Machu Picchu is a huge ancient city in an outdoor setting with upper and lower one-way circuits spanning 34 acres. There are hikes to Huayna Picchu and Machu Picchu Mountain. Which circuit or hike should you choose? Can you buy more than one ticket? Can you explore everything in one day? How long does it take to get to Machu Picchu from Cusco? Are you required to hire a tour guide? 

Whether or not you need a tour guide to enter Machu Picchu varies from person to person. Officially, tour guides are required for entry to Machu Picchu. But the rule is not being enforced. Yet! Vidal, in Cusco, believes it's a matter of time until they start requiring licensed tour guides. Why is the Peru government not only recommending tour guides, but allowing visitors to think that tour guides are required in order to enter Machu Picchu? For visitors who just want to lay their eyes on the ancient city to soak up the Inca vibe, and snap a few photos, it's not essential to hire a tour guide. However, for people who want to see certain historical monuments, or want assistance choosing the best tickets based on their interests and logistics, then a tour guide booked in advance may be crucial. You only get one chance to set it up. Once you buy your tickets, it's difficult to make changes. While a one-day trip to Machu Picchu from Cusco is possible, the travel time is at least 5 hours each way. One of the biggest mistakes people make is not allowing enough time for the transitions between trains and buses. 

What is the official policy regarding Tour Guides for entry to Machu Picchu?

Article 17.1 To enter the Llaqta de Machupicchu, visitors must carry their entrance ticket and official identity document. It is recommended that they be accompanied by a tour guide to contribute to the conservation of Cultural Heritage and the organization of the tourist visit. The PANM staff may require the ticket and/or the identity document inside the Llaqta de Machupicchu. Vidal in Cusco says that he believes it's a matter of time until licensed tour guides will be required for entry to the ancient citadel. 

When is a licensed tour guide required to enter Machu Picchu?

At this time, licensed tour guides are required only for the Inca Trail hikes. Up to 16 people per group for the 4-day trek. For visitors arriving to Machu Picchu by train, officially licensed tour guides are only recommended. Recently, people have reported to us that upon entry to a historcal site, (not just Machu Picchu) they were asked where their tour guide was. This is most likely to happen to large groups. I discussed the parameters for not having a tour guide for Machu Picchu with Vidal, our manager in Cusco. He noted that when buying Machu Picchu entry tickets, you can get up to 5 tickets per transaction. In his opinion, if your group is more than 5 people, this is a situation where they may ask you to get a guide. Even though it's not required, you may feel pressured by the fact that you're in a foreign country and you don't want to argue or attract negative attention. Besides that, you're on vacation and you don't need to worry about one more thing.

Who Should Hire a Tour Guide to Enter Machu Picchu?

Most independent visitors including individuals, couples or small groups (up to 5 max), probably don't need a tour guide. It's fine to enter and explore on your own. Be aware that each of the 4 circuits is one-way and all circuits end at the Machu Picchu exit gate. A few of the historical sites are only open for certain times of the day. Groups larger than 5 and visitors who have interest in seeing particularr historical structures should hire a tour guide in advance. Not to mention people who need help choosing circuits or hikes.

How Can Visitors Find a Machu Picchu Tour Guide?

You can hire a "pickup" tour guide on the day you go to Machu Picchu. These tour guides will be hanging around the bus stop in Aguas Calientes and sometimes near the main entry of Machu Picchu. It's acceptable to negotiate for either a private tour or join a small group. Otherwise you can contact a tour operator in advance. (Text or call me in the US. Jacquie Whitt 757-714-6649.

How to Enter Machu Picchu Without a Tour Guide

You can buy up to 5 Machu Picchu tickets per reservation online. Our manager in Cusco believes that if you show up at the entry gate in a big group, you are more likely to draw attention and may be "pressured" into hiring a "pickup" guide. But technically, tour guides are not required for people entering Machu Picchu by train. To avoid getting into this situation, here are a few tips:

  • for groups of 6 adults or more, each adult can enter the Machu Picchu gate separately showing their ticket and the same passport used to purchase the ticket online.
  • when buying tickets online for a large group that includes children, be sure that each transaction includes at least 1 adult if you're buying children's tickets. Have that adult and the children enter the gate together as a group no larger than 5. 
  • once you're inside the gate, avoid congregating into a large group, and don't block paths. 
  • it may be useful to break up into 2 groups:  "fast" walkers and "slow" walkers. Or divide up into those who want to explore the long upper circuit #2, and those who just want a shorter, easy walk on the lower circuit. Just enough to see the joint and snap a few pics. After they are done, they can take the bus back to the village of Aguas Calientes to wait.

Compare the services of a "pickup" tour guide at Machu Picchu, with experienced tour guides.

Professional Machu Picchu tour guides usually come from Cusco and are scheduled to lead only one group. These guides need to be reserved in advance. They usually don't have time limits and guided tours can be customized to your needs and interests. They can be scheduled for more than one day if you're planning to stay overnight in Aguas Calientes. Groups who book multi-day trips will have full-time tour guide service for entry to all historical sites, including Machu Picchu, and, if you ask, these tour guides will accompany you on the hikes inside the park. Tour guides speak English.

Pickup tour guides, who are located at the bus stop in Aguas Calientes and also outside the Machu Picchu main gate, can be hired on the day you visit Machu Picchu. Pickup tour guides are there because they are honing their skills as a tour guide. They may combine individuals, couples and small families into one group. The tours of the circuits are standardized and there's not a lot of lingering. as these guides want to get back to the main gate to round up more groups looking for guided tours. While some of these guides may have good English-speaking skills, the biggest issue is that you just don't know until you talk to them. Skills vary from tour guide to tour guide and the more groups they guide, the more money they make. You can negotiate for long private guided tours if you have the time, the tickets, and that's what you want  These guides usually do not accompany you on the hikes to Huayna Picchu or Machu Picchu Mountain unless you pay extra for private service. 

A professional guide is usually dedicated to providing service for one group and will taylor the tours inside Machu Picchu to your interests, and even accompany you on hikes. They can also provide trekking poles with advance notice. 

If you need help choosing Machu Picchu tickets, organizing multi-day trips, or help with other logistics, contact me in the US. 757-714-6649 (What'sApp too)

Link to more details about hiring a private tour guide for your trip to Machu Picchu.