Visiting Machu Picchu Independently: The Basics
Planning on visiting Machu Picchu independently? There is so much to see and do in the sacred Inca Archaeological Site. This impressive wonder draws thousands of tourists by the day, many looking through misty eyes as they catch a first glimpse of this once “lost city” of the Inca Empire.
Many tourists come in droves with guided tours, but it is possible to visit this sacred site on your own schedule and terms. I won’t pretend to be an expert on this historical place, but only offer some quick advice and logistics.
Below is some basic information and tips for those visiting Machu Picchu independently. Find detailed information on how to hike or take the bus from Aguas Calientes to reach the main entrance gate of the lost city. I’ll share my personal itinerary on how I toured the grounds of Machu Picchu and walked 20 miles on the day of exploration. Those visiting Machu Picchu for more than a day trip can find some budget places to sleep, either by tent or in a guest house. Find some tips and tidbits about the discovering the “gateway” city of Aguas Calientes.
After visiting Machu Picchu independently, maybe discover more gems from the Inca Empire in the Sacred Valley. There are equally as impressive and grand ruins scattered about this magical region.
Here’s the basic information and tricks and tips for visiting Machu Picchu independently.
Table of Contents
Disclosure: This is part of my Hikes & Adventures series, which means these treks can be strenuous and challenging. These are my experiences and I am not an expert by any means. Please have all the proper equipment, verify the weather conditions, use professional resources, do your own research, and take into consideration your own physical abilities and/or limitations. Please see my full disclosure for more information here.
- Basic Ticket Info for Those Visiting Machu Picchu Independently
- Practical Info: Machu Picchu Archaeological Park
- Ways to Reach Machu Picchu
- How to Reach the Main Entrance Gate From Aguas Calientes
- Itinerary Suggestion for Exploring Machu Picchu
- Visiting Machu Picchu Independently, Morning Mountain Hikes
- Visiting Machu Picchu Independently, Afternoon Highlights
- Where to Sleep to Best Access Machu Picchu
- Want to Visit Other Inca Ruins Independently?
- Visiting Machu Picchu Independently: The Basics
Basic Ticket Info for Those Visiting Machu Picchu Independently
It’s possible to reserve Machu Picchu tickets online, or purchase them in person in either Cusco or Aguas Calientes. For those ambitious explorers, make sure to add on Huayna Picchu (usually booked out 2-3 months in advance) or Machu Picchu Mountain.
Online Ticket Info
Purchasing a ticket online is the best option for those visiting Machu Picchu independently. It allows the most flexibility and can be booked well in advance.
Pick a date, the number of people, and put in a request. Have everyone in your group’s full name, date of birth, and passport information!
Reserve your spot to Machu Picchu here!
Next, you must verify your reservation in the form of a payment. I could not pay online, so if you can’t either, follow these instructions.
What to do if Online Payment is not Accepted
It’s extremely important to note that you have 4 hours from the reservation confirmation to make the payment! If you don’t make the payment in this time, you forfeit the reservation.
- Print out your reservation request.
- In Cusco, head to with your passport to Banco de la Nacíon (On the corner of Avenida El Sol and Almagro)
- Next, show them your printed reservation and pay in cash the fee.
- Take the receipt they give you and attach it to the reservation print out.
- These two documents are your entrance ticket to Machu Picchu.
Banco de la Nacíon is ALWAYS busy. Expect to stand at least 30 minutes in line to pay at the bank.
Purchase Tickets in Person
Although it is possible to purchase tickets in person, many of the tickets can be booked up and availability is limited. Tickets can be purchased in Cusco or Aguas Calientes in person.
Purchase tickets at the Decentralized Directorate of Culture of Cusco.
- Find Them Here: Inka Palace of the Kusikancha,
- Calle Maruri 340
- Just a few blocks from Cusco’s Plaza de Armas
- 7:15 – 13:00
- 14:00 – 16:00
In Aguas Calientes
Tickets can be purchased at the Ministry of Culture.
- Find Them Here: Ave Pachacutec
- Just a few blocks from the main plaza, Plaza Manco Capac, in Aguas Calientes
- 5:30 – 20:30
Practical Info: Machu Picchu Archaeological Park
Make sure to have your passport and entrance ticket and you are within the right time frame to enter! Those tackling either Huayna Picchu or Machu Picchu Mountain will have early entrance times, as the mountains shut down in the afternoon to climbers.
Guides are available onsite if you wish to join a tour. They are eagerly waiting at the main entrance gate. Verify their badge and credentials before joining a tour.
- Hours: 6:00-17:00
- Lower entrance opens at 5:00 for arrival at main entrance at 6:00 a.m.
- Ticket Price: 225 PEN ($65 US)
- Ticket Price with Mountain: 275 PEN ($80 USD)
- Other Useful Info
- Snack Bar and Restaurant available before ticket control
- Bathrooms ONLY available before ticket control
- Luggage storage available
Ways to Reach Machu Picchu
There are a plethora of Inca Trails, and all roads lead to Aguas Calientes. There are day trip options from Cusco and the Sacred Valley. Intrepid travelers may choose to tackle one of the adventurous hikes.
If you’re looking for a unique path, try out the little trekked 9 day trail. This trail starts from Cachora, passes through the equally impressive Choquequirao Archaeological Park, over three passes, and finally arrives Aguas Calientes. Those with the proper gear, flexibility, and the desire as if they are creating their own adventure to Machu Picchu will love this bold and intense route.
Choquequirao to Machu Picchu trek: A Real Expedition
How to Reach the Main Entrance Gate From Aguas Calientes
It’s possible to hike up from the lower entrance gate or to take a bus from Aguas Calientes.
Hiking from the Lower Entrance
The hike from the lower entrance is ideal for those looking to save money, or those staying on the outskirts of town. The lower entrance opens at 5:00 a.m. The uphill climb is on a well marked path with stairs made of stones. Plan on one hour. There are not many places to break along the way.
Bus from Aguas Calientes
- Aguas Calientes Bus Departure Location: In front of the Local riverside Market
- (Avenida Hermanos Ayar)
- Buses Up: depart from 5:30-15:30
- Buses Down: depart from 6:00-17:30
- The ride takes around 30 minutes each direction.
Bus Ticket Prices & Online Booking
- Round Trip Bus Ticket from Aguas Calientes to Main Entrance Gate: ($24 USD)
- It’s possible to book these tickets online, but they are more expensive ($34 USD)
- Here’s the link to book the bus tickets online.
Itinerary Suggestion for Exploring Machu Picchu
Now that all the logistics are out of the way, here’s a quick itinerary suggestion for those visiting Machu Picchu independently.
- First, in the Morning, tackle one of the two mountains in the Park
- Next, explore the grounds
- Take a lunch break outside the park (Allowed with a Mountain Ticket only)
- In the afternoon, hike up to the worthwhile Sun Gate
- Explore the park again in the afternoon
- Finally, Depart only when you feel ready to do so (or when the park closes)
Fast Itinerary Facts: Visiting Machu Picchu Independently
Machu Picchu is extremely touristic, but I get the allurement of this magical city built in the clouds.
Those who plan on visiting Machu Picchu independently should plan on having a long day on their feet. This is how I racked up 20 miles on my one day visit.
First, I took the hike from the lower entrance up to the main entrance. After that, I took the trek up Machu Picchu Mountain. I tour the majority of the Archaeological Park, twice. Once in the morning and again in the afternoon. After lunch, I hiked to the Sun Gate. Finally, when I departed I took the hike down to the lower entrance gate.
- All of it!
- Early morning entrance with barely any people
- Climbing Machu Picchu Mountain with only 6 people at top
- Intipunku (Inca Trail Entrance)
Don’t let the crowds put you off, just arrive early and stay late or come back later.
The staff loves to blow whistles if you do the slightest thing wrong. That whistle may haunt your dreams tonight.
Visiting Machu Picchu Independently, Morning Mountain Hikes
There are two mountains inside of the Archaeological Park. Choose from either Huayna Picchu or Machu Picchu Mountain. Either of these mountains can be added onto the initial ticket entrance fee in advance. I highly suggest choosing one of the mountains. It really gives you a different perspective and the magnitude of this sacred site. Although Huayna Picchu is usually booked out well in advance, it’s fairly easy to obtain a ticket for Machu Picchu Mountain, for now.
Machu Picchu Mountain Practicalities
- Machu Picchu Mountain is a one mile steep uphill climb.
- Plan on one to two hours to reach the viewpoint on top.
- Try to get the earliest possible ticket entrance time. There are less people and results in climbing faster. Also, a less crowded view from the top!
Added Bonus of the Mountain Ticket Option
Another huge bonus of having a mountain ticket is that you are allowed to re-enter into the park. Those with simple entrance tickets are not allowed back in once you exit. Keep in mind there are no bathrooms inside the park and you must exit to use the facilities. Many people learn this the hard way.
Explore the Park & Break for Lunch
After the early morning mountain climb, take these “quieter” times to explore the park. If you have a mountain ticket, it’s possible to exit the park and take a lunch break. Machu Picchu starts to get noticeably busy from 11:00 – 15:00. Take this time to find a quiet place to break or exit and have a snack at the exterior Snack Bar. It’s expensive, but beats taking down the bus or walking down and up 2 hours.
Snack & Day Pack Tip
I packed a small back pack with snacks which I enjoyed on top of the mountain and along with my empanada purchase from the snack bar.
Visiting Machu Picchu Independently, Afternoon Highlights
After 15:00, Machu Picchu starts to get a little less busy. Day trippers are heading back to Cusco or tired visitors are ready to relax in Aguas Calientes. Here’s a good way to savor the park in the afternoon.
Reminder: The mountains are closed in the afternoon for hikers.
Sun Gate (Intipunku)
After that refreshing break, explore a different section of the park. In the afternoon (I returned at around 14:00), hike up to the Sun Gate, or Intipunku. This is the entrance point of the famed “Classic Inca Trail.” Watch people break down in tears as they first lay sight on Machu Picchu. This was one of my favorite spots in the whole sacred site.
Surprisingly, the Sun Gate is not oftentimes frequented by those visiting Machu Picchu Independently. It is sporadically busy with small grounds who either hiked 1-4 days to reach this space. This area was one of my favorite sections in the whole park. Walk with llamas along the path and be rewarded with some incredible views.
- Intipunku is a little over one mile gradual climb from the Main Ticket Gate.
- Plan on 45 minutes to 1 hour to reach the Sun Gate.
- In the afternoon there are few explorers visiting this lovely view.
Explore the Park & Departure
After hanging out at the Sun Gate, head back in for Round II to explore more of the grounds of Machu Picchu. The day trippers are leaving and the park is eerily quiet. Also, you can go more than 10 minutes without hearing a whistle! Yeah!
When you’re ready to leave, (I know, it’s hard to say goodbye to this magical place) depart out the main entrance gate. Those hiking just turn to the left and follow down the same hiking path that brought you here. Otherwise, there’s still bus tickets, and now, a really long line for those waiting to get back down to Aguas Calientes.
Reminder: One way tickets down to Aguas Calientes from the ticket box are $12 USD.
Where to Sleep to Best Access Machu Picchu
Those visiting Machu Picchu independently may want to camp close to the lower entrance gate close to the lower entrance gate. Otherwise, it’s possible to sleep at an excellent hostel in Aguas Calientes that offers early breakfast and shared or private rooms.
Camping at Wayna Picchu
Wayna Picchu Camping is an excellent option for those just looking to sleep cheap and close to the bottom entrance control of Machu Picchu. From Wayna Picchu, it’s literally a quarter of a mile to the control where they check your passport and ticket.
Wayna Picchu is eclectic and is right on the mighty river. There are roofs to set up tents underneath to help stay dry. Find clean bathrooms and simple, but plenty, of places to relax and chill.
- Camping cost: 15 PEN ($4.50 USD) a tent
- Lots of hammocks, green spaces, and tables
- Right next to the river
- simple facilities, but no hot water
- .25 miles from the lower entrance control gate of Machu Picchu
No hot water? No problem! Head over to the hot springs in Aguas Calientes where you can relax in the thermal pools.
Here’s some different things to do in Aguas Calientes that are NOT Machu Picchu!
Supertramp Hostel in Aguas Calientes
If you want to stay in Aguas Calientes a great option is Supertramp Hostel Machupicchu. Supertramp Hostel has a great breakfast included with the price and serves it up starting at 4:00 a.m. It’s perfect for those with early morning entrance tickets to Machu Picchu.
Supertramp Hostel has shared and private rooms for a reasonable price. The staff is helpful and they also store luggage for the day, so you don’t have to pay to store it at Machu Picchu.
Check availability for Supertramp Hostel Machupicchu here.
Keep in Mind
- The lower entrance gate is 1.5 miles from Supertramp Hostel, and it’s another 45 minute uphill climb to the main entrance gate.
- Supertramp Hostel is in Aguas Calientes, so it’s possible to take the overpriced bus for those who doesn’t want tackle the hike.
Want to Visit Other Inca Ruins Independently?
Machu Picchu is the most famous Inca ruin in Peru, but nearby there are just as grand and stunning Archaeological Parks in the Sacred Valley and around Cusco. Most of these sites can be accessed with the Cusco Tourist Ticket, or the Boleto Turístico Cusco. There are 16 sites in total, but if on a time crunch it’s possible to visit ones that truly grab your interest.
Travel Deeper: Visit ALL 16 Sites of the Boleto Turístico Cusco without a Tour
Related Travel Guide: The Perfect One Week Cusco & Sacred Valley Itinerary
Sacred Valley Detour
On top of all the impressive Sacred Valley Archaeological Parks, there are some lesser known, but just as equally epic points of interest hidden in the valley.
All of the collectvios leaving Machu Picchu will pass through the charming village of Ollantaytambo. This village is also where many tourists board either of the rail companies to take the train to and from Machu Picchu. Hop out here to explore the Sacred Valley. In the actual village of Ollantaytambo, Pumamarca is a worthwhile hike to a Pre-Inca sacred site. Adventure hikers will love the climb above Ollantaytambo to Inti Punku, the stunning Sun Gate, which offers epic views of Mount Veronica.
Above the village of Urubamba is the mountain top Saywa Archaeological Park. This steep climb is up the magical Saywa Mountain and offers incredible vistas of Urubamba and the entire Sacred Valley. There’s the peculiar “dimensional portal” of Ñaupa Iglesia, located inside a cave near Pachar. The Salt Mines are another worthwhile point of interest. Adventure hikers can even hike from there all the way to the Moray Archaeological Park.
As you can see, the Sacred Valley definitely warrants a detour!
Travel Deeper: Discover All the Sacred Valley Highlights from Urubamba
Visiting Machu Picchu Independently: The Basics
Machu Picchu is beautiful with its llamas and alpacas roaming on stony terraces, powerful mountains in the backdrop, and crumbling ruins. For those visiting Machu Picchu independently, it’s quite easy to obtain a ticket online, or in person. Reach this sacred site by either taking the hike up, or by using the bus system from Aguas Calientes. Of course, it’s possible to take a tour, but it’s also nice to explore this special place on your own time frame. Climb up one of the mountains, wander on your own schedule, and maybe even take a stroll up to the Sun Gate.
Visiting Machu Picchu is an incredible experience, whether you do it independently or on a tour. If looking for more Inca ruins, take a detour to the Sacred Valley.
One thing is for certain, you will never be the same after visiting this magical lost city the sits in the clouds.
Have you visited Machu Picchu? Did you take a tour or visit it independently? Did you hike up one of the mountains in the Archaeological Park? What did you think of this important and significant tourist destination? Let me know in the comments below!
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