How To Avoid The Crowds At Machu Picchu: A Step By Step Guide

The “lost” citadel is lost no more! Over one million people visit Machu Picchu every year. Even with the recent cap-per-day restrictions imposed on the number of people visiting the citadel, over two thousand people are allowed inside the ruins between 6 am and 5:30 pm. Yet, there is still a way to avoid the crowds and even have areas all to yourself during your visit. See for yourself:

You can really enjoy the breathtaking beauty of the surrounding mountains and the immensity of the citadel itself if you follow the following tips in planning and making your journey:

Visit the citadel in the morning

To curb the number of people visiting Machu Picchu at a time per day, officials have separated ticket options to morning (6 am – midday) and afternoon (midday – 5:30pm) shifts. Machu Picchu is crowded in the afternoon, whatever anyone else may tell you. It just makes sense that more people head there in the afternoon, since it is “easier” to get to then because you don’t have to wake up at the crack of dawn. It is important to visit the citadel at 6 am to avoid the crowds as much as possible – and avoid heat stroke in trying to climb everything at midday as well! (The Incans worshipped the Sun God for a reason: Cusco has sunshine almost all year round).

Here are 13 ways to avoid the crowds wherever you travel!

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Machu Picchu at sunrise

Best time of year to visit Machu Picchu

May through September are the driest months to visit Machu Picchu. However, to avoid the summer crowds and still enjoy great weather, we recommend visiting in September or early October.

Buy your ticket to Machu Picchu at least two months before your planned visit

In order to secure your visit at the date and time you need, you will need to book at least two months ahead of your proposed date. Your step by step guide to getting your tickets is at the end of this article. PRINT OUT YOUR TICKETS AT HOME BEFORE YOU VISIT.

Climb Montana (Machu Picchu Mountain) over Huayna-Picchu

Huayna Picchu is the more “famous” peak to climb when one enters Machu Picchu. Therefore, if you want to avoid the crowds, we strongly encourage you to climb Machu Picchu Mountain (Montana). It’s less crowded and even has higher views over the surrounding mountain vistas. It takes longer to climb up (a roundtrip takes around 3.5 hours versus the usual 1 hour 45 minutes to do a round trip of Huayna Picchu) but if you’re looking for beautiful vistas while avoiding crowds, this is incredibly worth it.

Make sure you get the 8 am – 9 am ticket to Montana so you have enough time to visit the Sun Gate first (see below).

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Views from the summit of Montana

Spend the night before you visit Machu Picchu at Aguas Calientes

Aguas Calientes is the town from which the buses to Machu Picchu take off. You cannot take the train or drive yourself directly to Machu Picchu. The only other alternative to taking the bus from Aguas Calientes is walking up from Aguas Calientes. We don’t encourage you to do this as you should really conserve your energy to climb Machu Picchu mountain, the Sun Gate, and the citadel itself. It’s a 20 minute bus ride from from Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu, but the elevation is formidable: we saw a few veteran hikers stagger up to the gates from Aguas Calientes, complaining that yes, they should have taken the bus too. Furthermore, in order to avoid the crowds, you need to get to Machu Picchu as early as 6am, when the gates officially open (more details below). So unless you want to hike for an hour or more in the dark up the mountain to Machu Picchu, we recommend you take the bus, priced at around US$7 per person, and spend your time better exploring the ruins.

You may be tight on time. However, we strongly recommend you arrive at Aguas Calientes the night before you plan to visit Machu Picchu. This is because you need to line up for the bus to Machu Picchu by 3am the day of your visit to actually be one of the first ones there. We are not joking when we say that people start lining up for the buses at 2.30 am. Getting there by 3 am means you’ll be on one of the first six or so 20-25 seater buses that heads to the citadel at 5:30am.

You also need to purchase your bus ticket to Machu Picchu the day before you travel. See below for details.

We really have to take a moment here to commend the Peruvian authorities on their organization in handling the transport to Machu Picchu. With the immense number of tourists every day, their organization of the buses at the crack of dawn is excellent.

Getting to Aguas Calientes

Fly/take a bus into Cusco to start your journey to Machu Picchu. We can recommend LATAM, Avianca, and Peruvian Airlines to fly into Cusco. Be prepared for delays (but much more so if you take the bus!)

You can then take the train from Cusco to Aguas Calientes. Inca Rail and Peru Rail both offer transport from Poroy to Aguas Calientes. Note that Poroy station is located around 15 minutes from Cusco – you will need to get a taxi, costing between 15-30 soles, to get to the Poroy station from Cusco.

Inca Rail
Views of the Sacred Valley: Getting to Machu Picchu with Inca Rail

We took Inca Rail and can whole-heartedly recommend their service. We were on time, and the 3.5 hour journey to Aguas Calientes was comfortable and enjoyable. The large windows give you excellent views of the Sacred Valley, and they even provide excellent refreshments.

where to stay in aguas calientes
Arriving in Aguas Calientes

Staying in Aguas Calientes

Aguas Calientes is a small town, built solely for the purpose of serving the tourists who head to Machu Picchu. There is no other source of income or production in the town. To that end, we would recommend not changing money here (given that it is touristy, the rates are not as good as those offered in Lima) and spending only a day or two at the most here. It is imperative that you arrive the day before though so that you can line up the bus to Machu Picchu by 3 am!

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Exploring Aguas Calientes

We can recommend Samananchis Machu Picchu to stay in Aguas Calientes. It’s a slightly steep walk from the center of town but they offer excellent lodgings at a very reasonable price. The walk will prep you for Machu Picchu! 😉

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Samananchis Machu Picchu

Whatever you do, buy mosquito repellent

Now this has nothing to do with avoiding the crowds, speaking from experience, for your own well-being, to avoid the crazy mosquitos in Peru, buy mosquito repellent and put it on before you leave your hotel in Aguas Calientes to climb Machu Picchu (or anytime, really). The mosquitos in Peru are vicious.

Think you don’t need repellent because mosquitoes never bite you? Think again.

For some reason, mosquitoes always bite Christian and almost never bite me. I left with around 50 bites from Aguas Calientes. They itch, they bleed… they’re crazy. Christian left with 70. Please, put on repellent.

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Explore Aguas Calientes a bit. Get repellent.

The Machu Picchu Museum

There is an option to buy tickets to the Machu Picchu Museum, located in Aguas Calientes (it’s a short walk from town), on the website mentioned at the end of this article. The museum has some good artefacts and descriptions of what you will see in the citadel. It may be helpful to buy your ticket and pay a visit to the museum if you’d like a more thorough explanation of Machu Picchu before or after you go. You have the option to visit the museum and learn more about the origins of Machu Picchu and the Incan Empire when you arrive at Aguas Calientes the day before climbing the citadel.

Buy your bus ticket to Machu Picchu the night before

You have your ticket to Machu Picchu, but this doesn’t include the ticket for the bus that will take you there. Once you arrive at Aguas Calientes, ask directions for the bus ticket office: you’ll see it on Avenidas Hermanos Ayar (Google Maps shows “bus to Machu Picchu” if you zoom in on Aguas Calientes), probably with a few of the green buses parked next to it. It’s a 5 minute walk from the train station. One bus ticket is valid for three days – make sure you buy a round trip ticket. This is another reason why you should arrive in Aguas Calientes the day before you travel to Machu Picchu.

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The buses that will take you to Machu Picchu in Aguas Calientes

Get in line at 3 am

Yes, it’s tough getting in line at 3 am but this is absolutely important in securing your chances of avoiding the crowds at the citadel. There are bakeries and supermarkets that are open right by where people line up which allow for bathroom and breakfast possibilities. You can also get a packed breakfast to go from your hotel as long as you let them know the day before.

Have your passport with you and print out your tickets!

Your passport is essential in getting admitted to the citadel. At around 5 am an official will come around stamping your ticket (which you need to have printed out) to let you enter the buses.

Entering Machu Picchu

The buses will take you to Machu Picchu starting at 5:30 am. Once you get to the entrance of the citadel, you’ll have to line up at the gates, which open at 6 am. Once they open the gates, they’ll check your ticket and passport and off you go!

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Waiting to get into the citadel. We arrived at 5:50 am… got in line at 3 am… now you have an idea why you need to get in line that early!

Visit the Sun Gate first

Once you enter the citadel, you’ll walk a few hundred yards and see the ruins stretched out ahead of you. It is a stunning sight. Lining up at 3 am becomes that much more worth it when you are able to see Machu Picchu at sunrise. The morning light spilling over the ruins is indescribably beautiful.

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Heading to the Sun Gate
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Views on the way to the Sun Gate at sunrise

Spend a few minutes snapping pictures and enjoying this scene before you head to the Sun Gate (towards the left of the fork you will find a few steps above from where most people first view of the citadel). The walk to the Sun Gate takes between 30-45 minutes at a moderate pace, and you will have stunning views of the sunrise over Machu Picchu the entire time.

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Views from the Sun Gate

Once you have enjoyed the Sun Gate (and had a few snacks to fuel up!) head back the same way to take a clearly marked left turn to Montana. The hike up to Montana takes about 3.5 hours round trip with breaks. It’s tough cardio but it is incredibly worth it at the top.

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Climbing Montana
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It’s so worth it at the top!

By the time you get back to the main citadel to exit you’ll see how crowded it gets towards midday! Do be prepared for long lines to get back to Aguas Calientes as the process of loading each bus begins again at the exit.

line to get back to aguas calientes

If you don’t feel like hiking up any mountains, you can head back to explore the citadel only after visiting the Sun Gate.

Machu Picchu was a trip of a lifetime for us, and we hope this article will help you in your journey to this incredible “lost city.”

Ready to buy your tickets?

The official site to buy your ticket to Machu Picchu is http://www.machupicchu.gob.pe/. The site gets a little wonky sometimes, but bear with it. If you are fluent in Spanish, the directions on the site are self-explanatory.

For the non-Spanish speakers like us:

Go to http://www.machupicchu.gob.pe/. Wait for it to load.

Select where you are buying tickets for. Under Lugar a visitar, select MACHUPICCHU. If you wish to visit the museum in Aguas Calientes, select MUSEO.

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Under Seleccione la Ruta, select Machu Picchu + Montana 8 a.m. – 9 a.m. This will allow enough time for you visit the Sun Gate between 6 am and 8 am. You also have options to buy tickets only for Machu Picchu (the first two options) or Machu Picchu + Huayna Picchu.Screenshot 2017-10-26 22.31.33 - Copy

Select the date you wish to visit.

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Under Extranjeros, type in the number of tickets you are trying to purchase under “Cantidad.” Then click Paso 2. If you are from Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador, or Colombia, enter the information under Nacionales y Comunidad Andina.

how to avoid the crowds at machu picchu

Here enter the information as required, and click Paso 3.

how to avoid the crowds at machu picchu

Enter your email address, click the buttons ensuring that the information entered is correct and that you accept their terms and conditions. Click Reservar.

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Copy down the number on the pop up screen that appears. Take a screenshot of that page to be sure.

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Select PAGOS, enter your reservation number, and pay for your ticket. PRINT OUT YOUR TICKET when you receive it. It’s a good idea to take screenshots of any pop ups and print them out for your reference (as we mentioned before, the website does tend to get wonky sometimes!)

avoiding crowds at machu picchu

How to buy tickets for machu picchu in english
Happy adventuring!

Planning your trip to Peru?

Your guide to Cusco is here!

Your guide to Lima is here!

Your guide to the Sacred Valley is here!

Your guide to Paracas and Islas Ballestas is here!

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step by step guide to booking tickets to machu picchu

As always, be a conscious traveler: Take nothing, and leave nothing behind. Be conscious, be welcome! Read more about conscious travel here.

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11 Comments Add yours

  1. Really helpful and thorough. Thanks!

    1. Very glad you found it helpful! 🙂

  2. Jimmy says:

    What a nice comprehensive guide! Very detailed. I especially like how you step through the ticketing process! Very helpful. My family and I are planning a trip there possibly next summer. I was considering doing one of the partial Incan Trail hikes offered by many companies, which start at km 104 and hike about 6 hours to Machu Picchu. It’s a 2 day tour which includes breakfast, lunch, and dinner and a 1 night stay in Aguas Calientes. But its SO expensive at about $400 per person. Is it worth it? Even if you haven’t done the hike, do you think it would be worth it or would you suggest just visiting the ruins on your own from Aguas Calientes? Also… did you hire a tour guide for the ruins? Thanks!

    1. Hi Jimmy. So glad you found the guide helpful! We didn’t do the hike as you said, but we did talk to a few people who did similar hikes to Machu Picchu when we were climbing the mountain (Montana) and were at the Sun Gate. They said the hike was lovely but it left no time and little energy to climb Montana after. So if you’re thinking of climbing Machu Picchu Mountain on your trip to Machu Picchu, I wouldn’t do the hike to the ruins as well. We personally think that the views of Sacred Valley afforded by Inca Rail, as well as the ability to explore the Sacred Valley surroundings from Aguas Calientes if you leave a bit of time there, coupled with possibly a taxi tour of the Sacred Valley from Ollantaytambo or Cusco (we have a guide on that too, if you’re interested!) would give you some great exposure to the Sacred Valley and Inca trail without having to hike all the way there. We did a lot of research on these tours and after speaking with some people at the Sun Gate who did them, we are very happy with our decision to explore on our own. We had the ruins pretty much to ourselves most of the time, learned a lot about it beforehand at the Aguas Calientes Machu Picchu museum (and the Inka museum in Cusco), and were good to go. The cost would be slightly less to do it on your own, including the roundtrip train ticket to Aguas Calientes, lodging, and meals but it really depends on how much time you have, and what you want to see. We wanted to conserve as much energy as possible to explore the ruins 🙂

  3. Anna says:

    Thanks for writing such a helpful guide – we’re considering doing the Inca Trail in September/October next year but I am getting more and more tempted to take the train. Your tips will be super helpful if we do!
    Did you think about doing the Inca Trail? I’m just wondering what made you decide to take the train instead 🙂

    1. Hi Anna! Exciting that you’re considering visiting in September/October next year – great times to visit! Yes we thought about doing it but to be honest, would have done the Salkantay Trek instead of the Inca trail instead anyway (less mainstream, better views in our opinion :)) We ultimately chose to take the train because we wanted to do a lot of things doing our 10-day trip: taking the train meant we had enough time to also explore Ollantaytambo, take a taxi tour of the Sacred Valley from Cusco, and even explore Paracas and Islas Ballestas! If we were in Peru for three weeks or so, we’d definitely have done the Salkantay trek to Machu Picchu – but I have to say, this way was pretty epic too, considering that we had plenty of energy to climb Montana during our visit. I don’t know about your fitness levels but I would not have been able to climb Montana after hiking for 4/5 days beforehand!

Thoughts?