The key to having a great experience at Machu Picchu is to maximize your time. More likely than not, you have traveled extensively just to get to Cusco, Peru, and the one place you don’t want to cut any corners is at the Lost City of the Incas.
The best place to start is Aguas Calientes (the jungle town at the base of Machu Picchu) – you’ll stop there the night before your adventure. Your transportation, including the train ride, will take approximately 4 hours just to get to this point, so you don’t want to do this on the same day that you tour the ruins.
Use this evening to relax, rest and prepare. Eat a good meal, purchase drinks and snacks to take with you the following day, and make sure you get to bed early because the perfect day at Machu Picchu begins before dawn. And that perfect day will look something like this:
Wake up, get ready, and eat a solid breakfast
Make your way over to the bus station at Aguas Calientes. At this hour, you’re sure to make one of the first 5 buses to the entrance of Machu Picchu
Machu Picchu opens. You proceed through the gate and walk around the corner to take your first look at the famous Incan City. Likely, you’ll see nothing but fog – it’s magical.
You’ve had your first short hike of the day and arrived at the Guard Tower where everybody takes the iconic Machu Picchu photo.
You spent the better part of 2 hours watching the fog peel off of the city and reveal the unforgettable view of Machu Picchu. You also found a couple of local llamas and took a llama selfie.
After taking your time to snap a few photos and wander around the city on your own, you’re now at the back side of the city at the trailhead of the infamous Huayna Picchu hike. You will spend the next 2 – 2.5 hours hiking one of the most unique and breathtaking trails in the world. In fact, you’re stepping on original Inca trail and will pass through a couple of sacred Inca sites in route.
After finishing your hike, you’re tired and ready for a break. And, because you’re having the perfect day, you also planned a perfect way to skip the crowds at the Sanctuary Lodge Buffet at the entrance of Machu Picchu. It is the only place to eat lunch without taking the bus back down. At ~$40 per person you’ll think twice, but don’t take the bus back down. Just spend the money, it will save you almost 2 hours of time and is a great meal. Enjoy it, and reflect upon the incredible hike you just took.
2:00PM – 5:00PM
This is your free time to explore. For a lot of people, this is the perfect window to take a private tour of the city. The crowds start to dissipate because they have to get back to Cusco. This free time will have plenty of photo opportunities. This is also your window to go and get your passport stamped.
The park is closing, and now you finally make your way back to the entrance to grab your return bus to Aguas Calientes.
At this point, most of the visitors to Machu Picchu will be starting the 4 hour return journey to Cusco, arriving around midnight, exhausted.
You, however, have really thought this through and will make your way back to your hotel in Aguas Calientes to have a great dinner, freshen up, and maybe pay a visit to the spa for a massage. At the very least, you can relax and recount the incredible experiences of the day. The train can wait until tomorrow morning.
The time and planning that you put into your day at Machu Picchu will be the difference between having a touristic experience, which is good, or having the trip of a lifetime, which is remarkable.