This list is hardly exhaustive since as I would discover and see firsthand, there is so much to do with the Inca ruins of Machu Picchu. However, these are the travel tips that I feel are of the most importance and would definitely want to pass along to any future visitors to this Peruvian wonder of the world.
Get tickets in advance
If you’re visiting Machu Picchu on your own, get your tickets in advance. By tickets I’m referring to both your rail tickets for the train that will take you there (provided you’re not doing the Inca trail) and also your Machu Picchu entrance tickets. While you “can” get both tickets while in Peru, I’m a firm believer that when you’re talking about once in a lifetime trips, don’t leave anything until the last minute. If you have your international plane tickets, you know the dates you’ll be there, why not just get your tickets in advance too? Machu Picchu allots a limited amount of tickets for each day, so once that day’s tickets are gone, well, they’re truly gone. And trains to Machu Picchu are just like any other train in the world-they sell out too. Seriously, I can’t say this enough-don’t procrastinate. For the record-I visited Machu Picchu on September 1 and got both our train tickets and entrance tickets in early June, so about three months prior to visiting. Machu Picchu’s website does list the number of remaining tickets available for a specific day, so definitely keep tabs!
Don’t forget your passport!
When you hand in your tickets at Machu Picchu, you have to show your passport if you’re a foreign visitor. While your tickets say this along with other places, I can’t think of anything worse than getting all the way to the gates of Machu Picchu only to be turned away because you don’t have the form of ID you are required to bring. And yes, I can see this as an instance of a person being turned away; officials don’t make exceptions just because you come up with the biggest sob story. Note-they also said I needed to have the credit card I used to purchase the tickets with me but this I wasn’t asked for. I did, however, bring it because yes, you never know.
While I would have liked to have spent two days at Machu Picchu (there is a hotel that is part of the Orient Express hospitality company that is located literally right at the gates, luxury please), we had one and that’s what we made do with. So taking into account that all the guidebooks said as the day goes on, the ruins only get more “zoo” like (i.e. mobs of people), I wanted to be there as early as possible. I ended up booking the 5:07 AM train from Ollantaytambo. While it was at an ungodly hour, after the 90 minute train ride (through spectacular scenery), waiting 10-12 minutes for the bus that would take us up to the ruins and the 20 minute bus ride to the ruins, we were at the entrance by 7:30 AM. We obviously started exploring immediately but did definitely notice that as the morning went on, the site got a lot more crowded and was not as pleasant as it had been first thing in the day. Large tour groups also started to converge on the site in the later morning hours, so for that reason, go early.
Book the train time that works for you
Peru Rail offers three types of train service to the Machu Picchu area-Explorer, Vistadome, and Hiram Bingham. The Hiram Bingham is the luxury train option and while I would have liked to ride on it for the experience alone, it didn’t stop at the Ollantaytambo train station so that idea was out. The Vistadome train is essentially “second class” and while I had initially wanted to book that, I didn’t like the times at all. I had wanted to take the first train out of Ollantaytambo which was at 5:07 AM, and the Explorer (the third class option, or the backpacker option as it is also known) was the one to offer that. I had read some accounts that many people didn’t notice a difference between the Explorer and Vistadome and I was perfectly content with the Explorer. Although our train in the morning to Machu Picchu was more pleasant than the afternoon one (less people, less noise, no drunk Germans who spilled their beer), both were still fine and offered absolutely beautiful scenery to gaze at. So instead of being “swayed” by the train class, look at the schedules and choose the one that you like the most and will fit the best with your intended schedule at Machu Picchu.
Purchase bus tickets, save your energy
Although many people think otherwise, the trains to Machu Picchu don’t actually take you right to Machu Picchu. The trains terminate in the town of Aguas Calientes, a tourist trap if there ever was one. While the ruins are only about six kilometers away (just under four miles), it’s ALL uphill walking. There is a lot of walking but even more climbing to be had at Machu Picchu and personally, I would save my time and energy for there, not just to get there. So with that said, I would do as most tourists do and pay for the bus. Once you get off the train in Aguas Calientes, you will see a small booth along with buses queuing up on the hilly street. At the booth you can purchase bus tickets-either round trip to and from the ruins, or one way in either direction.
While I had read that the lines to both purchase the bus tickets and to board the bus could be long, we waited about five minutes to buy the tickets and maybe 10 minutes for the bus. Buses run continuously which is great for tourists and great for the local population since it’s quite the moneymaking machine. When needing to come back down to Aguas Calientes, buses were also lined up waiting to be filled. There are also plenty of people to ask in case you’re unsure.
Sun, hat, water…repeat
Ironically enough, our day at Machu Picchu was the hottest one of the entire trip. While the morning was quite chilly (it was in the low 40s), once the sun had fully emerged, it became extremely hot. Although there were plenty of people there in skimpy attire (to go with the warm temperatures), we both stayed pretty well hidden with our clothing. The only sunburn I got the entire trip was actually on both of my hands, the top parts that were exposed since I was always holding my camera and taking pictures. It was a pretty bad burn, which only confirmed how intense the sun is in Peru, being right beneath the ozone layer. I did see one woman with an extremely bad burn across her chest and yet she was still not covered.
Water. I had read that visitors to Machu Picchu could bring in water bottles but only if they were the non-disposable kind. Well, while at the ruins, I saw dozens and dozens of people toting around the plastic disposable kind. While we both had water, we really had to ration it, otherwise we would have depleted our supply pretty early on in our visit. And Machu Picchu is not like a theme park where there are either vending machines or kiosks selling it. Nothing annoys me more than when there is a supposed rule which I follow, only to see it not being enforced. Unless they end up doing some major crackdown, I would recommend bringing both kinds.
As I said, there are plenty of other tips I could offer but these are the ones I feel are of the most importance to all travelers.