Machu Picchu is one of the most famous archaeological sites in the world, combining fascinating ruins with the incredible scenery of the Andes. You’ll want to make sure you are getting the most out of your trip by choosing the right option for you, whether it’s the classic Inca Trail, a daytrip to Machu Picchu or one of the many other ways. With this in mind, we have put together a guide to what options you have for a Llama Travel visit to Machu Picchu including logistics and possible excursions.
How to Get to Machu Picchu
There are a number of ways to get to Machu Picchu, each one with different benefits and costs. You can choose to spend one day visiting the ruins and return to Cusco in the evening, walk for four days on the classic Inca Trail or lesser-known Salkantay Trail, or opt for the Short Inca Trail which involves just one day of hiking but still lets you arrive at Machu Picchu with a sense of accomplishment.
If you choose the classic Inca Trail, you will visit Machu Picchu with your guide on the fourth day, after walking from the Wiñay Wayna. You can then choose to spend a second night at Machu Picchu to return to the site the following day. As well as the incredible end point, the trail itself is excellent, with changing scenery and lots of history. Due to the trail’s popularity, spaces fill up very early so it is important to book well in advance to secure a permit. Up to 500 people start the trail every day, including porters and trekkers, so you should be prepared to walk with many others whilst enjoying the spectacular scenery. Although the distance is not too long (around 45 kilometres over four days), the high altitude and steep ascents and descents make the hike rather challenging, and you should have a good level of fitness to walk the trail. You can read a detailed day-by-day description here.
Short Inca Trail
If you like the idea of arriving at Machu Picchu on foot after trekking through the Andes, but do not want to walk for four days to get there, the Short Inca Trail is a great option. This 14-kilometre trek is much shorter than the classic Inca trail, and is walked in one day. You will walk from the Urubamba River Valley to the Inca site of Wiñay Wayna before arriving at Machu Picchu in the evening. The following day you will have a full-day tour of the ruins, before returning to Cusco. The walk is part of the same network of trails as the four-day Inca Trail, and the final part of the two walks is the same.
Less well-trodden than the Inca Trail, the Salkantay Trail is a day longer and a bit tougher than the classic route, but takes you through a panorama of Peru’s beautiful countryside, with mountain passes and high altitude jungles on your way to the backdoor of Machu Picchu. You will arrive into Aguas Calientes on the evening of the fourth day of the trek and then visit the site the following day. Read our blog for a detailed day-by-day account of the Salkantay trek.
Machu Picchu Logistics and Tickets
The ticketing and shuttle bus system for Machu Picchu is complex given that millions of visitors come every year, so the procedure has to be as slick as possible in order to avoid enormous queues. Your ticket for Machu Picchu will have an entry time (hourly from 6am to 2pm) which shows the earliest time you can enter the site, although you can enter any time after this. Officially, once you enter the site you are not allowed to leave and come back, and you must also enter with your guide. If you buy a second entrance ticket for the following day, you will be allowed to enter the site without a guide, but you will need to show your ticket from the first day.
Returning to Machu Picchu for a second day is a popular option, as it allows you to explore the lost city of the Incas and discover the beautiful surrounding area at a relaxed pace. If you choose this option, your ticket will be bought for the earliest time possible (6am) although these sell out quickly, so it is sometimes necessary to buy a ticket with a later entrance time.
Excursions and Upgrades
There are various excursions and upgrades that you can add onto your trip, such as the possibility to upgrade to a more elegant train, or hike one of the two different mountains and return to the site for a second day. We have detailed all options below.
Machu Picchu Excursion
Our normal Machu Picchu excursion is for those who aren’t interested in hiking, and just want to see the ruins on a day trip from Cusco. If you opt for this, you will arrive by train from Cusco to Aguas Calientes in the morning, get the shuttle bus to Machu Picchu and spend the day visiting the magnificent site before returning to Cusco in the evening. At the ruins you will have lunch in a nearby restaurant then enjoy a guided tour of the Inca city. You will usually get the earlier bus, however if this isn’t available then another suitable timeslot will be chosen which won’t affect the tour.
Machu Picchu Train Upgrade
For a supplement, the scenic train journey to and from Machu Picchu can be taken on Peru Rail’s elegant Sacred Valley train, which includes an open-air observation bar car and a dining car. This option is particularly convenient if you take the Two Nights in the Sacred Valley excursion, as you can then depart from Urubamba mid-morning rather than going straight from Cusco. If you opt for this luxurious journey, you will have a three-course lunch on the train which arrives into Aguas Calientes in the early afternoon, and then go straight up to the ruins for a guided tour. A three-course dinner is served in the 1920s inspired dining car in the evening, enroute to Ollantaytambo where you will disembark and be driven back to Cusco.
Huayna Picchu & Machu Picchu Mountain
Machu Picchu is actually the name of the tall mountain to the south of the ruins, and means ‘old peak'. This is in contrast to Huayna Picchu, the sugarloaf mountain to the north of the ruins, which means ‘young peak'. If you want to climb Machu Picchu Mountain or Huayna Picchu, you will always require a night at Machu Picchu. By spending a night near the ruins, you have more time to explore the site in the afternoon, which is often the best time, with fewer people present. You will not be accompanied by a guide on these visits, and permits must be bought well in advance.
The challenging ascent to the beautiful summit of Huayna Picchu involves walking along rocky precipices and up ancient staircases. This takes approximately one hour in each direction and involves steep drops and ladders up cliff faces. The path to the Temple of the Moon is quite narrow, and takes around two hours each way.
The hike to the summit of Machu Picchu Mountain takes longer than the one to Huayna Picchu, but is less steep with wider pathways, and the views from the top are even more spectacular. The mountain is located above the Sun Gate, overlooking the Inca site, Urubamba River and Huayna Picchu. The trail takes you up ancient stone steps built by the Incas.
Can't decide whether to hike Huayna Picchu or Machu Picchu Mountain? Read our blog for a detailed comparison.
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