How to Get There
Visitors to Machu Picchu typically either hike the Inca Trail or leave by rail from Cusco or Ollantaytambo, either on a day trip, or overnighting in Aguas Calientes. Overnighting allows you to visit the park early or late in the day and avoid the worst of the crowds, and on sunny days, gives you a nice window of reprieve from the beating sun. Don’t forget sunblock.
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The Inca trail to Machu Picchu consists of three overlapping trails: Mollepata, Classic and One Day. Mollepata is the longest of the three routes with the highest mountain pass and intersects with the Classic route before crossing “Dead Woman’s Pass”. Located in the Andes mountain range, the trail passes through several types of Andean environments including cloud forest and alpine tundra. Settlements, tunnels, and many Incan ruins are located along the trail before ending at the Sun Gate on Machu Picchu mountain. The two longer routes require an ascent to beyond 3,660 metres (12,000 ft) above sea level, which can result in altitude sickness.
The Inca trail begins in an arid cactus zone on the Urubamba valley floor, rising through native Polylepis forest to high-altitude grassland, ending in mossy cloud forest draped with orchids and bromeliads. For the next few days you will walk through the andean mountains. Inca trail groups are operated by professionals with tremendous experience and are capable of fulfilling every need and requirement while trekking the famous Inca trail.
The only ways to get to Aguas Calientes are by train or on foot–no roads go there. On foot, it is possible to get to Aguas Calientes by traveling through Santa Maria and Santa Teresa. This alternate route involves walking (1 or 2-3 hours). The basket riding crossing is not required anymore.
The wet season in Peru is from November (often only really taking off in December) until the end of March, so then it is best to include a few extra days for flexibly dealing with delays.
From Aguas Calientes, there are two ways to reach the ruins: by bus or walking (free steep hike), as described below.
Depending on when you arrive, the site may be quite crowded or nearly deserted. The busiest periods are in the dry season (June-August), with the slowest being in February, the height of the rainy season, when the Inca Trail is closed. Most visitors arrive on package tours and are in the park between 10am and 2pm.
To access the site, you must have both a bus ticket (currently $15.50 for foreign adult round-trip, less for others, available from a small ticket booth near the bus departure area) and ticket for Machu Picchu – which are available on in advance from machupicchu.gob.pe or from various ticket offices described on that website. Machu Picchu tickets are NOT sold at the entrance gate and are limited to 2500 per day, with entrance to Huayna Picchu being further sublimited to 400.
By bus from Aguas Calientes – If arriving by train into Aguas Calientes, walk out of the station and keep going roughly straight through the warren of handicraft stalls and over a foot bridge to the bus departure area. Frequent buses leave to the ruins (US$8 each way, US$15.50 round-trip for adult foreigners) starting at 5:30AM. There’s often a queue, so if you’re intent on being on the first bus up, you should arrive at least 90 minutes early. The journey takes around 1/2 hour to slowly wind around the switchbacks and up to the park. Busses depart when full, which typically means they run quite regularly. At popular times, there may be a lengthy queue for the busses, so plan the return trip accordingly in order not to miss train departures. Advance train bookings are recommended, as trains are often sold-out, particularly return trains.
By foot from Aguas Calientes – From Aguas Calientes to get to the ruins themselves it is also possible to walk along a similar 8 km route that the buses run, which will take about 1-2 hours up, and around an hour back down. This route is mainly stairs, connecting the switchbacks that the buses take. It is a strenuous and long hike but is very rewarding, recommended to start around 5AM when the gate at the foot opens, to make it to the top before sunrise. The descent is fairly easy, just take care when the steps are wet. Keep alert for the bus drivers that rarely brake for pedestrians.
By foot via the Inca Trail– Hiking the Inca Trail is a great way to arrive as you first see the city through the Sun Gate (instead of arriving from below as you do from Aguas Calientes). Both the four-day and two-day hikes are controlled by the government. Travelers should be fit enough to walk for days and sleep in tents.
There are also other options available for hiking to Machu Picchu. This is important to know as the Inca Trail hike is limited to the amount of people that can go on it each day, including porters. As such, there is a much steeper price on this trek and it is necessary to book far in advance to get a place on the dates you will be there.
The Lost Inca Civilization • Locations & Activities