The day after my arrival into Cusco, I ventured out to Machu Picchu to explore the beautiful ancient ruins. Machu Picchu has always been on my bucket list, and I couldn’t have asked for a better day (both weather and experience-wise)!
I definitely recommend giving yourself a day or two in Cusco to get used to the elevation and relax before trekking out to Machu Picchu. Many people will use a travel agency to book in this excursion and hire a tour guide, but it is quite easy to do it on your own (and cheaper). Due to the cost and limited time available in my schedule, I conducted some research and planned my trip on my own.
If you plan to visit Machu Picchu on your own (and not utilize an agency or tour guide), please be sure to purchase your tickets well in advance, as there are a limited number of people allowed to visit daily. Tickets do tend to sell out fast once you get closer to your arrival date, so plan accordingly! I’ve listed some tips for your reference below.
1. Book your train tickets from Cusco to Aguas Calientes (the town you will arrive into to catch the bus up to the ruins) and be sure to pick up your train tickets!
I bought my train tickets through Inca Rail, rather than Peru Rail because at the time, they were cheaper, and the train departed Cusco (Poroy Station) two hours earlier than Peru Rail. Costs and departure times may vary depending on the day that you go and may have changed since 2016 when I went. Both Peru Rail and Inca Rail are nice trains, but I personally loved my experience with Inca Rail.
The Inca Rail tickets that I bought were on the 360 train. I took the earliest departure from Cusco and the latest departure from Machu Picchu. The round-trip cost for my trip was $158 USD (in August 2016), and tickets can be bought on the Inca Rail website. There are other classes of trains and times available, but prices will differ. You can check out the train car options and time tables on the Inca Rail website.
|Departure Station:||Arrival Station:||Departure Time:||Arrival Time:|
|Poroy (Cusco)||Machu Picchu||5:55am||8:48am|
|Machu Picchu||Poroy (Cusco)||4:12pm||7:39pm|
**Please note that Inca Rail only has this train running from May-December, as the rest of the year is within their rainy season.
The Poroy train station is just outside of Cusco city center and does take about 30 minutes by taxi to get there, so be sure to book in a taxi ahead of time (ideally with your hotel), as it can be very hard to find a taxi that early in the morning. Be sure to allow yourself enough time to get to the station well in advance (about 30 minutes before departure). It cost me around 35-45 Sol to get to Poroy Station (this will depend on where you are coming from in Cusco). The train ride is just about 3 hours in length.
When you purchase your tickets online, you will receive a confirmation email and a receipt. This email will not contain your tickets. You will need to bring a valid ID (passport), printed voucher purchase and the credit card (same one you used to purchase the tickets) to the sales office located in the Plaza de Armas office in Cusco (Portal de Panes Street 105). I highly recommend picking up your ticket at least one day before your train departure, as you cannot pick up your tickets at the train station.
2. Purchase your Machu Picchu entry tickets.
Tickets MUST be purchased well-in advance before arriving into Peru. They can only be bought through the Machu Picchu government website, Ministry of Culture. The website can be a bit tricky, as it is not only listed in Spanish, but the steps to purchase tickets can be a bit confusing. I, and many other people, highly recommend that you do not use the translate button on your browser (to read it in English), as it doesn’t fully translate correctly.
To fully understand the website and process to purchase tickets, please follow the step by step instructions provided by Thrifty Nomads’ blog post. I personally used their very detailed instructions to purchase my tickets in 2016, and they have since updated the instructions for your convenience.
There are a few different options available for you to select from. They vary in cost, entry time, amount of hiking and views, and availability along with accessibility. The three different options are also mentioned in greater detail on the Thrifty Nomads blog post, but I just thought I’d mention it to you.
- Machu Picchu Main Grounds– just the main ruins and temples to wander around and explore on your own
- Montaña Machu Picchu– This involves hiking up a higher mountain peak which overlooks the main grounds. There are a limited number of tickets sold and only two entry windows available. You will still have access to the main ruins and grounds as well.
- Huayna Picchu– Just like Montaña Machu Picchu, tickets provide special entry to a higher mountain and climbing point with a limited entry window and number of tickets sold. This also includes entrance to the Temple of the Sun and the main grounds.
The main grounds continue to be the most popular option, followed by Huayna Picchu, and then Montaña Machu Picchu.
When I purchased my ticket for basic entry to the main grounds, it cost me around $40 USD (at the time it was 133.16 Peruvian Sol). Prices have gone up since I visited in 2016. Make sure you are paying with a Visa credit card for the payment to work and print your ticket as well! You will need this! Make sure you also bring your passport with you upon arrival at Machu Picchu!
Important information/FAQ’s to note on the day of your trip to Machu Picchu:
-What is the food and beverage situation throughout the day?
If you are taking an Inca Rail train, your ticket includes a breakfast sandwich, coffee, juices, and water in the morning, along with local snacks and fancy mocktails on the ride home in the evening (I cannot speak for Peru Rail, as I haven’t taken their trains).
That being said, I still highly recommend packing small snacks and lots of water for the train ride and walk around the ruins, as it can take around 3-4 hours to fully explore Machu Picchu by yourself (without a guide). There are rules that state ‘no food’ when entering the ruins, however, I did see other people with snacks and no one was monitoring the fact that I whipped out some nuts or granola bars. Please be sure not to litter!
There is an overly priced café and buffet restaurant outside the entrance, which I don’t personally recommend visiting. Your best bet is to eat snacks and wait until you return to the base of Aguas Calientes, for a delicious Peruvian meal at one of the local restaurants. I personally recommend grabbing lunch at The Treehouse Restaurant!
-Where do I go after I get off the train?
Once you arrive into Aguas Calientes, exit the train and cross the bridge. Underneath the bridge, and across the street, you will find a small bus ticket sales booth. You will need to purchase a roundtrip bus ticket at the booth. Be prepared to wait in a bit of a line! When purchasing your tickets, you do have the option to pay in US Dollars, Peruvian Sol or with an American Express credit card. A roundtrip ticket for a foreign adult costs $24 USD, otherwise it is free of charge to walk all the way up to the entrance of Machu Picchu. I do not recommend the free option, as it can take about 2.5 hours and it is all uphill on a steep incline, and you are only limited to so much time if visiting for the day as it is.
Once you purchase your tickets, cross the street and get in line for the buses. You will need to present your passport and bus ticket to get on board. The buses run super frequently both up and down the mountain, and usually there is always a bus ready to go once you’re in line, which is good! The bus ride is about 25 minutes long, and I arrived at the front entrance of Machu Picchu around 9:45am.
-What do I bring/pack for the day?
As usual, I made the mistake of over-packing. You’d think that I would be good at the whole ‘light packing thing’ by now with how much I travel, but nope, I always overpack and think it’s better to be over-prepared than under-prepared! Unless I regret it, like I did for Machu Picchu. I brought a backpack full of snacks, multiple layers of clothing, cameras, passport, tickets, and water of course.
The train is not heated, and it was a very cold three-hour ride when I visited in August. When I left Cusco, it was in the high 30’s (Fahrenheit), so I had several long layers on with a hat and scarf to keep me warm throughout the ride. By the time I made it to the entrance of Machu Picchu, the weather warmed up significantly due to the time of day and the elevation is about 3,180 feet less than Cusco’s elevation. By 10am, I was walking around the ruins with cropped yoga pants, a racerback tank top, and all my previous layers shoved into my backpack (quite heavy).
There is an option to store your bags prior to entering the grounds, however, it costs 5 Sol and I am not too sure how secure it can be. I chose to carry my items for safe keeping and security.
-Are there bathrooms to use at Machu Picchu?
There are not any bathrooms once you enter the grounds and ruins, so keep this in mind. Make sure you use the bathroom before you hand over your entry ticket and begin walking around. You can exit and re-enter the grounds up to two times if you do decide to leave and use the bathroom during your visit. It does come with a cost of 1 Sol though! So be sure you have money on hand.
-Can I walk around the ruins on my own?
Yes! I walked around on my own and you really don’t need a guide. I stood close enough to some of the tour guides to overhear some of the historical facts and stories shared but didn’t want a full-fledged guided tour. I was able to walk around at my own pace and stay away from the crowds of guided groups this way.
If interested in hiring a tour guide, you don’t need to book one before arriving, as they conveniently have many guides available upon arrival. I walked around the ruins in about 3.5-4 hours alone.
-Other tips and misc. information:
- Make sure that you plan enough time to get back down the mountain on a bus, grab lunch (if you want and have time), and arrive to the train station about 30 minutes prior to your train departure.
- Upon your return to Poroy Station, taxis are easily accessible outside and can take you back to your hotel in Cusco. Just be aware that traffic will take longer than your 5am ride to the station earlier in the day!
- There are many other options (besides the train) to get to Machu Picchu, and different departure points other than Cusco if you are interested. Some people may choose to spend a night in Ollayantambo or even in Aguas Calientes (the town at the bottom of Machu Picchu). This is all personal preference, but if you choose to climb one of the taller mountains or even arrive early to catch the sunrise, I would recommend staying in Aguas Calientes. As mentioned, Machu Picchu can be done in a day from Cusco and as much as it was exhausting, it was well worth it. My colleague stayed overnight in Ollayantambo, took a very early train ride in and hiked one of the mountains to catch the sunrise over the ruins. I’ve heard that it is well worth it- wishing I had done the same!