15 Tips You'll Need to Know Before Going to Machu Picchu
Before going to Machu Picchu we read so many blogs and articles to prepare ourselves but somehow were still confused. Here is a list of our top tips for Machu Picchu that no-one told us beforehand.
1. Book your Machu Picchu tickets well in advance. They sell out quickly, so don’t miss out. For example if you choose to include the hike to the top of Waynapicchu in your ticket, there are only 400 of these per day (200 in the early morning, and 200 late morning). The ticketing system is a little confusing, we started looking at the official Peru Machu Picchu website but in mid-December tickets for March Machu Picchu/Waynapicchu were already gone. We ended up going through Viator to purchase our combined ticket for Machu Picchu and Waynapicchu.
2. There is more than one way to get to Aguas Calientes (the last village before Machu Picchu). We decided on the Inca Rail Bimodal Voyager experience. It was very pleasant, with a two hour bus from Cusco to Ollantaytambo followed by an hour and forty minute train journey to Aguas Calientes. On the train they served us lunch (and a snack on the way back) and give you a bottle of water. You could alternatively get a bus or taxi to Aguas Calientes, or hike the Inca Trail over a number of days.
3. If you are doing the early morning session of Machu Picchu then the chances are you will be back in Aguas Calientes by lunchtime. Instead of hanging about here, make sure to book your onward journey, whether that is back to Cusco or somewhere else, for a departure of 1-2pm.
4. Aguas Calientes is a tourist trap. Everything from the food to the souvenirs is more expensive than Cusco and Ollantaytambo. Aside from your trip to Machu Picchu there is no need to stay here any longer.
5. What to bring: a small backpack (if it is too large you may be forced to pay to store it), about 1 liter of water per person, insect repellant (after all you are in the jungle), sunscreen (once the clouds clear the sun is very strong), and your snack/packed lunch. Wear layers - in the month of March we felt comfortable starting off in a puffer jacket, sweater/ thin hoodie, and a T-shirt/tank top. When we started our hike we quickly ended up in only our t-shirt/tank top layer. We each brought an extra shirt/socks in case of rain.
6. Timing is key. We arrived in line for the bus at 4:45am. Buses don’t start making the trip up to the entry point until 5:30am. Gates for Machu Picchu open at 6:00am. It seems like most tickets that include a hike start at 7:00am. Therefore you have an hour to roam the grounds beforehand. Our ticket to hike Waynapicchu said 7:00-8:00am. This means you need to start you hike between those hours. You can take your time and do not need to be off the mountain at 8:00am.
7. Since there are no restaurants or food stalls at Machu Picchu you need to bring a packed breakfast/lunch. There are a handful of shops in Aguas Calientes open at 4am each day, so if you are on the earliest 5:30am bus or trekking to Machu Picchu yourself, there will be something open to buy a lunch box or pastry. Depending on where you stay, our Airbnb host gave us a packed breakfast of a banana, bread, Oreos, and a fruit juice.
8. If you choose to trek to the entry point of Machu Picchu, just note that it will take an hour to an hour and a half and is quite steep.
9. Go to the toilet before you leave Aguas Calientes. There are no toilets within Machu Picchu (probably to stop people from staying all day), and you have to pay 2 PEN Soles at the entry gate (there is no going back).
10. We can’t stress this enough - know the map and the viewpoints you want to check out before you go in. There is minimal signage within the grounds and no maps. Machu Picchu is all a one-way system, so there is no going back if you missed something you wanted to see.
11. If you chose for the early start, then just know once you enter the grounds it will most likely be covered in fog/clouds. This is typical. The clouds cleared at around 8:30am in the morning for us, which we hear is also typical. But since you are in the mountains, it is possible that you don’t get a sunny day and instead it rains. From our experience the cloud and rain tended to roll back in early-afternoon, so a morning trip to Machu Picchu seems to be the better option.
12. You can get very up close and personal with the local alpacas that roam the grounds. They are friendly and stick around all day.
13. Waynapicchu is a hike with a lot of stairs! From the Waynapicchu entry control point the hike can take anywhere from one to two hours depending on your level of fitness. It also gets very steep at points, but here they provide a steel cable to provide support. Coming down can be even more scary and treacherous with slippery wet stairs.
14. At the top of Waynapicchu there is limited space to hang around and watch the clouds roll over and reveal the amazing site of Machu Picchu. There is actually no need to stay up here because if you follow the exit signs and go down a little bit further, there are actually better viewing points and photo opportunity spots
15. Don’t forget to stamp your passport with the Machu Picchu stamp. It is located right at the exit gates - to the right of the bathrooms.