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Visiting Machu Picchu for the First Time: Complete Travel Guide

visiting machu picchu

If you’ve never heard of Machu Picchu, then you must have been living under a rock since… well 1911 when the explorer Hiram Bingham III first discovered it. There aren’t many people who haven’t heard of Machu Picchu to be fair, and many will tell you that this tops many of their travel bucket lists. 

Surprisingly though, the people who have visited have felt like they did something wrong during their first visit to this UNESCO World Heritage site and since there are many new rules in place it is easy to see why. This is one of the most visited tourist attractions in the world – it is the reason to get on a plane and visit Peru, and South America (so you might as well have a fantastic trip visiting these areas). 

Visiting Machu Picchu should be the highlight of your travels, but planning this trip can be stressful and since 2019 there are a lot of big changes that have occurred; changes to entry times and tickets, to what is acceptable inside, what you can take in the site, how much time you can have in there, and when you will need to buy that coveted sunrise ticket! 

So how can you make sure that your trip to Machu Picchu runs smoothly the first time you visit (and any other times that you visit as well)? Here are some tips to help you out when visiting this top travel destination:

Buy Your Entrance Tickets Ahead of Time 

Tickets to Machu Picchu can understandably go fast and since 2011, Machu Picchu has started limiting visitors to 2,500 per day. So you need to make sure that you buy your ticket in advance. The great thing about today’s technology is that you can easily do this online, in the comfort of your own home. 

Remember there is now a four-hour time limit on your ticket, and you can either buy a morning ticket or an afternoon ticket. Many people aim to get the morning ticket as they want to see the sunrise over Machu Picchu. It is very much worth that early morning start, but please note that these morning tickets go fast. 

High tourism season in Peru runs from May to October, with the greatest number of visitors seen in June to August. If you can work around these dates then great. But don’t worry if you can’t so long as you are organised, you’ll easily be able to find a slot that works for you. Please note though, that if you also want to visit Huayna Picchu you will need to be on the ball for that when booking a ticket. 

New Machu Picchu Rules and Regulations 

As previously mentioned, the start of 2019 came with several significant new rules. The reason behind this was to get Machu Picchu off UNESCO’s naughty list and become more sustainable. This is a good thing as it should help preserve the site better for future generations and help with the impact of over tourism. 

Of course, this will have an impact on your visit to Machu Picchu, and you might not be able to experience the site exactly as you would have liked, but you can still have an incredible time there. It’s important though that you make a note of these new rules and regulations, so that you know what to expect when visiting. 

In the past you normally would have been able to visit for as long as you would have liked, but now visitors need to abide by a series of stricter regulations: 

  • You must hire a guide 
  • You must follow a set route 
  • You will have a designated time for entry 

These are all the new rules that you will have to follow. You will need to make sure that you have a guide sorted before you enter Machu Picchu, you are no longer able to clamber about on the ruins (you have to follow a designated route as part of your tour), and you have to stick to your entry time. 

Although many people are frustrated by these rules and aren’t happy with the change, they have been put in place for a reason, and hopefully they will help Machu Picchu last for a long time. So, they are well worth it, and you can still have an incredible time the first time you visit Machu Picchu. 

Machu Picchu Ticket Types 

As of 2019 there are now three different types of tickets that you can get, and within each ticket you need to select a specific time slot. Here are the options below: 

Machu Picchu Ruins Only 

  • Entry times:
    • There are hourly slots available, beginning at 6 a.m., with the final entry at 2 p.m. 
  • Cost:
    • Adults S/. 152 (£35 / $45 / €40), Children S/. 70 (£16 / $21 / €18), Students S/. 77 (£18 / $23 / €20) 

For the Machu Picchu Ruins only, you cannot visit Machu Picchu Mountain or Huayna Picchu Mountain. If this is the option that you choose to pick, then you will be required to select an entry time (there are four hours in total to explore the site). You can either pick a ‘morning ticket’ or an ‘afternoon ticket’. 

If you decide to get a ‘morning ticket’, then you will probably get the better photos and experience a less crowded site. However, ‘morning tickets’ are becoming more popular as people want to experience the sun rising over Machu Picchu – a truly unique experience. If this is the time slot you want, then you will want to book it as far in advance as possible. 

Machu Picchu Ruins and Huayna Picchu Mountain Combo Ticket 

  • Entry Times: 
    • Entrance to Machu Picchu from 6 a.m., followed by entry to Huayna Picchu between the hours of 7 a.m. and 8 a.m. 
    • Entrance to Machu Picchu from 7 a.m., followed by entry to Huayna Picchu between the hours of 7 a.m. and 8 a.m. 
    • Entrance to Machu Picchu from 8 a.m., followed by entry to Huayna Picchu between the hours of 10.30 a.m. and 11.30 a.m.
  • Cost:
    • Adults S/. 200 (£46 / $60 / €52), Children S/. 125 (£29 / $37 / €33), Students S/. 118 (£27 / $35 / €30) 

For the Machu Picchu Ruins and Huayna Picchu Mountain Combo Ticket, this entails an incredible steep climb that some people have dubbed as terrifying. Known as the “Mountain of Death” it is not for the fainthearted. There is an endless number of steep steps, so if this is your option that you pick, make sure you’re happy to walk that distance! 

This steep climb is well worth it though, as it offers phenomenal views of Machu Picchu. Please note though that only 400 tickets are available each day, and since this is quite a popular ticket to buy, you should try and get it as far in advance as possible (at least three months before during high season). You should also be happy to hike 2-3 hours for this trip.

Machu Picchu Ruins and Machu Picchu Mountain Combo Ticket 

  • Entry Times: 
    • Entrance to Machu Picchu from 6 a.m., followed by entry to Machu Picchu Mountain between the hours of 7 a.m. and 8 a.m. 
    • Entrance to Machu Picchu from 7 a.m., followed by entry to Machu Picchu Mountain between the hours of 7 a.m. and 8 a.m. 
    • Entrance to Machu Picchu from 8 a.m., followed by entry to Machu Picchu Mountain between the hours of 9 a.m. and 10 a.m. 
  • Cost:
    • Adults S/. 200 (£46 / $60 / €52), Children S/. 125 (£29 / $37 / €33), Students S/. 118 (£27 / $35 / €30) 

For Machu Picchu Ruins and Machu Picchu Mountain Combo Ticket, this is a slightly less scary experience than Huayna Picchu. The Machu Picchu Mountain is often referred to as the slightly less cool little brother to Huayna Picchu. But don’t let this put you off, it is still worth a visit! 

There are around 800 more tickets for this, and a lot of people find it slightly easier to climb. However, since there are nearly double the amount of tickets available, you only need to book your tickets at least three weeks in advance during the high season. If you aren’t a fan of long walks, then you’ll also be pleased to know that this is only a 2-hour hike! 

How to Get to Machu Picchu 

One of the most common routes to Machu Picchu is to fly to Peru’s capital city, Lima, before transferring to an internal flight to Cusco (which will take you about 1h 15m to complete). You can then reach Machu Picchu from Cusco on the train or by trekking, whichever way you prefer. 

In the valley below Machu Picchu you will find the small town called Aguas Calientes. This is a popular place for visitors to start off at, it can be used as a disembarking point for trains, or is often used as a gathering place after you’ve descended from Machu Picchu and have enjoyed your time exploring! 

If you wish to splash out though when it comes to getting to Machu Picchu, there are also luxury train trips from Cusco along the floor of the Urubamba Valley, then by bus up to the entrance of the ruins. This is very much a worthwhile trip if you want to enjoy some incredible views. Of course, you can always choose to simply hike your way up! 

When is the Best Time to Visit Machu Picchu? 

machu picchu

This is a question which a lot of first-time travellers to Machu Picchu want to know the answer to! Now you can visit Machu Picchu at any time of the year, but there are definitely better times to visit compared to others. 

For example, if all you are after is that picture perfect moment – the clear blue skies with the ruins bathing in the golden sunlight, then you need to visit in the dry season. This is between May and October, and normally this is when the weather is at its best. 

Of course, you still need to be careful of the time you do go, as the summer months are normally a lot busier! This time is between June and August, so if you are planning on visiting during this time, you will have to deal with larger crowds. 

Luckily though, due to the fixed ticket system (meaning that there is now a cap of how many people can visit during a certain time), you won’t all be crammed on there trying to enjoy the ruins. But if you visit during the low season you will notice a considerable difference in the number of people visiting. 

Make Sure You Have Your Passport Ready 

When you finally do get to visit Machu Picchu, you need to make sure that you have your passport ready before you even reach the gate. This is a super important point, and you’ll be so annoyed with yourself if you don’t have your passport ready. So, make sure you double and triple check that you have it with you. 

You need to have a passport on you in order to enter Machu Picchu. This does not include a photocopy of your passport, or a photo on your phone. You need your genuine, physical copy of your passport. If you don’t have a physical valid copy on you, you won’t be allowed in, and that would be such a wasted journey. 

Don’t forget it’s not just your passport though that you will need in order to get in. If you have bought your tickets in advance, then you will need to make sure that you have printed them off so that the guys at the gate can check to confirm it’s valid (and also that it has the same name as your passport)! 

You Will Need to Make Sure You Have a Guide 

As of 2019, it is compulsory to have a guide with you in order to enter Machu Picchu. If you are part of an organised tour from either Cusco or Ollantaytambo for example, then your guide will already be sorted. However, if you are not then you will need to hire a guide upon arrival. 

Don’t panic though, it’s really easy to hire a guide once you get there. These tour guides will be incredibly obvious and will be standing outside the entrance. The best thing that you can do for this though is take your time picking your tour guide, as each will be different. They will have different levels of knowledge and language skills, so just be careful. 

You will have to pay for your guide if you are not part of the organised tour though (as well as the entrance fee). As a general rule of thumb, for a 2.5-hour tour for 1 or 2 people it will cost approx. S/. 140 (£32 / $42 / €36) in total. If you have a larger group though, then you might be lucky to get a cheaper price. 

Although not mandatory, tipping is also expected as well. It’s just a nice thing to do for the tour guide who takes you around. 

If you would prefer to make things easier for yourself, why not buy your ticket, shuttle transport and guide as a complete package before you arrive at the entrance of Machu Picchu. This would probably make your life a little bit easier and means that you know exactly what you will be getting. It’s always good to be organised, remember! 

Make Smart Choices 

This one should be obvious, but there’s no harm in reminding people of the importance of going to the toilet before they go on a big trip. Don’t expect there to be toilets around Machu Picchu. Here’s a fun fact! This place is hundreds of years old so why would there be toilets on site? 

Another thing to remind people about, is to just be on your best behaviour. There’s a reason that there are these new stricter rules in place when visiting Machu Picchu, and that’s because people were just doing what they wanted without thinking of the consequences. Just be respectful as you wander around the site. 

What You Can and Can’t Bring in With You 

Everyone has that dream of bringing a picnic blanket and enjoying the views of Machu Picchu whilst they are sat enjoying their food – but if this is a vision that you have, then you need to scrap it. You, unfortunately, will be unable to do this. Due to past events, Machu Picchu is strict regarding litter, lingering and (in some cases) fun. 

Water bottles are fine, but they prefer you to bring refillable ones and not plastic ones. But you cannot bring in any food, so if you were planning on enjoying a nice picnic, then leave those sandwiches back in the place that you were staying. You cannot bring food in with you, and it’s best to just follow the rules. 

The other things that you are not allowed to bring in with you are tripods, drones, selfie sticks (although why people have these I do not know), and large backpacks. A small backpack is perfectly fine, but if all you own is a large backpack, then there are storage places near the entrance. 

Don’t try and sneak things in, there are guards everywhere and they see everything. You try and sneak a sandwich in, and they’ll see it. Don’t try and annoy them – remember this is a place that you need to be respectful in. If you can manage all of this then you will be sure to have a fantastic time. 

So, there you have it, a traveller’s guide to visiting Machu Picchu for the first time. This is an incredible place to visit and will create so many amazing memories when you get to visit. Have fun, be safe and remember to be respectful. Learn as much history as you can and just cherish every moment! 

About the author

Isobel blogs over at castlesandturret.com detailing historical houses, castles, and general day trips. Isobel also loves books and films; give her a historical romance and it would be a perfect afternoon. When it comes to her days off work, you can find Isobel outside and exploring as many places as she can with her partner!

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