Machu Picchu: the reason you’re probably booking a flight to Peru. It’s one of the world’s new seven wonders, and a first-time trip to Peru wouldn’t be complete without it.
There are many journeys to Machu Picchu, each with varying timelines and fitness level requirements. And with new regulations being implemented in 2024, planning is crucial to limit foot traffic further. Especially for hikes on the Inca Trail or climbs up Huayna Picchu.
This photographic travel guide will give you a sense of what a Machu Picchu itinerary looks like, along with my first-hand experience doing the Huayna Picchu hike. I’ll also provide tips on how to get there, where you can stay, how to help prevent altitude sickness and much more.
One of the most important things to consider when planning a trip to Machu Picchu is how to get there.
After flying from Lima to Cusco, the best way to get to Machu Picchu is by train. PeruRail takes passengers on a day trip from Cusco and Ollantaytambo to Aguas Calientes, the closest city to Machu Picchu. If time is a factor or there’s no desire to hike, this is the best option.
There are three different trains, and it’s important to remember they all take the same route, so the views are identical.
The trains do offer different levels of service, comfort, and amenities. Here’s a breakdown:
The most basic option, though essential in this instance, is not too shabby. The seats are comfortable, the windows are enormous, and the views are the same as the other trains. Having been on this and the Vistadome, I would opt for the Expedition. I didn’t find the Vistadome to be worth the extra money.
This train, pictured above, is famous for the windows extending above to give a panoramic view. While I appreciated this, I didn’t find myself looking up too much. The service on board was pleasant; there were snacks and hot beverages. They also had a live fashion show with a masked dancer. I found it a bit corny, but others enjoyed it.
This luxury train offers fine dining and an open-air deck in the back car. It’s about four times the price of the Vistadome. As a photographer, the deck was very tempting. However, an early sunset meant my return journey would only provide one hour of daylight on the train. The Belmond is known for its luxury and excellent service. If you’re tempted to splurge, consider the Belmond Andean Explorer train from Cusco to Puno.
Regardless of the train, everyone takes the same bus to and from the ruins. Lines are usually long and form early in the morning and mid-afternoon.
Pro Tip: Sit on the river side of the train for better views.
Hiking to Machu Picchu is an intelligent option. It allows you to follow in the footsteps of the Incas and breathe in history.
There is an array of hikes and treks to choose from, which last anywhere from two to five days. They take hikers through remote villages, climbing the Andes, and passing Inca ruins.
I opted for the short Inca trail hike, a two-day, one-night affair. The rationale was simple. I only had a short time exploring Peru and wanted to see more of the country. I also didn’t want to pack for a trek, but I enjoyed hiking and wanted to challenge myself.
Related Travel Guide
Please read about my experience on the Short Inca Trail and learn about other hiking options like The Salkantay Trek and the entire four-day Inca Trail.
Early in the morning, our guide, Eban from Llama Path Sustainable Tours, picked us up and brought us to the ruins.
The first hour of the tour was a history lesson covering everything from what was known about the Inca civilization, the Spanish invasion, and Hiram Bingham’s “discovery” of the site. We also learned about today’s challenges of the Peruvian government trying to reclaim the lost artifacts.
The Machu Picchu ruins have different houses. Some are fit for royalty, and others for regular people.
We passed alters, toilet facilities, storage spaces, and unfinished work.
It doesn’t matter how often I saw the pictures before visiting; seeing them in real life felt amazing.
The most impressive part was the construction of the buildings. Similar to other Inca ruins, we saw how they used large stones that fit perfectly into one another. The precision was so great that they didn’t even use mortar to seal the stones.
All of these details would have been lost to me without a guide. I recommend either doing research beforehand or getting a knowledgeable local tour guide.
It’s easy to think that since these stones have lasted such a long time, they’re immune to damage, but the truth is the oils from our hands and pressure from our feet are wearing them down. Avoid touching the stones, and don’t stand or sit on any ruins.
10 am – CLIMBING HUAYNA PICCHU
While I spent the morning walking through the ruins, I also had this pit in the bottom of my stomach. We had purchased tickets months ago to climb Huayna Picchu, and I had second thoughts.
I won’t hide that I’m not particularly good with heights. I had heard this hike described with words like “dangerous,” “death stairs,” and “steep.” I pictured myself clinging to tiny stairs on the side of a mountain and being blown off by a gust of wind. Ok, a bit dramatic, I know.
But I had the tickets; it would be a waste not to use them, and with the encouragement of my friends, we lined up for our 10 am climb.
I looked at the daunting mountain above me and thought, How was I supposed to get to the top?
Unfortunately for you, my dear reader, I was so focused on making it alive that I didn’t stop for photos. So now I’ll do my best to describe that one hour.
The saving grace of the hike was that it was predominantly shady. The path to go up was very steep, but there was always sufficient space and bush to prevent me from falling to death.
It made me sweat, turned my legs to jello, and constantly out of breath, but I never once questioned if I could make it to the top.
The climb was essential to a promotion. It was stair after stair after stair of climbing. It was narrow enough for a single file but wide enough for the faster people to pass.
Everyone went at their own speed. We encouraged each other and were respectful of everyone’s pace. Strangers started chatting; it felt like a team effort.
After an hour, we got to the top, and I finally pulled out my camera.
The top is the area where I suggest additional caution.
It was crowded, everyone wanted a selfie, and there was limited vertical space. So be patient and watch your step.
It was worth it, and I’m so happy I faced my fears.
GETTING TICKETS FOR HUAYNA PICCHU
It is essential to book the entrance tickets for Huayna Picchu Mountain about 3–6 months in advance. Climbing times are split into two groups (early morning and late morning), so ensure that the time for the climb correlates to the time slot on the entrance ticket to Machu Picchu.
If tickets are sold out, consider climbing Machu Picchu Mountain instead. These are sold in time slots, but the hike is less steep and twice as long as Huayna Picchu. While there are no Inca sights on this hike, it does provide great views with fewer people.
Book Tickets for Huayna Picchu with KONDOR PATH TOURS
WHERE CAN I SLEEP IN MACHU PICCHU?
We only recommend products and services we trust. When doing the guided hikes, the tour companies provide accommodation. For the Machu Picchu two-day hike, it was a three-star hotel in Aguas Calientes. For longer treks, there are camping sites and lodgings along the trail.