We’ve been planning a trip — on-and-off — to Machu Picchu for over 20 years. We researched and discussed details with our travel friends, but we had other trips we wanted to take first, and it kept getting pushed forward. Now it was really going to happen.
We pulled out all the research and advice we had gotten from others and set out to plan what we hoped would be the perfect trip to the Inca ruins for ourselves. The research for planning a visit to the most important ruin, Machu Picchu, had a unified theme: timing. Timing when to buy the tickets and train reservations (early), timing as to season (not rainy), timing to enter the site (very early).
A trip to Peru in the wet season would have been less expensive, but the thought of trudging around Machu Picchu in a cold rain was enough to convince us that this was not the option for us.
We realized in our planning that visiting Machu Picchu over two days would be better than one day. For those of us who monitor carefully our travel dollars, this was quite a leap. We reasoned that Machu Picchu is on everyone’s list of top sites to see in the world and trying to race through in one day just wasn’t sufficient.
Did we follow all the advice we read? No, and here’s where we differed. The first day, we took the very early train from Cusco (actually the Poroy station which is 20 minutes away) to Machu Picchu Pueblo (formerly Aguas Calientes) and checked into our hotel. By the time we left the hotel to make our way up to the ruins, it was after noon. At that hour, it only took a few minutes to get the bus tickets and catch the shuttle. With each passing hour at Machu Picchu, the number of visitors dropped. By 4pm we headed back on the shuttle bus to our hotel, exhausted and happy with all that we had seen.
On day 2, we slept in, had an early lunch in Aguas Calientes, and entered Machu Picchu at 1:30pm.
We quickly left the Sun Gate and headed back down to the main complex to explore an area we’d missed the day before.
We explored freely with few others around. It was exactly what we’d hoped for. We stayed until 4:30pm, shortly before closing time.
So, our advice is to plan your schedule at Machu Picchu based on 1. What you plan to see and do. Clearly, a hike requiring timed entry or of a long duration makes sense to do in the morning.
Plan your schedule based on 2. How long you want to be at the site. We know that our energy (and enthusiasm) wane after 3 or 4 hours. Instead of an early visit to the site from 7am – 11am, we thought a visit from noon till 4pm made more sense for us.
Preparation was helpful, but timing turned out to be key.