Do You Need to Avoid Being Late To Machu Picchu?
Does it matter if you're late to Machu Picchu? Well. Starting in 2024, it might be. Here's why. Machu Picchu national park officials made a few changes to park regulations in 2024. One of those changes is that there is now a 30 minute tolerance for entry to Machu Picchu (main gate) based on the time printed on your official entry ticket. Usually with new regulations, there is a grace period as people get used to a new rule. But I can't imagine showing up late at Machu Picchu and being turned away! Yikes! The park rangers are people too. I would not want that job! How this will be enforced is treading into new territory. There's no precedent to compare how this will be handled. As the year progresses, we'll monitor feedback from real world experiences and report back. (And maybe we'll call a local cuzin or two to get some insider intel.)
The fact that a new regulation has been established to address visitor tardiness should tell you that it's a problem. But why? I discussed this with Vidal, our manager in Cusco and here's what we think is happening. It's not just poor planning. Buying tickets can be confusing.
- People are buying entry tickets to hikes and they don't realize that the entry time at the main gate is 1 hour earlier than the entry time for the hike. All tickets are printed with at least one official entry time for the main gate (called the Llaqta), and tickets for hikes are printed with 2 entry times. The new 30 minute tolerance applies ONLY to the entry at Machu Picchu main gate. There has always been "selective zero tolerance" for late entrance to the hikes. Don't be late for your hike! We're not sure how tardiness will be addressed in 2024. But it's worth it to plan to be on time to checkin for your hike and your entry at the main gate.
- Definition of "on time." This seems pretty important to understand. The entry time for all Machu Picchu circuits and hikes is a one-hour window. That means you can enter anytime during the 1-hour window. It doesn't mean you have to enter at the beginning of the 1-hour window. And it doesn't mean you enter at the beginning of the 1 hour window and have 1 hour to explore the circuit and exit at the end of the hour. Once you enter within the window of the 1 hour time printed on your ticket, you technically have "unlimited" time. We have never heard of anyone being told to leave because they exceeded their time limit inside the park. (I'm not saying it's never happened. Rangers have the authority to make decisions to uphold regulations and ultimately protect the park.) But here's the deal. The most limiting factor that determines how long people can stay inside the national park is not what you would think. The limit for your visit is often based on how long you can wait between bathroom visits. That's right. There is no allowance to exit the park and re-enter on the same ticket, even if you only need to use the restroom. We wrote an entire blog about what you need to know about using the toilet at Machu Picchu. CLICK HERE.
- Visitors are trying to synchronize traveling over 5 hours each way on buses, trains and sometimes a taxi or two. All in one day. The risk for delay increases with the more transitions you have. Although train schedules indicate exact arrival and departure times, what they don't mention is that it is quite normal for trains to stop on the tracks while en route to their destination, to let oncoming trains pass. This can add 10-20 minutes to your travel time.
- People are scheduling trains, buses and entry tickets back to back with military precision. There's no wiggle room for any last minute mishaps, no matter how insignificant they seem. Remember you're going to the middle of nowhere in the Andes Mountains!
Use these strategies to avoid being late to Machu Picchu
- book your train tickets to Aguas Calientes so you allow at least 1 hour buffer time in the village before your scheduled entry time to Machu Picchu Llaqta (main gate)
- set up a 2 day/1 night trip to Machu Picchu so you can spend the night in Aguas Calientes the night before you visit Machu Picchu. It's ideal to combine the trip to Machu Picchu with a day to explore the Sacred Valley the day before you visit. The Sacred Valley is literally on the way to Machu Picchu.
- set up easy 2-day Inca Trail hike which combines 1 day of hiking on the Inca Trail (7.5 miles) with entry to Machu Picchu citadel on the second day. One bonus is that the entry ticket to Machu Picchu on the second day has no time limit. One drawback is that the entry ticket to Machu Picchu is for lower circuit only. However, all hikers have access to the upper terrace for the classic view of Machu Picchu at the end of the hike. And extra entry tickets can be purxhased.
- let an experienced local tour operator who understand the timeline for the various methods of transport set everything up for you
- Join Jacquie and Vidal for a small group trip in April 2024. I put together our best curated tours and activities including a little nature, a little culture and a lot of fun.
Tips for planning your trip to Machu Picchu
- BEFORE you book your flight, check availability of Machu Picchu tickets. (I can't stressh this enough)
- BEFORE you choose the entry time at Machu Picchu, check the train schedules. Perurail.com and Incarail.com are the only 2 train operators
- There's no limit for buying shuttle bus tickets to Machu Picchu. You can buy them in person at the bus stop in Aguas Calientes. BRING cash in exact amount. $24 USD roundtrip per person. Altough they have a credit card processing machine. It is subject to malfunction.
- Hike the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu. Up to now, all Machu Picchu entry tickets that come with Inca Trail hiking permits, have an open entry time. There is no specific time and you can enter anytime. This is mostly relevant for the short 2-day Inca Trail hike because entry to Machu Picchu citadel is usually on the morning of the 2nd day of the trip. Hikers entering Machu Picchu from the 4 day Inca Trail will hike in from the camp and go right into the citadel on lower circuit #5. (there are exceptions)
What if your train to Machu Picchu is cancelled or delayed?
That's a good question and I'll explain how this has been handled in the past because although there is a "disaster" clause for entering late, we don't know the exact defintion. It has happened that mudslides, weather conditions and to a lesser extent mechanical breakdowns and even protests have caused train service to be delayed or even suspended for short periods of time. When this happened in the past, our tour guides work out the logistics to continue the trip and have shown up late at the Machu Picchu gate. They always get in.