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Machu Picchu Day Trip – Planning A Short And Sweet Visit

Alison Macallister

A day trip to Machu Picchu gives you the chance to marvel at one of the Incas' greatest achievements. You can get here by trekking or via train from Cusco or the Sacred Valley (see how to get to Machu Picchu). However, not everyone has the time to spend multiple days in the area.

A 1-day Machu Picchu trip is ideal for travellers who have a very tight schedule. In this article, I will look at the logistics of planning your 1-day tour to Peru’s biggest attraction.

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Plan Your Machu Picchu Day Trip

Can You Visit Machu Picchu In One Day?

If you are short on time, it is possible to see Machu Picchu on a day trip from Cusco.

The downside to a full-day tour of Machu Picchu is that it feels a bit rushed. You will be starting your day before sunrise and getting back to Cusco well after dark.

If you have a little more time, I’d suggest staying overnight in Aguas Calientes and visiting Machu Picchu the following morning. This is better for people who want to do more than one circuit or need time to hike the surrounding mountains.

See: what to do and see at Machu Picchu and what animals you might see in Machu Picchu

Where to stay? Here are 5 of my favourite accommodation options in Cusco: 

See more Cusco accommodation options.

Booking A Machu Picchu Day Trip

You should book your ticket to Machu Picchu as soon as possible. The most popular time to visit Machu Picchu is generally in June-August. During this peak tourist season, tickets sell out months in advance.

Where To Buy Machu Picchu Day Trip Tickets

You can book your Machu Picchu day trip tickets through the official Machu Picchu website or through a local Machu Picchu tour agency. If you are booking a trek to Machu Picchu, the company will buy tickets on your behalf.

Please Note: Be sure to communicate with the booking agent concerning which specific Machu Picchu tickets you want as tickets and time slots are subject to availability.

Last-Minute Machu Picchu Tickets

I don’t advise booking your Machu Picchu day trip tickets at the last minute. However, if you are travelling as the wind blows, you may still be able to visit Machu Picchu. Sometimes, authorities release last-minute entrance tickets on their website. When these last-minute tickets start selling, you can try to log on early in the morning to snatch these up.

Alternatively (and if you are feeling very brave), you can try purchasing tickets at the gate. Some travellers manage to buy tickets on-site. Personally, I wouldn’t risk going all the way to Machu Picchu and relying on luck to get in.

machu picchu day trip

Can I buy someone else’s Machu Picchu Ticket?

Unfortunately, you cannot buy someone else’s Machu Picchu tickets because they are non-transferable and issued specifically to your passport number. You cannot buy an unwanted ticket from another traveler either. Similarly, this also means that tickets are not interchangeable between family members.

Please Note: It is very important to double check that you have provided the correct information when booking your ticket. Ensure your passport number on the ticket has all the digits in the right order. Authorities will compare tickets and passport numbers at the entrance gate. If there is any difference or irregularities in the information you provided for your booking, then you will not get into Machu Picchu.

Machu Picchu Circuit Options

As a result of COVID-19 regulations, authorities created separate routes for visitors exploring Machu Picchu in an effort to reduce crowding.

Below are the different circuit options for Machu Picchu which allow access to different parts of the ruins during the pandemic and beyond.

Please Note: There are also different time slots for visiting Machu Picchu. Routes are one-way only, so you will not be able to turn around once you start the circuit.

Machu Picchu Circuit 1

On this short Machu Picchu circuit, you will get to see the upper and lower areas. You will be able to see the main Incan ruins including the Sun Temple and Sacred Square. You will also be able to reach the upper terraces.

Circuit 1 passes La Casa del Guardian (Guardian House) from where you can take the classic Machu Picchu photo. It is an ideal shot because you get the ruins with the mountain in the background. Overall, Circuit 1 will take you about 2 hours to hike.

Machu Picchu Circuit 2

Circuit 2 is the most popular Machu Picchu circuit and a longer version of Circuit 1. You will be able to explore the main buildings as well as the upper terraces. On Circuit 2, you will also get to The Guardian House for the perfect travel photo.

There is one difference between Circuit 1 and Circuit 2. On Circuit 2, you will get to Intihuatana (The Incan Sundial). This is the only circuit where you can see this feature. Overall, Circuit 2 will take you about 2 hours and 30 minutes to hike.

machu-picchu-sundial

Machu Picchu Circuit 3

Circuit 3 is the shortest of the Machu Picchu day trip options. On this circuit, you have access to the lower part or nuclear area of the famous Incan city. This is a short circuit that accesses the lower terraces.

You will start at the Incan storage area known as Qolqas. From here, you will follow the route past the Sun Temple and to the Royal quarters. Circuit 3 also passes the Water Mirrors. Overall, Circuit 3 will take you about 1 hour and 30 minutes to hike.

Machu Picchu Circuit 4

Circuit 4 is also on the lower terraces of Machu Picchu and allows you access to the same structures as Circuit 3. They differ in length with Circuit 4 being a slightly longer route.

Circuit 4 goes past the Sacred Rock and different religious structures though. This includes the Temple of the Three Windows and the Temple of the Condor. Circuit 4 is an extension of Circuit 3. It ends at the entrance to climb either Huayna Picchu or Huchuy Picchu (see below). Overall, Circuit 4 will take you about 1 hour and 30 minutes to hike.

Machu Picchu Circuit 5

Circuit 5 is only for those who are hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu. In this case, you will end your hike at the Sun Gate at dawn. From there, you will then descend to the main ruins and temples.

Machu Picchu Add On Mountains

Below are some of the popular mountain routes you can add onto your Machu Picchu day trip:

Huayna Picchu

climbing huayna picchu

Huayna Picchu is the most sought-after addition to a Machu Picchu day trip. It sits behind the ruin site and you see it in most Machu Picchu photos.

By climbing this mountain, you will gain over 300m (984 ft) of elevation to reach 2,720m (8,924 ft) above sea level. If you are scared of heights, I recommend skipping this one.

At the top, there is a small archaeological site called the temple of the moon.

Give yourself about 2-2.5 hours to go up and down. Tickets are limited to 400 people each day, so make sure you book in advance!

Interested in walking up this mountain? Read our full article on Huayna Picchu.

Machu Picchu Mountain

machu-picchu-landscape

Machu Picchu Mountain is a much easier ascent than Huayna Picchu and the pathway up is not nearly as steep. The walk is surrounded by vegetation and is suitable for all age groups. You will reach an altitude of 3,082m (10,112 ft) when you reach the top, which is actually higher than Huayna Picchu.

Tickets for Machu Picchu Mountain are easier to get hold of too. You can usually book this mountain a few days before visiting. Allow yourself 3-3.5 hours to visit Machu Picchu Mountain.

Huchuy Picchu Mountain

huchuy picchu

This small mountain was only recently opened to visitors. It is a short, 10-15 minute walk up (50m / 164 ft above Machu Picchu) to an altitude of 2,497m (8200 ft). Despite its easy access, Huchuy Picchu gives you incredible views of the ruins and the other mountains. This is a good option if you are not keen on too much walking. Huchuy Picchu is the lesser known of the mountains and tickets are usually available.

I myself didn’t specifically book this mountain during my last visit to Machu Picchu. It came included with my Circuit 4 tickets and I’m not sure if this is always the case with similar bookings.

Please Note: Although possible, the Machu Picchu day trip doesn’t reasonably give you enough time to hike up and enjoy one of the mountains. If you want to include a mountain with a Machu Picchu visit, I’d recommend staying overnight in Aguas Calientes.

Machu Picchu Day Trip Itinerary

The following itinerary is for a Machu Picchu day trip with a tour company, giving you a better idea of what the schedule and time restrictions are.

1-Day Tour To Machu Picchu

Your day will begin with an early pick-up from your hotel (usually around 4:30 am). If you have booked with a cheaper tour company, you may have to meet at their offices in the tourist centre of Cusco.

Some tours have a later start around 9 am. Although it is tempting to sleep in, this cuts your time at Machu Picchu very short.

From Cusco, it is roughly a 1.5 hour drive to Ollantaytambo. From here, you will board your selected train to Aguas Calientes. The train ride lasts about 2 hours.

When you get to Aguas Calientes, you will go to the buses to be transported up the mountain. Usually, a guide from your tour company will help with this transition. The bus ride to Machu Picchu is only 20 minutes long.

At the entrance, you will present your passport as well as your Machu Picchu day trip ticket. You can then enjoy a professionally guided tour of the ruins, which often lasts for about 2 hours.

After the tour, you will take a bus back down to Aguas Calientes. Here, you may have a little time to explore the town, eat or buy souvenirs. In the afternoon, you will get on the train and take the journey in reverse back to Cusco.

Most Machu Picchu day trips return to Cusco between 10-11pm in the evening.

Where to stay? Here are 5 of my favourite accommodation options in Cusco: 

See more Cusco accommodation options.

Cost Of Machu Picchu Day Trip

Most tour agencies will charge between $200-$400 per person for a full-day trip to Machu Picchu. At a minimum, this should include the following:

  • Transport
  • Entrance tickets
  • A guided tour

Whether or not meals are included depends on the tour company.

If you make your own arrangements, you can visit Machu Picchu from Cusco for $180 per person. This day trip package only includes:

  • Bus tickets
  • Train tickets
  • Entrance tickets

If you want a guide, you will need to budget extra.

See more on a full breakdown of costs for visiting Machu Picchu.

machu picchu cta

Get a Machu Picchu trek quote

Start planning your Machu Picchu hiking holiday.

Packing For Your Machu Picchu Day Trip

Planning properly and taking a few necessities will greatly improve your Machu Picchu day trip. Although the area has set dry and wet seasons, the weather can still be unpredictable. Be prepared for a range of temperatures and conditions.

You will need to take sun-protective gear including a hat, sunscreen and sunglasses. You will also need clothing for wet weather. A rain poncho or waterproof jacket are non-negotiable.

Top Tip: Besides clothing, do not forget to bring a bottle of water and some snacks for the bus or train ride. Also, don’t forget your phone and/or camera to capture this once-in-a-lifetime experience.

To be sure you don’t leave anything behind, take a look at our full list of what to pack for Machu Picchu.

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Alison Macallister

With a degree in Nature Conservation and experience working with wildlife including the Big 5, Alison works as a guide for a 5-star reserve. She enjoys sharing her passion for all things nature-related. She enjoys hiking, horseriding, 4x4 driving and kayaking.

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