Machu Picchu Sunset, Cusco Region, Urubamba Province, Peru

The ultimate guide to Machu Picchu

Visiting Machu Picchu without the tourist hordes isn't impossible. Here’s how to have the Andes' bucket list wonder all to yourself...

1. When is the best month to go to Machu Picchu?

The best time to visit Machu Picchu is April, May, October or November, all of which land in dry season. Or, try March: it’s the rainy season but showers are rarely heavy and local orchids are in bloom.

2. When is Machu Picchu at its busiest?

The busiest days is June 21, the summer solstice, when hordes arrive hoping to see sun pouring through a perfectly aligned window at the Temple of the Sun – known as sun gate. But, the high season crowds can reach up to 5,000 people a day and the trails to Machu Picchu are so jammed you can hardly walk. The busiest time of day is early morning, when you’ll encounter large queues and end up walking around the ruins with a crowd. Your entrance ticket is pegged to a specific day and time, between 6am and 12pm. But, once you’re in, you can stay as long as you like. While it’s tempting to book the first entry slot to make the most of it, it’s likely you’ll want to leave before too long: eating inside is prohibited, there are no loos, and even with lots of stops and pausing to take pictures it won’t take you anywhere near the full day.

3. How long does it take to climb Machu Picchu?

Most people complete the circuit in about three hours. Some people try to fit hikes to Machu Picchu in on a day-trip from Cuzco. But beware: not only might you have to deal with sudden altitude sickness but you’ll be tired – a four-to-five hour journey is an exhausting way to start a visit to the one of the world’s most iconic sights. So, stay at least one night – ideally two –  in Aguas Calientes, with its lively market and mountain vistas.

Funny white lama standing in Machu Picchu lost city ruins in Peru with green hills and stone walls on background with soft focus/ Shutterstock

4. Do you need a guide for Machu Picchu?

If you try to navigate Machu Picchu on your own, you’ll find yourself staring at a bunch of old rocks, as there are no signs. And with the epic views, photogenic llamas and pushy tourists, the last thing you want is your nose buried in a guidebook as you read about Hiram Bingham’s discovery of the sacred valley. If you’re given the choice of a two-and-a-half-hour tour or a three-and-a-half-hour tour choose the latter to avoid being rushed around the circuit since all the best photo ops are at the start. A good guide will also lead you to quiet corners off the main track (such as the quarry) and can point out easily matched aqueducts, unique vantage points and key ruins such as the emperor’s house.

5. What else is around Machu Picchu?

Machu Picchu’s sights spread beyond its instantly recognisable citadel – you could fill several days in the area hiking local trails or exploring lesser-known ruins of Machu Picchu. But if you only have time for one more thing, make it the trek to Huayna Picchu, a 360m summit best known as the backdrop in those classic Machu Picchu photographs. You’ll need to book far in advance –  weeks, or even months ahead in busy periods –  and allow about 90 minutes to reach the summit. Block out four hours if you want to carry on to the Incan Temple of the Moon at the far side of the mountain’s base.

6. What’s the best entrance for Machu Picchu

The best known is via the classic Inca Trail, a trek of two to four days (depending where you start). It involves camping and hiking, at altitude, from outside Cuzco.

7. Is it hard to climb Machu Picchu?

The paths tend to be in good shape, but it’s worth noting the sheer amount of steps. Don’t forget that you’ll be trekking at high altitude which is a challenge in itself.

8. What are the best trips to Machu Picchu and South America?

Next departure: April 24th 2020

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