8 Things to know before you visit Machu Picchu


Everybody you know is going, wants to go, or has gone to Machu Picchu– and with good reason.  Visiting the sacred city of the Incas can be an experience of a lifetime, especially if it’s preceded by a trek through the stunning Andean mountains.  For most travelers, it’s a one-shot deal.  So if you’re planning your trip, here are a few things you want to keep in mind before you cross this one off of the bucket list:


If you’re changing money in Peru, be sure that all of your bills are undamaged, crisp, and ideally new.  Money-changers here in Peru won’t accept bills that are torn, creased, or worn, so you may find yourself carrying unusable money while you’re here.  If your bills are questionable, just bring them to the bank and change them for some crisp ones before you board the plane.


Most travelers don’t realize that Machu Picchu and the complementary hike Huayna Picchu only permit a limited number of visitors each day.  If you want another view of Machu Picchu, you’ll want to climb the adjacent cerro to snap some shots of the ancient city and (of course) the inevitable llama.  To ensure that you’re one of the lucky visitors, purchase your tickets at least two months early.  And make sure your train arrives on time for your slot: tickets are good for a one-hour window during which you can climb Huayna Picchu.  If you miss it, you’ll be refused at the gate.


Whether you’re trekking to Machu Picchu or sleeping in a hotel in Aguas Calientes, you’ll want to have some insect repellent handy.  You’ll discover that the lower altitude stretches of the trek as well as the climate of Aguas Calientes are conducive to annoying little flies which feast on your ankles if you’re not prepared. The stronger repellents are usually more harmful while natural repellents work well but should be reapplied frequently.  It’s well worth the extra few ounces in your luggage.


The route to Machu Picchu can be a confusing web scattered with quechua names, so here’s a quick layout of the classic route from Cuzco to Machu Picchu by train: From Cuzco to Ollantaytambo take a collectivo , or shared private car, from the corner of Pavitos and Grau, an intersection in Cuzco  (1.5 hours/10-15 soles); From Ollantaytambo take a train to Aguas Calientes (2 hours/cost varies/book tickets in advance); From Aguas Calientes take a bus (25 minutes/$24 USD round trip) or hike up the stairs (1.5 hours/free/not too tiring) to Machu Picchu.


Public bathrooms are fairly uncommon in Peru, and toilet paper even more so.  Machu Picchu boasts of ONE public toilet for the 2,500 visitors each day so you may want to keep that in mind before your visit (I’m wording this delicately).  In addition, it’s good advice to carry a personal stash of toilet paper with you to Machu Picchu and in Peru in general. 


The last time I visited Aguas Calientes, the waiter slyly added a 10 soles propina  to the bill—a tip, or tourist tax.  When I asked him about it, he apologized and removed it.  Tips for servers are not routine and should never be included in the bill unless explicitly stated beforehand.  Feel free to tip as you please, but it’s a far less “tip-centric” culture than in the United States.


To get the most out of your visit, head up to Machu Picchu for the 6 AM opening and catch the sunrise over the mountains.  Not only will you get the best light, but you’ll beat the mad swarm of tourists that fill the sanctuary by midday.  If you’re coming from Ollantaytambo, catch the 5 AM train and you can be through the gates by 7:30 AM.  Better yet, sleep in Aguas Calientes the night before and hike up at dawn.


If you like websites in foreign languages that crash just before your order is complete, then you’ll LOVE the government-run Machu Picchu ticket site.  See for yourself: it’s a disaster if you’re not a Spanish-speaking high ranking Peruvian government official.  Shop around the internet to have your train and entrance tickets ready when you step off the plane in Cuzco, or just visit us and we’ll take care of it for you.