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What is there to say about Machu Picchu that hasn’t already been said countless times? Probably not much really. It’s the backpackers’ mecca and the reason for many a pilgrimage to Peru, but even with all the content floating around on this iconic Peruvian archaeological site, there are still plenty of things you need to know before visiting Machu Picchu, or before planning a trip to Machu Picchu (especially thanks to all those recent rule changes). For example, can you walk to Machu Picchu? Yes. Does it rain at Machu Picchu? Also, yes.
But enough teasers, here are my top things to know before you go to Machu Picchu, my Machu Picchu advice, my tips for visiting Machu Picchu…or whatever else you want to call it.
And once you’re done reading this, click through to my Machu Picchu trip planning guide (COMING SOON), which will walk you through the preparation process!
THINGS TO KNOW BEFORE YOU GO TO MACHU PICCHU
If you’re wondering how to get to Machu Picchu, there are plenty of options, some, naturally, easier than others. Choose wisely and take into account both your fitness levels and bank balance pre-booking.
You don’t have to do the Inca Trail (or the Salkantay Trek) to get there. If you’re made of tougher stuff and have deeper pockets than I, feel free to spend a few days huffing and puffing your way along the Inca trail. I commend you, but I won’t be accompanying you. Tough, tough, tough and expensive to boot, I would only recommend this if you’re sure you can handle it.
Instead, you can take the train. There are two train companies that shuttle visitors between Cusco (Poroy) or Ollantaytambo and Machu Picchu—IncaRail and PeruRail. Both are much of a muchness, from what I’ve heard, offering similar price and comfort points on their respective services. I would say, expect to pay a minimum of $50 each way for the basic service (Expedition, if you travel with PeruRail). For what it’s worth, I went with PeruRail.
The PeruRail trains don’t run from Poroy (Cusco) during rainy season. Keep in mind that during rainy season (January to April), the trains from Cusco (Poroy) don’t run. We learnt this the hard way after missing our connecting bus one very early and stressful morning. Editor’s note: This is listed on the website of PeruRail, but…who’s actively looking for that kind of information?)
In the Vistadome service with PeruRail, you get a hot drink in a real mug, plus some funky placemats, spacious chairs and a pretty good fruity pastry. At least when I went that is. For full disclosure, I should mention that we only slipped onto a slightly-more-expensive-Vistadome carriage because of a debacle that involved missing our bus from Cusco, and therefore our train, and having to be put on a subsequent one basically wherever there was space. We didn’t end up sat together, but we did get a glimpse at how the other half live.
In the Expedition service with PeruRail, you get Inka corn and a tiny dry cinnamon roll, plus coffee and juice in plastic tumblers. Not as fancy as the Vistadome service by any means, but still not too shabby when you’re just looking for something to tide you over during the journey. This was the service we actually paid for.
You can walk up to Machu Picchu from Aguas Calientes. Once you arrive at Aguas Calientes (a.k.a. Machu Picchu village), you can walk up to Machu Picchu itself, using steps built straight up into the side of the mountain. I recommend this for the very fit or the very self-hating.
Alternatively, you can take the bus. Once you leave the Aguas Calientes station, you cross a bridge and drop down onto a road. You’ll easily spot both the booths where everyone’s queued up to buy their tickets for the bus up to Machu Picchu and the actual queue for the bus itself. The bus ride takes around 25 minutes each way.
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You need to pay for your bus tickets with totally crisp bills. The people in front of us had multiple notes (both dollars and soles) rejected because of this.
Speaking of which, you can pay in either currency. As with much of the rest of Peru, dollars are highly valued and often accepted as legal tender. At the bus ticket booths, you can pay in a combination of both bills. In fact, the prices are set in dollars ($24 return ticket, at the time of writing), so if you’re paying in soles you’ll actually be subject to whatever the exchange rate on the day is. Don’t worry though, they display it on the booth itself.
Related Post: 30+ Things To Know Before You Go To Peru
With the new and aforementioned rule changes, the actual stuff you need to know for being onsite at Machu Picchu is a bit hazy right now. Even so, here are some tips to take into consideration once you actually arrive.
You can get a Machu Picchu stamp. It’s just a tiny little booth/hut to the left of the exit and just in front of the cloakroom and there’s nobody attending. Instead, you just self-stamp…well, whatever you want to!
You can take in bags and they won’t be checked. This is true in my experience and at the time of visiting in January 2018. Whether this will always be the case remains to be seen. Technically, bags over a certain size supposedly aren’t allowed through the gate, however…
…there is a cloakroom. Oh, you’ll be charged to use it (a few soles, if I recall correctly), but it’s there.
The bathroom isn’t free. You’ll pay a sol to use it and it’s also the only one. I.e. once you’re in Machu Picchu, there are no bathrooms.
You will be charged to connect to Wifi at the onsite café. Basically, you’ll be charged for everything at Machu Picchu, including connecting to Wifi in the onsite café and even if you’ve bought some of their overpriced, cold-in-the-middle quiche. Consider yourself warned.
You can’t smoke. Even though we definitely saw people smoking anyway. If you smoke, don’t be a dick, and take your cigarette butts with you.
You must enter with a guide. This was definitely not our experience, although the new rules suggest that this is a must.
There is one piece of crucial advice you need to absorb about leaving Machu Picchu and it’s this one.
The queues to come back down (by bus) are long and tedious. We waited perhaps two hours, soaking wet and cold in the still pouring rain. It was not fun. Be prepared for this to be your ‘getting back from Machu Picchu’ experience though, as everyone I’ve spoken to concurred that this was pretty normal. Factor in whether you’re taking the train back on the same day accordingly. (Hint: Don’t.)
Just some other stuff you need to take into consideration before planning a trip to Machu Picchu.
It’s a very costly affair. I mean, no shit, right? However, it’s easy to not really take into account just how much the individual costs can add up. For example, you’ve probably thought about your entrance tickets, train tickets and bus tickets to get from Aguas Calientes to the site itself, if you’re anything like me. However, have you factored in an overnight stay in Aguas Calientes (recommended), plus meals and getting to either Poroy or Ollantaytambo in the first place? Have you thought about smaller issues like cloakroom and bathroom fees? And the bigger stuff like flying into and out of Cusco to visit in the first place? Basically, it’s expensive. There’s no two ways around it.
Related Post: How Much Does it Cost to Visit Machu Picchu? (COMING SOON)
Don’t take your huge backpacks. There is a cloakroom, but I honestly just think lugging your rucksack all the way up to the site and then back again would be a bit soul-destroying. Leave it at either your Cusco accommodation or your Aguas Calientes hostel.
Pack layers. Thanks to the altitude, the weather can literally change at the drop of a hat. I recommend some kind of t-shirt and leggings combo (Girlfriend brand leggings are my personal faves), plus a squishy puffa jacket and a TOTALLY WATERPROOF cagoule too. You might also want to consider a beanie hat to help protect your ears from the wind too.
Take bug spray. I don’t get eaten by bugs, but a ton of people do and many complain about this happening at Machu Picchu. So, take some decent bug spray. Oh, and suncream. It’s really fucking high up and the sun can be strong.
If it rains, suck it up and cry later. It rained on us all day at Machu Picchu. What ya gunna do? Suck it up and save the self-loathing for when you get home.
You need to take your damn passport. Assuming you’re not a Peruvian national of course, in which case I believe you can use your ID card. However, non-Peruvians must show their passport when boarding the train, buying bus tickets in Aguas Calientes and entering Machu Picchu itself.
Go in the morning if you want to stay all day. Sure, new tickets talk about entering and leaving in waves, but the practicalities of rounding up everyone who entered on a morning ticket mean that it’s really unlikely you’ll get chucked out.
Go in the afternoon for the best photos. Unless it rains. I read a ton about the best time to visit Machu Picchu and the consensus was that the afternoon had great lighting and the clouds had typically lifted. Given that you now have to choose between a morning or afternoon entry ticket, and that I also hate early mornings and didn’t especially like the idea of trying to arrive onsite for 6am, I went for the afternoon pass. Torrential rainstorm aside, I think it was a good idea. But prepare for the worst.
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Do you agree? Did I miss off any vital information that you need to know before you go to Machu Picchu? Tell me in the comments!