Many travelers heading off to explore the celebrated Machu Picchu ruins, are under the impression that their trip can be enhanced by buying entry tickets for more than one circuit. With 4 one-way circuits to choose from, there is the impression that each circuit is different from the others and each circuit provides access to unique parts of the national park that cannot be approached except through that particular circuit. 

However, the reality is that the upper circuit #2 overlaps the lower circuits. I included links to the official circuit maps and hopefully, a photo will be worth more than the thousand words I'm about to type!

Are there maps of each Circuit at Machu Picchu?

Yes. Before you shell out heaps of extra dinero to extend your day at Machu Piccchu, here is an explanation for what you will see on the different circuits at Machu Picchu. I encourage you to go to the old Machu Picchu website which still maintains fantastic maps of each circuit. This is by far the best tool to help you determine how to organize your trip.  Here is the link to the old Machu Picchu website to access links to a map of each circuit. Once you compare the maps, it's clear that circuit #2 is the longest route through the park and although it is considered one of the 2 upper circuits, it winds down into the lower sections of the ancient city and it really should be called upper and lower circuit #2.  (IMHO)

Is there one circuit at Machu Picchu that covers most of the ancient Inca city?

Yes. Circuit #2. After climbing up from the main entrance, the circuit begins from the upper terrace and continues around the park and down into what is known as lower circuit #4.  Visitors who are buying additional entry tickets thinking they are going to see something new, might be disappointed. Don't misunderstand me. There's nothing wrong with going back into the city to explore the same landmarks more than once or from a different angle (keep reading below). But except for a few minor differences, circuit #4 is the same as the second half of circuit #2.  

What is the difference between lower circuit #3 and lower circuit #4 at Machu Picchu?

The first thing to understand is that each of these is a lower circuit that is paired with a hike. The hikes are optional. But the Machu Picchu Montana hike + circuit 3 includes access to the upper terrace where you have the classic view of Machu Picchu. Even if you don't do the hike, it's worth it to suffer a wee bit to get up to the upper terrace for the view. From there you descend to the lower circuit #3. I've been told (and you didn't hear this from me) that there is no control for accessing the upper circuits. That's right. Listen to me. I can't guarantee that that ticket will gain you access to the upper circuits. But our tour guides report that once you're on the upper terrace they have not seen any controls to go right into the upper circuits, if that's what you want. The big difference between lower circuits 3 and 4 is that #3 is a shorter version of #4. Check the map of each circuit. Circuit #4 goes all the way to what is known as the Sacred Rock which is adjacent to the entrance to the Huayna Picchu and Huchuy Picchu hikes. 

Is the Temple of the Sun Open for visitors on all circuits?

Yes. Kind of. All 4 circuits include some version of either viewing or exploring the Temple of the Sun which is smack dab in the center of the city. You'll see "Mirador the temple," and "Conjunto the temple" listed on the map key in the lower right corner. Mirador is a viewing spot right above the temple. Conjunto is access to views up close from varioius angles. The bottom line is that no one has access to the interior of that temple. So. Circuits #1 and #2 have the Mirador and Circuits #3 and #4 have the Conjunto view. How essential is it to see this particular temple. Or the Temple of the Concor? Or the Temple Inti-Huatana (Sundial?) We have never had anyone mention that they were disappointed that they only saw the Mirador of the Sun Temple, not the Conjunto view. There was one college professor with his group of brainy grad students who was quite surprised that in order to see all 3 of these specific landmarks he would have to buy extra tickets. But that's about the only one I know.

Here's what you need to know about the difference between Machu Picchu Upper and Lower Circuits

  • There are 2 upper circuits and 2 lower circuits. However the reality is that circuit #2 covers both upper and lower sections of the ancient city.
  • The upper circuits are the only place to access the upper terrace to see the classic view of Machu Picchu. Here's a link to read more about that particular situation.
  • There are 2 ways to get to the upper terraces.. #1 - hike in on either the short or the long Inca Trail which ends at the upper terrace.. #2 - enter the Machu Picchu main entrance, then begin a short but steep climb on a paved path with occassional stone steps taking you up to the upper terrace. About 20 minutes for average people.
  • There are 2 tickets that include access to the upper terrace for the classic view of Machu Picchu as well as access to the upper circuits for the tour. Those 2 tickets are: #1 - Llaqta de Machu Picchu and, #2 - Circuit 1 or 2 + Inka Bridge. 
  • The ticket to hike Machu Picchu Montana (Mountain) includes access to the view of Machu Picchu from the upper terrace but is paired with a tour of Lower Circuit 3. (You didn't hear this from me. But our tour guides report that there is no "control" to access the upper circuits once you are on the upper terraces. I can't guarantee that it will stay that way. If enough of you use this little hack to get to the upper circuits with the Montana entry tickets, they may "plug that hole." So keep this to yourself. OK? It's your bonus for reading our blog!)
  • If you buy tickets with hikes, you don't have to do the hikes. You can just do the circuit that comes with that hike. The entry times at the Machu Picchu main gate have changed and may be the same as the entry time for the hike (if you want to do the hike). Based on what we see now, if your ticket shows the same entry time for the main gate and the hike, you have a 1 hour window to enter both. 
  • Our tour guides report that visitors with tickets to circuit 3 or circuit 4 have been permitted to explore both circuits. We can't guarantee that this laxity will continue. This same leniency does not apply to having access to the upper terrace or the upper circuits if you hold a ticket to one of the lower circuits.

How can you expand your access to more of Machu Picchu ancient city?

If the longest circuit (#2) doesn't quench your thirst for exploring the far-flung corners of the ancient city, here's a few suggestions to expand your tour.

  • hike the Inca Trail. This is the only way to access the Sungate. There's an easy 1 day Inca Trail (8M/12KM) and a long strenuous Inca Trail (4Days/3Nights camping). Both treks come in on the same trail crossing over the Sungate where you get your first glimpse of Machu Picchu before you descend to the guard shack on the upper terrace to soak up the view. 1-day hikers exit the park and spend the night in a hotel then go back to Machu Picchu to explore the city the next morning. The 4 day hikers usually go right into the guided tour of the lower circuits unless they pre-book what is known as the 5-day Inca Trail hike with 1 extra night in a hotel after the hike. Then go up to Machu Picchu the next morning to tour. (extra tickets can be purchased in advance if hikers want to tour upper circuit #2 instead of lower circuit #3.)
  • Set up a 2-day trip to Machu Picchu. I don't recommend trying to extend your exploration of the ancient wonder in a one-day trip to Machu Picchu from Cusco. Remember the travel time is at least 5 hours each way. Here's more about 1-day and 2-day trips to Machu Picchu. CLICK HERE
  • Hire a tour operator who can help you set up a trip that meets your needs. Talk to a human. Call Heather 757-270-9293 or me in Virginia. Or send an email thorugh our contact tab at the upper right side of the page. We'll set you straight. 

Remember to enjoy your adventures in the Land of the Inca! It's an amazing place, no matter what tickets you get, or don't get.