We just got back from Machu Picchu, and it was incredible. However, if you aren’t a Spanish speaker, everything from buying a ticket to arriving at Machu Picchu can be a little overwhelming. Sometimes it’s hard to navigate even the simplest of activities in another language, and we felt that some of these processes were already confusing.
Below is a table of contents to help you navigate this blog post, as it is going to be a biggie! In it I’ll share everything we did, learned, worried about, and our tips for your next Machu Picchu trip.
Buying a Machu Picchu Ticket
2019 Rules to follow at Machu Picchu
How to get to Aguas Calientes
How to get to Machu Picchu from Aguas Calientes
Tips for when you’re at Machu Picchu
How to buy a Machu Picchu ticket
The first step in your journey to Machu Picchu is, unfortunately, overly complicated. It’s also a little unnerving for non-Spanish speakers when you’re concerned about accidentally purchasing the wrong thing.
First, you need to head over to the government of Peru’s site for purchasing Machu Picchu tickets. Here, you’ll input the date you want to visit Machu Picchu and the number of tickets you want. You then click ‘Available’ to be taken to another page to be told if there are any tickets available for the date you want.
The annoying problem: You don’t get a view of the month with the days that tickets are available. You have to keep changing the date if you want to check a specific date’s availability. Knowing that Ian and I wanted to buy combination tickets because we also wanted to hike Waynapicchu (these tickets are harder to come by), I used another site to check for the next available tickets for Waynapicchu, then had to go back to the Peru government’s site and plug in our dates. *Note, these combination tickets (Machu Picchu with the option to hike Waynapicchu or Machu Picchu with the option to hike Machu Picchu Mountain) can sell out months in advance. Sitting here on June 6, 2019 writing this post, the next available time for hiking Waynapicchu is August 28, 2019.
Next question, what are all of these ticket options? It’s simpler than you think. Below you’ll find the names of the tickets as they appear on Peru’s website, with a description of each.
Machupicchu, Llaqta (Citadel)
This ticket is into Machu Picchu as you see it in all of our pictures. You’ll get all of your optimal selfie pics from the heights you climb with this general entrance ticket, and you get to walk the entire perimeter of the city and get close to the alpacas that tend to wander around the grounds.
Machupicchu con montaña Waynapicchu
This ticket covers the general entrance into Machu Picchu plus allows you to hike the mountain Waynapicchu (which can also be spelled Huayna Picchu). Where is Waynapicchu you may ask? Here’s a picture, circled:
This hike was challenging for us. We’re pretty active at much lower elevations, but with the altitude and the steepness of the hike, we were stopping often to catch our breath. You can get to the start of the Waynapicchu trail by simply following the route through the main ruins. About halfway in you’ll see the trail head very clearly marked and in front of a giant mountain.
Machupicchu con montaña Machupicchu
This ticket covers the general entrance into Machu Picchu, plus allows you to hike the mountain Machu Picchu. Here’s where Machu Picchu mountain is, behind you when you walk into the ruins:
From what I’ve read this is a more relaxing hike, but keep in mind you’ll still be battling altitude and exercise for those of you who aren’t used to running around above 8,000 feet (2,400+ meters).
What does “a partir” mean?
“A partir de las [time]” indicates the time that you’ll be able to enter Machu Picchu. As you can imagine with increased tourism, there were hoards of people arriving to Machu Picchu for the opening hour (there still are). With the staggered entrance times, they hope to be able to provide a better experience for visitors, as well as help preserve the ruins.
Can I go in earlier than it says on my ticket?
Ian and I didn’t try to get in earlier than our 8AM entrance time because we were huffing and puffing our way up the trail from Aguas Calientes (more on this later). But I’ve heard that they are being strict about not allowing entrances before your entrance time. We showed up at about 8:20 and got right in because we were after the time on our ticket.
Can I hike Waynapicchu and Machupicchu Mountain before my mountain ticket time?
We started hiking Waynapicchu at 9:45, 15 minutes before our designated entrance time to the mountain. This may have had something to do with how many people were already off of the mountain (or close to it), those that had started earlier in the morning. You should definitely try to get in before the end of your window (in our case, our window closed at 11:00). By the time we exited the mountain at 12:05 the gates to the Waynapicchu hike were closed.
Am I going to get kicked out at a specific time based on my entrance time?
I read a lot of conflicting blog posts and articles before going to Machu Picchu that got me concerned. Multiple people were saying that you only have 4 hours once you enter Machu Picchu to see the whole citadel and do your hike (if you sign up for a mountain hike, you’ll use up your 4 hours and you’ll be sh*t out of luck). This is NOT true. We wandered around the citadel for about an hour and a half, then hiked Waynapicchu for 2.5 hours, then took another hour or so to leave the park (we were exhausted). Also, I saw no one getting kicked out or asked what time they entered. I honestly don’t know how they could—there’s so many people there and nowhere is it clearly stated that you have a time limit (not on our tickets anyway).
I will say, I believe that most people with a general ticket to just the citadel would be able to get through the entire place in a couple of hours. I believe that most of the guided tours operated at about 2.5 hours max, and that includes telling all about the main attractions within the citadel. I understand that it’s Machu Picchu and you want to soak it in, but unless you sit down to eat two full meals, work on your novel and take a nap—you won’t be spending the entire day there.
What is the best ticket for Machu Picchu?
I’m not sure that there’s a ‘best’ ticket. The morning was pretty crazy, and I’ve heard it gets crazier around 11 with some of the first trains arriving from Cusco. We were up the mountain at 11, and when we were exiting it was still very busy. Reading a few blogs I’ve heard that the late afternoon gets better (2:30-5:30), as a lot of people have left by that time. I can’t attest to this, but I can say it was extremely busy the entire time we were there. The mornings can be pretty cloudy, but often the fog burns off with the sun coming over the neighboring mountain midmorning. The day we went it was perfectly clear the entire day.
Should I buy a combination ticket to hike Macchupicchu Mountain or Waynapicchu Mountain?
We were really glad to do Waynapicchu and it definitely made our experience unforgettable. It was difficult and we had a lot of laughs—the kind you have when you’re exhausted and start getting weird and morbid because you actually realize you could easily topple off the path into a ravine, or you feel like you’ll never make it up because you can’t catch your breath. The altitude is nothing to mess with—if we hadn’t been in Cusco for a few days before Machu Picchu, I don’t think I could have made it up the mountain. It’s a continuous stair climb for an hour and a half with thin air and in some places pretty dangerous footings. I have large feet (women’s size 10), so only about a quarter of my foot was fitting on the last stairs/stones up to the mountain summit. Because of this, I was also using my hands to climb the stairs to help keep me balanced (think an all fours bear climb…but almost vertical). It was at this point that I came upon a woman in her mid-thirties crying just 10 minutes from the top—from fear or exhaustion. I don’t know. So yes, I’d recommend the hike, but be smart about it. You need to have sure footing and some athletic ability to get up to the top, and don’t do it if you’re afraid of heights!
View from Waynapicchu:
I have no experience with hiking Macchupicchu Mountain, so please do your research. From what I’ve read, it’s an easier hike at a gentler incline. Again, keep in mind your physical fitness level and know that you may have some altitude issues. I was sick for a day and a half after arriving in Cusco because of the altitude (think flu, with nausea, fatigue, dizziness, headaches and general aches), but Ian was perfectly fine.
Machu Picchu Rules 2019
Before heading to Machu Picchu, I read a ton of conflicting articles about these notorious Machu Picchu rules. I will give you a break down of the written rules, which I find more readily available on blogs than any government run site and whether we saw them enforced.
You must present your passport with your ticket at the entrance: TRUE. Make sure your name and passport ID number are correct when buying your Machu Picchu tickets.
You cannot bring in tripods or selfie sticks: Wasn’t enforced. I never saw anyone set up a tripod, but I saw some people carrying them. Maybe they weren’t putting them up in front of Machu Picchu workers? I did see selfie sticks, quite a few of them.
You cannot bring in backpacks or bags that exceed 5 kilos (11 pounds): As long as you’re bringing in a normal backpack, not like a 65 liter one, you should be good.
You cannot bring in food: Wasn’t enforced. Everyone seemed to have food. We brought in granola bars and some Pringles.
You cannot bring in baby strollers: TRUE? We didn’t see any. Also, I don’t know how you would. There’s no way to get around climbing and descending stairs (frequently). You’d be carrying that baby stroller A LOT.
You cannot bring in drones: TRUE. There is a time and a place, and that time and place is not at Machu Picchu. Can you imagine? The whole place would be buzzing with drones.
It is mandatory to enter Machu Picchu with a guide: Wasn’t enforced. The majority of people entered and experienced Machu Picchu without a guide (we went the first week of June, 2019). If you can afford a guide and it interests you, by all means hire a guide. Most of them seemed extremely helpful, kind and knowledgeable. There aren’t a lot of markers near the ruins and little to no information available to tell you what you’re looking at when you’re in the citadel, so I can see why hiring a guide would be very beneficial.
No professional cameras without a $300 license: Wasn’t enforced. I’d read this in a few places, but we saw a lot of people walking around with big lenses. If they were being asked to put them away later, I never saw it. And there are guards everywhere.
You can only be in the park for 4 hours after your entrance time: Not enforced. I get why they want to set up these rules, to prevent overcrowding. As stated above, I do think that 4 hours is perfectly reasonable to see the citadel. However, from what we saw there was no one getting booted for time limit breaches.
I think the general thing to take away is just be responsible and respectful. If you are swinging your selfie stick around and being a huge nuisance, you might be asked to put it away. Keep your clothes on when taking pictures. Don’t go running through roped off areas. Don’t throw your food wrappers on the ground. You know the drill.
How we got to Aguas Calientes
We grabbed a colectivo (mini-bus) from Cusco to Ollantaytambo and then took the train into Aguas Calientes. The bus station was a little unnerving at first. It’s a few blocks south of the Plaza de Armas at Avenida Grau N° 496. It was crazy when we first arrived, with people running around trying to get you into a taxi or on a bus. Go with the people to the bus. It leaves as soon as it’s full, and if you’re leaving in the morning, they will fill up fast. The ride to Ollantaytambo by car / bus / driving in general is going to take around 2 hours. Keep that in mind for your Ollantaytambo train departure (if you’re catching the train). The colectivo cost us $10 soles a person, or $3 USD per person.
Once in Ollantaytambo, we checked in with IncaRail ($63 USD per person one way) and checked our large luggage for free at their station (you can only bring an 11 lb. max carry-on with you). We got on the train and were quickly on our way to Aguas Calientes!
The train is expensive, and believe me you can take nicer trains for more money. You can also hop on them in Cusco and have them take you all the way to Machu Picchu. Currently, there is no other way to get to Aguas Calientes except by train and they know it. You can walk from Ollantaytambo to Agaus Calientes (I’ve read it takes 7-8 hours) and there are no roads into Aguas Calientes. So, if you have one of the 7 wonders of the natural world, that millions of people a year pay to see, are you going to jack up the prices on the only transportation option they have to get there? Of course.
Book ahead for these trains, they fill up fast. We went with Inca Rail, but you can also check out Peru Rail.
If you have more time and enjoy the outdoors, check out some of the multi-day hikes you can book to Machu Picchu—one of the most famous being the Inca Trail.
How we got to Machu Picchu from Aguas Calientes
You can book a ticket on the buses that leave from Aguas Calientes and take you up the mountains to the ruins, or you can walk.
We walked, and thought we were doing pretty good as we passed the incredibly long line of passengers waiting for a bus in the morning. However, we soon realized that the walk up was NO piece of cake. It’s stairs, stairs, and more stairs for about an hour to hour and a half. We should not have done this since we were also planning to climb Waynapicchu. Sure, we got our exercise in, but it wasn’t a great hike. It just got us started on a sweaty, exhausting foot. Recommendation: hike down (not up), enjoy the views and it can be the close to a long day at Machu Picchu.
How to get to the trail head: Walk the road that heads southwest out of town, which the buses will be running on (be careful, they can get pretty close to pedestrians). Walk the main road until you get to your second bridge that takes a hard left over the river. There is a building here with some workers who’ll be checking passports and tickets before allowing you to walk over the bridge to the official trail head.
Tips for Machu Picchu
Take a camera! This place will blow your mind, and while pictures probably can’t capture the magnitude of it, you’re going to want to try.
Put on sunscreen. You’re closer to the sun, and while you may not feel like you’re burning, you probably are.
Bring water. We took a liter of water a piece and still ran out before we wanted. Granted, we did two hikes.
Bring snacks. You may be going over lunch, and you don’t want hunger to distract you from taking in Machu Picchu in all its glory.
Be patient. Machu Picchu is busy—we’ve covered that. But you also are sharing the same paths going in the same general direction around the ruins. You aren’t to walk the other way, you’re to keep moving clockwise. You’ll run into traffic jams and have to wait your turn to get a good picture without a bunch of people in it, but remember where you are. You’re at Machu Picchu!
Do some research beforehand. Get a basic feeling for why Machu Picchu exists, what was going on at that time in history for the Incas, and do a little research about some of the structures you’ll see. Unless you have a guide, you won’t have much reading material at Machu Picchu to understand what you’re looking at.
Be present. Take some time to sit and really look around you. The mountains are huge, how did the Incas build what they did and where they did? It truly is hard to comprehend, so enjoy it while you are present for it.