What You Need to Know Before Visiting Machu Picchu

Machu Picchu is one of the most significant sites left from the Inca civilization, so it's no surprise that it's also one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world. Read this before you go, to make the most of your visit!

As one of the most significant sites left of the Inca civilization, this 15th-century landmark in Peru is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world. I’m willing to bet it’s on just about every travel bucket list!

Machu Picchu was the Inca Empire’s greatest city, and it’s perched on a plateau between two forested peaks in the Andes. Now considered a “New Seven Wonders of the World,” millions of people visit this impressive and mysterious site every year.

Machu Picchu
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Machu Picchu’s location atop a mountain, coupled with the overwhelming amount of tourists each year, make it a unique travel expedition. Before you go, it’s important to know what you’re getting into, and what you should bring — or not bring.

Check out these tips before you travel to the legendary citadel.

Best Time to Visit

You can technically visit Machu Picchu at any time of the year, but there are better times than others if you have the flexibility.

Peru’s dry season is winter, and this is when you can expect more sunny weather. It runs from May to September. While it does rain more in Machu Picchu versus the rest of Peru, your chances for good weather are much greater during this time.

The summer here is obviously warmer, but it also sees frequent heavy showers. If you’re looking for smaller crowds, you can chance the rain. Don’t expect it to be empty, though — there are tons of people at Machu Picchu year-round. The Inca Trail also closes for part of the summer season, due to landslide risks.

Be Early

Bus station of Aguas Calientes town
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Whether it’s arriving at Machu Picchu or simply arriving at the bus to Machu Picchu from Aguas Calientes, plan on getting there earlier than you need to be.

Once you’ve arrived, you’ll be given an allotted time to enter the site. It’s worth noting that if everyone is lining up to get in at 5:30 am, it could take hours for all those hundreds of people to actually make it through the gate. That means you should show up as early as you can, so you can get in as soon as possible. And while most people report they’ve never seen anyone with a morning ticket get booted after noon, there’s always a chance that the guards could start enforcing that rule. 

As for the bus, you’ll want to arrive an hour earlier to ensure you get in line and get on that bus. Again, there are tons of other people doing the same exact trip as you, and you definitely don’t want to miss your transportation!

Buy Your Tickets Way in Advance!

Listen to me carefully: Under no circumstances should you wait to purchase tickets the day of at the gate.

If you’re lucky, you might be able to get tickets a few days ahead of time during the parts of the summer season. However, tickets can and will sell out during the high season. Avoid the disappointment of waiting an hour to get on the bus, riding 20 minutes to the ruins, and then finding out there are no more tickets for that day.

If you’re trying to do other things in the area, like the Inca Trail, you might have to book it as much as a year out. Booking early is also essential for treks to nearby spots with limited entrances, like Huayna Picchu.

What to Bring

passport
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Bring your passport! Not just to travel to Peru, but to get into Machu Picchu. You will need to present your passport with your ticket to enter. Make sure to get a special Machu Picchu stamp to commemorate your visit!

Also, bring sunblock and a rain poncho or rain jacket. You never know what kind of weather you’ll get.

Don’t forget a reusable water bottle. Although some people haven’t seen it being enforced, they do have a rule against single-use plastic water bottles. Play it safe and bring a reusable bottle to stay hydrated.

I know bug spray with DEET is frowned upon, but you need to bring the big guns when visiting Machu Picchu. You can also reach for a repellent made with picaridin. Wear pants instead of shorts and long sleeves if you can stand it. The biting insects — biting midges or sandflies — are no joke.

And What Not to Bring

Like I mentioned, single-use plastic water bottles are not allowed. There is also a strict policy against bringing in food, so leave the snacks behind. It’s all in an effort to protect the site and the wildlife that lives near it.

Leave that huge backpack behind, too. Only small, personal day bags are allowed in Machu Picchu. The official limit is a maximum size of 40 cm x 35 cm x 20 cm (15.7 inches x 13.7 inches x 7.9 inches). If you show up with something bigger than that, you can pay to store it in the lockers before entering.

You won’t be able to bring in any tripods, selfie sticks, or other extensions for cameras or cell phones, either. You’ll have to get those selfies the old-fashioned way.

Hit the Bathroom When You Arrive

Machu Picchu
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I know it seems like common sense, but there are no modern bathrooms inside the ruins. Do yourself a favor and go to the bathroom before you start your tour. There is a bathroom just outside the gate that will cost one sol (about a quarter in USD) to use.

If you get halfway through and need to go, you will be allowed one re-entry during your visit that you can use to go to the bathroom or grab snacks at the restaurant. However, if you have a morning ticket and you’re trying to stay longer than your allotted time, you’ll have to make sure you are back inside before noon. They may not allow you back in past that time.

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