The exquisite architecture of the massive Inca stone structures, the formidable backdrop of steep sugarloaf hills, and the Urubamba River winding far below have made Machu Picchu the iconic symbol of Peru. It´s a mystical city, the most famous archaeological site in South America, and one of the world´s must-see destinations.
Several trails lead from the site to surrounding ruins. If you come by train, you can take a 45-minute walk on a gentle are leading uphill to the southeast of the main complex. Intipunku, the Sun Gate, is a small ruin in a nearby pass. This small ancient checkpoint is where you´ll find that classic view that Inca Trail hikers emerge upon. The walk along the way yields some interesting and slightly different angles as well. Some minor ancient outbuildings along the path occasionally host grazing llamas. Intipunku is also the gateway to the Inca Trail. A two- or three-hour hike beyond the Intipunku along the Inca Trail brings you to the ruins of Huiñay Huayna, a terrace complex that climbs a steep mountain slope and includes a set of ritual baths.
All the high-season/low-season trade offs are here Winter (June through August) means drier weather and easier traveling, but it´s prime vacation time for those in the northern hemisphere. Don´t forget that three major observances- Inti Raymi Peru (June 24), Peru´s Independence Day (July 28), and Santa Rosa de Lima (August 30)-fall during this time, and translate into exceptionalle heavy crowds of Peruvian travelers. Prices and visitor numbers drop dramatically during the summer rainy season (October through April). Note that January is the heigh of rainy season and the Machu Picchu closing is in February. For near-ideal weather and manageable crowds, consider a spring or fall trip.
Unless you´re hiking the Inka Trail, you must first catch a train to Aguas Calientes. From here, there is an official Consettur tourist bus that takes you to the famed ruins.
If you´re a day-tripper, follow the crowd out of the rail station about two blocks to the Consettur Machupicchu shuttle buses, which ferry you up a series of switchbacks to the ruins, a journey of 20 minutes. Buy your US$14 round-trip /US$7 for children) ticket at a booth across from the line of buses before boarding. Bus tickets can be purchased in US dollars or soles. If you´re staying overnight, check in to your lodging first, and then come back to buy a bus ticket. Buses leave Aguas Calientes for the ruins begginning at 5:30 AM and continue more or less every 10 minutes, with a big push in mid-morning as the trains arrive, until the historic site closes around 5:30 PM. If you´re heading back to Cusco, take the bus back down at least an hour before your train departs. It´s also possible to walk to and from the ruins to Aguas Calientes but this hike will take you a good hour and a half either way.
It´s an easy ride from Ollantaytambo train station in Cusco to Machu Picchu. Most visitors board the train in Cusco. PeruRail is the longest standing operator, and offers services from Ollantaytambo, and Aguas Calientes. The Vistadome, the luxury Hiram Bingham and the Expedition trains leave from Cusco´s Poroy station, a 15-minute taxi ride from the Plaza de Armas. Newly operating Inca Rail and Andean Railways offer services only between Ollantaytambo and Aguas Calientes; both rails are expected to increase services.
You can visit Machu Picchu on a day trip, but we recommend staying overnight at the hotel near the entrance or in Aguas Calientes. A day trip allows you about four hours at Machu Picchu. If you stay visiting Machu Picchu overnight you can wander the ruins after most tourists have gone or in the morning before they arrive.
If your arrive without an admission ticket, you must purchase one in Aguas Calientes at the Instituto Nacional de Cultura (Avenida Pachacutec s/n, 084-211196). There is no ticket booth at the ruins´entrance. If you are with a tour, the tickets are most likely taken care of for you. Buy your ticket the night before if you want to get in the park right away; bus service begins at 5:30 AM. From the time you purchase the ticket, you have three days to enter the Inca city, however, once you enter the citadel, the ticket is only-valid for that day. So if you arrive in the afternoon and visit the ruins, then stay the night and want to return the next morning, you´ll have to buy two tickets.
Machu Picchu and the Inca Trail are a breath-catching 300-700 meters (980-2,300 feet) lower than Cusco. But to be on the safe side about altitude effects, locally known as soroche, get an ample intake of fluids and eliminate or minimize alcohol and caffeine consumption. Smoking aggravetes the problem. Some hotels have an oxygen supply for their guests´use. The prescription drug acetazolamide can help offset the alkalosis caused by low oxygen at high elevations. Tap water is generally not safe to drink. Stick with the bottled variety, con gas (carbonated) or sin gas (plain). The San Luis brand is for sale everywhere.
Some Cusco tour operators market a two-day, one night visiting Machu Picchu excursion as the Sacred Inca Trail or Royal Inca Trail. It´s easier to procure reservations for these trips, but advance reservations for these trips, but advance reservations with a licensed operator are still essential. The excursion begins at km 104, a stop on the Cusco-Machu Picchu trains. All of the hiking happens on the first dy, and you spend the night at a hotel in Aguas Calientes. The second day is not a trail hike, but a visit to the ruins.