Machu Picchu Overview 2024

By shortinca
July 13, 2022
Machu Picchu

Machu Picchu was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1983 and voted one of the new 7 Wonders of the World in 2007. It truly is a must-visit for anyone traveling to South America. These incredible ruins were built by the Inca Empire and are found deep in the beautiful Andean mountain range amist a cloud forest.

Getting to Cusco

  • Machu Picchu can only be accessed from Cusco City. You can reach Cusco either by bus, by air, or if you have a bit of spare time and money, by train (from Puno or Arequipa). The vast majority of people fly into Lima’s airport: Jorge Chávez International, and continue their journey via bus or domestic flight to Cusco.
  • Recommended bus companies: Peru Hop, Civa, Cruz del Sur, Oltursa, and Tepsa all have bus routes going in both directions to and from Cusco and are safe companies to travel with.
  • Recommended Airlines: Latam Airlines, Sky Airlines and JetSmart are great for the short flight from Lima to Cusco.


Finding a tour company local to Cusco is the best way to ensure that you have a great guide for your once in a lifetime adventure to Machu Picchu.


Cusco is the main access point to Machu Picchu, as it is the closest airport and the only city in the Sacred Valley of the Incas. From Cusco you will need to travel to Aguas Calientes, the town at the base of Machu Picchu.

To get to Aguas Calientes you have two choices: the Train will take you directly there, or you can take a bus to Hydroelectrica and walk from there.

Once you get to Aguas Calientes- the final stretch of the journey- you need to take a bus or walk up to Machu Picchu.

Getting from Cusco to Aguas Calientes

There are 3 options for you to choose from:

  • Trekking from Cusco to Aguas Calientes. The most popular treks to Machu Picchu are the Inca Trail, the Lares Hike and the Salkantay Trek. You’ll need a tour operator if you want to trek, but in many people’s opinions it is the best way to arrive at Machu Picchu.
  • Take the train from Cusco to Aguas Calientes. This is perfectly possible to do by yourself, or if you feel more comfortable you can travel with a reliable tour operator.
  • Take the bus from Cusco to Hydroelectrica. This is the least recommended form of travel. It’s a long drive and the road is dangerous- very narrow in parts and prone to landslides. You also have to walk from Hydroelectrica to Aguas Calientes.

Options for Getting From Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu

  • Walk up the steep hill. This takes around 1.5 hours, it’s a short challenging hike, on steep set of stairs. It’s essentially 1.7km directly upwards. Remember, Aguas Calientes is a tropical climate, so it’s a sweaty journey.
  • Take a bus. These leave regularly from Aguas Calientes as Machu Picchu. The ride takes 25 minutes and currently costs US$24 for a round trip.
  • A combination – you can take the bus up to Machu Picchu and hike back down if you’re feeling energetic. This saves you $12 and lets you explore the jungle stairs.


If you book a tour to Machu Picchu (via a trek or train), the vast majority of companies will include a guide to help you get from Cusco to Machu Picchu. The guided tour inside should be included as well.


To access Machu Picchu, you MUST have an entrance ticket purchased in advance.
Usually entrance tickets to Machu Picchu are included as part of your tour to Machu Picchu. However, tickets are limited, so try to book your adventure as soon as you know what date you want to travel on.

This also gives your chosen company plenty of time to ensure that you get the best guides, hotels, and so on. You cannot enter Machu Picchu without a guide, and the transport can be difficult and confusing to navigate- especially if you don’t speak Spanish.

You will probably only visit Machu Picchu once, so why not take all the stress out of the trip and ask a local tour company to take care of the details.

 Be careful how you choose company for a tour or trek. There have been hundreds of tourists scammed in the past. If the price seems too good to be true, it usually is.

We recommend the following formal companies who have years of experience and good feedback from over 250,000 customers:

Read our guide to local Tour Operators for more information about how to choose the right company for your visit to Machu Picchu.


Multi-Day Treks

  • Treks are ideal for those who want to experience walking in the footsteps of the Inca and challenge themselves on the way to Machu Picchu.
  • There are 2, 3 or 4 day options. Walking is required.
  • All treks start in Cusco, visit Machu Picchu, and return you to Cusco. This means that all of the planning is already done for you. A good quality company will include the transport back to Cusco unless you have specifically requested otherwise.
  • Trekking companies usually include most of the tickets, like entrances to Machu Picchu, train tickets, transport, meals and an English or Spanish speaking guide. Check what is included.
  • Most treks also include food and accommodation (check your itinerary)

The Classic Inca Trail

  • The #1 rated trek to Machu Picchu
  • Must book 6 months in advance due to limited number of permits
  • Considered to be a difficult trek
  • Sleeping in tents every night
  • Closed every year in February
  • Prices range from $600-$3000
  • 4 Days of trekking, stopping at famous Inca sites along the way

Check tour operators, compare prices and book your trek here!

The Salkantay Trek

  • 4-5 full days of trekking
  • Incredible scenery as the trek passes through the Cordillera Vilcabamba
  • One of the best treks in the world according to National Geographic
  • Difficult trek- some say harder than the Inca Trail
  • Booking 2-3 weeks in advance is usually fine
  • Prices range from $500 to $2300

Check out tour operators, compare prices and book the trek here!

The Inka Jungle Trek to Machu Picchu

  • Combination of trekking and adventure sports like biking, zip line, and rafting
  • Difficulty level is Medium (3 days is easier than 4 days)
  • Treks available all year round
  • Booking 2-3 weeks in advance is usually fine
  • Prices range from $450-$750
  • 4 day option includes trekking on a part of the official Inca Trail

Check out tour operators, compare prices and book the trek here!

The Lares Trek

  • Visit native Andean communities with tons of Llamas & Alpacas
  • See stunning mountains and enjoy amazing glacial lagoons & hot springs
  • Departs every few days
  • Experience authentic Andean culture and local communities
  • Prices range from $450 to $2500

Extra Hikes in Machu Picchu

Once inside the citadel, you have the option to climb either Huayna Picchu (the famous peak seen in pictures of the citadel) or Machu Picchu Mountain. Tickets for these additional treks need to be booked separately and in advance. We recommend checking with the tour operator you use for your main trek.

Huayna Picchu

  • The highest peaked mountain seen behind Machu Picchu in the photos
  • There are Inca ruins at the top
  • Reaches an altitude of 2,720m
  • 50-minute hike to the top of the mountain
  • Steep steps and no hand rails. Not recommended in bad weather
  • Difficult hike – a good level of fitness is required

Machu Picchu Mountain (Montaña)

  • Located on the southwest end of Machu Picchu.
  • A longer trek than Huayna Picchu- around 1 hour 30 to the summit
  • Less steep and less crowded than the alternative
  • Offers great views over Machu Picchu and surrounding area
  • No Inca structures on top


2 Day Inca Trail (Hiking)

  • You will hike the last 1/3 of the famous Classic Inca Trail (12km in total)
  • You will hike the actual trail that the Ancient Incas hiked more than 600 year ago
  • You get to hike through the Sun Gate all the way to famous Citadel
  • You get to visit Machu Picchu Citadel twice, the 1st and 2nd day of the trek
  • Take the train to the starting point of the trek

Check tour operators, compare prices and book your trek here!

1 Day Tour by Train

  • Enjoy a Panoramic train ride to Machu Picchu with amazing views along the way.
  • See expansive mountains views, rivers and valleys as you pass by ancient cites
  • Hike up to the Sun Gate and Inca bridge
  • Prices range from $300-$600
  • Take your time exploring the Inca City

Find our the detailed itinerary here!


2 Day Bus/Walk

  • Take the bus from Cusco to Hidroelectrica (the last stop) via Santa Maria
  • 3 hour trek along the train tracks to Aguas Calientes
  • Spend the night in Aguas Calientes and either trek or get the bus up to the citadel early the next morning. It has to be early as you need to leave Aguas Calientes in good time to get back to Hydroelectrica
  • Walk back to Hidroelectrica and drive back to Cusco
  • Can be dangerous because of the quality of the roads
  • Prices range from $150 to $200


  • In Quechua, the language of the Incas, Machu Picchu means old mountain. Huayna Picchu, on the other hand, means young mountain.
  • You can get your passport stamped at the entrance of Machu Picchu for an original souvenir
  • The Ashlar building technique that the Incas used is famous because the stones are cut in such a way that they fit perfectly together with no mortar between the stones.
  • Machu Picchu also served as an astronomical observatory. The sacred Intihuatana stone indicates the two equinoxes and twice per year, the sun sits directly over the stone creating no shadow.
  • To protect the site from erosion, only 500 people are allowed on the Inca Trail each day and in February, the trail is closed for maintenance ( Inca Trail)


  • Your ORIGINAL passport! You cannot enter without it!
  • Your ticket to Machu Picchu and Machu Picchu / Huayna Picchu Mountain; both have to be bought in advance.
  • Some money for the passport stamp, bathroom breaks in the public rest room, souvenirs, and for dinner or lunch in Aguas Calientes.
  • A camera
  • Good, comfortable shoes
  • Water
  • A lunchbox and some snacks
  • Sunscreen and/or a raincoat depending on the weather
  • Insect Repellent (very important)


  • Tripods are not allowed at the historical site. You can leave it in the lockers outside at your own cost
  • Professional cameras are not allowed. Permits for professional cameras are over $300 so avoid bringing a professional-looking camera in to save some money
  • You cannot come to Machu Picchu with your large travel backpack. Only smaller day bags are allowed so leave your backpack. You can pay a hotel in Aguas Calientes a small amount of money to take care of it.
  • Walking sticks are not allowed, with an exception for people with a disability that specifically requires walking sticks
  • Only small foldable umbrellas are allowed so avoid bringing a big umbrella with spikes


  • If travelling to Machu Picchu on your own, you will probably go by minibus or taxi for at least part of the way. These cars often drive dangerously on narrow roads that have steep cliffs with hairpin turns. Accidents are common so try to avoid travelling like this- particularly at night or in the rainy season. Saving a few dollars is not worth your life.
  • Tour operators need two certificates, one from the city and one from the tourist board. Make sure they have one of each.
  • Like all tourist sites, keep an eye out for your valuables and keep your wits about you.

Frequently Asked Questions

Where is Machu Picchu?

Machu Picchu is located 112 km from the City of Cusco, Peru in South America. The nearest town is Aguas Calientes which you can get to by train or by walking (as discussed at length earlier in this article).

What is Machu Picchu?

It’s the most famous archaeological ruin in South America. It was named a World Cultural and Natural Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1983, and is one of the most visited tourist attractions in the world.

Machu Picchu is a city of stone built in the middle of the Cordillera de Vilcabamba. It was built without the use of wheels or iron tools. It was so well constructed that most of the structures remain intact today. It’s because of this that many consider Machu Picchu to be a perfect example of the Incas’ brilliant engineering.

How high is Machu Picchu?

Machu Picchu is 2,430 meters (7,970 ft) above sea level. Cusco, on the other hand, has an elevation of 3,400 meters. For this reason, not many people suffer from altitude sickness in the citadel as they have already been through Cusco.

How to get Machu Picchu Tickets?

You should buy your Machu Picchu Tickets at least 6 months before your trip to guarantee your spot. Tickets are sold on the official government website ( or via tour companies. Tickets can be paid for with credit or debit cards.

When is the best time to visit?

Consider visiting Machu Picchu from April through May and from September through October. The high-tourist season months are June, July and August when it doesn’t rain, but there are a lot of crowds. There is a much higher risk of rain and clouds from December to March.

When was Machu Picchu discovered?

Machu Picchu wasn’t exactly ‘discovered’ because local people have always known about its existence. However, in 1911 a local boy named Juanito showed the American explorer Hiram Bingham the ruins. Bingham then made his findings public and -wrongly- called it ‘The Lost City of the Incas’.

Nine years before Bingham had arrived, the Peruvian Agustin Lizárraga had also found the ruins and left his signature on one of the walls of the Three Windows Temple in the Citadel.

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