Advice for visiting Inca ruins: Timing is key at Machu Picchu

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).

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We followed the prescribed advice to go in the dry season and were rewarded with sunny skies and perfect weather.

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.

Taking photos without people in them proved easier than we had expected in the afternoon.

Taking photos without other tourists in them proved easier than we had expected in the afternoon.

On day 2, we slept in, had an early lunch in Aguas Calientes, and entered Machu Picchu at 1:30pm.

We hiked up step after step for an hour to the Sun Gate, only to discover many tourists sitting on the walls, windows, and even blocking the stairs to get in – just what we had hoped to avoid.

We hiked up step after step for an hour to the Sun Gate, only to discover many tourists sitting on the walls, windows, and even blocking the stairs to get in – just what we had hoped to avoid.

We quickly left the Sun Gate and headed back down to the main complex to explore an area we’d missed the day before.

And, as the sun dropped in the sky, so did the number of visitors.  

And, as the sun dropped in the sky, so did the number of visitors.

The weather was perfect in mid-afternoon, and we could more easily take photos of the Temple of the Condor.

The weather was perfect in mid-afternoon, and we could more easily take photos of the Temple of the Condor.

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.

Our goal was to see as many details as possible, like the 12 angle stone construction with no mortar. We also wanted to take lots of photos.

Our goal was to see as many details as possible, like the 12 angle stone construction with no mortar. We also wanted to take lots of photos.

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.

 

July 2016

 

About simpletravelourway

Beth and Joe enjoy simple travel.
This entry was posted in Peru, South America - 2016 and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

17 Responses to Advice for visiting Inca ruins: Timing is key at Machu Picchu

  1. Pingback: Machu Picchu – Jill's Scene

  2. Merrill says:

    Not being morning people or wanting to hike the mountain your way sounds perfect! Do they offer a 2-day ticket at Machu Picchu?

  3. Dina says:

    Wonderful post with lovely images and great advice. I love M.P. one of the nicest places I have ever been. I took the first train and it worked out very well, couldn’t believe my luck.
    Thank you for sharing. 🙂
    Best regards from Norway,
    Dina

  4. Pingback: Our Best of the Best #3: great ruins, discoveries, and places to hike | simpletravelourway

  5. plaidcamper says:

    Wonderful post – great advice and photographs. What an experience! One day…

  6. Wise planning. Travel advice is like that, isn’t it? – necessary to help you know how to do it differently!

  7. leggypeggy says:

    The early timing worked for us. I think we were on a bus going up about 5:45–6am—early enough to see the sun rise.

  8. What good advice you’ve shared. Your photographs really show the beauty of the place, and are especially striking for the lack of other people.

  9. Great advice. We’ve found in the past that later can be better, after the rush has gone by. What a wonderful place to visit.

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