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10 Things I Wish I Knew Before Visiting Machu Picchu

Insider Guides
by Hillary Federico Nov 6, 2017

If Machu Picchu is among the destinations listed on your bucket list, you better learn a thing or two before you get going.

1. There are three ways to get to Machu Picchu, but a car isn’t one of them.

You can hike, take a train and/or ride a bus to get to The Lost City, though. There are two trains that go to Aguas Calientes (the town at the base of Machu Picchu): Inca Rail and PeruRail, or you can opt for the lesser known option of taking the bus from Hidroelectrica. To save a few sol (and work for it), hiking is also an option. Aside from the ever popular Inca Trail, there’s also the Salkantay Trek, the Vilcabamba Trek, and the Lares Trek, among others. Just make sure you’re in good physical shape and acclimate to the altitude before attempting.

2. It’s worth getting there early — just be prepared to wait.

So, you decided to wake up before dawn and trek on down to grab the first bus. Well, so did everyone else. Buses from Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu begin running at 5:30 AM and, by then, the line is already snaking about a mile on down the road. People wait for hours, sometimes two, to get to the front of that line. Savage.

3. There are no bathrooms once you get past the gates.

Maybe it’s because Machu Picchu is a UNESCO World Heritage site, or maybe it’s just a sick joke, but there’s only one public bathroom for visitors — and it’s outside of the park. Oh, and it costs 2 Sol (about 60 cents) to use it.

4. And there are no places to purchase food or water either.

So make sure you plan ahead. (Note: It’s important to drink lots of water if you’re experiencing even the slightest bit of altitude sickness.)

5. Thinking of hiking Huayna Picchu or Mount Machu Picchu? You’ll need a separate ticket.

There are four types of entrance tickets to Machu Picchu:

  • Machu Picchu
  • Machu Picchu and museum
  • Machu Picchu and Huayna Picchu
  • Machu Picchu and Machu Picchu Mountain

Only a limited number of visitors are allowed to hike Huayna Picchu and Mount Machu Picchu each day, so book your tickets in advance!

6. You’re photographing it right? Just DON’T bring a tripod.

On our trip we saw everything from tripods and trekking poles to large backpacks and walking sticks taken by security officers and stowed in the storage office. Don’t be that guy.

7. But DO bring bug spray.

I don’t want to say that all bug spray is a scam, but don’t expect much from your 98% DEET spray or that hippie shit. The bugs out in Peru are merciless. Make sure to cover up in long pants and long sleeves (light clothing, people — it gets hot) and slather on some extra protection. Citronella oil from a hotel in Aguas Calientes did the trick for us. Others swear by shampoo.

8. History buff or not, you must enter with a guide.

For our trip, my group visited with a guide, Jesus, from O.A.R.S. However, there are many other tour companies operating out of Lima, Cusco, and Aguas Calientes if you’d prefer to make a last-minute decision. Guides must be official Machu Picchu or licensed tour guides and can only take groups of less than 16 people.

9. Once you’re inside the park, you can only exit twice.

Starting in July 2017, Peru’s Ministry of Culture mandated that entrance tickets to Machu Picchu would be split into two entrance times: AM Entrance from 6 AM to noon and PM Entrance from noon to 5:30 PM. Though visitors are told to exit within the time frame on their ticket, it’s pretty easy to stay inside the park past the allotted time (as long as you don’t need to use the bathroom!).

10. But before you leave, make sure to stamp your passport.

Just to confirm you were there.

All photos by Matt Andrew.

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