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 guided tour takes about 2-3 hours to wander along a 1-way circuit of your choice. There are several circuits to choose from now. Machu Picchu updated their official government website which is open to everyone. There are now links on the homepage to see the 4 circuits available with the Genral entry ticket.. Here is a link to a page where you click open PDF map of each circuit at Machu Picchu..
How Long Does it Take to Get to Machu Picchu from Cusco?
It takes about 5 hours each way to get to Machu Picchu from Cusco if all the planets line up and you're having a bit of luck. (this is by train, car and shuttle bus. It's not possible to drive directly to Machu Picchu. Follow this link to read more about driving)
Beginning January 2019 a new road opened in the Sacred Valley, which will save 20 minutes driving time between Cusco and Ollantaytambo. (see more details in the link below to lastest Machu Picchu News)
(I'm inserting this link for people looking for gift ideas for travelers. I have used this SCRUBBA as a tote-of-all-trades for several years. It wasn't until someone asked me what my favorite travel item was that I realized this might be useful for others. Here's the Link!)
So how many days should you spend? The Answer. Two days / one night is ideal for most people:
- How to Get a Covid Test in Cusco Before Flying to the United States
- Go to Machu Picchu by train
- Go to Machu Picchu on foot on the easy 1 Day Inca Trail Hike
Here's why 2 Days / 1 Night is ideal:
- you can buy tickets to enter on 2 different days and take your time to explore. Not to mention increase your chances of seeing the ruins in good weather. Enter Machu Picchu anytime in the afternoon on the first day up to 3PM, and go back for 2nd visit in the morning of the 2nd day. And return to Cusco late afternoon the 2nd day
- there is time to include hikes (Sungate and Inca Bridge hikes have not yet reopened after covid.) Hauyna Picchu and Machu Picchu Mountain hikes are both reopened. Tickets are available on the official Machu Picchu website. Note that the tickets do not provide access to the main Llaqta. (ancient city) I would do these hikes on the morning of the 2nd day.
- 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.
Restricted Access to 3 Historical Monuments at Machu Picchu
Park authorities have limited access to Intihuatana (Sundial) from 7-10AM, Kuntur Wasi (Temple of the Condor) from 10AM-1PM and Inti Wasi (Temple of the Sun) from 1-4PM. These times are subject to change. All 3 sites are part of circuit 2, but as you can see it's not possible to see them all on the same ticket because of the time limits. Please ask your tour guide in advance before buying tickets if you really want to see one of these historical monument. For people who want to set up a plan to include comprehensive guided tours with all 3 structures, and perhaps Sungate and easy 1-Day Inca Trail hike. Follow this link to more information.
From Cusco, here's the breakdown for the average travel time one way to the main entry of Machu Picchu in 5 hours:
- 2 Hours - Cusco hotel to main train station in Ollantaytambo (over 2-lane paved roads through rural communities in the Sacred Valley) Bi-modal train service can be booked from Cusco if you don't mind riding a bus between Cusco and the train station in Ollantaytambo. (Bi-modal is offered January 2 through April 30 every year during the rainy season)
- 2 Hours - Train ride through Urubamba Valley to Aguas Calientes (Machu Picchu Pueblo) station. The train schedules show 1H/30M or 45M, but we allow 2H because sometimes the trains will stop on the tracks for few minutes.
- 5 Minutes - 2 Hours - Waiting line for shuttle bus service from Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu main entry. (Note: Beginning Jan 2019, the bus is dividing people into groups based on their entry time. Visitors with earliest entry times have precedence over later entry times.
- 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 - Wait time to get into the restrooms at main entry (these are the only restrooms at the ruins)
- 2 - 30 Minutes - Entrance to Machu Picchu only permitted during the entrance time printed on your ticket. You cannot enter even 1 minute earlier. But you can enter up to 60 minutes after the time printed in the upper left corner of your ticket. 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 entry tickets within 1H of boarding the bus.
What's the biggest unpredictable obstacle to get to Machu Picchu?
A lot of people going on their own from Cusco to Machu Picchu, miscalculate the transitions. This is the time between the train, the bus, the restroom and the main entry. I'll break it down so you can see what I'm talking about.
Train deartures are pretty reliable and predictable. Sometimes the trains will stop on the tracks to allow trains coming from the other direction to pass. This might delay by 15 minutes or so. Not a big deal. After you arrive at the end of the line in the village of Aguas Calientes it's a short 10 minute walk over urban terrain including stone steps, cobble streets and maybe a bridge or two. But it's pretty close and easy to do. This is where it gets interesting. The majority of the passengers on the train are likely doing the same as you. If you're planning to overnight in Aguas Calientes, you should drop your overnight bag off at your hotel.
Shuttle buses are where you should pay attention. In pre-covid times the bus ride was a predictable chokepoint. We knew the lines could be long and our tour guides worked out strategies to avoid showing up to board buses at the same time a train arrived in the village. But now it's unpredictable. We all got lazy with the reduction in tourism in 2021 and got used to short waits for buses. Now we don't know how to predict the waiting time for buses. This means you should assume the bus line is at least an hour. Don't make the mistake of assuming there's no serious wait for buses and go toddling off for a coffee or a meal. If a train arrives you could find yourself waiting for the bus with a couple hundred of your favorite travel buddies. Keep an eye on the bus line and watch for trains.
Restrooms. Who thought you needed to plan your bathroom stops? Here's why. I wrote an entire blog about bathrooms at Machu Picchu. There's only one located at the main entrance. You should allow time for this before you enter Machu Picchu. Remeber that everyone else is doing the same thing. Plan accordingly. It costs 2 soles per visit. They provide paper.
The final potential point of congestion is the main entry to Machu Picchu. Since they started selling tickets for entry by the hour it hasn't been so bad. But
In April 2022, the official Machu Picchu website posted a message on their homepage recommending that all visitors hire a guide. But in my opinion, people should hire the guide before they buy their tickets and should plan their trip in consultation with their guide. That's the benefit of having a guide! Hiring a guide at the main entrance can be done, but he/she is working on volume. "Get them in, get them out!" They can't change your tickets or advise you on buses and trains. By that time it's too late. You already made your bed. I suspect this message is the hint of what's coming. Just like the Inca Trail hike, which now requires licensed guides and permits, Machu Picchu National Park is getting people used to the idea of using a tour guide.
If you have a ticket for one of the hikes can you enter Machu Picchu twice using the same ticket?
No one can re-enter Machu Picchu with the same ticket twice for any reason. Those days are gone! The tickets for these hikes include time to explore the lower circuits but not the main Llaqta (ancient city) It's important to pay attention to the circuit included with the hike, If you're only buying one entry ticket and that ticket is for one of the hikes, then you will not have access to the main citadel of Machu Picchu. The amount of time you have to explore the ancient city is exactly 1 hour before the start time of your hike. Here's a tip. You have a 1 hour window of time to checkin for the hike. Do not be late! This gives you 1 hour & 45 minutes to tour the circuit that comes with your ticket if you checkin 15 minutes before the window closes for your hike. Example. Let's say you buy Huayna Picchu ticket for 8-9AM. 7AM is earliest entry time at Machu Picchu main gate. You can explore circuit 4 from 7AM-8:45AM. Checkin at 8:45AM for Huayna Picchu wihich takes roughtly 2 hours to complete. (give or take an hour or so depending on your fitness.) This is one of the biggest changes I've seen in a while. The 1-day Inca Trail hike permit includes one ticket to enter Machu Picchu, usually the day after the hike. Starting in April, 2022, the Machu Picchu entry ticket that comes with the Inca Trail permit is only for circuit 3. Most people do the 2 day Inca Trail hike which means they will use the ticket to Machu Picchu on the 2nd day of their trip. No matter when you enter, the permit only includes a tickets for access to circuit 3. This almost breaks my heart. If you have questions, just ask me. I'm in touch with our guides daily Call or text me: Jacquie 757-714-6649 (EST)
Which hike should you do inside Machu Picchu National Park? Here's full details about the hikes.
Which circuit should you choose to follow inside the citadel?
Once inside the ruins, you select one of 4 one-way routes if you have tickets for Llaqta de Machu Picchu. Otherwise the tickets for the hikes will specify the circuit you can tour. Each circuit offers a different level of difficulty to meet the needs of visitors with different physical abilities and interests. Every visitor should be able to walk unassisted on stone steps, uneven terrain, ledges and inclines of varying degrees. 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, crutches or walkers. Visitors who cannot walk without assistance should not plan a trip to Machu Picchu. Trekking poles with rubber tips are permitted only for people who really need them, and we can provide poles on request. (In 2019 a company started offering wheelchair tours but keep in mind they invented a special chair with one wheel that requires people to carry the chair and the occupant over rough terrain.)
How much time CAN you spend inside the Machu Picchu city ruins?
Once you have entered Machu Picchu, it takes most people about 1-2H to tour the, "easy" circuits, and 2-3 hours to tour the "longer" circuits. There are 4 circuits. CIRCUIT 1 HIGH SHORT / CIRCUIT 2 HIGH LONG / CIRCUIT 3 LOW SHORT / CIRCUIT 4 LOW LONG. All circuits end at the exit gate. Adios guides can conduct thorough tours for those visitors who are interested. You will need general entry tickets to Llaqta de Machu Picchu which includes access to all 4 circuits.
Can visitors to Machu Picchu hike up to the Sungate and Inca Bridge?
No. These sites have not reopened after covid. The only way to get to the Sungate now is by hiking the 1 day or 4 day Inca Trail. The Inca Bridge is not open to anyone.
Can You Exit the Machu Picchu Citadel to Use the Restroom and Re-enter?
No. The only restroom is located outside the main entry gate. This is your only place to powder your nose if needed. Follow this link to see a separate post about the restroom situation.
Can you Buy More than One Entry Ticket Per Person Per Day?
Yes. Visitors can buy tickets for multiple entries on the same or different days. It's only possible to buy tickets in advance online, or in person in the office in Cusco. So what do you do if you get there and decide you want to enter more than once? You are out of luck! You cannot buy tickets at Machu Picchu main entrance or the village of Aguas Calientes. I'm wondering if it's possible to buy tickets online if you're already there? I don't know the answer. It seems plausible. You need good internet connection and tickets must be available. There are hourly entry times beginning at 6AM until 14:00. Hours of operation are 6AM-5:30PM daily year round.
When Can Inca Trail Hikers Enter Machu Picchu Citadel?
- 4-Day Inca Trail hikers - hike in to Machu Picchu in the morning of the 4th day of the hike and can stay for guided tour of circuit 3 before returning to Cusco.
- 5-Day Inca Trail Hikers - stay overnight in AC on Day 4 of the hike and return to Machu Picchu the next day on circuit 3 before returning to Cusco.
- 2-day Inca Trail hikers - hike over the Sungate and arrive by early to mid afternoon, but will not enter the ancient citadel. After an overnight in a hotel in Aguas Calientes, they are entitled to go back the next day for a guided tour anytime in the morning.
- Hikers who stay in Aguas Calientes after their hike earn the privilege of entering Machu Picchu anytime they want the next day. As of April 2022, the ticket is only for circuit 3.
- As a consolation prize to losing the right to have a guided tour on any circuit of your choice, hikers now have exclusive access to stand next to the Guard Shack that overlooks the entire city. Visitors from the park do not have access and none of the circuits include the Guard shack.
How much time SHOULD you spend inside the ruins?
The answer to this questions varies, but generally speaking, most people complete 1 circuit on tour alone, or with their guide, in about 2 hours, then return by bus to Aguas Calientes. This is enough for most people who will probably also tour the archaeological sites in Cusco and the Sacred Valley during their trip to Peru.. 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, kids 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. And Adios guides will conduct a thorough 3 H tour unless you plead for a shorter tour.
Do you have to hire a guide to enter the ruins?
As of April 2022, the official Machu Picchu website recommends that all visitors should hire a guide. It doesn't say it's required. Here's what I think is happening. The tickets and circuits are becoming so complex that people are showing up late, or the wrong time. They're miscalculating travel time and the potential for delays. Having a guide to assist in preparing for the visit seems like a worthwhile investment. In my opinion the best guides are located in Cusco and should be booked well in advance. Setting up trips to Machu Picchu is their superpower! Trust me, you need these "superguides" now more than ever.
How can you spend more time in the ruins with one entry ticket?
Hire a private professional guide in advance. He/she will meet you in Aguas Calientes or at the main gate, and they will know the best route to explore all the nooks and crannies along the way. We have seen people on their own unintentionally arrive at the exit gate because they missed a turn. You cannot re-enter and go again. You cannot turn around and go back. Adios guides take an average of 2-3 hours for guided tours for adults and longer if you ask in advance. This service is automatically included in all our trips that go to Machu Picchu. And we can set up guide service "a la carte" on request in advance.
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 an early morning ticket if you're doing a 1-day trip to Cusco. It takes about 5H to travel from Cusco to Machu Picchu each way. The good news is that once you get in they will not kick you out. Most people exit because they're tired or they need a break to use the facilities. For the 1-day trip, it makes sense to buy a ticket for entry right before you the estimated time of arrival So you can get in as soon as you get there. 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. If you show up late for the bus thinking you will get preference for boarding, that is no longer the case.
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, late morning entry to Machu Picchu, then return to Cusco by evening. The pace is reasonable for 1 day and you'll avoid the ruins when it's most crowded at 8AM 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.
Another idea is to 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. Once you exit Machu Picchu you cannot re-enter on the same ticket.
If you are on the ball and manage to snag a coveted ticket to hike Huayna Picchu, you are expected to tour circuit 4 before you begin your hike. After the hike, all hikers are steered to a path that leads to the exit. You cannot return into the ruins. The path to the exit is quite interesting and offers lots of additional spots to explore. It's much easier to get tickets to hike MP Mountain, because they sell out more slowly. Beware that the MP Mountain hike takes longer than Huayna Picchu. Average of 3-4 hours roundtrip.
Reasons not to spend more than 1 night in Aguas Calientes when you go to Machu Picchu
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, the village of 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 personally 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.