Machu Picchu Mountain and Ruins – Machu Picchu Trail

Only Once Today is a reader-supported website. We might earn a commission if you purchase something through one of our links, at no extra cost to you. Thank you for your support!

What we talk about in this article

Machu Picchu is an important tourist destination in South America and it’s a must-visit destination in every Peru Itinerary.

Many travelers who are visiting Peru, see the Machu Picchu mountain range and ruins as one of the highlights of their trip and that’s for a good reason.

Visiting these ruins has been a childhood dream ever since I saw the ruins in a Belgian comic book “Jommeke”. We had to go there and feel the magical and mysterious vibe the ruins hold. It was on my Peru bucket list!

We listed the most popular hikes around Machu Picchu mountain below and this article will provide you with a lot of information and facts about these stunning ruins in the mountainous landscape of Peru.

Did you know you can easily visit Machu Picchu with kids?

Machu Picchu isn’t the only attraction in Peru and most travelers visit many other destinations in the country as well. 

If you don’t have a lot of time to spare, you could easily see the highlights of Peru in 9 days.

Mountain view at Machu Picchu
Mountain view at Machu Picchu

Cusco – Gateway to Machu Picchu mountain range

Cusco is really a magical city where the ancient vibe can be felt in every building and alley. That is, of course, if you’re walking in the historic city center, which we recommend doing.

The historic center takes in the largest part of the city and it’s the most popular place to hang out.

You can find a lot of awesome hostels and other accommodation in this part of town and you can easily spend a few days in this magical place. Have a look at this authentic hotel, set in an ancient monastery in the city center of Cusco.

Cusco counts a lot of museums and beautiful squares where you can relax and watch life unfold at it’s slow but steady pace.

If you arrive in Cusco by airplane, you might need a few days to adapt to the Cusco altitude anyway, since the city is located at 3400 meters above sea level.

Cusco weather is good all year long, but temperature rises during the day and nights tend to be cold, as it usually is in mountainous areas.

Optimize your stay in Cusco with this 3-day itinerary for Cusco.

Cusco - Photo by jdbenthien on Pixabay

Cusco to Aguas Calientes

The train to Aguas Calientes leaves from Poroy station, short for the Spanish “Por Hoy Estamos Aqui”, meaning “Today we are here”.

We’re practically alone in the train and discussing how people warned us about reassuring tickets early, but in high season you should definitely book your tickets in advance.

A stewardess brings cookies and tea, probably because she felt bad we paid so much for this ride.

The trip is very scenic and we get a lot of time to watch the scenery since the train is going very slow. It takes us a few hours to travel 40 kilometers. I can’t complain. I enjoyed every minute of the trip and have been looking outside the entire time.

Seeing the Urubamba river next to you, while the mountains change to the typical Machu Picchu mountain shapes. Perfect!

A few hours later, we arrive in Aguas Calientes. Machu Picchu is located a few kilometers from Aguas Calientes and the tiny town shows these magical mountains, covered in mist.

Machu Picchu Mountain and Ruins - Machu Picchu Trail
Train journey view on the way to Machu Picchu

Aguas Calientes – Gateway to Machu Picchu mountain range

This village is the nearest accommodation to Machu Picchu ruins and every tourist passes here.

Leaving the station, there is no way around the massive souvenir market. Prices here are much higher than in other places. The visitors only stay for one or two nights here, to never return again.

We discover that the quality standard for a budget accommodation and the food is pretty low. The owners know you’ll be staying anyway because you don’t have a choice.

Every hotel and hostel are booked weeks or months in advance, so make sure to get a bed before you arrive or you might be out of luck. 

Aguas Calientes is located in the beautiful Machu Picchu mountain range and the surroundings are simply stunning.

Even though we didn’t really like the touristy vibe in the small town, we can’t deny the charm of the entire scenery surrounding this place.

Machu Picchu Mountain and Ruins - Machu Picchu Trail
Machu Picchu Mountain and Ruins - Machu Picchu Trail
Machu Picchu Mountain and Ruins - Machu Picchu Trail

Machu Picchu mountain ruins Guide

Getting to the ruins by bus from Aguas Calientes

Every activity that has anything to do with Machu Picchu has a daily visitor limit.

This means you have to book a ticket in advance to make sure you’ll get in.

One bus after the other is leaving Aguas Calientes to take visitors up the Machu Picchu mountain.

The 8-kilometer ride zigzags straight up the mountain. After each turn, the view keeps getting better. The further away we are from Aguas Calientes the cozier the little town looks.

Apparently, this is the time the crowds arrive, just like us. Obviously, we’re not the only people who think Machu Picchu is a magical place to go.

Next to the entrance is a little restaurant that sells hamburgers and other food for the price of a healthy horse.

We pass the guards, security post and then we’re finally in!

Machu Picchu Mountain and Ruins - Machu Picchu Trail
Map Machu Picchu - Photo on Wikimedia Commons

Wandering Machu Picchu mountain ruins

The site is neat and well maintained. In most places, it is possible to avoid crowds and even be just by yourself.

We enjoy the scenery a lot. The surrounding mountain range is so powerful and protecting, with clouds covering the peaks.

A lot of people also hike Huayna Picchu, the iconic mountain that you can see in each Machu Picchu photograph!

The number of people trying to make the recognizable photograph of Machu Picchu in the background is higher than the number of church visitors in the entire country of Belgium.

To make a good photo, you need to practice a lot of patience, but if you are, it will work.

It’s weird when you think about it. The first non-Peruvian person discovering this place needed a lot of persuading his fellow travelers that this place was really worth the hike.

They didn’t believe him and didn’t feel like hiking for a few days to see some rocks and deserted buildings.

Nobody needs any persuading these days. This place is just magical and everyone acknowledges it.

Machu Picchu Mountain and Ruins - Machu Picchu Trail

Machu Picchu trail and hikes around Machu Picchu Mountain

A lot of hikes are available in the Machu Picchu mountain range. The Machu Picchu altitude is over 2400 meters above sea level, so prepare for the altitude before starting any of these hikes around Machu Picchu.

Inca Trail

Hiking the Inca trail is a popular method to reach the magnificent Machu Picchu ruins in a multiple day trek.

Only a few hundred people are allowed to start the trek each day and the tour for hiking the Inca trail to Machu Picchu tends to sell out months before the actual trek.

If you plan on hiking the Inca trail, you get to choose from a few options of which “the Inca Trail in 4 days” is the most popular option.

Before you start this trip, check out what to pack for an Inca Trail hike!

Salkantay Trek

The Salkantay Trek to Machu Picchu is second on our list of hikes to Machu Picchu mountain and many people choose this trail because the Inca trail has sold out.

But the Salkantay trek is definitely not the lesser Machu Picchu trail to hike and the views on the trail are simply stunning! 

Lares Trek

The Lares Trek to Machu Picchu takes 2 or 3 days and covers over 35 kilometers through the Urubamba river valley.

There are a few different possible routes to do this trek, but all of them start close to the village of Lares, near Machu Picchu.

Many tour agencies offer Lares Trek adventures. With G Adventures you can easily join the Lares Trek. But REI also offers the Lares Trek with a women-only group!

This Machu Picchu trail takes you from one set of ruins to the next, through the beautiful mountain range. The hike doesn’t require a permit as the Inca trail does and it’s a quieter solution to the busy and crowded Inca trail hike.

Practical information

  • Maximum visitor limit Machu Picchu 2500 people per day
  • Maximum visitor limit to start the Inca Trail 400 people per day
  • Maximum amount of people to climb Huayna Picchu 400 people per day

You need to buy tickets to Machu Picchu before you arrive because of the visitor restrictions. This is a link to the Machu Picchu website where you can buy tickets. You can only take a 20-liter backpack into the ruins.

Machu Picchu
Machu Picchu - Photo by skeeze on Pixabay

Conclusion: Machu Picchu visit

The ruins and the surrounding mountains have this powerful and mystical vibe that leaves us breathless. It can get crowded at times but the magic of the setting remains.

Machu Picchu is for sure one of the highlights of our South-America trip and we would love to come back again and hike one of the trails.

Happy travels everyone!

You might also like

Pin it!

Machu Picchu Mountain and Ruins - Machu Picchu Trail
Start planning your trip

Plan your trip

Step-by-step guide to plan your trip

Find accommodation

Upgrade your trip & sleep comfortably

Get travel insurance

The best travel insurance for Europeans

Get a global travel card

Get cash & pay anywhere

"I need 6 months of holiday, twice a year"

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. By continuing to browse on this website, you accept the use of cookies for the above purposes.