Picchu Guide - Practicalities
WHEN TO GO
The high season is from June to August when as many as 3500 people a day visit
Machu Picchu. Avoid these months if at all possible and stick to the shoulder
months – April/May and September/October are a good time to go and you can
expect warm sunny days. The week of the Inti Raymi celebrations in Cusco, around
24 June, is a particularly busy period.
Sundays can be quieter than other days as many of the package tours go to the
market at Pisac and so tourists are occupied elsewhere. Tuesdays and Thursdays
also tend to be less crowded for the same reason. The ruins are at their most
empty early in the morning before the first train from Cusco arrives and again
late afternoon when the last train has left.
From 6am to 5pm daily. It’s also possible to arrange to visit at night between
6pm and 1am. Several travel agencies in Aguas Calientes organise “spiritual”
Admission is 126 soles (around £30/$45) or 63 soles to students carrying an ISIC
card. There are usually local guides
waiting at or near the entrance.
If you’re short on time, you’ll need to travel the 70-mile journey between Cusco
and Machu Picchu by train. Peru Rail operates three different services from Cusco
to Machu Picchu’s satellite town Aguas Calientes. The cheapest option is the
no-frills Expedition (Backpacker) train which leaves from Poroy station at 7:42am and
arrives back at 9:01pm; a round trip costs US $96. The perks of the slightly
dearer Vistadome train ($142) include large viewing windows in the ceiling and
live Andean music. Daily departures from Poroy at 6:53am, returning to Poroy at 7:42pm.
Poroy station is located just outside Cusco. There are regular buses connections
taking about 15 minutes and costing 10 Soles.
For those on a much bigger budget, the luxurious Hiram Bingham train will
transport you to Machu Picchu in sheer style. For $588, you’ll receive brunch, a
personalised tour of the ruins, tea at the Machu Picchu Sanctuary Lodge, a pisco
sour in the train bar, topped off with a four-course dinner. Daily except
Sundays, leaves Cusco at 9:10am and arrives back at around 10pm.
Tickets for all services can be purchased online at
The least expensive way of arriving at Aguas Calientes by rail is to take the
evening Cerrojo service from Ollantaytambo in the Sacred Valley. It departs at
8pm and a return ticket costs $20 one-way or $40 return but, to qualify for this
fare, you have to stay two nights in Aguas Calientes and return to Ollantaytambo
on the 5-45am train. The journey lasts a little under two hours. Look out for
the snow-capped peak Véronica on the right-hand side just as you leave
Ollantaytambo. To get to Ollantaytambo, well worth a visit in its own right,
take a local bus from Cusco to Urubamba which takes 90 minutes and then hop onto
a shared minibus at the bus station for a bumpy 20-minute ride.
It’s worth noting that tourists aren’t allowed to ride on the train that
PeruRail operates purely for Peruvians – this is only for local residents who
wouldn’t be able to afford any of the other services. You’re liable to get
kicked off if you board so don’t even try. For more information on train travel,
see www.perurail.com For bookings, call (0051) 084 238722 or email
On arrival in Aguas Calientes, make the short walk to the bus departure point
where for the somewhat pricely sum of US $6 each way, you’ll find a bus to take
you up to Machu Picchu. The first one of the day leaves half an hour before
first light and they go every 20 minutes after that, or when full in high
season. Alternatively, it’s a stiff two to three hour ascent on foot.
The most memorable way to arrive at Machu Picchu though is via the Inca Trail.
This four-day trek is hard going in places and camping obviously isn’t
everyone’s cup of tea, but all aches and pains are sure to disappear at the
first breathtaking view of the site from the Sun Gate. By taking the Inca Trail,
you’re following in the hallowed footsteps of priests and other dignitaries who
would have used it as a kind of pilgrimage route and you also pass several
outstanding ruined temples and outhouses en route. Current restrictions mean
that only 500 people can start the Inca Trail each day and this includes
porters, guides and cooks. As a result, you now need to book several months in
advance to be sure of getting a place. The trail is closed in February during
the worst of the rainy season and there is currently talk of extending this to
January and March as well. Plenty of travel agencies in Cusco feature the Inca
Trail, although some are more reputable than others. As a general rule of thumb,
if you pay less than $350 for your trek, it’s unlikely that the porters who
carry all the camping and cooking equipment are being well cared for by their
agency. See www.andeantravelweb.com/peru for details of local operators.
WHERE TO STAY
For hotel information click here
WHERE TO EAT
At Machu Picchu itself, El Mirador snack bar sells bottled water, sandwiches,
burgers and other refreshments. The Machu Picchu Sanctuary Lodge has a gourmet
breakfast and lunch buffet for around $15 and $22 respectively. There are no ATM
machines at the ruins or in Aguas Calientes so try and bring all the cash that
you might need.
Restaurants in Aguas Calientes tend to be much of a muchness but one of the best
in town is Indio Feliz which serves Peruvian food with French flair. El Manu on
Pachacútec offers value for money and Chez Maggy is always reliable for pasta
and wood-fired pizza. For reasonable vegetarian food, try Govinda. For a
nightcap, head to the lively Blues Bar Café on Pachacútec.
Aguas Calientes’ thermal baths aren’t always that clean, particularly later in
the day when hordes of people have passed through them, so go early in the
morning if you can. They’re open from 5am to 8-30pm, admission costs 10 soles
and it’s possible to rent a towel and bathing gear.