What's the Biggest Mistake Travelers Make When Planning A Trip to Machu Picchu?
You would think the biggest planning mistake would be something like forgetting to check the expiration date of your passport, which does sometimes happen and is among a list of oversights to be avoided. (follow this link to read more about the most important thing you need to enter Machu Picchu) But the biggest blunder is one that you may not be aware of until you're actually hiking inside Machu Picchu National Park.
Adios guides shared with me what they think is the biggest flaw in planning strategy made by many visitors traveling to Machu Picchu. Scads of people are over scheduling too many activities in one day. And people overestimate their fitness (yes, imagine that!), which ultimately affects how much time they have to tour and enjoy the one thing they really came to see. The ancient city of stone.
Here's a description of the problem for people who have general entry tickets (for any hour during the day.)
People of average fitness, or who are definitely out of shape, (you know who you are!) are attempting to hike up to Sungate before they enter the main citadel of Machu Picchu. They want to hike up for a "quick look" not realizing the amount of suffering it may take to get there. It's more than an hour of hiking uphill at 8000 ft. And although the return hike sounds like it should be a speedy descent, the path is constructed of rough cut stones similar to a dry river bed. It requires concentration to avoid falling. Unless you're active and fit, and acclimatized to the altitude, you should allow at least 2.5 hours for a roundtrip hike. Some people may need 3 hours or more for this activity. There's no chance to exit the park, rest and recover after hiking to the Sungate, then re-enter. Visitors are expected to go right into the citadel and tour the ruins which can take up to 4H for a thorough tour with an Adios guide. They often end up trimming the tour of Machu Picchu because they're exhausted, they run out of water, they need to use the toilet, or they run out of time.
The tour of the citadel is always last. If anyone wants to hike to Sungate or Inca Bridge, they must do that first because once you start the tour of the ancient city, no matter which circuit you choose, you end up at the exit by the main gate. Hopefully everyone knows by now there is no re-entry (for general ticket holders)
Here's a photo of Machu Picchu pinpointing the major points of interest. The photo was taken from the summit of Huayna Picchu.
The majority of visitors come to Machu Picchu expecting to see it all. After all, who doesn't want to explore every nook and crannie on their one and only trip to a remote and world-renowned travel destination!
The hike to Inca Bridge is quite easy by Peruvian standards and is a good alternative for people who want to enjoy a shorter 30-45 minute walk on a forest path mixed with occasional stones, before they enter the citadel.
There's nothing wrong with having a shorter tour of Machu Picchu if you want to divide your time with other hikes to Huayna Picchu or the Sungate. But many people have expectations of doing the hikes and then going right in to the citadel for in depth guided tour that could take 4 hours. This applies to Adios groups. Other companies and the pickup guides you find at the main entry usually do shorter tours up to 2.5 hours in duration.
When planning, it's wise to consider how taxing it is to be up before the crack of dawn, then stand in line for the bus, ride up for 30 minutes, stand in line again for the facilities, then stand in line to enter the main gate, before you begin hiking at 8000 ft altitude. Not to mention that there's no chance of exiting and re-entering to use the toilets. (Here's a link to more details about restrooms at Machu Picchu.)
Here's what I recommend:
- decide what your priority is. If you want to go in-depth on a tour of the citadel, then it's best to organize all your logistics around that goal.
- it's fine to have more than one goal and Heather and I can help you organize the activities you want in the most efficient manner possible. With limited time it may be necessary to cut back somewhere and we can provide information to help you decide where.
- be flexible and understanding. In spite of all the plotting and planning, things happen and last minute changes may occur.
- if you want to try to hike Sungate before your tour of the citadel, plan to enter early. This means taking an early train or staying in Aguas Calientes the night before. If you find yourself struggling on the hike, give yourself permission to turn around and head back especially if you plan to tour the citadel in-depth. Some people will give themselves a set turn-around time. If they don't get to the Sungate by that time, they turn around and hike back from wherever they are. You can still enjoy the views of Machu Picchu on the way up.
- Ideal amount of time for both would be 2H for the Sungate and 2H for the Citadel.
- Follow this link if you need more details about the ticketed hikes to Huayna Picchu and Machu Picchu Mountain.
Heather and I work in the US office and we counsel people almost daily with strategies and ideas to help them make planning decisions. It's not our intention to discourage you from experiencing your dream trip. On the contrary, we want to help you bring it to life!
Once you are in Peru, Adios guides are your advocates to solve problems and help you make last-minute decisons and adjustments if needed. Our guides can help you analyze your choices, which vary from group to group. They can help you decide how best to achieve your perfect day at Machu Picchu based on your needs, interests and scheduled itinerary.