Machu Picchu 101: Everything You Need to Know About Visiting the “Lost City”

Ultimate Travel Guide to Machu Picchu

Before traveling to Peru, here’s what you need to understand about the Latin American wonder; Machu Picchu.

A visit to the postcard perfect ruins of Machu Picchu in Peru might be the most coveted trip you can take in all of South America. “Discovered” in 1911 by American explorer Hiram Bingham some 400 years after the Inca Empire abandoned it. The surrounding jungle subsequently concealed it and delayed its discovery. Machu Picchuu is widely regarded as one of the seven wonders of the world and one of the most panoramic places on Earth.

While few things in life are ever really “must-see” but, Machu Picchu is undeniably one of them. If you have the means and desire to see it for yourself, you should seriously consider a visit.

Is it really worth it?


Despite the obvious crowds that overwhelm the city of ruins, visiting Machu Picchu is a mesmerizing and a journey that takes you back into the richest history known to human kind. Built in 1450 by industrious and “How did they do all this!?” Incan hands, the huge, block filled citadel is more than 1,700 feet long and 600 feet wide. It rests nearly 8,000 feet high in the Andes mountains of Southern Peru, at the foot of the Amazon Jungle. It´s surrounded by countless terraces, towering green peaks and ridgelines, and the beautiful Urubamba River below.

Deserted about 75 years after it was built when it became under threat from Spanish Conquistadors. So far, no one has ever regretted this visit. Infact they have rated it as the best experience of their lives. It’s also one of the most emphatic examples of “seeing is believing.”

Where’s the nearest airport?

Alejandro Velasco Astete International Airport in Cusco. Flights land in Cusco from many other cities in the country, but it predominantly gets flights from Lima International airport. There are numerous inexpensive domestic flights from Lima.  A domestic flight by way of Lima International is the easiest way to start your journey to Machu Picchu. Not only is Cusco the ideal launching point, it’s also one of Peru’s oldest and most interesting cities. At over 11,000 feet in elevation and with more than 400,000 residents, Cusco is also bigger than you might expect.

Where can I get the best photo?

So, there are a number of picture-perfect spots around the citadel. Firstly, the Sun Gate (2 720 m/ 8 894ft) gives you the first spectacular panoramic over Machu Picchu. This pleasure is soley reserved for those hiking the Inca Trail. Just as approach the entrance, you will find the Guard house, from here you can find even better opportunities to take those Instagram worthy pictures. Finally, but certainly not least, if you choose to hike Huayna Picchu or Machu Picchu Mountain, the views are unparalleled. Majority of picture you see on shows like National Geographic and on post cards are taken from the summit of Huayna Picchu Mountain.

Whichever picture you can take, its guaranteed to capture this momentous  moment for life.

How crowded is it?

To put things into perspective, Machu Picchu was once visited by an estimated 1,000 people daily. Today, its six times more, with up to 6,000 tourists spending their day exploring the ruins.

To note, the process is very orderly and well regulated. There is no risk of a stampedeYou’ll never feel the risk of being crushed or severe agoraphobia, but you may have to wait a few moments (never minutes) for queues to clear or to sidestep your way past slower visitors.

Do I need a guide?

Simple answer, yes. In 2017 Peru made it mandatory for visitors to be accompanied by licenced guides and the rule is strictly enforced. If you doing any of the trail to Machu Picchu with Orange Nation, than our guide gives you private guided tour into the citadel. You get to learn about all the important sections of Machu Picchu.

How do I get tickets?

If you wish to purchase entrance tickets or permits into Machu Picchu than it is imperative that you contact a licensed tour operator. Tickets for the classic Inca Trail can sell out 4 to 6 months in advance. We recommend you secure your ticket as soon as possible: Click the following link to view our recommended tour operators.  Recommended tour operators  

To note, the process is very orderly and well regulated. There is no risk of a stampede or feeling or panicked. During high season, you can expect long lines. From catching the bus from Aguas Calientes, to the gates on the trail on that last walk to Machu Picchu or at Machu Picchu itself.

How much time should I spend there?

Most visitors spend half to a full day taking in the views, walking the ruins, gawking at the surrounding mountains, and admiring the terraces, temples, and mortar free stone walls. During the peak-season dry months of June, July, and August, however, it can get very hot, as ventilation is limited. Either way, a multi-day destination this is not.

Will I get altitude sickness?

You probably won’t experience altitude sickness, at least not in Machu Picchu proper, and especially after all of the acclimatization you will have already done on your way there. Your biggest concern will be flying into Cusco, which is 3,000 feet higher than Machu Picchu. An estimated 20 percent of Cusco visitors experience mild altitude sickness in the form of headaches, nausea, and in rare severe cases, bedridden vomiting. The best antidotes are deep breaths, ibuprofen, extra water, and taking it easy for the first 24–48 hours after arrival.

When’s the best time of year and day to visit?

During the dry season months of April through October are the best times to go to Machu Picchu. However, you’ll experience much heavier crowds in June, July, and August. That said, April or October might be the ideal shoulder months to visit for good weather and lighter crowds. In terms of granular timing, Machu Picchu is packed every day of the week but a little less so in early mornings and late afternoons.

Is Machu Picchu more rewarding as the final stop along the Inca Trail?

Yes, undeniably so. The Inca Trail is the most famous trek in South America. And has been continously names one of the top 3 hikes in the world. Not only is the trail significantly more isolated than Machu Picchu itself, it’s beautiful, impeccably maintained. Its populated with breathtaking Incan ruin sites, namely the high-perched Sayaqmarka, the low-lying Phuyupatamarka, the outstanding Intipata, the massive Wiñay Wayna, and the tantalizing Intipunku (or Sun Gate), the last site before descending into Machu Picchu itself. While the latter is certainly the most photogenic site, many of the others are oh-so-close in terms of their scenery and can often be enjoyed all by yourself or alongside your small tour group.

How do you hike there?

There are many different trails and tours that can take you to Machu Picchu. The most sort after is the Classic Inca trail starting in at KM82 close to Ollantaytambo. This trail is begins at Ollantaytambo and is 26 miles/ 42 KM long. Its laden with thousands of steps that were built by the Incas and follows the same routes the deities took to rich the sacred Citadel from around the Inca Empire. It’s a picturesque hike that goes through stunning now covered mountains, misty cloud forest and lush jungle fauna.

As of 2017, you must hire a registered guide, to enter Machu Picchu. Other options for visiting the famous site are the short Inca Trail, a third of the Classic Inca Trail. Also available is a variety of alternative routes to Machu Picchu or taking a train from Ollantaytambo or Cusco. Orange nation has some of the best reviews, dynamic food options and comfortable campsites with camping equipment.


If deciding to hike the Inca Trail, be aware that morning start times happen anytime between 3–6 a.m., the benefit being greater solitude, better “first come, first serve” campsites, and long afternoons to rest and take in the surroundings.

How have new hiking permits and entrance tickets changed the experience?

Since the United Nations first designated Machu Picchu a world heritage site in 1983, the “Lost City” and connecting Inca Trail trek have seen an unprecedented, if not hindering, number of visitors. Newly enacted Peruvian Laws have introduced new regulation. Including the amount of people that enter the citadel at a time, which routes to follows once you inside and how many people can start the Inca on a given day.

Initially, the Peruvian government did not require permits and placed no limitation daily visitors. However,  in 2017 alone, Machu Picchu saw over 1.5million visitors that year.  The result of the lack of regulation, saw significant degradation to the site. Not everyone knew the value of preserving this site, some patrons attempted to move stones from their original places. Whilst others contributed to a lot of pollution, leaving behind food articles, plastic bottle and bags. Lastly, the overwhelming crowds started becoming unmanageable. So, the Peruvian government took some measures to ensure the continued preservation of this archeological site for use by future generations.

The authorities have managed to create a more organized experience and limiting daily visitors to a reasonable amount. The average number of people visiting Machu Picchu has suprisingly increased. But the new regulations have reduced the flow of traffic and created calm in place of chaos. In addition, the scheduled intervals also guarantee a more enjoyable and less congested visit. Most importantly, it is mandatory to be accompanied by a licenced guide on the Inca Trail and inside the citadel. Licence guides follow and respect all the regulations in place in order to preserve the site for future generations. 


Where do I spend the night?

There are countless options to consider when thinking of where to stay. You can find varied options of accommodation for all budgets, standards and travel personality.  In the city of Cusco, you can find luxurious 5*hotels in the center of the city or budget friendly accommodation. What makes them speacial are the stunning views of the historical architecture that make up the city. Along the Sacred Valley you will also find some fantastic options in nature. You will get amazing views of the mountainous landscape and its a great place acclimitize to the altitude.

There are plenty of establishments to choose from. As a major tourist hub, accommodation is highly competitive and accommodation can meet the highest international standards. Hotels range from the most exclusive, to the lowest priced places. There are also a variety of hostels to choose from. Take a pick from a party hostel, to the quieter and more secluded hostels. Some hostels are able accommodate the flashpacker, to a modest bed in a dorm. If you are looking for something homier, cozier and feels like a home, then look no further than any of the BnB´s or guesthouses that abound the city. Airbnb has taken the city by storm. Some of the options available are entire apartments or private rooms and plenty of reviews to guide your decision.

Some of the best websites to begin your search for accommodation include, TripAdvisor or Airbnb. Best town to stay in when visiting Machu Picchu include, Cusco city, Pisac and Ollantaytambo.

What else should I do in the area?

All tours to Machu Picchu essential depart from Cusco. From Cusco you are spoilt for choice in terms of other tours and trips that are possible.  For the lovers of nature and hiking there are countless alternative treks, all with their own reason for being special and worth doing. 

Some treks take you through indigenous villages, with its traditional Quechua speaking natives like the Lares Trekking.  Other trails offer unsurpassed views of glaziers, turquoise glacial lakes, and unique flora and fauna like the famous Salcantay Trek. For the extra fit and adventurous, the trail to Choquequirao is not to be missed. A phenomenal discovery and wonder of the world in its own right. This archeological site stays secluded and very little foot travel. It sits at the foot of the Amazon jungle. Choquequirao 3 times bigger than Machu Picchu and is mysterious. Archeologists know very little about this archeological site, with dense jungle still covering the majory of its buildings.

There are also a number of day tours from Cusco. Like the second most visited tourist site in Cusco after Machu Picchu, the incomparable Rainbow Mountain. Another unassuming day hike will take you up to the stunning Humantay Lake. This lake is strikingly beautiful turquoise glacial lake that sits below a mountain of the same name, Humantay Mt (5 473m/ 17 956ft). The mountain is blanketed by snow all year round. Also, a great day option is a relaxing day tour through the agricultural center of the Incas in the Sacred Valley

You can always longer tours around Cusco. Venturing to the bio-diverse Amazon Jungle only a short drive from Cusco city. Also, a short drive away is the massive Lake Titicaca in Puno that await you to explore its waters and experiential tourism.

You are guaranteed to never run out of options, there is options for every personality type, budget and travel schedule. 

Traveller reviews

Join thousands of satisfied customers around the world

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Christian B

10/10 Amazing experience

If you’re thinking about which agency to use, look no further- Ray and Jimmy went well above and beyond and made this a memorable, safe, fun, and professional experience.

Ray is the most knowledgeable guide I’ve ever had in any country for any excursion - during both the Short Inka Trail and the actual tour of Machu Picchu, Ray’s expertise shined through in his ability to give us a detailed background on every aspect of the history, climate, nature, flora, animals.. anything!

Likewise, Ray and Jimmy were truly the friendliest, kindest hosts that I could have imagined our group having.

Thank you both so much and I will definitely book with you again if (when) I come back!

Jan 2023 • Friends
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Matt A

Awesome experience!!

Did the 2 day Inca trail with Ray and Jimmy they were great and knowledgeable. Ray not only guided us along trail to Machu Picchu but also was an excellent photographer and taught us the history. It was a group of 10 and we had a great time. Even everything going on in Peru, we always felt in good hands.

Jan 2023 • Friends

Short Inca Trial (2-Day)

This tour was the perfect experience for our (group of 10) short trip to Peru. The trail was sometimes challenging, but the views and history made it all worth it. Ray and Jimmy were our guides and imparted sooo much knowledge about the history of Peru, Inca, and beyond. I would definitely recommend!

Jan 2023 • Friends
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Daniela Rabito

It was perfect! On the first day we had a great time exploring the Sacred Valley and see the main attractions and learn about the history of this beautiful place.

I would definitely recommend the short Inka trail, I think it was the best way to get to know Machu Picchu and the surrounding area. We arrived at Machu Picchu when most of the crowd was gone and it felt really special.

Abril 2023
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Brittany Skulkety

You won’t regret booking with this tour company, especially if Liz Montesinos is your guide. My boyfriend and I did the 4 day Sacred Valley, Machu Picchu and Rainbow Mountain (private) tour. The tour covered everything; from transportation, hotels, meals, tickets and entrance fees, to stops at local places we would’ve never known to go or check out. We did a private tour because for us we felt this would help us get the most out of our time and experience in Peru

Dic 2022
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Best mix of adventure, history and nature: Sacred Valley & Short Inca Trail to Machu Picchu

4-day trekking option seemed too intense for us, but we still wanted to experience the entrance to Machu Picchu through the ancient Inka trail, so we opted for Orange Nation’s combination of Sacred Valley & Short Inca Trail to Machu Picchu. I couldn’t be more happy about our decision.

Dic 2022
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We booked and paid the deposit to Orange Nation / Sam travel for the 4 day Inca Trail and Machu Pichu trip back in 2019. But we couldn't travel in 2020 and 2021 - but the company honoured our agreement and so we came back in 2022.

Dic 2022
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Brittany Nicole
icono recomment - Orange Nation recommends Orange Nation Peru

You won’t regret booking with this tour company, especially if Liz Montesinos is your guide. My boyfriend and I did the 4 day Sacred Valley, Machu Picchu and Rainbow Mountain (private) tour. The tour covered everything; from transportation, hotels, meals, tickets and entrance fees, to stops at local places we would’ve never known to go or check out. We did a private tour because for us we felt this would help us get the most out of our time and experience in Peru. This tour had so many incredible things and places packed into 4 days.

September 16, 2022
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Ray Besos
icono recomment - Orange Nation recommends Orange Nation Peru

My girl and i did the Machu Pichu trek tour with Orange Nation. It was seriously the most amazing experience that we'll never forget. Gorgeous views! The long trek was worth the amazing view. The tour guide was friendly and very knowledgeable. We considered other tours but chose Orange Nation because we liked the idea of smaller groups and this was definitely worth it. I will be using Orange Nation again next year when I come back to Peru!

November 29, 2018
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Juliet Julz
icono recomment - Orange Nation recommends Orange Nation Peru

Wow, what a wonderful trekking experience! My trip to Peru was amazing thanks to this awesome tour that i took with Orange Nation. I did multiple tours with this company. I'm a solo traveler and everyone in my group was always still friendly and did not make me feel left out. I loved going off the beaten track with this company. It's much better to pay extra to go off the path for the quality experience of this amazing guided tour They definitely helped guide us and gave us a quality experience with a small group and paid special attention to each one of us. I highly recommend using Orange Nation for your next tour in Peru!

November 29, 2018


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Orange nation

Has one of the most outstanding meal services. Our chefs have been highly trained to prepare the best peruavian and International food our treks. You should be prepared to not only have a superb trekking experience, but also a culinary one. "The food has been the highlight for all our hikers"

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