Machu Picchu is the city in the sky and is near the top of most traveler’s bucket lists. Machu Picchu is a UNESCO Heritage Site nestled in the peaks of the Andes in Peru. The ancient Incan settlement was uncovered in 1911 by Hiram Bingham. Machu Picchu is a preserved piece of history that nearly 2,500 people visit every day. Even with that kind of crowd, Peruvians have maintained the integrity of the ruins by managing erosion around the site and mapping tourist movement to limit foot traffic in certain areas. It’s critical to be mindful while visiting the fragile scared sight. Here’s how to be a responsible traveler in Machu Picchu.
TRAVELING TO MACHU PICCHU
The vast majority of people who go to Machu Picchu fly to Cusco after reaching Lima, Peru. Sadly there is no train that goes from Lima to Cusco, but there are multiple bus routes that run daily. So, if you’re looking for a responsible option of getting to Machu Picchu and haven’t planned out a hike, the bus is your best option.
The city of Cusco has a high altitude so you’ll need to adjust to the thinner atmosphere. Having an elevation of around 3,400 meters, Cusco isn’t a place you jump into blindly. Prior to your trip, get plenty of exercise. Additionally, your body will use more water than usual and it’s important to always have water nearby to stay hydrated. Finally, if you experience headaches and feeling nauseous, find a local pharmacy and grab medicine for altitude sickness.
A lot of the local economy in Cusco thrives on tourism. This makes Cusco the best place to not only acclimate safely but also to support local businesses such as the numerous restaurants that fill the town center that offer only the best Peruvian delights.
CUSCO TO AGUAS CALIENTES
After reaching Cusco, the next destination is the town in the valley below Machu Picchu, Aguas Calientes. There are numerous ways to get to Aguas Calientes, from taking a train to hiking the Inca trail, both originating from Cusco. If the altitude is a bit much to handle for hiking, there are two main options for a train that goes into Aguas Calientes, PeruRail and IncaRail.
If you’re adjusted to the altitude and ready for an adventure, the most sustainable and cost-efficient option is to join a local tour guide and hike the Inca Trail. Many locals make a living by being hiking tour guides. G Adventures is highly recommended by other travelers. A budget-friendly option that also comes highly respected is Karikuy. These hikes are intensive, so be sure that you are physically able to make the trip.
The town itself is rather small, leaving only a few things to do while you’re there. Aside from the surrounding hikes in the mountains, all of the sites to see in the town can be experienced in a single day. A short stroll through the town will take you through its extensive artisanal marketplace, historical town center, and eventually crossing the river through Aguas Calientes to get to a small park overlooking the stream below.
GETTING TO MACHU PICCHU FROM AGUAS CALIENTES
There’s a bus that can take you up to the peak or you can hike as it’s eco-friendlier and not that difficult of an incline. There are trail maps offered almost everywhere in Agua Calientes that will tell you how to get up to Machu Picchu. The hike will take about one and a half hours.
WHAT TIME TO GO TO MACHU PICCHU
After reaching Aguas Calientes, there’s some preparation you’ll want to do before heading up to Machu Picchu. Stay at least one night in the town and then make your way up to Machu Picchu in the morning. Alternatively, you can go in the afternoon when it’s a little crowded, but the crowd will be dispersed throughout the site.
When to go to Machu Picchu is based on preference. If you want a lot of time to look around and plan on doing one of the adjacent hikes like Huayna Picchu, then going in the morning will be best. If you want to go with a smaller crowd and are willing to sacrifice a little time, then noon will be the best time.
WHAT TO BRING WITH YOU TO MACHU PICCHU
Bring a reusable water bottle and some snacks to hold you over. Don’t leave any trash on the grounds, take your trash out with you. Another important item to bring is sunscreen as the sun will be beating down.
Finally, bring your passport! You will need your passport to check-in at the entrance of Machu Picchu. No there isn’t some check-in at the peak where you need some form of identification. There’s also a passport stamping booth at the exit where you can keep a small memento in your passport from your trip if you’re willing to take up the precious space on your passport page.
MACHU PICCHU TOURS
Walking around Machu Picchu solo is possible if you’re trying to budget. However, the locals are well informed on the history of the ruins and can offer some interesting facts. On top of that, you’ll be supporting the local economy for people that make a living educating tourists!
There are plenty of tours that start in Cusco and incorporate a lot of what has been mentioned. But if you’re looking for a tour of just the Machu Picchu ruins, guides can usually be found near the entrance of the site and most are licensed to enter and give tours.
WALKING AROUND MACHU PICCHU
Once on the grounds of Machu Picchu, you’ll see plenty of marked areas to walk and stand. Don’t leave the marked areas as it helps with the conservation of the site. Respect all the signage. Don’t rush, at a leisurely stroll you’ll make it through the entire site in time, even if you start at noon.
You can follow the crowd or make your own way. Hit the highest point of Machu Picchu first (take a left after entering) and then weave your way down the hills until you reach the left side of the bottom. Once you get to the open area in the center, follow the left side around peaking at all the sites that interest you. Eventually, the pathway walks around, and you end up back near the entrance. It makes visiting very easy and starting at the top means it’s all downhill if you start getting tired.
Casey LaClair is a 27-year-old travel enthusiast. Having a career in Satellite Communications and pursuing a degree in Computer Science, most of his time is spent hunkered over a keyboard. This love of technology, mixed with a desire to travel, led him to create Viraflare to spread his joy of travel and help others find their way on the road. Follow him on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.
Did you enjoy this post on how to be a responsible traveler at Machu Picchu? Pin it for later!