Which Circuit is the Best For the Classic Photo of Machu Picchu?
The fact that I'm asking this question should be an indication that not all of the 4 circuits at Machu Picchu are equal when it comes to photographing Machu Picchu ruins. Let me explain the situation. Machu Picchu visitors are traveling thousands of miles to the middle of the Andes Mountains, and investing heaps of dinero to arrive at their lifelong dream destination only to discover that they may not have access to see or photograph the iconic image of the ancient Inca city. Don't all entry tickets to Machu Picchu include access to this view of the city? No is the short answer. Read on for details. If you don't care about where you take your photographs of Machu Picchu, just ignore me, and go and enjoy yourself. This is one less thing to worry about. It won't hurt my feelings at all.
Do all 4 circuits at Machu Picchu include access to the classic view of the Inca ruins? No
Unless you're living under a rock, pretty much every human on the planet has viewed the classic image of Machu Picchu. You know the one I'm talking about. The ancient inca ruins are framed by the mountains including Huayna Picchu in the background. To see Machu Picchu from this angle, visitors must be standing on the upper terraces. This view is the most published image of Machu Picchu in the world. It's the iconic, and most recognizable angle of the Inca citadel. One or two at a time, visitors take turns proudly posing in their sweaty t-shirts, maybe flexing their biceps, or displaying the flag of their country, with Machu Picchu ruins and Huayna Picchu Mountain right behind them. And just about every visitor wants a chance to capture their version of that archetypal snapshot to cherish for the rest of their lives. What could possibly go wrong? Well, here's what's wrong. The lower circuits 3 and 4 do not include access to the upper terraces.
In August 2022, the Inca Bridge reopened for the first time in over 2 years. Because access to the trail to the bridge is located in the upper terraces, the entry to the Inca Bridge includes your choice to tour circuits 1 or 2. This is now my new favorite entry ticket to Machu Picchu. Anyone who is able to hike up to the upper terraces should consider traversing a bit further to see the Inca Bridge. Before you start envisioning a magnificent handmade viaduct spanning a precipitious gorge, let me explain exactly what the Inca Bridge is. It's a length of wood that has been placed over a break in the path along a stretch of granite with a steep dropoff. The hike to the bridge is quite short and has no serious elevation gains or losses. It will add 30 minutes to your tour of Machu Picchu. After the little hike to see the bridge (you will not tread on it) you can segue right into circuit 1 or 2.
Before you panic, remember one thing. No matter what ticket you have you're still going to the world-renowned ancient city of Machu Picchu! Even if I were to enter on a llama path, I would still be thrilled just to be there. Every square centimeter trembles with "that ancient Inca vibe!" You'll find your own "vantage" points no matter what circuit you're on. Do me a favor when you're there, and find a little spot to stop and take a breath. Hug yourself and then click your heals and repeat these words, "There's no place like Machu Picchu! There's no place like Machu Picchu! There's no place like Machu Picchu!" It's all amazing! Even an inexperienced 5 year old can manage to click off a few decent photos at Machu Picchu from anywhere inside the city. if you can't get at least a few gratifying photos at Machu Picchu, where images fall like raindrops into your camera lens, you should slam your camera to the ground and jump up and down on it because there must be something wrong with it.
Do Visitors Need to Have a Private Tour Guide to Enter Machu Picchu?
The quick answer is no. But it's worth it to understand why the Peru government is recommending that everyone hire a private guide. The main reason is that the system of one-way circuits can be confusing. And there's no forgiveness if you screw it up. In my opinion, most people can benefit from advice BEFORE they actually buy tickets and set up travel dates. Once you have your trains and entry tickets in hand, your trip is kind of locked down. There's very little wiggle room to make last minute changes if you discover you have a gap or made a mistake. I get emails weekly from people who accidentally made a booboo. Sometimes we can fix it, and sometimes we can't! Having a tour guide can enhance the tour. What do you need to know about tour guides for Machu Picchu? CLICK HERE
What did disappointed visitors do when they realized they couldn't access the prime location for taking the Classic photo of Machu Picchu?
Although park rangers are stationed at critical intersections and are checking tickets inside the national park, it is impossible to check every single ticket. So rangers would do random checks and people with tickets for circuits 3 or 4 were redirected to the lower level. But apparently, circuits 3 & 4 ticket holders were able to get through to the upper vantage point, at least enough to cause a problem for park officials. So. they decided to separate the people holding circuit 3 and 4 tickets at the main entry. They set up a little desk at the exit gate and an agent with a laptop is now checking in visitors with circuit 3 and 4 entry tickets. How long this will last remains to be seen. But be prepared.
What gear is the most essential for your trip to Machu Picchu?
Water is the top of the list. I scoured the internet to find the best water filter for travelers. I found a pod that does the best job is easy to share and it's passive, so there's no pumps or mechanisms to set it up. Just drop it in your water bottle and go.
The next item is footwear. The terrain inside Machu Picchu ruins is a combination of rough cobble paths, dirt trails, occassional steep switchbacks and stone steps galore! While a few wooden handrails have been installed, the vibe is definitely original Inca construction! Check out Xero sole shoes. This is what I wear when traveling. They work for day hikes and tours in archaeological sites where the landscape is still not modernized.
CLICK HERE to read more about the gear I recommend.
Can you resell your Machu Picchu entry tickets?
No. Don't ever buy Machu Picchu entry tickets from a private party. You can buy them from the official Machu Picchu website, a licsened travel agency or through a Peruvian tour operator. There's no Stubhub for reselling Machu Picchu tickets. To read more about reselling and refunding Machu Picchu tickets, CLICK HERE.
Which Machu Picchu entry tickets do not include access to the upper terraces?
Circuits 3 and 4, which are called the "lower" circuits do not include access to the upper terraces unless you get Montana MachuPicchu + Circuit 3. The entrance to hike Machu Picchu Mountain is at the upper terrace. Even if you don't want to hike, you can still get up to the upper section of Machu Picchu. This means that everyone who buys a ticket to hike Huayna Picchu or Huchuy Picchu will not see the classic view of Machu Picchu. Here's a link to our blog about Huayna Picchu with an image of the view of Machu Picchu from the top. This view is kind of underwhelming isn't it? So. All general entry tickets to Machu Picchu Llaqta include your choice of circuits 1 or 2 or 3 or 4. Note that it's not 1 and 2 and 3 and 4! Choose wisely. If you want "that" shot of Machu Picchu then you'll have to suffer a bit by hiking up to the higher terraces on circuits 1 or 2. In my opinion, the best circuit is 2, for the expansive classic view of most features of Machu Picchu. The Machu Picchu government website has great maps for each circuit now. Here's a link to view the maps.
Are there changes to the Machu Picchu tickets included with the Inca Trail permits? Yes!
Just a reminder that Machu Picchu visitors with tickets purchased from the website (or through a tour operator) are no longer permitted access to the Guard Shack on the upper terraces. They created a special landing on an open terrace below the Guard Shack for regular ticket holders for circuit 1 or 2/. The sacred Guard Shack spot is now reserved exclusively for Inca Trail hikers. Before you hikers jump for joy, remember the saying, "The Lord giveth and the Ministry of Tourism taketh away?" Here's a link to read about the changes to Inca Trail permits and the Machu Picchu entry tickets that come with them. There's stuff going on over there too!
I get calls and texts from frustrated and anxious people asking for assistance with solving their ticket and logistics problems. So we know it's getting complicated to decipher the ongoing changes to Machu Picchu rules. Even our guides get confused from time to time. This is why even the Machu Picchu website is recommending (not requiring) that people hire 1-day guides. Here's a link to read more about Adios guides, because not all tour guide services are equal!
What if Machu Picchu visitors want to hike Huayna Picchu and explore the upper terraces?
Here's how you do it. You can ask the rangers. It doesn't hurt right? Most understand that tourists just want to soak it all up and get their photos! But if you want to be sure you have access to the upper terraces, then buy 2 different entry tickets which is tricky to coordinate with trains for a one day trip. I recommend doing a 2 day trip to Machu Picchu. I've been many times. I always do a 2 day trip. I have never once thought to myself, "well I wish I hadn't done that!" The travel time from Cusco is a minimum of 5 hours each way. So there's that. It's so much more enjoyable to spend 1 night in the village of Aguas Calientes. But trust me, one night is plenty. There's not much going on in the village. It's a tiny town with undistinguished dining and t-shirt shops in the world's best location. But the river lends a nice vibe to the village that renders it worthy of one overnight. I love sitting at a table on the sidewalk at Hot Springs restaurant in "downtown" Aguas Calientes, slurping my latte. After that, I'm outta there!
Can you buy additional Machu Picchu entry tickets after you get there?
Let's say you get to Machu Picchu and realize your entry ticket doesn't offer the access to the areas of Machu Picchu you want. Can you buy additional entry tickets? Yes. But not at the entrance, or even in the village of Aguas Calientes!. If tickets are available they can only be purchased online or at the ticket office in Cusco. Technically, visitors can buy as many tickets as they want as long as they buy in advance or in person in Cusco. I have this theory that someone could buy entry tickets online after they get to Aguas Calientes. But we haven't tested this option. If you do try it and are successful, or even if you fail, I'd love to hear from you. And then there's the logistics. Train tickets and hotel reservations could be affected. That's when people call me for help! Let's say organizing trips to Machu Picchu with all the changes and new regulations, is my superpower. And of course I have my super top secret asset. Vidal! haha. (text Heather: 757-270-9293 and on What'sapp)