What is the Difference Between Machu Picchu Upper Terrace and Upper Circuit?
Based on the trend in ticket sales in 2023, visitors are buying more tickets that include access to the upper circuits of Machu Picchu, rather than the previously coveted tickets to hike Wayna Picchu. Tickets that include access to the upper circuits are selling like hot cakes, while tickets to hike Wayna Picchu are getting sidelined. This has never happened before. Wayna Picchu tickets always sold out first, often weeks if not months in advance. Why is this happening in 2023? We believe it is because the Wayna Picchu tickets do not include access to Machu Picchu upper terraces, or upper circuits. Huayna Picchu tickets come with 1 entry to Machu Picchu lower circuit #4. Visitors who hike to Wayna Picchu do not have access to the classic view of Machu Picchu.
Why it's important to understand the difference between Machu Picchu Upper Terrace and Upper Circuits.
The ancient city of Machu Picchu was constructed in a saddle between two mountains and has changes in elevation that provide natural separation between what is now called upper circuits and lower circuits. In the old days visitors could wander back and forth and up and down all day if they wanted. But in the last 3-4 years, park authorities set up one-way circuits to reduce congestion with two upper circuits (#1 short and #2 long), and two lower circuits (#3 and #4). Circuit #5 is a lower circuit for Inca Trail hikers.
The upper terrace is the most popular spot for getting that classic photo of Machu Picchu with the little mountain behind the city. It's a single spot and should not be confused with the upper circuit, which is a one-way path that begins on the upper terrace. The upper terrace is only accessible for people with tickets that include circuits 1 or 2, or hikers coming off the Inca Trail. But, having access to the upper terrace is not the same as having access to the upper circuit. The upper terrace is a stationary viewing spot only for taking photos and enjoying the classic image of Machu Picchu.
There are 2 upper circuits. These are trails that begin with a stop at the upper terrace then continue into the upper regions of the ancient city.and wind down into some sections of the lower circuits.
Upper circuit access includes the upper terraces. But upper terrace access does not mean you have access to upper circuits.
What's the single biggest change to Machu Picchu tickets that has had the most profound impact on the visitor experience?
One of the biggest changes they made to entry tickets at Machu Picchu was not to allow visitors to re-enter on the same day using the same ticket. There's no allowance for bathroom breaks! This is important to know if you're on your own. Tour guides usually make sure everyone has a chance to use the only restroom before they enter the park. When people ask me how long they can stay inside Machu Picchu, the answer is, "How long can you hold it?" Meaning how long can you go between restroom stops. Of course we have a complete analysis of the toilet situation at Machu Picchu. Click here to read more.
There are 5 options for gaining access to the upper terrace at Machu Picchu: (plus one Hail Mary long shot)
- Hiking the 4-day Inca Trail. Hikers have exclusive access to the Guard Shack in the upper terrace for the classic view of Machu Picchu. However, the guided tour of the Inca city is on the lower circuit. Usually hikers arrive on foot on day 4, crossing the Sungate and descending into the upper terrace for "the view." From there they go down to the lower circuit in the city for the tour. Then return to Cusco later the same day. For hikers who choose the 5-day Inca Trail, they will spend the night in a hotel in Aguas Calientes and do the tour on the lower circuit on day 5, then return to Cusco. Permits for this hike can only be obtained by licensed tour operators.
- Hiking the short 2-day Inca Trail. Hikers have exclusive access to the Guard Shack in the upper terrace for the classic view of Machu Picchu. However, the guided tour of the Inca city is on the lower circuit. Hikers cross over the Sungate and descend into the upper terrace for "the view." Then they exit the park and spend the night in a hotel in Aguas Calientes and do the tour on the lower circuit the next day. before they return to Cusco. Permits for this hike can only be obtained by licensed tour operators.
(when all tickets to Machu Picchu are sold out, permits may still be available. This is one way we can get people in when all entry tickets are sold out. You don't have to do the hike. We can just use the entry ticket to the lower circuit. Contact Jacquie or Heather in Virginia to ask about this. 757-714-6649, Call, Text, WhatsApp)
- Machu Picchu Llaqta Ticket. Anyone can buy these tickets on the Machu Picchu official government website. Ticket holders can choose one of the 4 one-way circuits. You decide when you get there. This is the most popular entry ticket to Machu Picchu this year.
- Inca Bridge + Circuit 1 or 2. Anyone can buy these tickets on the official government website. They cost the same as the Llaqta tickets. But note that the entry time at the Machu Picchu main gate is one hour before the entry window where you checkin for the hike to see the bridge. The checkin for the hike is located in the upper terrace.
- Montana Hike + Circuit 3. Anyone can buy these tickets on the official government website. The cost is slightly higher than Machu Picchu Llaqta tickets. But note that the entry time at the Machu Picchu main gate is one hour before the entry window where you checkin for the hike. In 2023 the trend is for these tickets to sell out more quickly than Wayna Picchu tickets. We believe this is due to the fact that the Montana hike checkpoint is located in the upper terrace and visitors with these tickets have access to the Classic View of Machu Picchu. However the guided tour in the Inca ruins is on a lower circuit. It's not necessary to do the Montana hike. You can use the ticket to get access to the upper terrace before the tour of the lower circuit.
- 1000 tickets per day sold in person in the village of Aguas Calientes. They sell limited numbers of tickets for each category including some for upper terraces with upper circuits and others with lower circuits. These tickets are only sold to the actual visitor. Tour guides and operators are not permitted to buy these tickets for you. There is no guarantee to get a ticket. You show up. It's first come, first serve. If they sell out, you can come back the next day.
There are two ways to Get Access to Machu Picchu Upper Circuits
- Machu Picchu Llaqta tickets. These tickets let you choose one circuit from all 4. You can decide when you are there. These tickets are the only tickets that offer a choice of any circiut
- Inca Bridge + Circuit 1 or 2. This ticket costs the same as the Llaqta ticket and includes a bonus of a short hike to see the Inca Bridge before you begin the tour of the short #1 upper circuit or the long #2 upper circuit.
Can you buy more than one entry ticket to Machu Picchu?
Yes you can buy more than one entry ticket. But should you? That's up to you. In the big picture the cost of individual tickets is about $50 USD to $65 for adults. If available you can buy tickets to hike Huayna Picchu and separate tickets to Machu Picchu Llaqta that includes access to the upper circuits. There's various ways to organize your trip with two entry tickets. Here's a link to read more about things to consider regarding whether or not you should buy extra entry tickets to Machu Picchu and what you need to know if you do.
Let me know if you need help untangling the variables about how and when to buy your Machu Picchu entry tickets. Call, text or What'sApp our US office. 757-270-9293.
Should you hire a tour guide for your trip to Machu Picchu? Click Here to read more.