Planning a visit to Machu Picchu can be equally exciting and overwhelming. I’ve been there. Sometimes, the internet has a way of making things look more complicated than they actually are and Machu Picchu seems to be a good example of that.
That’s the reason I decided to put together a quick list of things I wished someone told us, as well as some practical tips that we learned going through the experience.
Keep on reading to learn 10 tips for planning a visit to Machu Picchu.
1 – The entrance fee for the morning and afternoon shift is the same
One of the first questions you’ll ask yourself is “is it better to visit Machu Picchu in the morning or afternoon”? And unfortunately, there’s no right answer. It really depends on your preference. The great news is that the ticket price is the same – although I can see how that can make the decision-making process difficult!
Some people say weather is better in the morning while the afternoon tends to get foggy but the truth is we don’t have control over the weather so nothing can be guaranteed.
We ended up choosing the afternoon shift because we dreaded the idea of waking up so early in the morning (4 a.m. start!) to hike from Aguas Calientes to the Machu Picchu entrance in the dark (we knew we absolutely wanted to hike up rather than take the shuttle bus).
2 – Depending on the time of the year, you’ll be able to secure your ticket just a few days in advance
When I was researching Machu Picchu, almost everyone was saying visitors should secure entrance tickets months in advance because there are strict daily visitor quotas. I remember freaking out a little bit because I read this just 3 weeks before our visit.
The problem is that when you’re freestyle backpacking like we were, it’s hard to set a fixed date. Who knows if we like a place a lot and want to stay longer? Long story short, we bought the tickets after arriving in Cusco, just 3 days in advance. Now…I’m not saying that you should wait till the very last minute to buy the tickets, but I’m giving you some comfort in knowing that you don’t really need to buy so much in advance, besides you can always monitor how many tickets are left by visiting the official Machu Picchu website.
3 – Buy your Machu Picchu in cash instead of a credit card to avoid extra fees
If you end up buying the tickets directly from the Machu Picchu ticket office in Cusco, try to pay in cash to avoid extra credit card charges. This might seem like an insignificant detail, but when you’re backpacking on a budget, every cent counts! Keep those dollars for a coffee or a snack instead.
4 – Avoid the Sunday crowds
One thing we found out while purchasing the tickets was that locals get a discount on Sundays, so you probably want to avoid Sundays or weekends in general for fewer crowds.
5 – Expect tropical weather and mosquitoes!
Don’t ask me why but I was expecting desert weather in Machu Picchu so when we arrived at Hidroelectrica (the start point of our hike to Aguas Calientes), I was surprised to see how the climate had changed to tropical, Amazonian-like heat.
We didn’t mind it at all, but if I was to visit again I would definitely prepare better with proper sun protection, a good hat and plenty of mosquito repellent!
6 – The Machu Picchu circuit is one–way and there’s no going back
Once you start the walking circuit inside Machu Picchu, you can only move forward. What this means is: take your time and don’t rush it. Take as many photos as you want, play with the cute llamas, sit down and breathe in the atmosphere. Don’t leave room for regrets later.
If you try to move in the opposite direction you’ll definitely be noticed and probably whistled at by the guards. You’ve been warned!
7 – The best photography spots are at the start of the circuit
The magic of Machu Picchu really comes through when you see the vision and effort it took to build a site in such a remote and inaccessible place. For that reason, in my opinion, the best photo angles are the ones that give a wide and bird’s eye view of the site – and these photo opportunities are at the beginning of the circuit.
8 – Bring umbrellas
It’s a well-known fact that the weather is extremely moody in Machu Picchu. It can get foggy and rainy at any moment so it’s good to be prepared for it because as you can imagine there are not a lot of covered areas. And be mentally prepared that chances are it’s going to rain a bit!
9 – It’s ok to bring drinks and snacks (but be discreet about it)
Just to be clear, it’s not ok to start having a full-blown picnic inside Machu Picchu, but it’s ok to pack a drink and a snack in your bag – you’ll need it! Even though there are security checks when you enter, they won’t be checking your bags so as long as you keep your stuff out of view, you should be fine.
Having our own water bottle and a snack saved us when the hunger hit us as we finished our visit. There is a snack cafe at the entrance, but it was expectedly overpriced – no, thank you.
10 – You don’t need to hire a guide
When you get to the Machu Picchu entrance, you’ll see plenty of tour guides offering their services. If you’re a history buff and don’t mind spending a couple of extra dollars, you should go for it. But if you’d rather visit at your own pace and take in the atmosphere of the place, then don’t feel bad to skip hiring a guide (it is not mandatory to have a guide contrary to some fake news on the internet). We didn’t hire one and instead chose to read about the significance of the site (thanks Wikipedia) before and after our visit.
Hope you find all these tips helpful and I wish you a wonderful and unforgettable Machu Picchu experience! If you have any questions, please leave a comment down below.
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