Traveling to see Machu Picchu does take a bit of forethought and planning. Many people opt for a tour company to take care of all the hassle for them. I can understand that. But I love the process of travel research and planning. So when we decided to do our 10 Day Peru trip, I took on the challenge of figuring out how to get all of our tickets ahead of time.
(See our full 10 day itinerary here)
With this being a relatively short trip, we had specific dates we wanted to see different areas of Peru without feeling rushed. So knowing before we left home that we had train tickets and entry passes to Machu Picchu on certain dates was reassuring and made the relatively short time that we were there, stress-free.
Machu Picchu Entry tickets
Which one is better?
It depends on how early you like to get up and what your time limitation is. If you are coming all the way from Cusco and returning the same day, the afternoon is your only option. If you are an early bird and stayed a night in Aguas Calientes, then go for the morning entry. If you are staying at the Belmond Sanctuary Lodge, you can do both!
Here are a few notes to help you choose
If you are thinking that you are going to get some incredible sunrise photograph at Machu Picchu by being there at 6am and sprinting the steps to get to the best spot, relax. My husband is a professional landscape photographer and although we were there as soon at the site opened, the way the ruins and Huaynapicchu are oriented in relation to the surrounding mountains (the rising sun has to get up and over these), the light doesn’t really show up onto the site, until about an hour after the estimated sunrise time for that day. With that being said, the low lighting (when it did show up) was pretty nice.
The LEAST busy time to see Machu Picchu, with fewest people is in the afternoon between 3-5pm and in the morning before 8am. My preference was the afternoon. Most day-trippers are heading back down on the bus by 2pm. The last few buses leave around 5:30pm. The afternoon does sometimes gets light rain and can be a bit cloudy. But I felt that just added to interesting lighting and that feeling of Incan mystery. If you decide to go this late in the afternoon, you may want to stay over in Aguas Calientes and take the train back to Cusco the following day. I went to both the morning entry AND the afternoon entry. In the morning (September), the area was flooded with tourists by 8:30am. During the afternoon slot, after 3pm, it felt like my husband and I had the place to ourselves.
Machu Picchu tickets - Online Purchase
Buy tickets with credit card through the Ministerios de Cultura website. You can view the site in English but you can only buy tickets in Spanish. But it’s not too difficult.
IMPORTANT NOTE - make sure to print off or screen shot your ticket purchase receipt and the actual ticket to bring with you. The website doesn’t really cue you to do that. Thrifty Nomads, a fellow travel blogger, does an excellent job of breaking this online purchase down step by step, with great photos of each screen. Pull up two screens on your desktop, the Thrifty Nomad link on one, and the Ministry of Culture website on the other. Then follow their directions for each screen.
Read the how-to guide here.
Huayna Picchu Tickets
If you want to climb that big peak in all the iconic photos, you need to book it several months in advance! You can purchase these tickets at the same time as you purchase your Machu Picchu tickets. The trail access times are twice a day, early morning and later morning. This is the only time you can start the climb. The average traveler takes about three hours to complete it round trip. It’s not a technical climb. Meaning, it’s more like being on a Stairmaster continuously for over an hour, with several hundred stone steps to negotiate. But the views are fabulous. The Ministry of Culture limits the number of people each day that can access this climb. When you are booking your tickets online (see link above), you will be able to look at a calendar that shows how many spots are left and available to purchase on the dates that you are considering.
Buying Train Tickets online
Both Inca rail and Perurail travel from Cusco to Machu Picchu. Please note that neither train actually goes directly to the archeological site. All trains have to stop in Aguas Calientes and then everyone has to take a 20 min bus (separate ticket) from AC to MP. Another fellow travel blogger, has a nice blog comparing the two rail services, as she went twice to Machu Picchu and experienced both of them. Go here to read more about her experience.
Train tickets are purchased one leg at a time.I didn't see any discount for purchasing round-trip.But this allows flexibility regarding where you want to start and stop your journey, which times fit your schedule, and allows you to experience a mix of service class if you desire.
We used Perurail and had smooth comfortable service. They emailed us our tickets.
I'd recommend printing them and taking them with you.
NOTE - If you are wondering if the Vistadome train is worth the extra money (~$20-$30 per person more), I’d say it’s something you can sacrifice if you need to direct travel budget dollars to other areas. We took the Vistadome train out and the standard Expedition train back. Both have large windows, even the standard Expedition train that we took back had ceiling windows. The Vistadome train windows were just larger. With the Vistadome car you get a colorful table setting, a hot sandwich and a choice of drink with the ticket price. That’s the only service difference that I noticed. The scenery is beautiful in spots, with a few dramatic mountain peaks showing in some sections (IF it’s a clear day, which is not guaranteed). But overall I wouldn’t call it ‘mind-blowing’. The train mostly runs along the river. In my opinion, the really good stuff is at higher elevation in Valle Sagrado.
Buying bus tickets
You will need to do this in Aguas Calientes (AC) or Cusco. The ticket office in AC is off the main square. If you use Google maps and type in ‘Angie’s Inn’ , the office is on this same street, directly across from it. It’s about a 10 minute walk. In high season, there is often a line at the office to purchase bus tickets. So be prepared for that.
Here are the locations in Cusco where you can purchase bus tickets to MP:
Av. Infancia 433 – Wanchaq; 08:00 hrs – 12:45 hrs and 15:00 hrs – 18:00 hrs.
Av. El Sol 380 – Interbank Bank; 09:00 hrs – 13:00 hrs and 14:00 hrs – 18:00 hrs.
You will need your passport to buy tickets and they run about $20USD per person each way.
When we were there, we then had to walk ~ 5 minutes downhill from the bus ticket office to where the buses were loading passengers. Don’t panic if you see a long line. There are many buses and they are coming and going frequently. They will come through the line as you wait, to check ticket name with passport and stamp it. I was somewhat impressed how efficient their system was.
For your return back down from Machu Picchu to AC, be prepared to wait in the bus line again for up to 30 minutes. But again, the line moves fairly quickly. But just be aware of your timing if you are trying to catch a certain train from AC back to Cusco. The last few buses leave Machu Picchu around 5:30pm.
Hope this is helpful, have fun!