Planning a trip to Machu Picchu can be stressful (I know; I’ve done it twice!), so I’ve put together a list of 15 things I wish I’d known before visiting Machu Picchu. I hope this helps!
1. It’s worth getting there early.
I can’t stress this enough: Get there early (first bus from Aguas Calientes leaves around 5:30, getting you there at around 6am). This is the prime time to get a serene feel for the site. By 11 a.m., it will be so crowded you can hardly walk through some places, and everyone will be lining up for the same shot.
2. “Jumping pictures” are not allowed–but people do it anyway.
You are not supposed to jump at Machu Picchu; I guess they’re worried about you falling or breaking something. However, lots of people do it and just risked getting yelled at.
3. There is no evidence that there were human sacrifices in Machu Picchu.
While concrete evidence has been found that shows the Incas did offer up human sacrifices elsewhere, in my brief research on the topic, I couldn’t find any proof that that was what Machu Picchu was used for. Some tour guides will try to hype it up and make it sound like Machu Picchu is where they slaughtered human beings, but that’s simply not true. The true facts about the history of Machu Picchu are plenty interesting without the use of embellishment.
4. Do not book tours ahead of time if you can help it–they often cost double just to book online.
Expats and locals alike in Cusco have heard their fair share of stories from visitors who’ve been ripped off by tour companies. If you book online while you’re in your home country, prices can be double what you’d actually pay in Cusco itself! If you can wait to book tours until you arrive, then by all means, do so. Google average prices for tours in the area before booking. For example, a 5-day Salkantay Trek to Machu Picchu should NOT cost $600 (which I’ve heard people do pay when they book online).
5. There are three ways to get there: By train, by bus, or by hiking.
There are two trains that go to Aguas Calientes (the town closest to Machu Picchu): Inca Rail and PeruRail. For more information on both, see my blog post about trains to Machu Picchu.
There are many hikes you can take to Machu Picchu. The most popular is the Inca Trail, four days and three nights.
The lesser known option is a bus from the Hidroelectrica to Aguas Calientes.
6. You can get a Machu Picchu passport stamp for free.
When you exit the Machu Picchu gates, look to your right. There is a little table with a special Machu Picchu stamp for your passport. Sometimes you can do it yourself; other times an employee will be handling it for you.
7. You can wait until last minute and get a tour guide at the entrance gates.
It’s not recommended because you may know nothing about their background, but if in a pinch, you can wait till last minute and just grab a tour guide at the gate when you get to Machu Picchu. There are always plenty there.
8. There are no bathrooms and no places to buy water or food once you get inside the gates.
Be prepared. Bring lots of water and snacks.
9. You have to pay to use the restrooms located at the entrance.
It costs 1 Peruvian Nuevo Sol to use the bathroom at the gates.
10. You can pet the llamas.
Lots of llamas live in the actual Machu Picchu site, and they’re friendly! It’s totally fine to walk up to them and pet them. They are used to this.
11. You are always being watched.
Thinking of doing something silly? Don’t try it. There are employees posted up everywhere; sometimes you don’t even see them–but they see you. The second time I went to Machu Picchu, I found a hidden trail behind the Sun Gate and decided to explore it. Bad idea. Out of nowhere, an employee approached me and accused me of trying to pee in the woods. For the record, I WAS NOT.
12. There is a hidden Machu Picchu museum.
The Museo de Sitio Manuel Chávez Ballón requires a separate ticket of $8. It’s hard to find though. It’s located at the base of the footpath leading up to Machu Picchu. From the town of Aguas Calientes, it’s about a 30-minute walk to the museum.
13. That tall mountain you always see in Machu Picchu photos? Its name is Huayna Picchu. The mountain called Machu Picchu is actually on the opposite side.
While Machu Picchu refers to the entire Inca site you see pictured above, it also is the name of a small mountain not pictured above. Huayna Picchu, also spelled “Wayna” means “young mountain.” Machu Picchu means “old mountain.”
14. There are four types of entrance tickets to Machu Picchu: 1) Machu Picchu 2) Machu Picchu + Museum 3) Machu Picchu + Huayna Picchu, and 4) Machu Picchu + Machu Picchu Mountain
Of all three, the Machu Picchu + Huayna Picchu sells out the fastest! That’s because they only allow 400 entrants to Huayna Picchu each day. So if you plan on climbing this, be sure to buy tickets far in advance.
If you’re going to buy your tickets online, buy them only from this official site: http://www.machupicchu.gob.pe. Otherwise, you can buy your entrance tickets once you get to Aguas Calientes.
15. There is only one hotel that is actually AT Machu Picchu, just before the gates, and it costs $1,000 a night.
The name is Belmond Sanctuary Lodge. Rooms here book fast, so if you plan on splurging on your trip to Machu Picchu, book a room here far in advance. Otherwise, you’ll have to stay with the rest of us peasants at the bottom of the mountain in the town of Aguas Calientes.