How Many Days Should You Spend in Machu Picchu?
After traveling sometimes several days by air, train, bus and even on foot to get to Machu Picchu, you want to make sure you have enough time to visit and explore the ruins. Most visitors exert a great deal of effort, not to mention expense, to get to the middle of nowhere in the Andes Mountains. How much time should you spend inside the ruins? Should you go 1 day, 2 days or longer? And what do you get? A traditional tour is 2 hours to wander along 1 way circuit of your choice. There are 3 to choose from.
The first thing you need to know is that it takes about 5 hours to get to Machu Picchu from Cusco. (this is by train and van, and it's the fastest route. It's not possible to drive directly to Machu Picchu. Follow this link to read more about driving)
Beginning January 2019 there is a new shorter route which will save 30 minutes driving time between Cusco and Ollantaytambo. (see more details in the link below to lastest Machu Picchu News)
The Answer: 2 days / 1 night is ideal for most people going by train or on foot on the easy 1 Day INca Trail Hike
Here's why 2 Days / 1 Night is ideal:
- you can choose to enter Machu Picchu anytime in the afternoon on the first day, and go back for 2nd visit in the morning of the 2nd day. And return to Cusco late afternoon the 2nd day
- your ticket allows you to include hikes up to Sungate or Inca Bridge if you do it before you enter the citadel. This may extend your visit inside the national park by another 1-2 hours. No additional tickets are needed. You can wait until you arrive and decide if you want to do it.
- you can relax and enjoy the journey from Cusco by stopping at secondary archaeological sites in the Sacred Valley
- there's nothing much to do in Aguas Calientes unless you book a luxury hotel with an in-house spa or gardens to enjoy
- if one afternoon visit to Machu Picchu is enough for you, spend the night in Aguas Calientes and take the 8:53AM train the next day and enjoy a tour of the Sacred Valley in reverse on your way back to Cusco
From Cusco, here's the breakdown fo the average travel time one way to the main entry of Machu Picchu is 5 hours:
- 2 Hours - Cusco hotel to main train station in Ollantaytambo (over 2-lane paved roads through rural communities in the Sacred Valley)
- 2 Hours - Train ride through Urubamba Valley to Aguas Calientes (Machu Picchu Pueblo) station
- 5 Minutes - 2 Hours - Waiting line for shuttle bus service from Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu main entry. (Note: Beginning Jan 2019, bus agents are asking people to step out of line if their entry time is more than 1 hour from their scheduled entry to Machu Picchu)
- 30 Minutes - Shuttle bus ride from Aguas Calientes to main entry Machu Picchu (buses run every 10-15 minutes and wait times vary from couple of minutes to couple of hours
- 2 - 60 Minutes - Restrooms at main entry (these are the only restrooms at the ruins)
- 2 - 30 Minutes - Entrance to Machu Picchu only permitted for the exact hour, or after, of the entrance time printed on your ticket. You cannot enter even 1 minute earlier. But you can enter after. It's to your advantage to buy a ticket for entrance earlier than you plan to be there. And you cannot board the shuttle bus in Aguas Calientes anytime you want. Preference is given to people with early entry tickets.
What's the biggest obstacle to overcome to get to Machu Picchu?
Starting in 2019, with the new hourly entry tickets, the rules have changed for boarding the bus. Although we're not aware of any "official" written rules, what's happening is that bus agents are only allowing people to board the early buses to Machu Picchu if they have early entry tickets. In the past, the wait line for the shuttle buses could be anywhere from 15 minutes-2 hours or more from Aguas Calientes to the main entry of the national park. The line has been known to stretch from the bus stop near the railroad tracks up to the top of the village. The Peruvian government has stated that it has no intention of providing more buses to ease the congestion, because of the environmental impact. (nevermind the impact from doubling the number of visitors per day since July 1, 2017!)
Looking at the numbers
There are 800 entry tickets to Machu Picchu available at 6AM, and another 800 at 7AM and 800 at 8AM. (And lesser amounts for other hours the rest of the day.) Plus 100 tickets for each hike at 6AM and 7AM. That's 1000 people (if all tickets sell out which is what happened last August and July) per hour trying to board 23 buses that hold 33 people each. The total number of tickets available to enter Machu Picchu per day is now 5600 plus 800 for all the hikes. That's 6100 people per day who can enter from the main gate. Does not inlcude hikers who enter from the Sungate.
Which circuit should you choose to follow inside the citadel?
Once inside the ruins, you select the best circuit for your visit. There are 3 main routes to choose from. Each route offers a different level of difficulty to meet the needs of visitors with a wide array of physical abilities. But every visitor should be able to walk unassisted on stone steps, uneven terrain, ledges and inclines of varying degrees. (we have trekking poles available for people who need them) There are no modern structures, conveniences or amenities inside the citadel. This includes handrails, guardrails and other modern protection from falls that are possible due to the nature of the site and its location. For safety reasons, Children should be under the control of adults at all times.
It is not possible to bring in strollers, wheelchairs or walkers. Visitors who cannot walk without assistance should not plan a trip to Machu Picchu. Trekking poles with rubber tips are permitted and we can provide poles on request.
How much time CAN you spend inside the ruins?
Once you have entered Machu Picchu, the guided tours will last about 2 hours and will conclude at the exit gate. Rangers are located throughout the park to direct people to stay on the marked paths moving in one direction only. Your entry tickets entitle your to enter one time unless you have tickets that include the hike to Huayna Picchu or Machu Picchu Mountain, in which case you can go back to the main entry and begin the process of waiting in line to enter again. This is your only chance to powder your nose if needed. Visitors can buy tickets for multiple entries on the same or different days. (it's best to buy tickets in advance online, or in person in the office in Cusco or the village of Aguas Calientes) There are hourly entry times beginning at 6AM until 14:00. Hours of operation are 6AM-5:30PM daily year round.
- Inca Trail hikers - 4-day hikers arrive in the morning and can stay for guided tour before returning to Cusco. Or stay overnight in AC and return to Machu Picchu the next day if you book the 5-Day Inca Trail hike. 2-day hikers arrive afternoon, but will not enter the ancient citadel. They are entitled to go back the next day for a guided tour in the morning.
How much time SHOULD you spend inside the ruins?
The answer to this questions varies, but generally speaking, most people complete 1 round on tour with their guide, then return by bus to Aguas Calientes. This is enough for most people. Unless you're on the short 3-Day Machu Picchu Express Tour, by the time you get to Machu Picchu you will have seen Inca ruins in Cusco, Inca ruins in the Sacred Valley and if you're hiking? Guess what? More Inca ruins! They are everywhere. For families traveling with children, they can reach the point of "ruin fatigue," which is exactly what it sounds like. Lack of interest in ruins resulting from excessive or prolonged exposure. After several visits all ruins tend to look alike. Most visitors are satisfied with one 2-hour visit.
Do you have to hire a guide to enter the ruins?
Although the new rules state that you do, it is not being enforced. Get more details about 1-Day Guide Service Click Here
Should you spend the night in a hotel near Machu Picchu?
Although a 1 - day trip from Cusco to Machu Picchu is feasible, it's brutal test of travel tenacity to endure all the transitions beginning with the 2 hour transfer by vehicle from Cusco, the train ride, the bus ride and the standing in line for the restroom as well as standing in line to enter Machu Picchu. Not to mention walking up and down through the ruins. With the hourly entry times, it doesn't make sense to buy a morning ticket if you're doing a 1-day trip to Cusco. As long as you enter Machu Picchu by 11 am, a 1 day trip will work, but it doesn't leave any time for delays. The good news is that once you get in they will not kick you out. For the 1-day trip, it makes sense to buy the afternoon ticket and visit after 11AM. But we recommend an even better option.Take the train to Aguas Calientes the day before you want to visit and spend 1 night in a hotel. The next morning you can take shuttle bus about 1H prior to your scheduled entry time. Note: They will no longer let you board shuttle buses anytime you want. People with early entry tickets have precendence for boarding the shuttle buses.
Best Way to Set up 1 Day Trip to Machu Picchu
If you want to set up a 1 day trip, it can be done with morning train from Ollantaytambo, afternoon entry to Machu Picchu, then return to Cusco by 10PM. The pace is reasonable for 1 day and you'll avoid the ruins when it's most crowded in the mornings.
How to spend more time in Machu Picchu
Let's say you know for sure you want to spend more time in Machu Picchu. For some travelers, there's no reason not to. Visitors in the morning may want to add on one of 2 hikes that begin inside the National Park. The most popular, and the one that sells out weeks if not months in advance, is Huayna Picchu. The other is Machu Picchu Mountain. Here's a link to compare the two hikes.
Or buy Machu Picchu entry tickets for the afternoon on day 1, then stay the night and buy entry tickets for the morning on day 2, returning to Cusco in the afternoon. Anyone can hike to Sungate. Tickets are not required. But you need to go there first and then enter the citadel to get up close to the ruins. All the circuits are one way and lead to the exit gate. Once you exit you cannot re-enter.
If you are on the ball and manage to snag a coveted ticket to hike Huayna Picchu, authorities will allow you to re-enter 1 additional time through the main gate. (But not after 12Noon) It's much easier to get tickets to hike MP Mountain, because they sell out more slowly. This hike also comes with the added benefit of extra time to explore the ruins. Beware that the Montana hike takes longer than Huayna Picchu. Average of 3 hours roundtrip.
Reasons not to spend more than 1 night in a hotel in Aguas Calientes
If your goal is to see Machu Picchu, it can be done at a reasonable pace with 1 overnight in a hotel in Aguas Calientes. Most people agree that there is no compelling reason to spend any more time than necessary in Aguas Calientes. As the closest modern human settlement near Machu Picchu, Aguas Calientes, or Machu Picchu Pueblo, has just enough infrastructure to call itself an urban setting. There are hotels, restaurants, cafes, bars, a soccer field, a market (strategically located at the entry to the train station) and the train station. Otherwise, there are no cars, no entertainment, no swimming pools, (unless you want to include the local hot springs for which the town was named. Small stone-lined pools are strategically located at the top of the village and surrounded by lush semi-tropical vegetation. I find the natural setting more enticing than the pools.)
One might assume that a world-class ruin should be surrounded by stunning resorts and commercial establishments worthy of being in the shadow of "The Great One." But that is simply not the case. For sure you will be safe, and your basic comforts will be met and there's no need to go hungry. But if you expect TVs, spas, pools and the best restaurants, you will surely be dissatisfed. Keep your eyes on the prize. That prize is Machu Picchu. And you will not be disappointed.