Machu Picchu is one of the most well-known tourist attractions in the world, thanks to the status the ruin received in 2007, becoming one of the New 7 Wonders of the World. With that new fame comes with a massive outpour of tourists from all corners of the world, wanting to see Machu Picchu in person. You would think that there is no way to avoid the crowds in Machu Picchu but I'm here to prove that wrong as I was able to experience Machu Picchu, free of people, without even hiking and all in one day. Here's how to avoid the crowds in Machu Picchu.
Looking for a complete itinerary for Peru? One Month Backpacking Guide For Peru.
Machu Picchu Itinerary Map
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When to Visit Machu Picchu
This is a hard question since the best time to visit is more often than not, the hardest time to avoid the crowds. May to October is considered to be the peak season so I would recommend visiting either in November or in April if you want to avoid the crowds. There is a chance of rain during these months so try to align yourself to clear weather forecasted days.
How to Get to Cusco
First you will have to get yourself to Lima, the capital city of Peru. You can fly to Lima via Delta, United or American airlines if you are from the US, Air France, KLM, British Airline if you are from Europe or Asia, or Avianca or LATAM if you are within South America. To find the cheapest deal, be sure to browse through Skyscanner or Momondo and get a flight that works for you itinerary.
From Lima, you can either fly domestically which will take around an hour and cost you from 100 to 200 USD one way via LAN, StarPerú, or Peruvian Airlines. Book in advance is recommended if you want to take this route.
You can also take an overnight bus which should cost you no more than 50 USD and takes around 21 hours via Ica/Nazca/Abancay route. To cut the trip short a bit you can also stop in Ica/Nazca for a night and check out Huacachina and Nazca lines along the way. From Nazca, the trip is cut to 15 hours which is a bit more bearable than 21 hours.
Keep in mind: Buses in Peru operate differently from the other countries as each bus company has their own bus terminal in a different location so make sure you go to the right one.
How to Get to Machu Picchu from Cusco
In order to see Machu Picchu at your own pace without having to stick to a schedule with others, which is important to avoid the crowds, is to go with a travel agency that provides a round-trip transfer service, train tickets, Machu Picchu entry tickets and plus guided tour (don't worry, you can step away and explore the ruin yourself as I did).
There are plenty of travel agencies around the Plaza De Armas square that you can browse through for the best price. I got mine for 210 USD (use this price to negotiate with the shops), including everything, 2 days prior to my trip so if you want it cheaper, be sure to book in advance.
By going this route, you can pick the time you want to be there and the time you want to get back which is again, a very important factor to avoiding the crowds in Machu Picchu. Tell the tour agency what time and they will organize you a transfer from your hotel to Ollantaytambo where you can get the first train operated by IncaRail up to Machu Picchu. It should take you around 4.5 hours to go from Cusco to Machu Picchu and about the same time back.
Machu Picchu Tickets and Best Time to Avoid Crowds
I would recommend getting there as early as you can and leaving as late as possible so that you have a whole day there, but since 2018, they have a new regulation that divided the ticket into 2 periods, the morning (6 AM - 12 PM) and the afternoon (12 PM - 5:30 PM), and you will have to pay twice if you want to stay the whole day as I did so I would recommend you going for the afternoon one.
Despite what you read online elsewhere (everyone else probably read the same too), Machu Picchu is least crowded NOT in the early morning but in the late evening when the place is about to close (4 PM - 5:30 PM depending on which month you are there for).
When I was there, the early morning was the most crowded and I had poor weather so I didn't expect much but as I was about to leave, the people cleared and the sky opened up, allowing me to see Machu Picchu in its full gloriousness without the crowds.
Where to Stay in Cusco
Budget - Kokopelli Hostel - 12.91 USD/Night (Dorm)
They have a room with curtains equipped bunk beds for privacy which is always recommended in a hostel for good night sleep. They also have a nice courtyard, unlimited coca tea for acclimatization, and they also act as a tour agency in case you want to book something fast. Their tours are on the expensive side of things though but it's an option if you do not have time to browse around in Cusco.
Mid-Range - Principe III - 37 USD/Night (Double Room)
If you are looking for a travel insurance to go along with your trip to Peru, I would recommend WorldNomads.com, which is what I use to look for a travel insurance that fits my kind of adventure.
Things to Prepare for Machu Picchu
- Food and Water: If you are planning to do full-day, be sure to prepare your own lunch and have enough water with you since the food and drinks are extremely overpriced in Machu Picchu and Aguas Calientes.
- Rain Jackets: Since you will be in a tropical area, it is good to have a rain jacket in case it rains when you are exploring Machu Picchu. The weather changes a lot up there so be prepared.
- Cover yourself up: whether it's with your clothes or insect repellant if you don't want to get eaten alive because the number of sandflies up there is just ridiculous. The itchiness also last for days after you got bitten so if you want to have the best experience up there, be sure to cover yourself with something.
How to Avoid Crowds in Machu Picchu
Organizing Your Trip in Cusco
One of the most convenient and affordable ways to visit Machu Picchu is to organize a transfer service via a travel agency in Cusco. It will be cheaper than booking one online and you can browse through all the offers by different agencies and pick the best one for you. You have to be in Cusco for at least 5 days in order to do this since the tickets are often fully booked for the next 2 days or so.
I spent a day walking around the Plaza de Armas to search for the right travel agency and I found one that quoted me 210 USD for a roundtrip transfer from Cusco to Ollantaytambo, a roundtrip train + bus tickets from Ollantaytambo up to Machu Picchu and the entry ticket. Once you pay, the travel agency will prepare all the tickets for you in an envelope that they will give you the next day.
Once you get your ticket organized, spend another day exploring the city, acclimatize your body to the 3,000m altitude, walk up to the San Cristobal church for the view from the top or visit the Saqsaywaman (read "sexywoman" if you must 😂) ruin which is a little bit overpriced and not much to see IMO.
Travel to Ollantaytambo to Machu Picchu
If you choose to go in the morning, the tour agency should have a transfer to pick you up at your hotel as early as 4 AM. It will take you around 1.5 hours to reach Ollantaytambo where you will be able to get the first train up to Machu Picchu at 6 AM.
It will take about 2.5 hours by train to get to Aguas Calientes, a gateway town before Machu Picchu. From here, you can take a bus up (the ticket should be in the envelope given to you by the travel agency prior to your trip) and you should arrive at Machu Picchu by 9 AM.
If you choose to go in the afternoon, it's pretty much the same but you will be leaving at around 9 AM instead and you should be there by around 1 PM.
Outstay the Other Travelers
Don't be surprised if it is crowded in the morning. Most hiking trips arrive in the early morning and leave before the afternoon, that is why I recommend you to outstay the crowds by either staying the entire day or if you don't want to pay for the ticket twice, come in the evening and be the last person to leave Machu Picchu.
There are several things you can do around Machu Picchu to kill time before the evening comes. If you are interested in the history, you can stick to the tour guide which will guide you through the ruin for 2 hours explaining every important detail you want to know about Machu Picchu. Once the tour finish, you will have another 2 - 3 hours left to explore the ruin by yourself.
If you prefer to walk at your own pace, you can excuse the tour, and leave the group to walk around by yourself. The main site can take up to an hour for you to explore the ins and outs of it. The terraces are quite stunning from the bottom so I would recommend you to spend some time around the main site.
Places in the main site that you should not miss are Temple of the Sun, Sacred Plaza, Intihuatana Pyramid, and the Temple of the Condor.
For a nice view of Machu Picchu from afar, hike one hour up the Sun Gate, which is the highest vantage point of Machu Picchu standing at 2,720m above sea-level.
And Be the Last Person to Leave Machu Picchu
Now, the best time to get a nice photo of Machu Picchu is right when the gate is about to close which should be around (4 PM or 5:30 PM depending on which month you are there for) where the ruin is cleared of people and you will have the whole place to yourself. Since the last train leaves at 6 PM, you are the few people that can afford to be the last to leave Machu Picchu. That's when you will get the whole place to yourself.
There are plenty of awesome photo spots around Machu Picchu like from the Sun Gate or on top of the Machu Picchu mountain (required separate ticket and your own time slot to visit) but since the gate is about to close, you can't go very far so stick to the area near the exit.
There is a ledge that is often crowded throughout the day where you can get the classic postcard photo of Machu Picchu but since the gate is about to close, that crowds should be dispersed by then and you should be able to get that classic photo without anyone in it.
Once the gate is closed, make your way down by bus to Aguas Calientes and take the last train back to Ollantaytambo. In Ollantaytambo, there should be a transfer waiting for you but if not, you can pay 10 PEN to get a minivan back to Cusco. You should be back in Cusco before 11 PM.
The Solo Traveler’s Journal is a series of posts by BucketListly where we will follow our founder, Pete Rojwongsuriya around the world as he singlehandedly travel alone and experience different cultures, people, and historical locations one country at a time.
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