No one will accidentally stumble upon the ancient citadel of Machu Picchu. No one without a prepurchased entrance ticket will be admitted. You want to visit? Plan, plan in advance!
Effective July 1, 2017 they started selling 2 Timed Entrances: Primera Entrada 5:30am – 12:00 and Segunda Entrada 12:00 – 5:30pm. Thanks to what I learned on the internet, buying the entrance tickets from the Peruvian government’s official website was the easy part and I printed them at home. A limited number of visitors are allowed in the park each day and during high season (June-August) tickets sell out early. You cannot buy Machu Picchu entrance tickets at the gate!
Buy your Peru Rail (or Inka Rail) tickets online before you travel and pick them up at a Peru Rail office. The best times sell out early.
Decide if you’re staying in Ollantaytambo or not and book your accommodations online. If not staying in Ollantaytambo additional transfers are necessary.
Do we have to stay overnight in Machu Picchu Town (also called Aguas Calientes)?
For those planning their own travel to Machu Picchu. The first decision to make is regarding the itinerary which depends on what time you want to be in the park. Ollantaytambo was highly recommended as a lovely place to recoup after visiting Machu Picchu and considered to be easier to access the train to Machu Picchu Town than from Urubamba or Cusco. Machu Picchu Town is crowded, overpriced and noisy – with no reason to visit except to get the bus to MP.
These are some of the options and pros and cons for each.
1. Take the train from Ollantaytambo to Machu Picchu Town, visit Machu Picchu and return by train to Ollantaytambo all on the same day. This is what we did hoping that afternoon crowds were smaller. We had the Second Entrance tickets starting at 12:00 noon. Having a reserved return train ticket reservation is limiting as you don’t want to miss your train and need to allow time to return to the train station. On the other hand, we didn’t need to carry an overnight bag. This option doesn’t work as well if you want an early park entrance in order to climb Huayna Picchu.
2. Take the train from Ollantaytambo to Machu Picchu Town, spend the night and the next day visit Machu Picchu and return by train to Ollantaytambo. This works if you want an early start at Machu Picchu, but again you are limited by the need to be at the train station on time.
3. Take the train from Ollantaytambo to Machu Picchu Town, visit Machu Picchu the same day and then spend the night in Machu Picchu town and the following day return by train to Ollantaytambo. I might have preferred this option as it allows more freedom in regards to time inside Machu Picchu. But you will have to carry an overnight bag or drop it off where you intend to sleep. Large luggage is not allowed on the train and will need to be stored at your Cusco or Ollantaytambo accommodations, or at the train storage office.
Regarding the actual logistics of a day inside the Machu Picchu Archeological site I had many questions and not a lot of answers.
Where will we eat?
There are no food venders in the park. Food is not allowed in the park (but they don’t check your bags.) Eat discreetly. We carried drinking water, trail mix and a banana. There are no trash receptacles; carry out your trash. There is an expensive buffet at the Belmont Sanctuary Lodge right outside the gates, but there are no other food options until Machu Picchu Town.
What will I need to take?
We had the 12:00 entrance. It was sunny that morning and I knew it would be warm. I wore shorts, and a t-shirt over a tank top, sunglasses and hat. I had a scarf and a vest for the cooler morning and evening. Take bug spray. The next morning I discovered my lower legs had more than a dozen itchy bug bites.
Step-by-step guide for day trip to Machu Picchu from Ollantaytambo
1. Wake up
2. Eat a substantial breakfast
3. Walk or take a mototaxi to the station.
4. Pay attention to the boarding announcements. We were waiting for the train at the Ticket Office which is not the same place for boarding.
5. Board train and find your assigned seats. We booked the 8:56 Vistadome and were given drinks and a carrot cake.
6. Enjoy the slow 27-mile 1.5 hour trip. It is warm on the train.
7. Disembark at Machu Picchu Town – the end of the line. Wind your way through the artisan market, cross the bridge and you will see the bus line.
8. Have one person stand in the bus line and one person purchase the Round Trip bus tickets. They must present passports for all travelers. There are 2 bus ticket booths back to back. The line is longer on the downhill side because it isn’t obvious that there is a second booth behind it. They are real slow due to having print out tickets for each person. They take credit card, US dollars or Soles. Not sure why they need your passports for a bus ticket.
9. Locate your partner in the bus line. This line moves fast but it still took an hour. Handheld scanners read the bus tickets as you arrive at the coach.
10. Take 35-minute trip on a bumpy switchback road to Machu Picchu. It is worth every penny. Save your knees! To hike the trail takes several hours and is steep and treacherous.
11. Visit the bathroom first. Fee: 1 sol. There are no bathrooms in the park. You are allowed to exit and re-enter the park one time.
12. Decide if you want to hire a guide. They will be offering their services. We were quoted USD $50. We did not hire one and it wasn’t required.
13. Enter the park with your pre-purchased ticket and your passport.
14. Hopefully you’ve done your homework and know what you want to visit. (We did not.) There is no map and very little signage.
Your first option is whether to take the trail to the Guard House, Inka Bridge – and/or climb Machu Picchu Mountain – or proceed to the main level. (That’s the Guard House up top in the above photo.) The crowds were going up and we decided to get around them and not follow them. If you later decide you want to visit the Guard House (for that most iconic view of the citadel) you will have to exit and re-enter (which is what we had to do.) The trails are mostly one-way so there is no backtracking.
15. Allow plenty of time to wait in line for the bus down to Machu Picchu Town and proceed to the train station. This is why staying the night in Machu Picchu Town might be preferable. We didn’t want to miss our train so we had to err on the safe side and cut our visit short (3 hours). It was enough and we were tired, but I would’ve enjoyed more time.
16. Take some ibuprofen on the bus trip down. Your joints will begin to stiffen up and ache (if you’re old like me.)
17. If you have extra time (as we did), walk around Machu Picchu Town and get dinner.
18. Return to the train station. It becomes terribly crowded with people sitting everywhere.
19. Relax on the train trip back in the dark. We were on the 18:20 Expedition. They offered snacks and a drink.
20. Disembark in Ollantaytambo. Taxi drivers were awaiting the train to take passengers to Cusco. We were quoted as low as 20 soles per person – or was it dollars?
21. Walk or take a mototaxi to the Ollantaytambo Plaza for 1 sole each.
Machu Picchu by the Numbers:
Altitude: 7,970′ above sea level
Year constructed: Around 1450
Year Rediscovered by Hiram Bingham: 1911
Distance from Ollantaytambo: 37 miles
Duration of Rail travel: 1.5 hours each way
Number of daily visitors: 5,000 in high season
Entrance Ticket: $47 per person
Vistadome Train Ticket, one-way: $87 per person, prices vary according to times
Expedition Train Ticket, one-way: $68 per person
RT Bus Ticket: $24 per person
Mototaxis: $2 per person
Total cost per person: $226 plus travel expense to Ollantaytambo
Depart Ollantaytambo: 9:00 am
Arrive in MP Town: 10:30 am
Finally arrive at MP: 12:30 pm
Depart park and wait in bus line: 3:20 pm
Arrive in MP Town: 4:30 pm
Depart MP Town: 6:30 pm
Arrive Ollantaytambo: 8:00 pm
In closing, there are 1000’s of people inside the site. It is crowded with tour groups. People stop to take photos and clog the trails – or come up swiftly from behind attempting to pass. The trails are narrow in places and uneven. The steps rarely have handrails and the risers are very uneven and very high. Watch your step and take it slow and easy.
Thanks for reading.
If you are planning a visit, I hope I addressed your concerns. Let me know if you have any questions.
Until next time – Happy Travels!