Visiting Machu Picchu (Part I: Advance Preparation)

Check out Part II: Getting There and Part III: Visiting the Ruins of Machu Picchu

Hello, travel hackers. Allow me to (briefly) introduce myself as a friend and former colleague of your blog host, Scottrick. I am not much of a travel hacker, but I do use a lot of this information to my benefit. Because of this fact, you probably won’t find many explicit travel hacking tips in my posts. However, I recognize that this website provides a valuable (and informative) resource to many, and I hope that my posts can be useful in their own right.

Two vacations ago, Scottrick asked me to write a brief trip report for this site. Better late than never. What follows is not so much a trip report, but a guide. I find these much more useful, and I have included in this post several links to resources that we used in our travels. This report/guide is from my most recent vacation – as in, not the vacation that scottrick asked a report for – and covers some of the basics of visiting Machu Picchu.

I’ve broken up this report into three parts in order to make this information a little more digestible. This first post describes some of the preparations you can make in advance of your trip to Machu Picchu. While Peru is a large and diverse country with plenty of worthwhile attractions, Machu Picchu is unquestionably the country’s highlight. If you have not seen it yet, then it would be a travesty to visit Peru without doing so. The downside here is that every other tourist in the country is making similar plans, so it pays to be prepared.

Reading Material

In order to preserve their national landmark, the Peruvian government has (wisely) restricted access to Machu Picchu. Therefore, visiting the site is a relatively expensive and time-consuming excursion. This is another reason why visiting Machu Picchu is an imperative that should be undertaken sooner, rather than later, before the Peruvian government begins imposing more travel restrictions. In any event, I like to be prepared, and a number of blogs and publications proved very useful for this visit.

Generally speaking, I tend to travel with the most recent travel guide published by one of the more recognized publishers (Lonely Planet, Rough Guide, et cetera). At the time of this writing, the most recent guide for Peru is published by Frommer’s. This tour book proved reasonably helpful for us, with decent maps and mostly accurate information. Another source of practical information for Machu Picchu comes from Travel By Points, a blog that is probably familiar to many readers here.

Perhaps the most important literature that I used on this trip was the Machu Picchu Guidebook, which is published by two of the leading archaeologists at this site. The layout of this book, and especially its maps, could use improvement. However, the guide provides excellent historical context and avoids the unhelpful speculation that is a common weakness among tour guides. If you plan to spend a full day at Machu Picchu, as I did, then you can pretty much cover everything in this book, save for a few far-flung sites. I also would like to plug this travelog from cultural dysphoriac, which provides some nice insight into the remarkable engineering that went into building Machu Picchu.

Admission to Machu Picchu

Here again, Travel By Points has you mostly covered. However, there is one additional way to acquire tickets to Machu Picchu that is not covered in the linked blog post, or anywhere else for that matter. That option is to buy the tickets from the IPERU information booths. This can be done immediately upon arrival, as there are there are at least two IPERU information booths in Lima’s international airport: one exists in the international arrivals area, and the other is located in a second floor hallway between the international and domestic terminals. You can acquire tickets at these booths. You then have to pay for those tickets at a branch of the Banco de la Nación del Perú (Peruvian national bank).

According to the IPERU guides, a location of this bank exists in the airport, but we were unable to find it. However, there are several locations in Lima, including at least two within the downtown area and one in Miraflores. This website has a short list of national bank addresses in Lima. For an added fee, your taxi driver can take you to one of these branches en route to your hotel. Lines at the national bank are long, but tourists can sometimes expect preferential treatment. This may present an awkward situation for some, but your best option is probably just to go with it. Remember that you will need to bring plenty of cash: the national bank does not accept credit cards, although they do accept US currency.

Of the alternative methods of payment, I wish you luck if you opt to buy the tickets from the Machu Picchu website. The payment system for this website is notoriously unreliable. If you decide to go this route, you need to be enrolled in the Verified by Visa program. Even with that certification, you may encounter considerable difficulty in securing tickets to Machu Picchu this way. Another option is to arrange to have a licensed tour operator buy your tickets for you. This may be a good idea if you plan to travel during the high season, where tickets potentially sell out weeks in advance. However, keep in mind that you will be charged a surcharge (we were cited $15/ticket) and that these companies require payment by wire transfer.

NEXT UP: Getting to Machu Picchu

Winner of the Museum of Flight Admission Passes
Visiting Machu Picchu (Part II: Getting There)
  • Smay

    Great timing for this post – i’ve just decided to take a trip to Machu Picchu late July early August! I”ve been in contact with Jimmy from TBP but am looking forward to your posts as well!

  • ESPN Blows

    please allow myself to introduce . . . myself

  • Ann

    Don’t use the IPERU method; you need two things in advance for this trip and they very well may not be available when you arrive in Peru, especially if you’re in high season. The first is the actual admission ticket to Peru. The other is a train ticket (if you take the train instead of the hike).

    • Joel Rosenbaum

      Ann; thanks for the response. Here are my thoughts on the matter: the availability of train and MP tickets definitely depends on the season. Traveling in the low/shoulder season in November, we found that this was not a problem. I posted on the iPERU method because there is no information online about it anywhere. It is also the method that we used to buy our tickets, because the MP website failed for us on multiple attempts. As for the train tickets, I will be addressing that in my next post. Thanks again, =Joel.

      • Joel Rosenbaum

        I should add that even though the MP website has a broken payment system, it can be very useful in tracking ticket availability, since they keep a running counter visible for each type of ticket on each day. This can be very helpful when evaluating your buying options (how urgent?)

        • Jimmy @TravelByPoints

          Joel, thanks for the mentions in your post. We had a great time and I look forward to reliving it through your posts. Some readers have reported success using certain US VISA cards to pay on the official MP site (after a few enhancement announcements in/around September 2012).

      • rick b

        So what’s the best strategy for traveling in the high season, like July or August? Book with a tour guide or the hotel? Would a hotel / hostel, like the Starwood property out there, do the booking for you if you have a reservation to stay there?

        • Joel Rosenbaum


          Good question. Some hotels can book tickets for you, for an added fee, but not all of them. It is worth inquiring with them. I think in the high season, a $15/ticket surcharge is entirely reasonable for the convenience. Ultimately, the best option would be for the Peruvian government to fix their payment system on the MP website. This was supposed to have happened by the time that we visited (but obviously did not).

          • rick b

            of course, that would be ideal! They could probably charge a little more and get away with it if it wasn’t such a sketchy system. I read somewhere that you can get a confirmation # on the site, and pay when you arrive in Lima…not sure how accurate that is.

      • Ann

        Well, it’s good that you put the info out there, but I wouldn’t dare book a trip to Lima or Cuzco without an admission ticket-one that’s subject to a daily quota- for the main reason for my trip. Even in low or shoulder season.

        Also, given the horror stories I’ve heard about taxi drivers, especially in Peru, you’ll probably be just as well off money-wise (and possibly safety-wise) by paying the $15 for a travel agent to book your tickets.

        • Joel Rosenbaum

          Ann, one of the advantages of the MP website is that you can monitor the daily availability of tickets. We kept a close eye on the MP/Huaynapicchu tally before making a decision. If the available tickets dropped below 100, we were going to go ahead with wiring the money to a tour guide. Otherwise, we were planning to buy the tickets in Lima through an agency there.

          When we arrived in the airport, we found out about the iPERU method, which worked out quite well for us. Of course there’s a risk to having a taxi driver take you to the bank, but there’s always a risk with taxis, especially in Lima where they are not licensed/regulated. That said, taxi is really the only way to get around town, and if you’re already spending the day there, you might as well get a few things done.

          In theory, you could always hang on to the tickets and pay for them at a National Bank location in the much more manageable city of Cuzco. You could even acquire the ticket through the MP website with the intention of paying for it at a national bank location. Since that method is untested — I was deadly afraid of getting lost in the system, a real concern about

  • Ann

    *ticket to Machu Picchu (though you’ll probably need a ticket to Peru for the trip as well!)

  • Claire

    Timely post for me too as I’ve just started planning my MP trip. Looking forward to the rest of your posts. I’m debating whether to hike the Salkantay as opposed to Inca Trail — I don’t enjoy camping and the only inn-to-inn treks offered are along the Salkantay. A tradeoff that I’m probably willing to make, but others’ thoughts would be appreciated.

  • Muriel Thomas

    When I went to Machu Picchu we stayed in Eco Inn and it was a really super hotel and staff. We went up to Machu Picchu on the second day and I also visited Huayna Picchu Mountain! It was so much fun I recommend it to everyone (Huayna Picchu is the main peak in all of the “postcard” pictures of Machu Picchu)!
    It was exhilarating and it gave me a brilliant hit of adrenaline! I couldn’t
    believe the sheer cliff faces that we were standing on top of! When I went to
    Machu Picchu I found the articles in this Newsletter really helpful, as a
    guideline, maybe if you and your blog readers would find for of the info helpful!

  • Millie Marino

    Thank you for such a great information! The most information before starting the trip, the better. Machu Picchu is a wonderful destinations well worth to make the effort! I found also this link with tour guides that could help travelers to Machu Picchu

  • Steven

    For some picture fun, bring your favorite costume as well! I brought spiderman with me ..

  • Diana

    We are traveling to Peru in October and have found a wonderful place called Gringo Wasi B&B that is just 30 minutes
    outside of Cusco. They are so helpful. I have friends that have just returned from staying 10 days at their B&B . If you stay with them which is really reasonable, they will get your tickets to MP and also the train. They can pretty much handle everything you need. They can even handle finding you a place in Lima or in Cusco if you wanted to spend a few days in town. We are traveling to Peru and Ecuador for 6 weeks and Lyle and Lilly at Gringo Wasi have totally been there for us in answering all of our questions. They have a Peruvian dinner they offer at night with a glass of wine for $5.00. Their B&B is very reasonable! They can book you day trips to the places you want to explore. they do this at no charge when you stay at their place. I am learning so much just researching and this site has been very helpful! Happy Travels

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