How to Plan a Trip to Machu Picchu in 5 Steps…
If you are someone like me, who likes to pull trips together from scratch vs. using a travel agent, this one is NOT easy. Please let me save you about 100 hours of research and give you the scoop on how you can pull together this trip of a lifetime!
Step 1: There are two ways to get to Machu Picchu: Trekking via one of the Trails or Taking the Train.
- Trekking: If you are in good physical shape, I’d 100% recommend the trek. Read about my experience on the Salkantay Trail here.
- Train: Train link here.
Step 2: Book a ticket to get into Machu Picchu (limited spots per day). If you are trekking, the trekking company will likely book this for you. If you are going by train, there is a link at the bottom of this page that can help you out. It’s unfortunately not that easy to figure how to book them, so I have attached a great guide!
Step 3: Book a flight to Cusco, Peru (nearest large airport) and spend at least 2 full days there. Two reasons: 1) You need to acclimate to the altitude (I did 1.5 days and it wasn’t enough) and 2) It’s a great city!
– While in Cusco, I recommend booking a Sacred Valley Tour when you get in, it’s an amazing way to learn more about the history and see amazing ruins. This does not need to be booked in advance and is very cheap to book in Cusco ($20-$30) for an all-day tour by bus.
– Visiting the Salt Mines is also supposed to be great
*TIP: The main city by Machu Picchu is Aguas Calientes (you get their by trekking or taking the train). I’d recommend staying in Aguas Calientes the night before so you can get to Machu Picchu when it opens to see the sunrise and get there before it gets too crowded. First train from Cusco and the surrounding cities arrives around 10 am so the only way to beat the crowds is to get there the night before and get on one of the first buses in the morning or hike in (1.5 hours walk from Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu or 25 minute bus ride).
If you want to see the sunrise: Machu Picchu opens at 6:00 am. If you want to see the sunrise you will need to trek in or get on one of the first buses that leave at 5:30 am. People start lining up for the buses as early as 4:30/5:00 am.
Step 4: Decide if you want to hike Huayna Picchu or Machu Picchu Mountain. If you want a great view looking down onto Machu Picchu from a higher vantage point, I’d recommend one of these additional hikes. I booked Huayna Picchu (the peak behind Machu Picchu) well in advance since there are only 400 spots per day (200 per time slot). It was an unforgettable experience with amazing views of Machu Picchu below and gorgeous mountains all around. If you don’t get one of the spots, DON’T WORRY, hiking Machu Picchu Mountain offers a Similar experience and isn’t limited. *Warning: Huayna Picchu is not for you if you don’t like heights, I also found it pretty dangerous.
*TIP: Someone from National Geographic gave me this tip and it is too amazing to not pass on…The reservation to hike Huayna Picchu will give you a time period that you can enter (i.e 10-11 am). Everyone will line up right at the beginning and it will be crowded the entire time. You can enter ANY time during that time slot and stay as long as you want, so we lined up right at the end at 10:55 am and we were all alone at the top of Huayna Picchu and did not have to fight people to take photos. It was nice doing it at our pace without people in front or behind us.
Step 5: Think about if you pair your trip with anything else while you are in South America. Popular pairs include an easy pairing with Lake Titicaca (hours way) or neighboring countries like Bolivia or Ecuador. I went to the Galápagos Islands (Ecuador) after Machu Picchu and it was absolutely one of my favorite experiences. Almost everyone on our boat in Galapagos had either just come from Machu Picchu or was traveling there after.
Galapagos post to come!
*Need help Booking a ticket for Machu Picchu if you aren’t trekking? Here is a great guide I found! No need to re-create the wheel! 🙂
Any further questions? Please post below!
Enjoy and Happy Roaming!