Peru’s iconic Inca citadel is one of the most famous complexes in the entire world. It was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1983 and one of the New Seven Wonders of the World in 2007, and is thought to have been constructed as an estate for the emperor Pachacuti. It’s not exactly easy to get to, which makes visiting it even more memorable. Here are some things to consider before taking your family to this incredible site:
Plan your visit well in advance.
Two things to keep in mind: You cannot buy tickets at Machu Picchu, and the government has restricted the number of visitors to several thousand per day. This means it’s imperative you buy your tickets well in advance, especially in the high season of June to September, otherwise you risk the disappointment of missing out on one of the world’s most incredible sites — one you most likely traveled to visit in the first place.
Get the right tickets — and don’t forget your passport and a guide.
Though you can purchase tickets in person in Cusco at the Ministerio de Cultura or in Aguas Calientes at the Machu Picchu Cultural Centre, the easiest way is to purchase them online from the Ministry of Culture website. Entry costs $45 for adults 18 and older; $23 for undergraduate students up to age 25; and $21 for those under 18. The basic ticket provides entry to the main ruins, terraces and temples; if you are looking to climb either or both of the adjacent mountain peaks there is an additional fee — and only several hundred climbers are permitted per day. Note that tickets have a timed entry, and there is a four-hour limit on visiting and touring the citadel, actually plenty of time to take in all the sites and snap as many photos as you want to. Remember to print out your tickets and bring your passport, as you will not be permitted to enter without them. You also won’t be allowed to enter without a licensed guide; this will be easy if you are visiting as part of a group excursion, otherwise there are guides available for hire right on the spot before you enter.
Do not underestimate the effects of altitude sickness.
Cusco is 12,000 feet above sea level, but it goes downhill from there. Agua Calientes is 6,693, while Machu Picchu is 7,972 feet. Once you arrive in Cusco you might feel a little winded, nauseous, light-headed or get a headache. Hotels generally have coca leaves either to chew or steep in tea; if you are just going for the day you can buy bags of coca leaves from souvenir shops and stands. It’s a good idea to take a large water bottle before you set out to explore Machu Picchu.
If you aren’t hiking to Aguas Calientes, you will need to take a train.
Machu Picchu is not accessible by car. So if you aren’t hiking the Inca Trail (a journey that can take upwards of four to five days depending on your starting point) you will take the train either from Cusco (three hours) or Ollantaytambo (two hours, 15 minutes) to Aguas Caliente, the closest town to Machu Picchu. You can make reservations through either Inca Rail or Peru Rail; most trains have expanded windows so you can view the mountains and water during the journey and you generally get a beverage and a snack free of charge. The town of Agua Calientes is full of souvenir shops (Machu Picchu snowglobes, anyone?), bars, restaurants and hotels. If you have time before or after your trek to MP, make the 15-minute walk to the hot springs that give the town its name.
Decide if you are going to hike from town, or take the bus.
The hike to Machu Picchu from Agua Calientes takes about 1.5 hours; the route back down will be shorter and a lot less taxing. The bus is a lot less grueling but it’s also not for those who get motion sickness as there are 15 or so switchbacks. Nonetheless, it takes around 30 minutes and costs $19 round-trip for adults and $10 round-trip for children. Again, keep in mind bus tickets are timed and lines form well in advance. Plan on arriving at least 45 minutes ahead of your departure — look for the signs with your ticket’s time.
Load up on bug spray before you go.
Depending on the season, the insects can drive you crazy — or be a non-issue. But since you won’t be able to do anything about them once you enter the gates, make sure to spray or lather on insect repellent beforehand.
Use the restrooms before you enter.
There are no restrooms inside Machu Picchu, so make sure to hit the ones before you enter. You’ll need about $1 Peruvian sol to enter. If you need to use the restrooms after you go inside, you will not be permitted to re-enter. So it might be wise to skip the morning coffee, as delicious as those native beans can be.
Food is technically not permitted inside.
This rule doesn’t mean you won’t see visitors with granola bars, fruit or even a picnic lunch, but food is technically forbidden. If you need to nosh just be discreet, and obviously take your trash with you.
Practice photo etiquette.
Look for lines of people queueing up to take photos in the most picturesque spots, and get in the back of the line. Clueless tourists often inadvertently cut the lines or get into other people’s shots, so don’t be that person.
After you’ve shot it from every angle, put the phone and camera away and just soak it in.
The Inca citadel dates back to the 15th century, and many believe the very air there is filled with sacred energy. So once you have gotten shots for the ‘Gram, take a few minutes to be mindful and enjoy this amazing achievement high in the mountains, pet a llama and take a deep breath. You’ll never see anything else like it.
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