This post contains affiliate links. At no additional cost to you, I may earn a small commission if you make a purchase through these links. You can read my full disclosure policy here.Obviously, you can’t go to Perú and not see Machu Picchu. It’s typically what draws visitors to Perú to start with, right? I was excited not only because Machu Picchu was on my bucket list, but it was also my third of the New Seven Wonders of the World! These days, visiting is a little more structured and this is a recent change. But thankfully, the best time to visit Machu Picchu is still the same!
I planned my trip for late May. This was actually a great time to go because it’s before the start of peak season which is June-September, but after the rainy season ends. Rainy season is a relative term though because it rains a lot in parts of Perú and Machu Picchu is no exception.
I unknowingly visited just before major regulation changes occurred which began July 1, 2017. However, since I chose to break the visit up into two different days, my itinerary should be fairly easy to follow with the newly invoked rules and restrictions.
Also if hiking is of interest to you, see this complete guide to hiking the Inca Trail along with the ultimate Inca Trail packing list as my itinerary doesn’t include these. If you are traveling to Perú with kids be sure to read these tips. And, if you are a budget traveler, don’t miss these things you can get for $10 in Cusco!
Machu Picchu Resources & Recommendations
- Taypikala Machupicchu-My hotel recommendation (where I stayed). Rooms and Suites have heating and air conditioning, free wifi, a great breakfast, luggage storage and luggage transportation to the train station.
- TripAdvisor–Read reviews for Taypikala Machupicchu as well as other hotels and tour companies.
- Allianz Global Travel Insurance-Get a free quote-travel insurance to Perú is a MUST!
- Skyscanner-Compare prices for the best deals on flights.
- LATAM Airlines-the ONLY airline I would (and did) use for domestic flights within Perú for dependability. For a fluid reservation, you can book US to Perú here too.
- Lonely Planet Peru Travel Guide-the best (and my personal favorite) destination guidebooks out there!
Machu Picchu Regulations
Before July 2017, you could buy a ticket for a certain day and then enter and exit anytime within the daily hours. You didn’t have to have a guide and you could start wherever you wanted and wander through however you wanted. Machu Picchu isn’t an easy hike in some places and so you could even have walking sticks if you wanted. But in efforts to better protect the ancient Incan ruins, the government implemented tighter regulations on tourists.
You still have to buy a ticket for a certain day but you also now have to enter AND exit at certain times. You can only enter with an authorized Machu Picchu guide and you must stay with that guide the entire time you are on the grounds (exception is if you are hiking Huayna Picchu or Machu Picchu Mountain).
Also, you must now choose a course or circuit and stay on that circuit. If you want to change circuits, you must purchase another ticket for a different time slot or different day altogether. I will explain these rules in further detail below.
But for now, here’s my two-day Machu Picchu itinerary!
Machu Picchu Day 1
The first day we chose a mid-afternoon arrival. Previously, you could buy a discounted ticket for entry after 1:00 pm. We chose to do this because although sunrise is the popular time to go, I read a lot about people having to compete with the masses in the bus line at 4:00-4:30 am only to get to Machu Picchu and not see the sunrise because it’s often too cloudy and rainy.
Instead, more people recommended going later in the afternoon when most people were exiting. This way you have a better chance of seeing the sun if it’s going to make an appearance that day and you have a great chance of getting photos without a million people in them.
So mid-afternoon it was.
Everyone has to access Machu Picchu through a little town called Aguas Calientes. From there, you can choose to walk up to the entrance, but it’s a 1 hour 30 min trek that isn’t easy. Just to forewarn you, Machu Picchu itself is gigantic and isn’t the easiest place to hike in some places. So most people, including myself, chose to take…
the bus. Even on the bus, the ride up is about 25-30 minutes because it’s a winding and somewhat steep climb. We bought our bus tickets online in advance and so all we had to do was jump in line which was another perk of this time of day. There was really no one in line to go up at 2:30 pm.
Keep in mind this is a local bus and not the famous Perú Hop which you can take to travel around all of Perú.
It seems now that you can’t purchase bus tickets online anymore, but only at the bus station in Aguas Calientes or certain locations in Cusco.
The ride can be a bit bumpy and the curvy turns are one-way, but the buses do a good job of letting each other know when they are approaching the turns.
The bus drops you off right at the entrance gates, the gift shop and the restrooms. Use the restrooms before you enter Machu Picchu. There are no restrooms inside the gates and you are not allowed re-entry once you exit.
Entering Machu Picchu
To enter Machu Picchu, you will need your ticket and your passport. Do not forget your passport or you will not get in! And now you must also enter with your official Machu Picchu tour guide.
After we entered at around 3:15pm-ish, we walked along a path before getting to the big, open area. Looking off in this direction we realized just how hidden we were. No wonder it took so long to discover Machu Picchu!
Exploring Machu Picchu
Since we entered later in the day hoping to get those really great iconic views, we chose to start with the most difficult, but most scenic trek which meant going up.
I believe this most closely corresponds to the new Circuit 1. This will take you to the higher spots to get the iconic views of Machu Picchu that you always see in photos and on postcards.
Make sure you wear running shoes or hiking shoes. The steps are made of stone and are very uneven as well as slippery most of the time from rain.
The Iconic Top
There are two levels to “the top”. This is on the lower level. I couldn’t believe I was there! This photo was taken a little after 4 pm.
And this is the higher level. Look at that blue sky! This photo was taken around 4:45 pm.
These views at this time without many people in them was the goal of our day and we were so happy to meet that goal! Since we knew we were coming back the next day, we planned to use that time exploring the lower areas.
You might also like: RAINBOW MOUNTAIN PERU: THE ULTIMATE DAY TRIP FROM CUSCO
Machu Picchu Day 2
On Day 2, we got up to Machu Picchu around 10:30 am after a relaxing morning of sleeping in and eating a fabulous breakfast buffet in our hotel. We actually had tickets to climb Huayna Picchu but decided against it because of the weather, decreased visibility and the fact that this is a very difficult climb. There’s a reason it’s labeled difficult and (somewhat) dangerous.
The Lower “Plains”
We decided to start with the lower section since we had done the top the day before. Some parts of Machu Picchu are one-ways so we had to go up to go over to come back down. I would think this route is most like the new Circuit 3 and is much easier.
It is so easy to get lost in Machu Picchu. At times I felt like a rat in a maze! 😜
It’s still so hard to wrap my mind around the skills of the Incans. They were amazing!
Okay, so not what it’s actually called, but it’s what it looks like!
On the way, we saw several alpacas. They are the cutest things ever! Don’t be surprised if they come right up to you and push past you to get where they want to go!
I loved looking through all the windows…
Never knew what I might find.
I loved finding unique nature shots too.
Be sure to wind your way in and out of all the hiding places!
Coming back up from the depths!
Back To The Top
We just had to go back to the top one last time and walk around to the back for this view…
and of course, get one last iconic view. Sigh, taking it all in before time to go…
Exiting Machu Picchu
Don’t forget on the way out to get your passport stamped! It’s a Machu Picchu souvenir stamp and it’s pretty cool! Warning, it’s also big so save some room!
Bus Back Down
Think about the timing of your exit because the bus line can be very long! Part of this line wasn’t visible because it had already wrapped around behind the bus and it had died down considerably by the time we boarded!
Know Before You Go
- PLAN AHEAD: Book your Machu Picchu ticket(s), guides, and train online as far in advance of your trip as possible. This is especially true if you are visiting June-September. For reference, I booked my tickets for the train, 2 days of Machu Picchu + Huayna Picchu in January for a late May trip. With the new rules, you apparently can no longer purchase bus tickets online.
- Train: I booked the train round-trip from Cusco to Aguas Calientes with Peru Rail on the Vistadome. I love being able to see all around me as we were winding through the mountains!
- Machu Picchu Tickets: I purchased my tickets from the official government website-the cheapest place to buy all combinations of tickets. Technically, you can get them in certain places in Cusco and from what I’ve read even at the door but I wouldn’t risk either of those since tickets usually sell out in advance. You can purchase through tour companies in advance, but the government site is the cheapest way. Note: The website is in Spanish and only takes Visa. Another option is this website which also offers helpful information and the option to purchase tickets; however, in full disclosure, I have not used this site.
- Guides: Since this was optional when I went, we chose not to book a guide for Machu Picchu. They were available at the entrance if we had changed our minds. From what I understand, they can still be hired at the entrance IF they are available. That’s the issue with the new rule changes. Since everyone must have a guide now and groups are limited to 16 people, reservations in advance are HIGHLY recommended. Tour companies such as Viator, Go Andes, and Ticket Machu Picchu have different options including private tours. TripAdvisor is always a good place to start too!
- Bus from Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu: These must now be purchased in person at the bus station or certain locations in Cusco. For all information including locations, pricing and operating hours, click here.
- Hotels: Booking accommodations ahead of time is a MUST. I highly recommend Taypikala Machupicchu!
- ACCLIMATE: Aguas Calientes and Machu Picchu are at much lower altitudes (6,693 ft and 7,972 ft respectively) than Cusco at 11, 152 feet. Because of this, altitude sickness isn’t much of a problem here. It’s more important that you acclimate to Cusco before coming to Machu Picchu.
- WHEN: Choice of two shifts either in the morning from 6a-12p or afternoon from 12p-5:30p. If you want to do both, you need to buy two separate tickets.
- HUAYNA PICCHU OR MACHU PICCHU MOUNTAIN: Purchase these WELL in advance (3-6 months prior depending on the season) as they book up even faster than general tickets. There is conflicting information on whether or not the combo of one of these plus a regular guided tour of Machu Picchu can be accomplished within one half-day entry time. In my honest opinion, I think it depends on how fast one climbs the mountain. Huayna Picchu takes around 3 hours total (up and down) to climb and that doesn’t count time spent at the top. Personally, I think I might buy two half-day tickets in this case. You can see how to do both here.
- TRANSPORTATION TIME: Bus ride alone is 20-30 minutes each way. This does NOT include waiting in line or purchasing tickets. If you are wanting to be there for the sunrise, don’t arrive at 5:30 am and expect to breeze right on up. EVERYONE wants to go at this time so getting there around 3:30-4:00 am is recommended. Likewise, if you are leaving near closing time, you might have to wait for 30-45 minutes for the bus like we did. If you choose to walk up (not recommended especially if you are climbing either of the mountains), it is 1.5 hours each way.
- RESTROOMS: Only located right outside the entrance. The cost is one Sol (roughly 30 cents). You might want to have toilet paper with you. If I remember correctly, they had toilet paper, but most of the time it isn’t publicly provided in Perú so I would just be prepared. Make sure you go before you enter because generally, exit and re-entry is prohibited. There are rumors they allow you to exit to go to the restroom once and re-enter, but I would go in prepared to not exit until you are ready to leave for the day.
- WHAT TO WEAR: Layers. The weather can be chilly in the morning and warmer mid-day. I was there in late May and there were times I was fine in my short sleeve tee-shirt and other times I needed my jacket. Tennis shoes or hiking shoes are definites and I recommend a raincoat like I have or poncho as it rains a lot and umbrellas are prohibited. Also, don’t wear shorts. Peruvian mosquitos are a different breed. Wear long pants, bring bug spray and wear sunscreen.
- FOOD: There are not many options (a snack bar at the entrance) and you can’t bring in your own food. You can, however, bring in bottled water. We made sure we had a good lunch before we went in the afternoon and a good breakfast before we went up in the morning.
- BAGS: Make them smaller purses like mine or small backpacks. Large backpacks aren’t allowed inside. The general rule seems to be if it’s over 15.7 in x 13.7 in x 7.9 in, then it isn’t allowed and you will have to pay to store it in a locker before you can enter.
- DOCUMENTS: Don’t forget your passport both to enter Machu Picchu and to get it stamped! If you don’t see the stamping station at the entrance, just ask an employee and they will happily direct you to it.
- PROHIBITED: High heels or shoes with any kind of spiky soles, food, drinks (other than bottled water), smoking, large bags, walking sticks, selfie sticks, strollers, drones, and tripods.
Because of the rule changes, I know my visit and how I booked it looks very different from how booking is done today. However, because I visited twice, once in the morning and once in the afternoon (on different days), this hopefully helps you out with planning in regards to both views of Machu Picchu and the new rules.
My friend Kim and me
I believe in full transparency and I realize that I linked to a couple of websites that I have not personally used. This isn’t my normal practice, but since my method of booking this trip is no longer valid, I researched it all over again. If I were booking today, I believe these are the sites I would use.
Have you been to Machu Picchu since the rules changed in July 2017? Do you have any helpful tips to add? I would love to hear them!
Stay tuned for where to stay and eat in Aguas Calientes plus how to get there coming soon!
‘Til next time…
Leave a Reply - I Love Comments!
Alice Ford says
Great guide. I haven’t visited Machu Picchu but I would like to. I have actually been reading quite a few articles about lately. Outstanding that you were able to get those later afternoon shots with no one below. I will have to follow your lead if I visit.
Hi Alice! Yes, you must visit Machu Picchu (and Rainbow Mountain when you go to Peru too)! It was so easy to get those photos just by waiting until the end. It’s a bit harder to do with the timed-entry now, but I think you can still do it! Thanks for reading! 🙂
Thanks for sharing this very comprehensive guide, this will definitely help us for when we visit in the future! Thanks for letting us know the times that you have taking the photos as this really helps when you want the perfect light! Your photos are stunning and it sounds like you had a wonderful time!
Hi Nic! Thank you! I’m glad you find the times of the photos helpful. There are very polarizing views as to when is the best time to see Machu Picchu and so I wanted to show that going later (as opposed to sunrise) is a much calmer time with great lighting. I hope you get to see it and Perú in general soon! Thanks for reading! 🙂
Cindy Baker says
Thanks for this guide. I have always wanted to go to Machu Picchu and your recommendations on the timing sound just right. I like to visit these kinds of places during the shoulder season – – before the crowds and when the weather is not too bad. Your excellent photos have certainly convinced me to go in the late afternoon, both in terms of the lighting and the lack of people in them. Well done.
Hi Cindy, Machu Picchu is definitely somewhere you just have to visit in life. It’s truly mesmerizing how the Incas achieved such amazing work and so long ago! I’m so glad you like the photos! When you go to Perú, make sure you also check out Rainbow Mountain! Thanks for reading! 🙂
Mohana Das says
The landscape is magnificent! The ruins against the lush green backdrop look amazing. Machu Pichu is on my bucket list and I’d really love to explore it someday. Thanks for the practical advice! And those alpacas are so cute 🙂
Hi Mohana! The alpacas stole my heart! They are so cute and friendly! I HIGHLY recommend visiting Machu Picchu and Perú in general (don’t leave out Rainbow Mountain)! It is so diverse, the people are so friendly and the culture and food are amazing! Thanks for reading!:)
My wife and I are going to Peru next year and this post is super helpful. I have it bookmarked for when we start making definite plans. With a popular place like Machu Picchu, I have been wondering a lot about when is the best time to visit. Shoulder season sounds like an ideal time.
Hey Jennifer! I’m hoping to go back next year too! I’m glad you find it useful and yes, shoulder season (mid-to-late spring for us, fall for them) is definitely the best time to go! You will love Perú, don’t forget to see Rainbow Mountain. Thanks for reading! 🙂
Your pictures are incredible!!! So you definitely proved that the time you went is the perfect time to go. And I had no idea just how much area the Machu Pichu park itself encompasses! This is definitely on my bucket list, and this is a really excellent guide for visiting.
Hi Maggie! Thank you so much!! Yes, Machu Picchu is MASSIVE!! But it’s so beautiful and awe-inspiring. I’m glad you find this guide useful. Hopefully, you get to Perú soon! Thanks for reading! 🙂
Dominic Gramatte says
Machu Picchu was one of the first adventure travel experiences I’ve been on. We opted to go on the 4 day trek which made arriving at the Sun Gate and our first glimpse of the ancient city even more special. Another great time to visit is in the shoulder season of September/October. Everything is still green, less crowds and if you are hoking – a higher likelihood of securing trekking passes (still to be done well in advance). Thanks for sharing.
Hi Dominic! Yes, September/October is also a great time. Basically either shoulder season. I do know if you have to secure trek passes well in advance, but I’m not the trekking or intense hiking type. I’m amazed at people like you who are though! Thanks for reading! 🙂
That’s some great info. Some of it makes me want to delay the trip until the kids are quite a bit older (the no restroom thing is tough on preschoolers/toddlers!) The definite exit time is bizarre but I guess they do need to do whatever they can to preserve the area. Your photos are fantastic! And thanks for the passport stamp tip! We have souvenir stamps from Lichtenstein 🙂
Hi Jenia, Thank you! And yes this might be a trip to hold off on until the kids are a little older. In addition to the bathroom issue, it’s not a place where you want to end up having to carry one of them! I got the souvenir stamp in Liechtenstein too! Thanks for reading! 🙂
Fantastic read! I’m going in February, notoriously the rainy period. Any advice for me?
Hi Mary-Jane! You will have the best time! Peru is an amazing country and one of my top two favorites! Advice for February…yes notoriously rainy. Be sure you bring waterproof clothing and shoes. Have you made reservations/gotten tickets already? That has to be done well in advance, especially if you want to hike Huayna Picchu! Biggest advice though? Do NOT miss seeing Rainbow Mountain as a day trip from Cusco!! Have a great time and thanks for reading! 🙂