There are many steps and things to consider before planning your trip to Machu Picchu and Peru. Especially with restrictions on the number of people allowed into Machu Picchu, it is crucial to start planning and buying tickets early to ensure your spot to visit this excellent site. Here is a post about how to plan a trip to Machu Picchu, where I’ll go over when you should take specific steps to set your trip stress-free for your visit.
There are three ways to visit Machu Picchu if you’re seeing on your own:
- Inca Trail: The first and longest way is hiking the Inca Trail, a 4-day, 3-night trek.
- Ollantaytambo: The second and most comfortable way is to take the train through Ollantaytambo to Aguas Calientes and then a bus to the entrance. This method is the one I discuss in this post.
- Hydroelectric: The third and cheapest way is to go from Cusco to Santa Maria. A vehicle takes you to the Hydroelectric station, and from there, you can either walk to Aguas Calientes or take a train.
Machu Picchu via Ollantaytambo
This post goes over how to reach Machu Picchu through the train ride through Ollantaytambo and Aguas Calientes, the town you go to visit Machu Picchu. I recommend this if you’re looking for the fastest and most comfortable way. Unless you’re planning to trek the Inca Trail, this way is the one most commonly used.
Update: This post was updated on October 26,2023.
Ready to see Peru’s greatest wonder? See below for the steps to plan a trip to Machu Picchu!
Decide when to go
Best time of year
While Machu Picchu is open year-round, you should still look at the best time of year to visit.
Peru has two seasons, dry and rainy seasons. The best season to visit Machu Picchu falls in the dry season, between April and October. These months also correlate with the peak season, when you will find more tourists.
Try traveling in May, September, and October to avoid as much tourist traffic as possible in the peak season. Due to summer travels, June, July, and August are typically busier. If you can avoid these months, it’ll be worth it so that you’ll deal with a lot less foot traffic at the site.
With flight prices increasing and the risk of canceled flights, I recommend looking early at flights to ensure you can get what you want. When you have a general idea of when you can go, check flights to ensure they work with your schedule and budget.
To visit Machu Picchu, you will most likely fly into Cusco (CUS), which may have a stop in Lima (LIM).
If you plan to be in Lima first, take a quick flight to Cusco for your trip to Machu Picchu.
Plan a (rough) Peru itinerary.
Now that you know when you’re planning, roughly plan out the rest of your Peru itinerary to see what day works best for you to visit Machu Picchu.
We knew we wanted to see Sacred Valley, Machu Picchu, and Cusco. This plan allowed us to see when and where we would be on specific days to purchase all the tickets needed to enter Machu Picchu.
Need help planning out an itinerary for your Peru trip? Check out my 1 Week in Peru Travel Guide post about how to spend your seven days in Peru and when to go to Machu Picchu.
In this next section, I will review all the tickets you need to get to Machu Picchu and the order to purchase them. You will need:
1. Entrance ticket to Machu Picchu
2. Train ticket to Aguas Calientes (the town closest to Machu Picchu)
3. Bus ticket to get from Aguas Calientes to the Machu Picchu entrance.
1. Entrance Tickets to Machu Picchu
The exciting (and most important) step is purchasing your Machu Picchu entrance tickets. Entrance tickets are limited to a certain number of visitors daily and narrowed down into time slots during the day. Three factors go into Machu Picchu tickets:
- Type (different circuits with add-on hikes)
- Time (entrance time range)
I encourage everyone to buy their entrance ticket as soon as possible. Then, if the ticket you want isn’t available, you can look at different types, times, and days. Also, if choosing a separate ticket impacts the rest of your Peru trip, you can plan accordingly before confirming other aspects of your journey.
Purchasing your tickets can be confusing, as you will have to buy them on your own through the official Machu Picchu website. This link here does a great job of determining which ticket is best for you and how to purchase the tickets through the website.
2. Train Tickets to get to Aguas Calientes
After purchasing your Machu Picchu entrance tickets, I recommend purchasing your train tickets to Aguas Calientes. You don’t want to find yourself in a situation where you have your entrance tickets but no way to get there.
To get to Machu Picchu, you must arrive at the town of Aguas Calientes, which is only accessible by train (or by bus and walking, which I do not cover in this post). There are three stations you can take the train to Aguas Calientes:
- Ollantatayambo (~ 2 hours)
- Urubamba (~2 hours and 40 minutes)
- Cusco (~ 3 hours and 15 minutes)
Our entrance tickets were 8 AM to enter Machu Picchu, so we decided to get there the night before. We took the train from Ollantaytambo to Aguas Calientes. Once there, we got a good night’s rest and explored Machu Picchu the next day. For our return trip, we took the evening train from Aguas Calientes to Cusco, our next stop on our Peru trip.
In addition, there are also two different train lines to choose from:
- Peru Rail (4 various services)
- Inca Rail (4 various services)
When we purchased our tickets, Peru Rail offered the best cost for us. So we took Expedition there and Vistadome back as it worked out timing. Vistadome offered panoramic windows on the roof, which gave us beautiful views on our ride back.
This link includes all the options for purchasing your train tickets online.
Choose your train tickets based on what works for you! Dependent upon your entrance time, I recommend a train the night before and spending the night in Agua Calientes. It allows you to get a whole night’s rest before your entrance. It also allows for wiggle room due to train delays.
Remember that you cannot take large luggage on the train. We took our carry-on and backpack, which was just enough. The train stations have places where you can store your luggage if you have a large suitcase. If you choose to do this, make sure to have your return ticket back to the station you stored your luggage.
3. Bus tickets from Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu Entrance
Once you have your entrance ticket to Machu Picchu, and a train ticket to Aguas Calientes, you will still need a way to get from Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu. There are two ways to get from Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu:
- Walk – I recommend this option only if you are in good shape and don’t have additional hikes in Machu Picchu. You can also walk back after your visit if you take the bus to the entrance.
- Bus – This is a 20-minute ride from Aguas Calientes to the Machu Picchu entrance. You can purchase a roundtrip ticket to get a ride back. In the morning and late afternoon, lines are longer. Ensure you get to the bus station earlier than your Machu Picchu entrance ticket.
Unlike your entrance and train ticket, you will purchase your bus ticket IN Aguas Calientes. You do not purchase bus tickets online. Buses leave every 10 minutes to head to the entrance, which takes approximately 20 minutes.
Use this link to learn more about the bus or trek from Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu.
With an entrance time of 8 AM, we began to line up for the buses around 7 AM. I waited in the queue while Danny purchased our actual bus tickets at the station.
Once your planning and Machu Picchu tickets are purchased, you can prep for the rest of your Peru trip. Here are some general steps for finalizing your Peru and Machu Picchu trip.
- Ensure your passport is current and you have the travel documents you need to visit.
- Book all your flights, hotels, transportation, and any other excursions you wish to do for your Peru trip.
- Visit a travel clinic to get the shots needed (these vary by region visiting in Peru) and prescribe altitude medicine (if required).
- Prepare and pack your luggage for your trip!