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Tour Machu Picchu, Peru: How to Go and Why

Updated on September 11, 2016
Janda Raker profile image

Janda has explored four continents, by train, motorcycle, cross-country skis, mountain bike, snowshoes, sea kayak, hiking, backpacking etc.

Machu Picchu is at the top of many avid travelers’ bucket lists. The entrancing locale, often called the “Lost City of the Incas,” beckons. But the journey can be expensive and complicated. Can you afford it? And is it worth the cost and the trouble? For most, yes and yes!

This fabulous view of Machu Picchu, the ruined, ancient city of the Incas, greets visitors as they come through the gate.
This fabulous view of Machu Picchu, the ruined, ancient city of the Incas, greets visitors as they come through the gate. | Source
Looking upward past the masterfully constructed stone walls of Machu Picchu to the brilliant blue sky adorned by a few clouds.
Looking upward past the masterfully constructed stone walls of Machu Picchu to the brilliant blue sky adorned by a few clouds. | Source
A reconstructed building at Machu Picchu sports a traditional thatched roof, such as it would have about the year 1500.
A reconstructed building at Machu Picchu sports a traditional thatched roof, such as it would have about the year 1500. | Source

Machu Picchu's Story

No doubt, you’ve heard of Machu Picchu and probably seen photos, but you may not know details. I had long wanted to go there, and after touring many other awesome destinations in other parts of the world, I wasn’t sure if this trip would be worth it. It definitely was! Machu Picchu, nestled among 125 square miles of protected terrain in Peru, is one of the top tourist destinations in South America, or even in the world. Now a World Heritage Site, it’s been labeled “an absolute masterpiece of architecture and a unique testimony to the Inca civilization.” Possibly the estate of one of the last Inca kings, it was constructed of huge limestone blocks, cut to fit together without mortar, by the Incas in the mid-1400s on a high mountain saddle between two peaks in the Andes of Peru in South America. Hand-built stone walls created terraces that collected water for crops and prevented erosion of the mountainside. Buildings with a total of approximately 200 rooms were arranged according to function around the site, with the elite residents commanding the best views and most pleasant weather conditions.

A century later, the Incas abandoned the city; the site was never discovered or damaged by the Spanish explorers. The jungle reclaimed it, and Machu Picchu was known only to local indigenous Quechua farmers. Hiram Bingham, a lecturer from Yale University, traveled through Peru, searching out important Inca ruins in the area, and the 11-year-old son of a local farmer introduced him to the ruins of Machu Picchu in 1911. Bingham initiated the excavation of the ruins, the marvels of which are now available for travelers to view.

Neighboring Cusco also beckons. The gateway to much of South America and providing access to Machu Picchu, it’s the oldest continuously inhabited city on the continent.

The great Andes mountains with their glaciers were home to the Inca people who built Machu Picchu before the time of Columbus and the Spanish explorers.
The great Andes mountains with their glaciers were home to the Inca people who built Machu Picchu before the time of Columbus and the Spanish explorers. | Source

Planning Your Trip to Machu Picchu

Since Bingham’s discovery, travelers from around the world have come to discover this site for themselves. As you plan your trip, you’ll find scores of options, depending on how much money you plan to spend, how much time you have available and how physically fit you are. Many people take all-inclusive tours, usually flying into Lima, Peru, then to Cusco, with all transportation including airport pickup, lodging, the train and bus, entry to and guided tour of Machu Picchu, and some meals provided.

"Cuy"

Authentic Peruvian restaurant meals may include “cuy,” pronounced “kwee,” a prized ingredient in the Andes. It’s roasted or fried guinea pig. It’s eaten by hand, not with silverware. If you’re on a tour where cuy is included, you may offend your guide if you prefer not to eat it. However, if you’re on your own, you can choose not to order it, if you think of those small mammals more as pets rather than food.

The beautiful Urubamba River Valley winds through the mountains, down from the Andes, where it carved the saddle between peaks where Machu Picchu was built by the Incas.
The beautiful Urubamba River Valley winds through the mountains, down from the Andes, where it carved the saddle between peaks where Machu Picchu was built by the Incas. | Source

"Ollantaytambo" is pronounced “O-yon-tie-tombo,” named after a brave Inca soldier, Ollantay.

Others choose to fly to Cusco and join a tour there, with ground transportation, lodging, and the tour of the ruins included. Another option is to travel independently from Cusco, on to either Ollantaytambo or Aguascalientes, usually by car or taxi along the winding Urubamba River valley, with views of terraced hillsides providing for agriculture and pullouts with indigenous youngsters presenting their llamas and alpacas to be photographed. Travelers can spend a night in either village. From Aguascalientes, visitors take a bus up the Hiram Bingham Highway’s 13 breathtakingly steep switchbacks traversing the side of the mountain, sometimes through clouds or even above them, with impressive views, either over thick green forest down into the river valley or up at the high, glacier-clad peaks of the Andes at almost every turn, and then to the goal at the top, the ancient city waiting to be toured.


Some travelers book all the segments themselves, including the train trip, bus trip and entry tickets to Machu Picchu. And some prefer to fly into Cusco and take off on a group trek on the Inca Trail, the 26-mile renowned four-day hiking trail with entry fee to Machu Picchu included. If you’re taking the trail, Peruvian law requires going with a government-approved guide, either with a group and its guide or just with a guide for yourself, if you don’t mind that extra expense. Or you can choose a longer hiking tour to Machu Picchu that also includes extended exploration into the Sacred Valley and other sites around Cusco.

Huge interlocking blocks of stone were carved by gifted Inca artisans to create walls which stood without mortar being required.
Huge interlocking blocks of stone were carved by gifted Inca artisans to create walls which stood without mortar being required. | Source

Altitude

You may need to acclimate to the altitude before setting out: Cusco is at 10,800 feet, and Machu Picchu is above 8,000 feet.

Purchasing Tickets

It’s wise to purchase your entry ticket to Machu Picchu online. A Visa credit card is required. Be sure to purchase it several months ahead if you’re going during the high season of June through August, when the weather is dry. Only 2500 entry tickets are provided each day. .

Map of Access to Machu Picchu, Peru

A markerMachu Picchu -
Machu Picchu, Peru
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The site of the ancient citadel of Machu Picchu in the high Andes of Peru.

The Cost of a Trip to Machu Picchu

All-inclusive tours vary considerably in cost, from $300 (plus airfare) to $4,990 per person, and amenities, depending on the level of luxury you choose, especially as to lodging and meals. Check out recommendations in travel guide books and online sites. But be skeptical; tour companies have written some of the reviews themselves and may exaggerate their quality. If you’re planning to trek the 26-mile, 3-to-4-day Inca Trail, you’ll need to budget $550 to $1000 for a guide, outfitter, possibly porters and a cook, and entry ticket to Machu Picchu. You’ll need reservations for the trail; usually two to three months ahead is required. Only about 180 Peruvian companies are allowed permits to provide these trips, so you’ll likely save money if you select the tours directly from the guide companies in Peru rather than booking through U.S. companies, which subcontract the tours to the local companies.

Purchased separately, tickets for your entry and required guided tour of Machu Picchu will be about $100. If you’re not a Spanish speaker, be sure to ask for a guide who speaks your language. English is spoken by many of the guides. Roundtrip airfare from anywhere in the U.S. costs between $1,000 and $2,000. Most flights require at least two stops, usually in Houston, Dallas, Los Angeles, Miami, New York or Atlanta, and Lima, Peru. You’ll likely want to stay at least one night in Cusco and another in either Aguas Calientes, the town nearest Machu Picchu, or in Ollantaytambo, a fascinating, historic location a little farther from Machu Picchu. Both of these communities provide hospitality and comfort as you journey through the area.

Our guide through Machu Picchu, Cosme Cuba, a trilingual Quechua Indian, a very interesting man who has published a book about the site.
Our guide through Machu Picchu, Cosme Cuba, a trilingual Quechua Indian, a very interesting man who has published a book about the site. | Source
This classic view of Machu Picchu captures the spirit of this ancient site so beloved by tourists and archaeologists alike.
This classic view of Machu Picchu captures the spirit of this ancient site so beloved by tourists and archaeologists alike. | Source
Terraced ruins being explored by a few tourists, with trees framing the brilliant sky.
Terraced ruins being explored by a few tourists, with trees framing the brilliant sky. | Source
Tourists taking photos of llamas who reside among the ruins and function as lawnmowers.
Tourists taking photos of llamas who reside among the ruins and function as lawnmowers. | Source

Informative book written by Cosme Cuba, one of the guides to Machu Picchu

Last Minute Arrangements to Tour Machu Picchu

Even if you’re not planning to hike and you choose to arrive in Peru before making arrangements for the part of your trip to the “Lost City,” be sure to reserve your ticket to the site ahead of time. Other than that, you should be able to make all other arrangements after you arrive. You’ll likely meet other travelers who have already been; ask them for their recommendations. Or you may meet other incoming tourists who have helpful information, and you may decide to share a hired car or shared taxi, hotel or hostel accommodations, etc., as well as transportation between towns by auto with a driver or by van, and bus and train transport and guides to Machu Picchu itself. You’ll have to use your own judgment and should feel free to negotiate price and accommodations. In some cases, you may be asked to use your ATM card and pay for some portion of the trip in cash. Be cautious. Most of all, if you’re traveling on your own, be aware of the possibilities and be flexible. Many potential complications can arise, but being adaptable can help you accomplish your goals. At times, weather events, transportation strikes, political issues and such can disrupt your plans, but the locals are quite eager to help you get to and enjoy Machu Picchu. That’s how many of them make their living, and they’ll want your experience to be positive and hope for you to recommend them to others. Trust them with your concerns and complications, adapt as much as you possibly can, and you’ll likely have a wonderful trip. Be sure to take your camera, for photos of a lifetime!

A side view of Machu Picchu with tourists walking along the terraces and rock walls; the scene is enhanced by the stunning sky.
A side view of Machu Picchu with tourists walking along the terraces and rock walls; the scene is enhanced by the stunning sky. | Source
Looking down into the spectacular ruins of Machu Picchu.
Looking down into the spectacular ruins of Machu Picchu. | Source
Travelers explore the ruins of Machu Picchu, adorned with brilliant green grass and vivid native flowers.
Travelers explore the ruins of Machu Picchu, adorned with brilliant green grass and vivid native flowers. | Source
Tourists admiring the handiwork of the Inca workmen who created the so-called "compass rock," whose points are lined up with the points of a compass, including one which is apparently aligned with magnetic north.
Tourists admiring the handiwork of the Inca workmen who created the so-called "compass rock," whose points are lined up with the points of a compass, including one which is apparently aligned with magnetic north. | Source

Machu Picchu: the Experience

When you pass through the gates and first lay eyes on the fabulous site, you’ll know it was worth what it took to get there. Your guide will explain what you’re seeing and take you through the fascinating points--the vivid greens of terraced grass; the complex construction of the gray limestone walls of the ancient city, some that form steep points that once supported thatched roofs, a few of which have been reconstructed; the sparse and lanky trees; the sedate and furry presence of the llamas that calmly perform the function of lawnmowers; the Urubamba River that expended eons of its existence carving the valley far below; the puffs of clouds that often rise from the bottom or sail overhead; the lush aroma of fertile ground. And after your guided tour, you’ll be free to roam the site at will, enjoy the sight of exotic plants, retrace your favorite steps, even take time to sit and experience the breath-taking calm, the quiet beauty and mystic elegance of it all.

Classic side view of Machu Picchu, Peru.
Classic side view of Machu Picchu, Peru. | Source
View of a young couple relaxing and enjoying the serenity of Machu Picchu's walls and terraces after a day of touring. The Andes are in the background.
View of a young couple relaxing and enjoying the serenity of Machu Picchu's walls and terraces after a day of touring. The Andes are in the background. | Source
The Three Windows, a wall which shows in detail the intricate handiwork of the Inca artisans who created this citadel.
The Three Windows, a wall which shows in detail the intricate handiwork of the Inca artisans who created this citadel. | Source
Looking down from a higher level onto a beautiful green terrace with a a herd of llamas feeding on the lush green grass.
Looking down from a higher level onto a beautiful green terrace with a a herd of llamas feeding on the lush green grass. | Source
The finely crafted walls of Machu Picchu contrast with the brilliant green vegetation of the area to produce lovely, inviting views.
The finely crafted walls of Machu Picchu contrast with the brilliant green vegetation of the area to produce lovely, inviting views. | Source
Travelers enjoy descending the stone steps along walls, all constructed by Incas prior to 1500 A.D., with the vivid grass and shrubbery adding green to the surroundings.
Travelers enjoy descending the stone steps along walls, all constructed by Incas prior to 1500 A.D., with the vivid grass and shrubbery adding green to the surroundings. | Source

Other Important Information About Travel to Machu Picchu, Peru

Other aspects of a trip to Peru may be important to consider, including bird-watching opportunities, bus transportation, clothing and shoes, equipment for the Inca Trail, financial transactions, food and beverages, general transportation info, health, internet access and phone calls, luggage, operating your electric appliances, passports, safety, tipping, toilet issues, train transport, travel insurance, trip brokers, visas, weather and seasons, and where to stay. Many of these are addressed on online travel forums.

Start planning your trip immediately. It’s likely to be the best of your life

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Amazing and beautiful stone walls created by Inca workmen before 1500 A.D.
Amazing and beautiful stone walls created by Inca workmen before 1500 A.D. | Source
Travelers enjoy coming down the steps from the upper level of Machu Pachu, while viewing the architecture and lush greenery in the ruins.
Travelers enjoy coming down the steps from the upper level of Machu Pachu, while viewing the architecture and lush greenery in the ruins. | Source

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    • profile image

      Harry Haines 9 months ago

      Wonderful article. Lots of detail. Terrific information for anyone planning to visit Machu Picchu.

    • profile image

      Ann Hicks 9 months ago

      An excellent article...Janda certainly left no stone unturned! It's been 15 years since I was there, and I enjoyed reliving every minute of the trip. I would add: try your very best to see the Nasca Lines (read about this archaeological mystery first)...our tour drove us to a little airport outside of Lima, where we rode in a VERY small airplane over the site. It's fascinating!

    • Janda Raker profile image
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      Janda Raker 9 months ago from Amarillo, Texas

      Thanks, Harry and Ann, for your comments. Yes, Ann, I agree about the Nasca Lines. I plan to post an article about it soon. It was amazing, another wonderful spot that had been on my bucket list for years!

    • profile image

      Tova Kopperud 9 months ago

      Very good article. I know I'll never make it there, but this article is the next best thing, pictures and all. I feel like I have (almost) been there, seen it, and enjoyed it.

    • Janda Raker profile image
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      Janda Raker 9 months ago from Amarillo, Texas

      Thanks very much, Tova! Glad I portrayed Machu Picchu well enough for you to enjoy it. Travel writing usually has two objectives--to entice readers to go to that destination or to help "armchair travelers" feel as if they have been there! (Of course, you're NOT an armchair traveler, but if South America isn't on your itinerary, I'm pleased I could give you a nice experience.)

    • profile image

      Sondra 9 months ago

      Janda, this was an awesome read, and the pictures were fantastic. You gave us enough to make us "dream the trip", and wish for just a bit more of everything. Thank you for the pure enjoyment of seeing and feeling this beautiful region, through your artful, and clever literary skills.

      Extraordinary!

    • Janda Raker profile image
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      Janda Raker 9 months ago from Amarillo, Texas

      So glad you enjoyed the article, Sondra. There are two audiences for travel writing--the travelers and the armchair travelers. Thanks for letting me know this one worked for y'all!

    • profile image

      Georgia Haynes 9 months ago

      Excellent article. Lots of detail. I learned lots. Just curious, did you try Cuy?

    • Janda Raker profile image
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      Janda Raker 9 months ago from Amarillo, Texas

      Thanks, Georgia, glad you enjoyed my article. Uh, NO, I did NOT try cuy! When I saw in the foyer of one of the local restaurants the cute little pueblo-style complex built for the sweet guinea pigs to reside in, running up and down the tiny ladders, in and out of the diminutive rooms' doors and windows, I thought how sweet that was of the owners to provide for those little critters. Then I found out customers were supposed to choose which one they wanted for dinner! Yiii! I nearly cried and still do, just thinking about it! I don't eat "cute" food (or really "ugly" food either!

    • MsDora profile image

      Dora Isaac Weithers 8 months ago from The Caribbean

      So much natural beauty plus architectural genius. Thanks for this inviting piece on Machu Picchu. Even the name looks and sounds exotic. Enjoyable read!

    • Janda Raker profile image
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      Janda Raker 8 months ago from Amarillo, Texas

      MsDora, thanks so much for taking time to check out my article. Glad you liked it! Of course, you're from a beautiful area of the world, so you're likely a good judge.

    • ThelmaC profile image

      Thelma Raker Coffone 6 months ago from Blue Ridge Mountains, USA

      Janda, wow you did a great job on this hub! Welcome to HubPages. I look forward to following you and reading more of your articles. BTW, Raker is my maiden name. Maybe we are relatives!

    • Mel Carriere profile image

      Mel Carriere 6 months ago from San Diego California

      I would love to see it someday. Great hub.

    • Janda Raker profile image
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      Janda Raker 6 months ago from Amarillo, Texas

      Thanks a lot, ThelmaC. Glad you enjoyed my article on Machu Picchu! My husband is Lyle Raker Jr., from Kansas, then Albuquerque, then Amarillo. Let's see if we can find a connection! And we love the Blue Ridge Mountains. Hope you aren't near the fires. Stay safe!

      And Mel, I hope you'll go. It's fabulous, maybe the best place in the world! Thanks for taking time to comment!

    • Margaridab profile image

      Margarida Borges 6 months ago from Lyon, France

      My sister was also there a few years ago and she loved it. She was only sad about the people in Peru being so poor.

      I also like your template but I was puzzled about your amazon capsule that is nice without the upside logo. Could you explain how to do it? Thanks a lot.

    • Margaridab profile image

      Margarida Borges 6 months ago from Lyon, France

      I went back to see my capsules. They only have the logo when I'm editing them, but they appear bigger then yours, that is more discreet. I must try to edit mine but I'm not a great hubpages template designer..

    • Janda Raker profile image
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      Janda Raker 6 months ago from Amarillo, Texas

      Hmm, Margaridab, I'm afraid I don't know much about the tech aspect of these articles. I selected the template for travel articles and just "filled in the blanks." I'm pretty pleased with how it all looks, but I don't really know how to make changes, especially to the Amazon capsule. Perhaps one of the other people on this thread can make suggestions.

      Glad your sister got to go to Peru; hope you can go too! Yes, the poverty there is a problem, but perhaps our tourism helps the locals. And I know people who are working on development with the goal of providing sustainability for the locals!

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 6 months ago from Olympia, WA

      What an incredible journey that would be. When I was a young child I would look at all the exotic places in National Geographic, and read about them in the encyclopedia. Now I have writers like you to keep me enthralled. Thank you!

    • Janda Raker profile image
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      Janda Raker 6 months ago from Amarillo, Texas

      Bill, why not go? I guess some of us just have a "travel bug." I've always, since I can remember, wanted to see what's around the next corner or over the next hill. Even when I walk my dog, I tend to take a different route each day! Well, if you're not going, I'm happy to take you on a vicarious journey!

    • bdegiulio profile image

      Bill De Giulio 6 months ago from Massachusetts

      Hi Janda. What an amazing place and an equally amazing article. Great job. I have long wanted to visit Machu Picchu and hopefully will get there sooner rather than later. Great photos.

    • Janda Raker profile image
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      Janda Raker 5 months ago from Amarillo, Texas

      Thanks very much, bdegiulio. That's high praise, coming from you, with as many great travel articles and beautiful photos as you have posted. I look forward to seeing an article from you when YOU get to Machu Picchu!

    • Stephen C Barnes profile image

      Stephen Barnes 2 months ago from St. John's, Newfoundland and Labrador

      Interesting article, with very helpful and useful information, and beautiful pictures. Machu Picchu has always been on my list of must see places and I plan to make the trip soon.

    • Janda Raker profile image
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      Janda Raker 2 months ago from Amarillo, Texas

      Stephen, I know you'll love Machu Picchu! It's one of the most-beloved tourist attractions in the world! But each of us sees things from our own perspective, so you'll appreciate it in your OWN way! And when you've been, you can write a Hub about it from your point of view! I look forward to reading it!

    • Janda Raker profile image
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      Janda Raker 2 months ago from Amarillo, Texas

      Mel Carriere, sorry I missed your post a couple of months ago. Thanks for stopping by. Glad you enjoyed my hub, and hope you get to go to Machu Picchu. We like your area too--nice weather and beautiful water! You don't really NEED to go anywhere, living in a place like that.

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