Machu Picchu is much more than one of the most visited attractions in the world. It is ancient history swarmed in mystery and mystical beauty. Spread across a 7,000-foot mountain top, the site continues to mesmerize both tourists and scholars alike.
As with all good things these days, however, over-tourism has affected the archaeological site. The government of Peru is now trying to change that, applying stricter rules and regulations for visitors to preserve the majesty of the site for generations to come.
To prevent surprises or be turned away once you arrive, here are nine things to know about Machu Picchu.
1. Know When to Visit
As with any travel destination, you should know the best time to visit. This doesn’t only mean considering season and weather patterns but also when to avoid the crowds.
Peak season is late May through August and is the most crowded. The driest months, July and August, will allow you to see views often depicted in photographs of the site, with blue skies and treasured sunlight. The rainiest months are January and February. Unexpected showers occur any time of year here, though, so don’t be surprised if you experience one while visiting.
2. You Need Tickets
No longer can you show up at the entrance and enter the site at your own pace. You’re now required to purchase a ticket with a designated entry time.
Purchase tickets far in advance of your arrival as they are limited and can sell out fast. While you can take a chance to purchase a ticket once you arrive, don’t be surprised if you find none available.
Hourly entrance times begin at 6 a.m. If possible, plan your trip around this earlier time to avoid crowds and enjoy the peaceful morning moments.
3. Bring Your Passport
You’ll need to present your ticket and your passport before entry to the site is granted. The guards at the site will ensure the name on the ticket matches that on the passport. Copies of passport pages won’t do, so be sure you have a safe space to carry your passport throughout your visit.
4. Purchase Additional Hiking Tickets
In addition to touring the ancient site, you can also hike the surrounding mountains. The shorter hikes to the Inca Bridge or the Sun Gate are usually included in the price of your entrance ticket. For Huayna Picchu and Machu Picchu Mountain, however, you will need to purchase additional tickets.
5. How to Get There
If you’re up to the challenge, consider hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu. This rugged trail will take you four days and three nights to complete but will make the site that much more meaningful once you arrive. Otherwise, you’ll need to take a train or bus to the ancient site.
You can take the train from Cusco or Ollantaytambo to the town of Aguas Calientes, then a bus to the site. In the early afternoon, you take the bus back down to catch the train. In both Cusco and Ollantaytambo, you have lodging options from hostels to luxury hotels available.
One way to avoid crowds is to stay in Aguas Calientes and arrive at the site before the others.
6. Hire a Tour Guide
If you don’t plan to go through a travel agency or visit with an organized tour group, you must hire a guide to enter Machu Picchu. These may be found in the towns, such as Cusco, or upon arrival outside the entrance. Be selective, assuring the one you hire possesses good language skills and knowledge of the site.
7. No Bathrooms Located Inside
While bathrooms may be the last thing you think about when caught up in the excitement of the moment, do yourself a big favor and use the toilets outside the entrance. Once inside, you will not have access to bathrooms and will not be able to re-enter the site if you must exit to the bathroom during your tour.
8. What Not to Bring
While a picnic sounds ideal, you won’t be able to enjoy one inside the site. Restrictions are in place when it comes to food and other items to reduce litter and crowds lingering for hours. You can bring in water bottles to hydrate during your time there but forget the snacks.
Excessive photography equipment, such as tripods and drones, are banned. Large backpacks are also restricted. Be sure to confirm beforehand what you can take with you inside. There are available lockers outside the entrance just in case, however.
9. Dress for the Location
Whether you visit in the rainy or dry season, be aware that biting insects are out in full force. These misery-inducing insects will cause excessive itching and leave uncomfortable red welts on any exposed skin. Wear long pants and a breathable long sleeve top if possible. If you do decide to wear shorts, you can try using a repellent or more natural deterrents. The locals claim slathering on shampoo to exposed skin will help.
Knowing these nine things beforehand will allow you to better enjoy the beauty of Machu Picchu. As one of the few preserved Inca cities in existence today, prepare to be in awe while exploring this archaeological treasure.