How to Plan a Trip to Machu Picchu

Written By: The Planet D

Peru is a destination we can go back to again and again. Like most people, Machu Picchu was the very first place we visited in the country and it will always remain a highlight. 

During our first visit to Peru, we only had two weeks in the country. We didn’t book anything in advance and it was the middle of high season. But there was no way we were going to miss seeing Machu Picchu.

The moment we landed at the airport in Cusco, we booked the next flight out to Cusco.

There are several flights daily from Lima to Cusco, so we were on the next one and on our way to Machu Pichhu, without a plan

Machu Picchu, the Land of the Incas

machu picchu dave and deb

Arriving at Cusco

We landed in Cusco at 3300 meters. (10,000 feet)

We immediately felt the altitude and with our heads aching and a feeling of nausea

Lucky Peru’s natural remedy, the coca plant took care of our symptoms. As we sipped coca tea while overlooking the Plaza we started to make a plan.

The first thing we had to do was find a place to stay.

Once the sun goes down, it is going to be cold, so we had to get moving to find a hotel and to book our trip to Machu Picchu.

Lesson 1 – Plan Early

We wanted to trek the Inca Trail but unfortunately, everything was booked.

It was August, and August is the busiest time of the year for tourism in Peru. We looked into a few places, but there were no treks available for months.

So we settled on a very rustic guest house – It was all that was available and we paid dearly for our lack of planning.

We ended up paying a higher price than we expected and the hotel was very basic for what we got.

Don’t make the same mistake we did, boook a hotel in Cusco Ahead of Your Trip. Check out TripAdvisor for hotel reviews and prices.

Booking the Train Machu Picchu During High Season

Even booking the train to Machu Picchu was proving to be difficult at this last-minute trip in high season..

We walked to the train station thinking it would be easy to book tickets. But we were wrong.

All trains were sold out for the next couple of days and the only one that had any spot in the near future was the First Class Vistadome.

We ended up splurging on the first-class Vista Dome train, it was painful to our pocketbooks, but how often do you get to see one of the New Wonders of the World?

You can book tickets on the Vistadome Peru Rail in Advance

Book a Tour to Machu Picchu

If you want to book a day tour to Machu Picchu, Get Your Guide offers several options that you can purchase ahead of time hassle-free.

We have used this tour company around the world. 

Explore the Sacred Valley 

sacred valley peru
Ollantaytambo, Peru

Since we couldn’t get to Machu Picchu anytime soon, we had time to explore Cusco and the surrounding area.

While we waited for days to pass until our departure, we explored the magnificent ruins of the Sacred Valley.

Trek the Sacred Valley if you Can’t Trek to Machu Picchu

sacred valley woman

Since we couldn’t make a trek on the Inca Trail work out, we did have the chance to trek along the Sacred Valley.

We explored the ancient city of Ollantaytambo which is a popular starting point for the four-day trek to Machu Picchu.

It was two days later after exploring the Sacred Valley, meeting the locals and getting to know our way around Cusco that we finally started our journey to Machu Picchu.

Machu Picchu By Train

vistadome train to machu picchu

The train trip turned out to be worth the money.

The Vistadome’s glass windows on the ceiling allowed us to witness the surrounding panorama of the Andes Mountains.

It was a slow ride but relaxing and we were fed a hot meal.

Aguas Calientes

machu picchu market by train in aguas calientas

Once we arrived in Aguas Calientes, we had the task of finding yet another hotel.

As per usual during our Peruvian adventure, we didn’t have any plans.

We lugged our packs up and down the steep streets searching for a place to lay our heads. Everything was sold out and once again we were forced to splurge on a room.

The lesson here is to book in advance before travelling to Peru anytime between June-August.

Agua Calientes (Hot Water) is a picturesque town that is the jumping-off point for visiting Machu Picchu.

It is here where you spend the night before catching a bus up switchbacks to the ruins.

We may not have been able to hike the Inca Trail. But we certainly enjoyed our time on the train and at Aguas Calientes.

dave and deb peru

We shopped a lot at the market. We took advantage of happy hour with pitchers of Sangria, we loved our room since we were paying so much for it.

It was nice to relax and know that we wouldn’t have to get up to cycle or trek up some mountain. We did Machu Picchu in style.

Purchase Entry Tickets to Machu Picchu

aguas calientes

Once we were settled in we went directly to the cultural centre in Aguas Calientes to buy our entry tickets to Machu Picchu.

We highly recommend buying a ticket in advance. You can purchase tickets online and in Cusco as well. We took a chance

The Morning Arrived!

We caught our bus at 4:30 am on a rainy morning.

It was dark and it was cold and we were worried that our day at the ruins was going to be ruined itself!

We went up the mountain in complete darkness wondering what lay ahead.

Entering Machu Picchu

lama machu picchu

Arriving at Machu Picchu so early has its pros because we beat the crowd and we had plenty of time to explore in peace and quiet.

Plus they restrict how many people can visit Machu Picchu each day, so I wouldn’t want to chance to go later and be denied access.

We entered a foggy trail littered with a few alpacas waiting to greet their latest guests.

Several alpacas have free run of the place and are just about the cutest guardians of any monument we have ever visited.

foggy machu picchu

Dave was disheartened due to the weather thinking that he’d never be able to capture his dream shot.

As the morning progressed, the clouds never lifted and we could barely see in front of us, let alone view the spectacular display that awaited us beneath the shroud of grey.

We sulked as we walked through the lost city feeling lost ourselves when suddenly the most miraculous thing happened.

dave machu picchu peru

The skies decided to open up and let the warm rays of sun shine through.

To understand how the Incan Empire built this city clinging to the side of a mountain, with terraces falling into the valley is incomprehensible.

machu picchu lama yawn

The back drop is absolutely stunning.  It is even a bit of a thrill to be there.

From high on a hill, we were introduced to the spectacle that is known as Machu Picchu and it was an incredible sight.

machu picchu overview

The terraced steps of the complex plunge into the deep valley below.

It’s hard to believe that something like this could be built in the 1400’s.

machu picchu ruins

How on earth did the Incas build a complex so high in altitude clinging to the side of the steep mountains?

machu picchu vertical

There are many places where you feel that you could step over the edge and plunge into the deep valley below, never to be seen again.

terraces machu picchu

The authorities allow 2500 people on Machu Picchu each day, but we didn’t feel like it was crowded at all.

We even managed to snap quite a few “people free” shots.

classic machup picchu photograph

I think it was due to arriving early.

As more people arrived in the afternoon, we took that as our cue to head on out.

machu picchu peak

After exploring for a few hours and making sure to witness it from all angles and elevations, we felt satisfied that yes indeed we had explored it to the fullest.

We checked off item after item on the old life list and came away with memories to last a lifetime.

Traveling Peru at high season

  • It took a while to find a place since we were traveling at high season.
  • We didn’t book our Inca Trail hike or accommodation in advance and we paid for it.
  • We couldn’t get on a trek and found out that many were booked out a year in advance!
  • And because we didn’t book a hotel, we ended up paying premium rates.
  • If you want to hike the Inca Trail, be sure to book it ahead of time.
  • If you are travelling during high season, book your hotels and trains in advance.

Travel Planning Resources

Looking to book your next trip? Why not use these resources that are tried and tested by yours truly.

Book Your Flights: Start planning your trip by finding the best flight deals on Skyscanner. We have used them for years and have found that they have the best flight deals.

Book your Hotel: Find the best prices on hotels with these two providers. If you are located in Europe use and if you are anywhere else use TripAdvisor.

Find Apartment Rentals: You will find the cheapest prices on apartment rentals with VRBO

Travel Insurance: Don't leave home without it. Here is what we recommend:

  • Safety Wing - Occasional Travelers.
  • Medjet - Global air medical transport and travel security.

Book Your Activities: Looking for walking tours, skip-the-line tickets, private guides, and more? Then we recommend Get Your Guide.

Need more help planning your trip? Make sure to check out our Resources Page where we highlight all the great companies that we trust when we are traveling.

About The Planet D

Dave Bouskill and Debra Corbeil are the owners and founders of The Planet D. After traveling to 115 countries, on all 7 continents over the past 13 years they have become one of the foremost experts in travel. Being recognized as top travel bloggers and influencers by the likes of Forbes Magazine, the Society of American Travel Writers and USA Today has allowed them to become leaders in their field.

Leave a Comment

35 thoughts on “How to Plan a Trip to Machu Picchu”

  1. I am going in August and this was super helpful! After I read it, I immediately went and booked our tickets to enter Machu Picchu and luckily got the day I wanted. Thanks for the tip that people book a year in advance!

  2. Machu Pichu is a such a beautiful place. It is a place that will always be my favourite and close to my heart. I had my biggest and wonderful experience with Machu Picchu Luxury Tours. One of the finest and beautiful place ever. If I ever got a chance to visit again I’ll surely do. I loved the way you have explained such experiences this will help travellers to know more about Machu Picchu place. You are such an inspiration for many and happy to see you and your blogs. Thanks for sharing such a wonderful blog.

  3. I was in Peru until somedays ago and I can’t wait to go back there! Machu Picchu was simply magical! Plus Peru has so many things to do besides Machu Picchu, unfortunatelly I didn’t have enough time to do everything I wanted to. At least I have a reason to go back there in the future though ahahah I love the photos you took!!

  4. Looks amazing . I am adding it to my list of places to visit before I die. The photos are breathtaking, what camera did you use ?

  5. My partner and I are planning a trip to Peru later this year!
    It looks amazing!!

    Any specific tips about Peru?!?

    Anything would help!!!


  6. Thanks for the great post… my husband and I will be heading to Peru in June and July and were thinking about taking the train to Machu Picchu as the Inca Trail permits are long gone. Glad to hear the train is worth it… and I’m excited to see the glass roof. Thanks for the helpful info and cheers!

  7. Machu Picchu is a place that will always be close to my heart. It was only my second big trip abroad and was a truly incredible experience. I’m hoping that Chris and I will have the chance to see it together soon.

    • The early trips are always the ones that stand out in our minds eh. I hope that you two get to visit it together as well. It is so special to be able to travel with the one that you love.

  8. Oh my I love the pictures you post, it’s breathtaking. I hope I can visit Peru someday and experience this wonderful place.

  9. So, we really need to get this on our list, don’t we? Especially since we think South America is tops

    • Hey Priyankakher, I’m glad we could inspire you to go sooner. Machu Picchu doesn’t disappoint. Just the fact that it is built so high in the mountains in impressive and the scenery is incredible. Peru is a special place indeed.

  10. Great post! I’m heading to Machu Picchu next month and I can’t wait. It was really helpful to read about your experience, and the photos have gotten me excited about the trip!

  11. Wow, incredible photographs. It brings back so many wonderful memories of our time in Peru this past fall. Absolutely stunning is how we would describe Machu Picchu. Thanks for sharing!

    • That is a great word to describe Machu Picchu, there aren’t a lot of times you can use the word stunning, but Machu Picchu is a destination deserving of the word. Cheers.

  12. Wow, what an amazing adventure and some great photos. I am considering doing a voluntary project in Peru and would want to visit Machu Picchu. It looks breathtaking.

  13. While in Peru, I highly recommend a trip to Lake Titicaca! The floating islands made of reeds are incredible, and trekking across Isla del Sol across the border in Bolivia is an unforgettable experience. If you go to La Paz, Bolivia, I recommend the witches’ market, where you can stock up on home remedies including dead llama fetuses, and a very informative visit to the city’s prison, which showcases a strikingly different philosophy towards crime and punishment.

    Happy travels!

    Maureen Klovers
    Author, “In the Shadow of the Volcano: One Ex-Intelligence Official’s Journey through Slums, Prisons, and Leper Colonies to the Heart of Latin America”

  14. Great photos looks like you had an amazing time, Machu Picchu is definitely up there on our 100 places to visit before you die.

  15. Wow! What an incredible picture of the llama in front of Machu Picchu! Looks like you had an amazing trip to the “Lost City of the Incas”. I’m glad the sun came out for you all! We are taking a group of travelers here in May and can’t wait to see these breathtaking views!

  16. Visiting Machu Picchu is very high on my bucket list. I’m really hoping to go there this spring with my sister. 🙂

  17. I would love to go on a trip like this but know with my asthma and emphysema I can’t go that high in the mountains as you are going. I still get excited thinking about going there and at least go there through your stories and pictures. At least I can still go to my favorite places in Italy.