Tips to Plan a trip to Machu Picchu

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If you’d like to plan a trip to Machu Picchu, then this is the post for you. I just returned from Peru last week, and I’ve got some fresh advice and tips! If Machu Picchu is on your bucket list, make a plan to go!

10 Tips to Plan a Trip to Machu PicchuIn order to plan a trip to Machu Picchu, you’ve got to be organized. We used a tour company, Moroni Tours, and it helped tremendously to have someone plan out the hotel, food, and locations for us. But, there was also the disadvantage that I didn’t know what my other options were, and it wasn’t til I was there looking up #peru hashtags that I realized there might be other stops I’d like to visit (that’s my fault, I should have looked and then shared input to plan our travel). This post is all about planning a trip to Machu Picchu, and I’ll share tidbits about the rest of our Peru stops in other posts after.

10 Tips to Plan a trip to Machu Picchu

  • Best time to go
  • Transportation
  • Food
  • What to bring
  • How to photograph
  • How many days
  • To hike or not to hike
  • Where to sleep
  • Prevent Altitude sickness
  • Random tidbits to know

Best time to go

The best time to go to Machu Picchu is May-October, with the 3 summer months being the highest traffic. Rainy season starts in December, and the Inca trail is closed down in February. Though there were a bunch of people when we went on an August day, it didn’t seem overwhelming. The crowds were most noticeable as we waited for the bus ride to get there.  Everywhere I’ve read says to book 6 months in advance because options sell out. Though we booked all of our travel through our tour guide, Moroni Tours, I found a place online to book your ticket to Machu Picchu if you want to plan it out on your own.  Just lots of logistics to consider aside from that.

Transportation

It is NOT an easy journey to actually GET to Machu Picchu. We flew internationally from Houston to Lima. Then had to take another flight to Cusco. From there we took a drive to the small town of Ollaytantambo, then caught a train to Aguas Calientes, which is at the base of the mountain to Machu Picchu. The train was a little over 1.5 hours. I was pretty bummed that that train ride was at 7pm and it was pitch dark the entire time. same on our way back. I would have loved to see the beautiful vistas (I hear along the river) as we were transported. If I were to do it again, I’d seek to take an earlier train the night before in daylight, (it’s dark around 5:45pm) then relax into my hotel room, in preparation for an early day the next day. A late train out of town is great, which will allow optimum time at Machu Picchu.  We rode the Peru Rail, made some new friends from France, and it was great.

Once in Aguas Calientes, which is at the base of the mountain to Machu Picchu, the option is to walk up the mountain (1500 steps straight up, 40 minutes) or take the bus. We took the bus because we planned to do a bunch of hiking once up the mountain. We got up at 5am, met our guide at 5:30am, then waited in a line for an hour and a half. It was annoying, but that’s what you get with peak season, I guess. If it were my husband and I, and now knowing all that, we would have gone for the stairs, but in our group of 9, you do what is best for the group majority. At then end of our dat at Machu Picchu, it was another hour wait to get the bus to go back down. Below is us in the afternoon line (see behind us).

Plan a trip to Machu Picchu

Food

As we waited in line at Aguas Calientes, there were lots of shops/bakeries open we could purchase breakfast/water bottles from as we waited. Our french friends who left at 4am to take the steps up told us there was even a bakery open that early. Our hotel had breakfast, so we didn’t need food, but we did get bottled water (read more about water consumptions in the random tidbits section). Once up at Machu Picchu, there aren’t a lot of food options, so we packed a ton of granola bars. We brought some from the US, but there were also shops in Aguas Calientes and Ollaytantambo that sold snacks such as Nature Valley granola bars, Pringles, and Oreos for example.

Because we knew time and food was limited, we planned to eat our snacks throughout the day, and save our meal til 3pm. There are two restaurant options at the top of Machu Picchu. One is for a buffet meal, which was pretty nice. Our tour guide purchased that for us with our entrance ticket. Since the whole site closes down at 4pm, we wanted to do and see as much as we could and not stop for food. Also, the restaurant is just OUTSIDE of the entrance, and technically they don’t allow you back in after you have left (we found that to not be 100% true, but it still scared us into not planning on it). There was also a “fast food” line to purchase soda, water, sandwiches as an alternative to the buffet.

What to bring

Besides food and photography gear (next section) you want to pack as light as possible. Because we got in line at 5:30am, it was a bit chilly in the 60’s and we all had a jacket. I was happy to hear there was a “coat check” just inside the entrance where we ended up leaving our jackets upon our 8am entrance when it was warmer. Dressing in layers is VERY important. Because we were hiking, and it started at 8am and ended at 3pm, I got VERY HOT, even though the weather stayed the same, between 75-80 degrees. After checking my heavier jacket, I had a light jacket, long sleeved t-shirt and short sleeved shirt over that. I had my light jacket tied around my waist fairly early in the day, then pulled off my long sleeved t-shirt and threw it in my backpack by the afternoon.

Other important items to bring:

  • bug spray
  • sunscreen
  • sunglasses
  • gum/hard candy
  • snacks

How to photograph

I brought my SLR camera and only my 35mm lens. I also used my camera phone/video a good amount. I had a mini tripod and selfie stick that I never ended up using. There are so many people there, it’s no big deal to ask someone to take your picture, and I’m often offering to take group shots for people and then ask to swap. The best tips I have for photographing is just to take a lot from lots of different angles, then decide later your favorite view.  It was bright, so most of my settings were at 100 ISO, 1/1000 shutter speed, and around a 4.0 aperture. I may have missed this cool shot of the mountain in the distance through the gate, if it weren’t for our tour guide suggesting we stop here. We had to hold off a crowd of people! I planned to go back and get it without people, but I forgot and there isn’t an easy way to “go back” once you’ve passed a spot.

Tips to Plan a trip to Machu Picchu

How many days

We were there just one long day. Before we went, I was bummed it wasn’t two days, but after, one full day was plenty. We arrived just before 8am and stayed til it closed at 4pm. It does open at 6am, and some went for the sunrise, but they woke at 4am. Our guide told us that because of the early morning cloud coverage, there isn’t as much to see, and that’s overrated, so we opted for an hour later. Unless you plan to hike the Inca Trail, which is a 2-4 day excursion, just one full day up there is great.

To Hike or not to hike

Once up at Machu Picchu there are several hiking options. You can certainly choose to JUST tour the site, and look around, and that’s perfectly fine. But I had such a rich experience hiking (and I LOVE it!) and seeing the ruins from different/higher up angles. In our group of 9, we toured the site together, then split up because we had different preferences for hiking.

Plan a trip to Machu Picchu

I had read about the hike to Huayna Picchu (a.k.a. Waynapicchu), but didn’t realize there was a separate entrance ticket to do that hike, AND they only allow 400 people to do it each day (out of the 2500 on the archeological site). It sells out months in advance, and we were too late to book it. So we secured a hike to the mountain, Machu Picchu, which is above the archeological site. However, we found out the day before that because of some teacher strikes in the area, some travelers had postponed their trip, and there were tickets up for grab to hike Huayna Picchu. We had to pay a slight additional fee, but we wanted to do it. Once through that gate (we had to sign a book, given a number, etc.) there were two options. Higher and lower. I had some anxiety about the higher. I’d heard it’s “dangerous” in parts, and though I love a good hiking challenge, I felt intimidated not having my husband there with me to partner with.  Knowing my brothers would be the emotional support for their wives, I just didn’t feel up for it. I knew I wouldn’t regret it later, it’s not that big of a deal to me, so I opted for the lower climb. It was easier to do that because our group was split anyway…4 going to lower, 4 going to higher. The 4 that did the hike reported that it “wasn’t as scary” as they thought. They start ushering people down at noon, and only 10 or so people can be at the top at once, but it has 360 views of the entire valley.

Tips to Plan a Trip to Machu Picchu

The shorter hike still had great views, a bit strenuous, and we were surrounded by butterflies at the top, which was fun. I went up and down it twice, as I waited for my group to come down. My dad and I then went up 25% of the big hill, just to see how it started, as we waited for our group.

After that hike, my dad, Stephanie and I hiked up to the Sun Gate. I thought it was more of a “stroll” but it ended up being quite the hike. I really loved that view, and it was higher than Huayna Picchu mountain, so I felt quite fulfilled with my hiking that day. It is no extra charge, and a really fun experience, so even if you can’t get tickets to Huayna Picchu, this is a GREAT place to go! There is also another hike to an Inca bridge, which we ran out of time for, but my brother who didn’t go to the Sun Gate went, and he said it was anti climactic. Not a cool bridge in his opinion.

Plan a trip to Machu Picchu

{See Machu Picchu in the left bottom corner? Wayna Picchu is the mountain in the middle}

Along our non-dangerous but strenuous hike to the sun gate, we encountered some Llama’s, and that’s always fun! I highly recommend that hike, especially if you can’t get tickets to Huayna Picchu, but even if you do, it’s fun to do both!

Where to Sleep

There are quite a few Hostels around that I’d heard good things about, but we are old, and like the comfort of a good hotel. I’ll cover the week in full detail later, but the night before we hiked around Machu Picchu, we stayed in Aguas Calientes at a hotel that JUST OPENED, and it was very nice. BTW, Aguas Calientes is named after a hot spring found there, hot water. I got Mexican nachos in this town after our hike, and they were amazing! I think I was hungry and tired, but still, they were good.

{We followed this llama up the stone steps to the Sun Gate, just part way}

Plan a trip to Machu Picchu

Prevent Altitude sickness

  1. HYDRATION is key. Drink lots in the days before to help.
  2. Ease into it. Don’t go hiking on your first day. Our trip to Machu Picchu was day 3.
  3. Just in case, we took Diamox, which is a prescription to prevent altitude sickness. We each took half a pill a day for the 3 days before. I figured I was fine without it, but everyone else was doing it, so I got sucked in.

NO PROBLEMS with any of us and altitude. One SIL felt tingly hands, and our guide thought it was because of the pills, so she stopped them and felt better.

Plan a trip to Machu Picchu

Random tidbits you need to know

  • The bathroom situation at Machu Picchu is crazy. It is outside the gates, so technically they want you to tour and hike and do everything and once you leave, that’s it. So we tried to limit our water consumption, which is tricky when hiking in a high altitude! Hence, the hard candy and gum to keep your mouth from drying out.
  • Shoes–from the weeks before when I was hiking in Utah, I knew I needed some shoes with grip. My husband said my running shoes were “like ice skates” and that wouldn’t do. We got on Amazon and looked for some trail running shoes, and I was glad, they had great grip for all my hiking.
  • Guides–if you choose not to go with a tour company, and plan your trip on your own, you can grab a guide at the top of the mountain. There were a ton of guys waiting at the gate, offering their guide services (for likely not that much) for those that came to the top without one.
  • Once on the ground at Machu Picchu, there is a one-way circular moving pattern going on.

*I’ll add more tips as I come up with them here!

If  Machu Picchu is on your bucket list, PIN this image to your Pinterest board, or share the link on Facebook!

Tips to Plan a trip to Machu Picchu

 

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