picchu Ticket on Peru's Government Site

If you're a planner and a forward-thinking person, this section of the blog post is for you. Booking a Machu Picchu ticket in advance is the best and least stressful option.


How does it work?

Purchasing a ticket from the government's website is quite easy, but nonetheless, I've created an easy step-by-step guide for you:


How to Get to Machu Picchu without a Ticket?

If you're like me and didn't purchase a ticket beforehand (or were literally too late) there's another way to get them. It's associated with some effort, but doable.

The most important thing to know is, that you must spend a night in Aguas Calientes. It's the town nearest to Machu Picchu and where the ticket office is located. There's no other way to get the tickets on the same day and you must get them by yourself. Now that you know that, let's clarify the next steps for the tickets.

Firstly, you must head to Aguas Calientes. There are many different ways and I've explained it in this section of the blog post. It is recommended to be as early as possible in Aguas Calientes to get hold of the best tickets.


Once you've arrived in Aguas Calientes you must head to the ticket office that opens at 8 a.m. Depending on the season and arrival time, you have to stay in a long line for that (I waited four hours in line). The bad news is, that you only receive a ticket that allows you to buy the ticket to Machu Picchu in the afternoon. That means you need to go back to the ticket office again.


The first ticket is marked with your passport number and the time you have to revisit the ticket office. Be at the ticket office 5 minutes before the time on your ticket. Depending on the number, you need to stay in line for the ticket again. When you finally arrive at the checkout, specify your desired circuit and at what time you'd like to visit Machu Picchu. Purchase the tickets and you've finally made it.


Now spend the rest of your afternoon exploring the small town of Aguas Calientes, visit the hot springs, if you like, or eat in one of the best Italian places I've visited in Peru (you find it here).


Book a Ticket to Machu Picchu through a Tour

Another option for those who haven't booked a ticket in advance is to book a tour with a tour operator. Not just any tour but the tour of the Inca Trail. It's the only tour that allows you to visit Machu Picchu without purchasing a ticket at the government's website or buying a ticket in Aguas Caliente.


In total, there are two different Inca Trail tours, the classic 4-day tour, and the shorter 2-day tour. I highly recommend booking with this high-rated tour operator Alpaca Expeditions. They provide an outstanding once-in-a-lifetime experience and are a well-organized tour operator.


How to Travel to Machu Picchu?

Now we have covered all the required information about the tickets, the only thing we need to talk about is how to travel to Machu Picchu. As an old saying says, there are many ways to Rome and there are also many ways to Machu Picchu. In total, I introduce you to the top three possible ways.


Travel to Machu Picchu by Train

Let's start with the most famous way to get to Machu Picchu: by taking the famous trains to Aguas Calientes.


💡 Aguas Calientes is an almost car-free town and no taxis or cars driving around. The only way of transportation is for tourists who want to travel to Machu Picchu and are train and bus.


There are two options to travel by train:

  1. The combined version: Get picked up from a van in Cusco early in the morning which transports you to Ollantaytambo, the middle station to Aguas Calientes. From there, take the train to Aguas Calientes. This bimodal service costs around $80 - $350 per person for both ways.

  2. Embark on the train from Cusco to Aguas Calientes. It's the pricier option, but the most comfortable. A round-trip ticket costs around $125 - $1000.

The best way to book this kind of transportation is either by a tour operator or by booking it directly from one of the two train companies: PeruRail or IncaRail.

Machu Picchu Train

Travel to Machu Picchu by Van

If you're on a budget and looking for a more inexpensive way to travel to Machu Picchu, then travel with a shared van is your way of transportation. As I already mentioned, Aguas Calientes is a car-free town, therefore the van brings you only to Hidroeléctrica. From there you must walk up to Aguas Calientes, which takes around 2 hours.


A ride from Cusco to Hidroeléctrica starts from $16 (one-way).


Travel to Machu Picchu by Hiking

Lastly, for the ones that like hiking, there's the option to hike to Machu Picchu. In total, there are four different routes to Machu Picchu:

  1. Inca Trail: That's the most classic way to head to Machu Picchu and can be done in two or four days. The starting point of this trek is called Kilometer 82.

  2. Salkantay Trek: Another trek that includes the ascent and descent to Salkantay Mountain. It starts in Mollepata, a small town 3-4 hours from Cusco.

  3. Lares Trek: A rather unknown path to Machu Picchu is the Lares Trek, which starts in Lares. This town is also located 3-4 hours from Cusco.

  4. Inca Jungle Trek: From Cusco, you need to head to Abra Malaga Pass, where you can start your hike with a descent to the jungle.

Unfortunately, I'm not the best guide to tell you more about all these treks, since I've done the convenient way by van and train. However, I highly recommend reading this comprehensive blog post that includes all four treks I mentioned above and even three more!


Conclusion

Traveling to Machu Picchu was a pain in the ass (for me), but somehow worth it. As you can guess, a lot of planning must be done and Machu Picchu is not for spontaneous travelers. It's best to sit in a café in the afternoon and start planning your trip.

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