Visiting Machu Picchu is spectacular, and it’s still among the best trips I’ve taken in my life. But even though there’s no possible way to have a bad time at these ancient Inca Ruins, taking a few travel tips for visiting Machu Picchu along with you can elevate your vacation to the next level!
From understanding the dreaded Machu Picchu tripod rule and knowing how and where to get the coveted Machu Picchu stamp to figuring out how the locals beat altitude sickness, this article goes through the best 20 Machu Picchu travel tips you’ll come across!
That way you won’t get stuck carrying a 15-pound backpack to 10,000 feet of elevation, get caught in the rain without protection, be eaten alive by bugs and so much more! I only wish I had known what to pack beforehand, but let’s take a look at what to know before going to Machu Picchu!
20 Best Machu Picchu Travel Advice Tips
1. Buy Your Tickets Well in Advance
Peru’s Minister of Culture allows 2,500 tickets to be sold each day. That’s it and no more will be sold. If you want to hike Huayna Picchu or Machu Picchu Mountain, your chances of getting a ticket on short-notice are slim to none.
Each day, only 400 tickets are sold to hike Huayna Picchu and only 800 tickets for Machu Picchu Mountain. They sell out weeks in advance throughout the slow seasons and months in advance during the peak season of July to August. I booked my trip two weeks in advance, going for two straight days, and Huayna Picchu was sold out and I got one of the last tickets to Machu Picchu Mountain for the second day of my trip.
2. Print a Hard Copy of Your Ticket
Make sure you print out a hard copy of that reservation and subsequent ticket directly after buying it. I also highly recommend taking a picture of the ticket and confirmation page because it’s extremely difficult to access your ticket once you close out of the website.
You’ll need to bring the hard-copy ticket with you to the gates to get into Machu Picchu. If you don’t have it, you may be able to rely on a screenshot or photo of your ticket on your phone. You can never be too careful, especially when you’ve traveled so far to see those amazing Inca ruins.
3. Bring Your Passport with You
Since your passport number is directly tied to your Machu Picchu ticket, you’ll need your passport to enter those pearly (Inca) gates. Agents at the gate check your ticket and passport to make sure all the information matches.
Plus, bringing your passport allows you to do something cool that not many people in the world have achieved…
4. Get Your Machu Picchu Stamp in Your Passport!
Space in your passport is a precious commodity that isn’t everlasting. But getting a Machu Picchu stamp is an amazing sentiment that proves you conquered the mountain and saw one of the New Seven Wonders of the World! But one of the coolest Machu Picchu travel tips is to get this stamp!
There’s a little stand directly outside the entrance (basically at the front of the bus line to descend). You walk up to the stand, stamp your passport yourself and go on your merry way. Many people have no idea this exists because it’s not advertised anywhere and the stand looks like a miniature coffee table that many people just pass by.
5. The Machu Picchu Tripod Rule Is Real
They don’t allow any tripods or selfie sticks inside the ruins — rightfully so. The tripod thing is kind of a bummer if you’re a photographer. You also can’t lay your camera down on any of the ruins, so you’re kind of SOL there.
But Machu Picchu is an incredible place to take spectacular photos, so you’ll want to bring your camera with you! There are also tons more places in Peru to take NatGeo-cover-worthy photos.
6. Visit in the Morning
Just imagine waking up at the crack of dawn (3:30 a.m. in my case), making your way up to the ruins as the sleepy sun rises over the surrounding mountains. The dark green trees, dusty dirt roads and ancient ruins are graced with slivers of sunlight that gently peer through the clouds.
Groves of travelers remain in their hotel room filling up on a hearty breakfast or have just boarded the train en route to the sky-high Inca palisade. The few who remain? Well, they’re already up there enjoying every uninterrupted second at Machu Picchu!
You and the few travelers who make it to the entrance during the first and second entry times are rewarded with pristine views and lightly populated trails weaving in, out and around every square inch of Machu Picchu, so I highly recommend going as early as possible.
7. Hike to Machu Picchu from Aguas Calientes (Skip the Bus)
One of the most accomplished feelings I got when visiting Machu Picchu was waking up at 3:30 a.m. in Aguas Calientes and hiking the roughly two hours and 1,500 feet of elevation to the entrance. There was a feeling of significance that I felt deep down in my soul.
Climbing those ancient stone steps that were designed as the official route of the Incas; seeing the sunset peer over the mountains and through the sweeping green trees; crossing the road after buses full of people passed by and stared; the accomplishment of pushing through and reaching the top without modern technology — the way the Incas used to do it. It was majestic and I highly recommend hiking to the ruins as one of the best tips for visiting Machu Picchu.
8. Hike Huayna Picchu or Machu Picchu Mountain
Hiking one of the mountains leaves you with an even more accomplished and significant feeling than just hiking to the entrance from Aguas Calientes. It’s tougher. Fewer people have done it. The views at the top are spectacular. The list goes on and on.
But, beware, both hikes are pretty tough. Most info you see online says it only takes 1.5 to 2 hours, but it takes a little longer. Granted, I hiked from Aguas Calientes to the top of Machu Picchu Mountain ( about 4,000 feet of altitude ascension), but it takes a solid three to four hours (also with a 15-pound backpack). Machu Picchu Mountain altitude in feet peaks at 10,000, about a 2,100-foot hike from the ruins.
Huayna Picchu is around 1,100 feet of altitude ascension from the entrance of Machu Picchu, but it’ll still take you about two to three hours. You’re going to have to pay a little extra to hike one of these two mountains, but the experiences you create are far more valuable than the amount of money you’ll have to pay to take the hike.
9. Beware of the Altitude at Machu Picchu Mountain
Altitude sickness usually kicks in near 8,000 feet above sea level, so you probably won’t suffer from it unless you’re hiking one of the mountains. If you spend a night or two in Cusco before visiting Machu Picchu, you’re more likely to suffer from it there because Cusco is about 11,150 feet above sea level.
If you don’t feel it in Cusco, you’ll probably beat altitude sickness altogether. There are many preventative measures you can take to kick the symptoms (dizziness, headache, nausea or vomiting) to the curb.
The most popular — and free — way to beat Machu Picchu altitude sickness is to chew on coca leaves or drink coca tea. There are coca leaves for free at the Cusco airport, the entrance to Machu Picchu and many other stops along the way. Coca tea is also widely sold at restaurants, cafes and any stand on the side of the road.
You can also buy a soroche pill at pretty much any Peruvian pharmacy or, if you’re feeling it, you may want to descend to a lower altitude. Always consult your doctor beforehand to make sure they’re safe alternatives for you.
10. Work on Your Physical Fitness Before Visiting
Visiting Machu Picchu is amazing, but it isn’t all fun and games. If you want to make the most out of your visit and take a close-up gander at everything these ancient Inca ruins have to offer, you’re going to be walking and climbing a lot.
If you want to take full advantage of Machu Picchu — and you should want to because it’s an amazing place unlike anything else on this planet — one of the best Machu Picchu tips is to do some cardio in the weeks leading up to your visit. It’ll be worth it in the end.
11. Wear Comfortable Clothes (And a Light Jacket)
Wearing comfortable clothes should be a given because you’ll be doing some light hiking through an outdoor wonderland. But when you visit, you’ll be surprised by how many people you see in jeans and button-down shirts. Maybe some people are comfortable hiking in that?
I recommend wearing something similar to gym clothes, as well as high-ankle hiking boots or comfortable tennis shoes. Oh, and bring a light jacket all year long. Even during the warmest months, the temperature at Machu Picchu barely breaks out of the mid-70s, and there isn’t much humidity at such a high elevation.
12. Bring (Or Buy) a Packable Raincoat
Whether it’s a heavy downpour or drizzle, it tends to rain much of the year at Machu Picchu. The only time you can skip the rain is visiting in July or August because they’re the driest months of the year.
Walking around the ruins soaking wet and cold is no fun, but a packable raincoat can prevent the rain and cold from making their way into your life.Locals are selling them outside the entrance for about $2, so you should scoop one up or bring one with you.
13. Bring Water and Snacks in a Backpack
You can’t buy any water or food inside the ruins, but you are allowed to bring in a backpack filled with goodies! Just make sure you take everything with you that you brought and don’t leave any trash or food behind!
They’re pretty lax with backpack sizes. I brought a 15-pounder inside (terrible idea when hiking) that was packed to the brim with all my clothes. While I wouldn’t recommend bringing all that stuff in, I do recommend bringing in a backpack with some water and snacks. But don’t bring too much water! Because…
14. There Aren’t Any Bathrooms Inside
If you have to go, you’ll have to hold it. You used to be allowed to exit and re-enter one time to use the bathroom, but as of this writing, they don’t allow that anymore. The only way you can re-enter is with a second permit. Meaning that you’ll have to buy another entrance ticket, which isn’t worth it.
Make sure you use the restroom before you enter and try to cut down on your consumption of liquids while inside the ruins. Don’t even think about trying to sneak off in a bush or something. It probably won’t work and they’ll probably kick you out. This brings me to one of the weirdest things to know before visiting Machu Picchu…
15. They’re Always Watching You
That sounds creepy, but it’s true. Someone, somewhere inside those entry gates, is always watching you, so don’t do anything stupid. They may warn you for minor infractions (like going under the rope or taking a jumping picture), but they won’t hesitate to kick you out if you’re causing a ruckus.
You’re there as a visitor. They’re working. If someone walked into your place of work and started acting foolish, you’d probably want them gone for distracting you as well. The same concept applies to Machu Picchu.
16. You Don’t Need a Guide
While the entry guidelines say that you need a guide to enter on your first visit, this rule wasn’t being enforced in when I traveled there. Everything I read (and still read) say guides are required, so drop a comment with the date you went and if you needed a guide or not to let all of us know for sure!
If you do need a guide and you haven’t booked one yet, don’t worry. Guides are plentiful outside the entrance to Machu Picchu, so you can hire one quick and easy. They’ll charge a group about $30 to $45 USD and can be split among a bunch of people. So, if you want a guide and are a budget traveler like myself, strike up a conversation with your fellow Ramblers who don’t have a guide and you can split the cost.
17. Get to Machu Picchu Cheaper by Skipping the Train
The train is by far the fastest way to get from Cusco to Machu Picchu, but it’s also one of the most expensive. If you’re willing to take the bus or a taxi and walk a brisk 4 miles from Santa Teresa to Aguas Calientes, you could save a small fortune. Buses are great for solo travelers and taxis are ideal for groups of two to four people.
18. There Are Plenty of Hostels in Aguas Calientes
There are five-plus hostels in Aguas Calientes that offer bunk beds from $12 USD and private rooms for as little as $30 USD. Of course, you can splurge and go for the high-end hotels that charge an arm and a leg, but that’s not my style (unless I’m getting it free with points).
19. Beware of Biting Bugs
I vividly remember setting my backpack down in one of the many open grassy areas overlooking the Machu Picchu ruins, laying down to rest and using my backpack as a makeshift pillow. I was exhausted after many hours of hiking from Aguas Calientes to the top of Machu Picchu.
Then I felt something bite my ankle. Then another one. Then it got so bad I was swatting at the no-see-ums while onlookers probably thought I was having some sort of a manic episode. They were bad. Really bad.
Luckily, I brought a bottle of travel-sized bug spray along with me and had to douse every square inch of each leg to ease the bug bites. So remember to bring your bug spray!
20. Refrain From Petting the Alpacas
I have to admit that I was a little skeptical to see people petting the alpacas. They’re really large animals that tend to spit at people and can deliver a mean dropkick (albeit very rarely). Either way, whenever I see a large animal that far outweighs me, I’m cautious.
People were petting them, and the workers at Machu Picchu only casually intervened from time to time. I won’t disclose if I pet one or not, but I will tell you that their fur isn’t all that fluffy. It’s rather grimy and thick on the fingertips.
It is, however, recommended to snap a picture of one of Alpacas, which are cousins of the llama. You’ll get some pretty cool pictures of your own if you’re lucky enough to get one with a backdrop of Machu Picchu.
Even if you only succeed at taking half of these Machu Picchu travel tips with you while visiting, you’re bound to have a tremendous time that’s mostly free of stress and filled with fun!