Is Machu Picchu Worth It? What You Need to Know

Is Machu Picchu worth it?  This incredible Incan site receives over 1.5 million visitors per year which leads many to wonder if the experience is actually worth the hype.  

Kendall and I completed the 4 day classic Inca Trail trek with Alpaca Expeditions, and our short answer is: YES, a visit to Machu Picchu is absolutely worth it.  However, we believe that the hike itself was what made our experience so magical.

Keep reading to learn about the ins and outs of visiting Machu Picchu, and what you can do to have a memorable and ‘worth it’ experience.

the Incan site of Machu Picchu, as seen from afar, as the sun is rising in the background
Our view of Machu Picchu from the Sun Gate as the sun was rising

The History and Significance of Machu Picchu

Why is this site so famous?  Well, Machu Picchu was built by the Incas in the 15th century and then remained hidden from the outside world for centuries.  It was only (somewhat recently) rediscovered in 1911 by the American explorer Hiram Bingham. 

This site is one of the most intact examples of Incan civilization and is a window to their culture and life.  Some of the engineering feats at Machu Picchu (and other Incan sites along the trail) are pretty incredible.  We saw examples of ancient waterways, farming terraces, and more. 

ancient stone compass at Machu Picchu
The ancient compass at Machu Picchu

The Hype Surrounding Machu Picchu

Machu Picchu has become incredibly popular over the years; its fame is further fueled by widespread photos on social media platforms.  There are so many travel blogs, Instagram posts, and books written on the destination, that some may wonder if the hype upstages the actual experience. 

Because, of course, with popularity comes crowds. Machu Picchu attracts thousands of visitors each day, especially during peak tourist seasons. The sheer volume of tourists has led to concerns about overcrowding and preserving the site. 

Is Machu Picchu Worth It? What to Expect

We think that YES, it is worth a visit.  However, your experience will largely depend on your expectations.  Here’s the bottom line: even if you’ve tried to choose the best time of year to visit Machu Picchu, expect crowds at the site.

We’ve found this to be true for other popular sites we’ve visited in central and South America (Costa Rica and Peru are very similar in this regard).

However, there are ways to step away from the crowds a bit, which we’ll talk about later.  

Five Things to Expect at the Archeological Site

  1. LOTS of people: As mentioned before, there will be crowds.  Kendall and I found it difficult to get good photos once we were walking through the site itself. 
  2. The ability to explore on your own is fairly limited.  To preserve the site, Peruvian authorities have designated certain areas of the site that can be accessed by tourists.  For the most part, this consists of a one-directional path that leads through the site.  You will not be allowed to wander among the structures.
  3. There is not a lot of shade.  So if it’s a sunny day, you’ll want to have sunscreen.  Kendall and I slathered ourselves in sunscreen and still ended up burned. 
  4. Most tours last about 2 hours.  HOWEVER: if you want to hike Huayna Picchu as part of your tour, you may want to check with your tour company that this will not cause your Machu Picchu tour to be cut short.  We had a fantastic experience on our tour with Alpaca Expeditions. However, the one thing that we didn’t love is that our Huayna Picchu entrance time (as coordinated by Alpaca) interfered with our Machu Picchu tour. 
  5. It might be cloudy.  We were extremely lucky and had completely clear weather and fantastic views of the site and the surrounding mountains.  However, rainy/cloudy days can happen at any time during the year, so you might not get picture-perfect views. 
two tourists standing on a grassy area with Machu Picchu in the background
There is not a lot of shade at Machu Picchu; we were glad to have sun protection

Ways to Get Away from the Crowds at Machu Picchu

While there will always be tourists within the site itself, there are a few things you can do to step away from the crowds.

Visit Machu Picchu as Part of a Single-day or Multi-Day Trek

This is our biggest recommendation.  We did the classic 4-day/3-night trek and were the first group through the Sun Gate.  We had the incredible classic view of the site all to ourselves on that final morning.  

Besides that, we were able to visit many other sites along the Inca Trail that were significantly less crowded than Machu Picchu.  The biggest of these (and our favorite), Wiñay Wayna, was practically empty when our tour group arrived.  And, unlike Machu Picchu, we were able to walk among the structures and explore the different terraces. 

Make sure you book your tours with a reputable tour operator; this is one of the best ways to stay safe in Cusco and on all your adventures in the Andes.

Inca Trail Hiking Options

Many of the best Inca Trail tour companies offer most (if not all) of the following time-frame options.  We love that there is such a variety.  Our favorite day of trekking with the most incredible scenery, was day three.  Most companies include this ‘day three’ section of the trail with their shorter treks.  So if you’re short on time you can still experience the best parts of the trail.

view of a canyon in the Andes Mountains at Dead Woman's Pass
Our view of the Andes from Dead Woman’s pass
  • Classic 4-day/3-night Inca Trail: This is the most popular option.  Most hikers will stay in Cusco or Ollantaytambo and be picked up early in the morning to begin trekking at kilometer 82.  The advantage of this route is that most tour groups time it so that you will enter Machu Picchu fairly early in the morning when crowds are slightly thinner. 
  • Short 2-day/1-night trek: Many tour companies offer this with either a camping option or a hotel option.  Many of these shorter treks still include a visit to some of the best archeological sites, such as Chachabamba and Wiñay Wayna. 
  • Long Inca Trail 5-day/4-night trek:  This option follows the same route as the classic 4-day trek, except at a slower pace.  This option is great for younger or older hikers or for those who just want to take their time. 
  • Inca Trail one-day hike: this is a much shorter version that starts at a further point on the Inca Trail.  Visitors still get to pass through the sun gate and have the experience of hiking through the Andes, just a much shorter version.

Hike Huayna Picchu

Hiking Huayna Picchu (the pointed mountain located behind the archeological site) is an excellent way to get away from the crowds and get some incredible views of the site from above. 

Important note: Entrance tickets to Huayna Picchu must be purchased in advance.  Many tour companies offer this as an ‘add-on’ experience and will coordinate it for you.  Be sure to double-check with your tour company and reserve ahead of time if this is something you are interested in. 

The hike to Huayna Picchu is not very long (1.5-2.5 miles round trip).  Different websites list different mileage.  However, it is very steep with a lot of narrow stairs.  Most tour companies recommend giving yourself 2-3 hours to complete the hike.

The Stairs of Huayna Picchu
The Stairs of Huayna Picchu

Take an Alternate Route to Machu Picchu

The classic Inca Trail is the most popular route in the region, but many people don’t know that other routes with a tour group often include a stop at Machu Picchu.  Some argue that these alternate routes are even more beautiful.

Alternate Treks to Machu Picchu

Salkantay Trek to Machu Picchu: Salkantay is a favorite because most tours include a stop at Humanatay Lagoon, a stunning turquoise-blue lake.  Kendall and I considered this trek (we had heard so many good things), but couldn’t quite fit it into our 7-day Peru itinerary.

The Salkantay Trail itself doesn’t have quite as direct access to Machu Picchu, so most Salkantay+Machu Picchu treks are 5 days and include a stop at the famous Incan site on the way back after staying in a hotel in Aguas Calientes.  This route is 37 miles, so requires a good level of physical fitness.

Lares Trek to Machu Picchu: The Lares Trail is stunning and much less trafficked than the classic Inca Trail.  Most Lares tours are 4 days and 3 nights. 

As with Salkantay, the Lares route does not lead directly to Machu Picchu, so most tour groups simply shuttle group members to the site after a stay in Aguas Calientes.  Most Lares treks are around 35 kilometers or 22 miles. 

The Choquequirao Trek: Choquequirao, also spelled as Choquekiraw, is often referred to as the Sister City of Machu Picchu, and the site is much less visited. There are plans for the construction of a tram, which is expected to make Choquequirao significantly more popular. 

The trek is approximately 31 miles and lasts 4 or 5 days, depending on the tour company.  Visitors can see breathtaking views in the Apurimac Valley.

Tips for Visiting Machu Picchu

Here are some tips to make your trip to Machu Picchu worth it for you:

  • Book well in advance: Machu Picchu has a limited number of daily visitors, so it is important to buy your tickets early, especially during peak seasons.  If traveling with a popular tour company, the recommendation is to book at least six months in advance.
  • Acclimate to the altitude: Machu Picchu sits at an elevation of approximately 7,970 feet (2,430 meters), so it is essential to spend a few days acclimatizing in the high-altitude city of Cusco heading to the site.  We spent two days in Cusco before hiking and were fine, but many recommend spending three. 
  • Bring the essentials: Pack sunscreen, a hat, good hiking boots (if trekking), and a good water bottle.

The Cost of Visiting Machu Picchu

In our opinion, the easiest way to coordinate a visit to Machu Picchu is to book through a reputable tour company.  Most of these companies will coordinate all the logistics, such as transportation and entrance tickets to the site.

Important Note: trekking along the classic Inca Trail MUST be done with a tour company.  However, if you just plan to visit the archeological site, these tickets can be purchased on your own.  The easiest way to do this is online at their official website, but you can also purchase them in Cusco (just be prepared for a long line, depending on the time of day). 

Cost to Visit Machu Picchu (without a tour)

  • Machu Picchu Only: 152 soles for foreigners
  • Machu Picchu + Huayna Picchu: 200 soles for foreigners
  • Machu Picchu + Machu Picchu Mountain: 200 soles for foreigners
  • Machu Picchu + Huchuy Picchu: 152 soles for foreigners
  • Machu Picchu + Inca Bridge: 152 soles  for foreigners

The authorized purchasing office for Machu Picchu entrance tickets in Cusco can be found at the following location:

Garcilaso House – Garcilaso Street s/n Cusco – Peru (2 blocks away from the Main Square).
The Decentralized Address of Culture Cusco is situated at Maruri Street 324.

To purchase tickets for Machu Picchu, tourists are required to visit these offices and present their identification documents or passport.

Alternative Destinations in Peru

While Machu Picchu may steal the spotlight, Peru has much more to offer beyond this famous site. If you are looking to explore other destinations in Peru, consider visiting:

  • Cusco: There are so many things to do in Cusco that we could have spent weeks here.  From the impressive stone fortress of Sacsayhuamán to the Cusco Planetarium, to simply walking the cobblestone streets, you won’t want to miss spending time in this city.  
  • The Sacred Valley: This picturesque valley is dotted with Incan ruins, colorful markets, and traditional villages. It is an excellent place to immerse yourself in Peruvian culture and explore the lesser-known archaeological sites.  Kendall and I did a zipline and via ferrata tour with Natura Vive and loved it.  
  • Lake Titicaca: Shared between Peru and Bolivia, Lake Titicaca is one of the highest lakes in the world. It is home to indigenous communities, floating islands, and stunning natural beauty.
  • The capital city of Lima: Lima has incredible museums and is considered the gastronomic capital of the world.  Short on time?  Read our full article on visiting Lima vs Cusco

Is Machu Picchu Worth It?  Final Thoughts

YES, we think visiting this iconic site is definitely worth it as long as you have the correct expectations.  There will be crowds, the weather can be unpredictable, and you will not be allowed to wander throughout much of the site.

Also, if you want to get away from the crowds, there are many ways to do this.  Hike Huayna Picchu, take a lesser-traveled route or stop at some of the lesser-visited archeological sites on your way.  

We loved our visit to Machu Picchu, and think that with correct planning, you can have an incredible experience. 

Check Out Our Other Articles on Planning a Trip to Machu Picchu

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