Hundreds of thousands of people travel to Machu Picchu each and every year, and for good reason! It is considered by many to be the number one highlight in all of South America. With its combination of history, beautiful scenery, wildlife (the llamas!), and mystery, it truly is a magical place. Here are some tips to prepare you for your trip to Machu Picchu that will help you focus on enjoying yourself.
#1. Plan Ahead & Pack The Right Equipment
It’s always important to have the right clothes & equipment when traveling, but this is especially the case when it comes to Machu Picchu. Whether you plan on doing the Inca Trail hike (or another hike) or taking the train, we always recommend our travelers to bring good walking boots. It will make your trip a lot more enjoyable!
We also always suggest bringing insect repellant. While mosquitos aren’t as common in this region as they are in the Amazon and other tropical locations, it’s always good to keep yourself protected from bug bites.
As for clothing, we recommend everyone to bring layers. Cuzco, the Sacred Valley, and Machu Picchu are all relatively high in elevation (between 8,000 feet and 12,000 feet), so it is common for it to be cooler in the mornings and evenings, whereas it can be pretty hot during the day. So as long as you have layers and a good wind-breaking outer shell, you should be comfortable throughout your Machu Picchu trip!
During the rainy season, from December to March, please be sure to bring a good rain jacket. If you have extra room in your luggage, this may be a good idea for any time of the year given the weather in Peru, but should definitely be prioritized during the wet season.
Beyond the walking shoes and clothes, please keep in mind that Machu Picchu does have some restrictions. Please try to avoid bringing the following:
- Plastic bottles or throw-away recipients (bring a canteen instead)
- Selfie sticks, tripods or any extensions for cameras or cell phones
- Professional cameras (special permit required)
- Walking poles (allowed only if necessary)
#2. Give Your Body Time To Adjust To The High Altitude
Altitude is definitely a factor to consider when traveling to Peru. There are a couple of ways that you can avoid altitude sickness – first by prevention and then by treatment.
While it is true that some people are genetically predisposed to the effects, often people do not know how to prevent getting sick. It is important to not eat too much or drink too much alcohol the night before traveling to high altitudes. These are the main causes outside of genetic predisposition.
The other way of prevention is to control how quickly you arrive in higher altitudes. People commonly have trouble when they are thrown into higher altitudes very abruptly. For example, a flight from sea level to a very high altitude. We encourage our travelers to start in the Sacred Valley, as it is around 2,000 feet lower than Cuzco. This allows you to acclimate at a lower elevation and lowers the chances of you feeling any discomfort.
If you do feel the effects, there are a lot of ways to treat altitude sickness. Peru, in fact, is exceptionally well prepared to combat the effects of altitude. There are oxygen tanks at many hotels, access to coca tea, and all of the guides are very knowledgeable on the subject to provide you immediate service. You can also consult your doctor about over the counter medications to bring with you on your trip to Machu Picchu.
#3. Allow For An Extra Day To Fully Take In This Highlight Of Peru
Since Machu Picchu is the ultimate highlight for most of our travelers, we make sure they have plenty of time to explore. We always recommend our clients to stay overnight in Aguas Calientes for one night, which allows for two days of sightseeing in the Machu Picchu ruins.
Schedule for Visiting Machu Picchu:
On Day 1, you will wake up in the Sacred Valley in the early morning and transfer to the train station. You will then take a train from the Sacred Valley to Machu Picchu, arriving around 11 am. From there, you will have a guided tour of the ruins, which will last around 2 ½ hours. After your visit, you will be taken back to your hotel in Aguas Calientes, where you will stay overnight.
On Day 2, you will wake up early to head back to the park. There are hikes that you can do (Huayna Picchu or Machu Picchu Mountain) in the morning, and then you can revisit the ruins afterward. You would then take an afternoon train back to the Sacred Valley or Cuzco around 4 pm.
The above schedule accomplishes a couple of things. One, it gives you more time to explore Machu Picchu, so you will not feel any disappointment or regret about having too little time in the park. It will also allow you to beat the crowds on Day 2 by going up to ruins early!
While we’ve always recommended the above schedule, we strongly encourage it now due to the new Machu Picchu restrictions allowing for less time at the ruins.
Please note that Machu Picchu opens at 6 AM, closes at 5:30 PM, and there are 3 visitor time groups:
- 6 AM – 9 AM
- 9 AM – 12 PM
- 12 PM – 2 PM
The maximum time allowed per visit is 4 hours, so we strongly recommend having an overnight in Aguas Calientes and spending two days in the ruins!
#4. To Hike or Not To Hike?
Some of our travelers think that going to Machu Picchu means four long days of exhausting hikes and there’s no other way to reach the citadel. While some adventurous spirits choose to hike the Inca Trail or other trails to Machu Picchu, there is an option for all types of travelers – including people in wheelchairs! Here are a few ways to get to Machu Picchu:
- The Vistadome Train – this is probably the most common way for people to travel. The train to Machu Picchu departs multiple times per day from both Cuzco and the Sacred Valley. The glass ceiling train is a wonderful way to experience this journey in comfort and gets you excited for what’s to come!
- The Hiram Bingham Train – this is the luxury train option that is available. This also departs from both Cuzco and Sacred Valley, but we would recommend taking the longer journey on this train so that you can enjoy every minute!
- Hiking the Inca Trail – this is the most famous trek to Machu Picchu! You can choose the classic 4 days, 3-night version or the 2 days, 1-night version. Keep in mind that you will stay in tents for a couple of nights and will need to be in good physical fitness to do this hike, but it is an incredibly rewarding experience!
- Taking other Hikes (Salkantay Trek, Lares Valley Trek, etc.) – the Inca Trail is not the only trek that you can take. Some people prefer these other options for flexibility, availability, among other reasons. Don’t overlook these options if you’re looking for an adventure!
Ready for Your Trip to Machu Picchu?
In the end, it all depends on your goals and what you’re looking to get out of the experience. There is no wrong way to get to Machu Picchu and we’ll help you find the right way for you! We hope this advice helps you when getting prepared for your trip to Machu Picchu! If you need help putting together a package, please feel free to contact us, to help you plan the perfect trip!