History | The compelling power of the Inca people
If there’s an archeological site that should be on every person’s bucket list, that place has got to be Machu Picchu. Located in the heights of the Peruvian Andes at 2.430 meters above sea level, lays more than just massive blocks of stone and granite that reminisce the prime of an empire that ruled South America’s Pacific coastline 500 years ago. Machu Picchu is a heritage of the Inca Empire that showcases the compelling power of the Inca people and the bold ambition of its creator and ninth Inca Emperor, Pachacuti (Pachacútec).
The mystery of Machu Picchu’s purpose remains hostage among its ruins. Archeologists are still trying to find clues that would lead today’s modern world researches to concise answers to an audacious Empire that challenged the force of nature and tested their engineering skills without the help of wheels to build a city with palaces, temples, and terraces in an unthinkable location that draws travelers from all over the globe to experience in their skin the enigmatic magic of the Inca spirit in Machu Picchu.
Leaving the history aside, in this article I will break down all the steps you need to follow and things you need to know before visiting Machu Picchu. It can be tricky and a bit confusing but don’t worry, I will try to explain it to you in the most didactic way possible. 😉
Travelers, please note the information in this article is mainly focused on all those who want to visit Machu Picchu on their own without hiring a travel agency. Inca Trail is not being discussed in this article. However, if you have any questions regarding the Inca Trail, feel free to contact me.
When to visit Machu Picchu
The first thing you need to consider before visiting Machu Picchu is whether you want to visit it during the peak season (dry season) or low season (rainy season). I have been fortunate enough to visit Machu Picchu during both periods —and I’m not saying this to brag— I want to give you an insight into what to expect during the dry and rainy season.
The dry season goes from April to October. May, June, and July are the best months to visit Machu Picchu.
The rainy season goes from November to March. Despite what many may think, it does not rain throughout the day and light showers may happen either in the early morning hours or late afternoon.
How to get to Machu Picchu
Machu Picchu is located at 2.430 meters above sea level amid the Andes Mountains and the easiest and fastest way to make it over there is flying to the city of Cusco. However, you can also make your way to Cusco by land from Lima; I’m giving you more details below 😉
Lima to Cusco
Cusco is a charming and colonial city that once served as the cradle of the Inca Empire and now is considered to be one of Peru’s most visited hotspots due to its history and proximity to Machu Picchu.
The nearest airport to Machu Picchu is in Cusco. There are currently several airlines such as Amaszonas, LATAM, Avianca, Viva Air Peru and Sky Airline, serving direct and none-direct flights to Cusco from major South American cities but the most common route is from Lima which takes roughly one hour.
A fun and inexpensive way to get to Cusco from Lima is by bus onboard Peru’s most reliable bus company, Cruz del Sur. The journey takes nearly 24-hours and VIP seats offer in-seat entertainment and food onboard for about S/.185 depending on the season.
Cusco or Ollantaytambo as a base
Despite most travelers chose Cusco as their base for a few well-spent days before and after visiting Machu Picchu, some travelers chose Ollantaytambo or Poroy instead to run away from the swarm of travelers in the streets of Cusco during peak season.
How to book your entrance to Machu Picchu
Entrances to Machu Picchu, as well as a visit to Waynapicchu, can be purchased online directly on Machu Picchu’s official government website. Please check the availability calendar and book your entrance before booking your train ticket. More info below.
Visits to Waynapicchu are limited and entrances are assigned a specific time. Please make sure you are at the Waynapicchu check-in point inside Machu Picchu at the designated time. 😊
How to get to Aguas Calientes
There’re three ways to get to Aguas Calientes (Machu Picchu Pueblo). The most popular option is by train from Ollantaytambo, by foot through the ruta hidroeléctrica (hydroelectric route) which takes 2 hours, or through the Inca Trail which takes up to 4 days. Aguas Calientes (Machu Picchu Pueblo) is your last stop before entering the Inca citadel. I highly recommended to spend a few days, or at least one night, in Aguas Calientes prior to your visit to Machu Picchu. There are countless hostels and restaurants in town as well as a very popular Hot Spring.
How to book a train to Aguas Calientes
There’re two companies that offer train services to Aguas Calientes (Machu Picchu Pueblo), the last town before entering Machu Picchu Inca citadel: Incarail and Perurail. Both companies offer very similar rates. All tickets include the bus from Cusco to Ollantaytambo and back and the train from Ollantaytambo to Aguas Calientes (Machu Picchu Pueblo) and back. Return tickets can be purchased the same day or with a several-day gap in between.
If departing from Cusco, the chosen company will take you on a 2-hours drive from Cusco to Ollantaytambo where you will then catch the infamous train to Aguas Calientes.
If departing from Ollantaytambo, you will simply need to proceed to the train station to board your train.
If you have time, I highly recommend booking your train to Aguas Calientes a few days, or at least one night, before your visit. It is less stressful and you won’t need to wake up at 3-4 am to make the long journey all the way to Machu Picchu.
Going up Machu Picchu from Aguas Calientes
Once you are in Aguas Calientes (Machu Picchu Pueblo), you may book a bus from town all the way to the entrance of the Inca citadel. Bus tickets can be purchased at the bus office in Aguas Calientes a day before your visit. You might stand in line hours on end on peak season so make sure you book your tickets as soon as possible. Tickets cost between 12 USD one way. If you are up for some adventure, you may go on a 2-hour hike on steep steps in the middle of the jungle to the entrance of Machu Picchu from Aguas Calientes.