Machu Picchu: Frequently Asked Questions
Nowadays, there is so much information available on the web about a tour to Machu Picchu that is it very easy to confuse yourself. Hopefully this blog about some commonly asked questions will clear a few things up for those planning to visit the “Lost City of the Incas” in Peru.
Is it necessary to use a travel agency to go to Machu Picchu?
No, this is not a requirement. Technically you could travel to Machu Picchu organising everything yourself. However, the huge advantage of reserving with an agency is that they organise absolutely everything for you, at the same or even cheaper price for the complete excursion.
It so happens to be that in Cusco you have to buy every single bit of your tour to Machu Picchu from many different websites and offices, that are scattered all over town. Trains, buses, entrance tickets, guides and possibly hotels all require advanced booking one way or another, implying a very time consuming process.
If you will communicate with a travel agency, their staff talk with you about your entire travel itineraryand you could ask any question you like.
In addition agencies may also get discounts for certain items of the trip, such as trains and hotels, due to the volume of passengers they manage. Therefore, if you were to do everything separate from an agency, you may find out it is actually not cheaper at all.
Do you need to book the entrance ticket to Machu Picchu far in advance?
On the contrary to the Inca Trail, which has a limited daily allowance of only 500 people, Machu Picchu itself will allow 2500 per day meaning that you generally do not need to book this far in advance. However, in the summer months it is wise to book at least a few weeks before travelling as this quote is indeed reached on certain dates. During the rainy season, especially around Christmas, it is possible that only around half of this daily limit will sell. In all matters it’s advisable to book through an agency to avoid any disappointments.
How much does entry to Machu Picchu cost?
At the time of writing the prices were as follows: Foreigner: S/. 237 or S/. 139 with ISIC Student Card. Peruvians or members of the Andean Community pay: S/. 125 or S/. 91 for students.
What is Aguas Calientes/Machu Picchu Pueblo?
This is the town located below the site of Machu Picchu next to the Urubamba river. There are a few attractions to the town itself, but it mainly serves as the last stop of the train service and treks to Machu Picchu, as well as the departure point of the shuttle buses up to the archaeological site.
- Hiking the four day Inca Trail to Machu Picchu or any other alternative trek, such as the Salkantay trek or Inca Jungle. This option requires making arrangements through an authorized travel agency, because otherwise you are simply not admitted on the trail. For the Inca Trail there is a 2 day and a 4 day option. For either one of these options you need to have good physical fitness.
- By train. This is the way by which the majority of people travel to Machu Picchu. Done in 1 or 2 days (with a night in Aguas Calientes to ensure an early entrance to Machu Picchu) you will travel by train in between Aguas Calientes and a train station just outside of Cusco (again when booking with a recommended travel agency you don’t have to worry about being stranded as you will have your transfer waiting for you).
- Going through Santa Teresa: This is a route only for adventure-seekers on a very tight budget. It is definitely not a comfortable ride, nor a short one. Between Cusco and Aguas Calientes you take 4 types of local transport over a day, with very unreliable connections, to finally reach your destination.
Which train companies serve Aguas Calientes?
There are two train companies: Perurail and Incarail. There is also a local train operated by Perurail, but you need a Peruvian passport/ID card to use this service. It is highly recommended to book a train excursion to Machu Picchu in advance, especially in high season (April-September).
Once in Aguas Calientes, is it necessary to take a bus to Machu Picchu?
No. You can either go by bus ($ 12 one-way, $ 24 roundtrip for foreigners, $ 8 /15 for Peruvians), which will take around 20 minutes. Bus service starts at 5:30am until 3pm. However, you can also walk. This will take around 90 minutes and involves a winding road that climbs the 400m up to Machu Picchu from Aguas Calientes. The site opens at 6:00am.
Can I arrange a guide once at Machu Picchu?
Yes you can. A private guide will cost between $30 and $60, with a group service between $15 and $25 per person. Like everything in Peru, the price will depend on the number of people, the season and your haggling ability! The maximum group size is around 20 people. You will pay more for guides speaking in any language other than Spanish and English. The most knowledgeable guides only work directly with travel agencies.
What do you need to climb Huayna Picchu?
This pushes the price of your entrance ticket up to around $79, or $55 with an ISIC student card. You also need to decide at what time you want to do the climb. Only 200 people are allowed for each slot, so you also need to book this in advance.
Tours will normally last around 2-2½ hours, so take some water and sun cream with you in case it is warm. Nothing other than water is allowed inside in terms of food and drinks. Any other personal belongings, such as walking sticks, can be left inside a bag at the entrance to Machu Picchu for free. You must also respect the ruins and the animals that live there, most notably the llamas. Whilst they make a great photo, you mustn’t annoy them.