Visiting Machu Picchu: our complete guide

Visiter Machu Picchu

Visit Machu Picchu, the famous Inca city in Peru, and discover our mini-guide to this wonder of the world!

Located in Peru, 130 kilometers north of Cuzco, the « Historic Sanctuary of Machu Picchu » is an ancient Inca city built at an altitude of 2,438 meters, high in the Andes mountains and on the edge of the Amazon rainforest. To visit Machu Picchu is to discover one of South America’s most important archaeological sites, and a must-see monument in Peru. Listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1983, it is also recognized as one of the New 7 Wonders of the World, attracting over 800,000 visitors every year.

History and presentation of Machu Picchu

The ruins of this ancient Inca city are spread between two peaks: Huayna Picchu – « young mountain » in Quechua – and Machu Picchu, « old mountain ». A visit to Machu Picchu takes in 172 structures, 530 metres long and 200 metres wide, covering an area of 32,592 hectares.

Huayna Picchu – otherwise known as Wayna Picchu – is the mountain visible in all known photos of the site. At an altitude of 2,700 metres, it offers a unique view of the ruins of the Inca city, the Temple of the Moon and numerous terraced crops. As this mountain is very popular, you’ll need to book your ticket for the ascent several months in advance.

Huayna Picchu, Machu Picchu

Photo credit: Flickr – Brigitte Djajasasmita

Opposite, the Machu Picchu mountain, which overlooks the archaeological site, rises to an altitude of 3,082 metres. It is much less touristy. So it’s much easier to hike its slopes. Take your time surveying these two mountains to avoid acute mountain sickness – soroche in Quechua – as oxygen is scarce at altitudes of over 2,000 metres.

Machu Picchu, monument

Photo credit: Flickr – nevermindtheend

The city was built around the year 1440, during the reign of the Inca emperor Pachacutec (circa 1400- circa 1471), the apogee of Inca civilization. At this time, the territories of the Inca empire stretched 4,000 km from the south of present-day Colombia to the northernmost point of present-day Chile. It was the largest empire in pre-Columbian America. Machu Picchu may well have served as a religious and administrative stronghold, but there is still some dispute as to its function.

Machu Picchu was linked to Cuzco and other provinces by the « 8 Inca roads ». The site was therefore probably well supplied with food and the city must have been important to the Incas. The Spaniards knew of the site’s existence after their arrival – and after decimating the Inca population – but they never found Machu Picchu, which meant it was safe from looting and destruction. Neglected and forgotten for centuries, it wasn’t until 1911 that American explorer Hiram Bingham (1875-1956) brought the site’s existence to light.

Lama, Machu Picchu

Photo credit: Flickr – Scott Ableman

What to see in Machu Picchu

The sheer majesty of the site is enough to convince you that a visit to Machu Picchu is well worth your while!

The site comprises an agricultural zone, where potatoes and corn were grown on terraces – a technique still in use today – and an urban zone where the remains of administrative and religious buildings can be seen.

Your visit :

  • The temple of water: as the Inca economy was mainly agricultural, water was sacred,
  • The sun temple: the sun god was seen as the supreme god for the Incas. The cement-free structure is composed of polished, interlocking stones, and is still very well preserved,
  • The Royal Palace: probably the emperor’s residence,
  • The Sacred Square: two religious buildings, the Central Temple and the Temple of the Three Windows. With an altar in the center, probably used for lama sacrifices,
  • The Intihuatana: a solar calendar used by the Incas to forecast seasons, weather and temperatures,
  • The Guardian’s House: at the top of the agricultural terraces, the highest building on Machu Picchu, from where the famous photo of the site was taken,
  • The Sun Gate: marks the end of the Inca Trail trek (beautiful view of the site and valley),
  • The Moon Temple,
  • Wayna Picchu mountain,
  • Machu Picchu mountain.
Que voir et faire au Machu Picchu

Photo credit: Flickr – nevermindtheend

How do I book a ticket to visit Machu Picchu?

Due to the large number of visitors, the authorities have set up two daily visiting slots:

Machu Picchu

  • Group 1: 6am to 12pm,
  • Group 2: 12pm to 5:30pm.

Huayna Picchu Mountain

  • Group 1: 7am to 8am,
  • Group 2: 10 a.m. to 11 a.m.

Machu Picchu Mountain

  • Group 1: 7am to 8am,
  • Group 2: 9am to 10am.

Be sure to respect your ticket times, because if you’re late, you won’t be allowed to visit!

It is possible to book your ticket to visit Machu Picchu online via the official government website. However, the site doesn’t work very well, so it’s best to use booking platforms that offer the ascent to Machu Picchu with entry to the site, as well as the trek or train.

Alternatively, reservations can be made locally in Cuzco (at Inca Rail and Peru Rail, Palacio Inka de Kusicancha and Casa Garcilaso) and at the Aguas Calientes cultural center.

There are 3 types of tickets for Machu Picchu:

  • Machu Picchu,
  • Machu Picchu + Huayna Picchu,
  • Machu Picchu + Machu Picchu Mountain.

Tour prices and times

Times to visit Machu Picchu :

  • Machu Picchu is open daily from 6am to 5pm,
  • The last entry is at 4pm,
  • The busiest time is from 10am to 2pm.

Prices :

  • Free for children under 8,
  • Machu Picchu: 152 soles (€41.5),
  • Machu Picchu + Wayna Picchu: 200 soles (€54.5),
  • Machu Picchu + Machu Picchu Mountain: 200 soles (€54.5).

Useful information and access to Machu Picchu

By law, Machu Picchu must be visited with a guide. There are three ways to get to Machu Picchu: by trek, bus or train.

It’s possible to visit Machu Picchu and back in the same day, but you won’t be able to see everything: it’s better to spend the night in Aguas Calientes or Ollantaytambo. Read our article on the best places to stay near Machu Picchu.

Campsites, hotels and hostels are just some of the accommodation options available. The choice is yours!