When you think about Peru one of the first images that comes to mind is Machu Picchu. In 2007 it was voted as one of the New Seven Wonders of the world. I first learned about Machu Picchu way back in Elementary School from a magazine in the classroom and for the next 36 years that image stayed with me until one day I decided to book a trip to see it. My husband and I called our friends, who we travel with all the time, to see if they were interested in going and it was an immediate yes! All I needed to do was to figure out how to get there.
It turns out that getting to see Machu Picchu requires a lot of planning. I knew we were going to probably have to fly into Peru’s largest city and capital, Lima but from there I wasn’t sure what to do next. So with a lot of research over several days I finally figured out how to get to there.
Purchase your Machu Picchu Tickets
When it comes to getting to Machu Picchu, you’re going to have to work backwards. Usually when you plan a trip you start with finding flights but with Machu Picchu you don’t want to book any flights or hotels until after you get your reservation to get into Machu Picchu. Below are the steps you need to take to get to Machu Picchu.
Before you book anything at all you MUST first see if there are any entry tickets available. Deciding which days you want to go, the EXACT days, is the first step. Because there are a limited amount of tickets available each day to visit the Inca wonder and that is your first step to getting to see this majestic place. You do not want to just show up without a ticket because you won’t get in. I booked our tickets 8 months in advance.
There are 4 types of tickets available for you to choose from.
1. An entrance ticket to Machu Picchu only. There are 2500 of these per day.
2. Entry ticket to Machu Picchu + Museum.
3. A ticket to Machu Picchu + Huayna Picchu (that big mountain in the background). There are only 400 of these per day, 200 in the morning and 200 in the afternoon.
3. An entry ticket to Machu Picchu + Machu Picchu (Montana) Mountain. There are only 800 of these per day.
On top of having to choose a specific day you also have to choose a specific entry time. You’ll have just 4 hours inside the ruins, 6 if you are climbing Huayna Picchu Mountain, 8 hrs if you’re climbing Montana Mountain.
I wrote a post on how to buy a ticket to Machu Picchu that will take you through the steps to buy one online.
Booking Flights and hotels
Now that you have your entry tickets, you can book your flight and hotels. You’ll likely fly into the capital city of Peru, Lima. You can choose to spend a few days in Lima (we spent 2 nights there) or fly immediately to Cusco. Yes, you’re going to have to book another flight from Lima to Cusco. Take note that the altitude in Cusco is actually higher than the altitude at Machu Picchu and you might experience a little altitude sickness. It’s a good idea to stay there for a few days to get acclimated.
Next book your hotels. You’ll need to book several different hotels so this is going to require some research. If you stay in Lima, you’ll want to book a hotel there. Next, you’ll want to book your hotel/hostel in Cusco. We stayed at a hostel but it wasn’t at all what we pictured a hostel to be. We had our own room (it was big) and our own bathroom. You’ll also want to book your hotel in Aguas Calientes. This is the small village just below Machu Picchu.
Here’s what our trip looked like: Flew into Lima, 2 nights at a hotel. Flew into Cusco, 1 night at a hotel. Took a train to Aguas Calientes, 2 nights at a hotel. Train back to Cusco, 1 night at a hotel. Flew to Lima then flew home.
Going from Cusco to Machu Picchu
Once you’re in Cusco there are two options to get to Machu Picchu. The first way is to hike the Inca Trail. The hike is between 2-4 days depending on which hiking option you choose. This costs extra and there are guides that take you on the hike. If this is the option you want then you will need to find a tour company.
The second option is to take a train. We chose to take the train knowing we wanted to climb to the top of Huayna Picchu. I didn’t think I could do that after hiking for 4 days! Just like the limited number of entry tickets into Machu Picchu, there are also a limited number of seats on the train. You’ll want to book this right away. There are several trains leaving throughout the day.
The ride up to Machu Picchu is pretty scenic and it includes lunch. There are two rail companies to choose from: PeruRail and IncaRail. The trains have big windows that expand up to the roof of the train for spectacular views. There is a budget option and a luxury option. The photo above is the budget car.
Travelers are limited to just 17lbs of luggage for the trip. We packed only what we needed for Machu Picchu and stored the rest of our luggage at the hotel in Cusco where we would be coming back for our final night before leaving Peru. The train leaves from Cusco, which is the most popular place to start from but there are a few other cities that are closer where you can catch the train from as well. There are no roads that lead to Machu Picchu so forget driving on your own. Hiking or taking a train are the only two options.
Aguas Calientes and Machu Picchu
The name of the small village just below Machu Picchu is called Aguas Calientes. This is where all the hotels are. The train pulls right into the middle of town and it’s very loud and buildings shake so you’ll know when it’s coming!
After you arrive and you are ready to go to Machu Picchu, you need to purchase a bus ticket. You should purchase this as soon as possible, preferably the day before you want to go up there. If your entry time is first thing in the morning then you need to get in line early in the morning. Like 3:30am. I’m not kidding. The line will already be long at that time. Super long. The bus ride up the mountain is about a 20 minute ride.
Another option is to hike to Machu Picchu from Aguas Calientes. There is a trail that leads up there but it will be dark so you need a head lamp and I’ve heard it’s not easy. This hike is about 1.5 hours long. In the dark. If you plan on climbing either of the mountains I would not recommend it. Just wait in line for the bus.
Once you get to the top you’ll be waiting in line for the gates to be open. They open right at 6am. When you get in you’ll have a limited amount of time to explore: 4 hours if you purchased just the entry ticket, 6 hours if you are hiking up Huayna Picchu Mountain, or 8 hours if you’re hiking up Machu Picchu Mountain. Whatever option you’ve chosen be sure to enjoy this once in a lifetime trip!