Can you do Machu Picchu in one day? Of course you can! I did Machu Picchu and the surrounding Sacred Valley in just 5 days, so it is doable. Granted, if you want to hike the Inca Trail, you’ll need that time alone just for your camping expedition. But you can get the full experience of the site without roughing it for days beforehand to get there, and here’s how!
The first thing you need to do is get to Aguas Calientes, the town right at the base of Machu Picchu. While it is possible to make this a same-day excursion, you’ll want to spend the night so you can get up before the sun rises and beat the crowds for the bus up the mountain.
If you think you’re an early bird at 5am, you’re wrong. The bus line to get to Machu Picchu from Aguas Calientes in the morning is serious. Everyone flew here for that sunrise shot!
The PeruRail gets you to Aguas Calientes the quickest. Many times, travel agencies buy the rail tickets in advance and in bulk, so don’t fret if when you go to book your dates are sold out. There will be plenty of opportunity to negotiate limited packages with agencies if necessary. I ended up going through Machu Picchu Viajes Peru just for this leg of my trip and they were reasonably priced and easy to communicate with.
Once in Aguas Calientes, spend the rest of the day relaxing. You can visit the natural hot springs and have a Pisco Sour to pass the time. Then, get some rest–you’re going to need it.
Like I said, line up at least by 5am to ascend the mountain. There is only one loading site and the line extends quite far up the block. Thankfully, the buses run pretty fast once they start, and are waiting to go one after the other.
You can arrange your day at Macchu Picchu in a variety of ways. I chose to do the Wayna Picchu hike at 8am, so I went straight there after snapping a few pictures. I found the hike to be the best part of my Machu Picchu experience and would highly recommend it. Only 200 people are allowed in twice per day so you must book in advance. You have to sign a guide book before entering and when leaving, so they know you made it out alive. DUN DUN DUN!
The view from the top was phenomenal, and while the hike was grueling, it was well worth the effort. I made friends along the way who also reveled in conquering the mountain and were happy to aid in taking some pretty killer celebratory photographs, like this one literally in the clouds!
If you’re not able to get Wayna Picchu tickets, there is also Machu Picchu mountain that may have tickets available, or you could hike to the sun gate instead, a deceptively long journey. If you’re able to do Wayna Picchu though, go. You won’t regret it.
Afterwards I signed up for a guided tour of the ruins, which was very informative. There are a ton of guides on site right as you’re going in so even if you didn’t book in advance you will have no problem finding someone to walk around with you, and it really helps to have someone explain what you’re looking at.
While you can go in and out, and many do to dine in the hotel right outside the premises for lunch, be aware that you only have three entries per ticket, and there are no restrooms within the ruins so you have to exit, and pay to use the facilities. Time your day out accordingly.
You can also get the famous Machu Picchu passport stamp at a table right by the entrance, don’t leave without it!
Be aware that food is technically permitted within the ruins. I personally might have passed out had I not had a small sandwich to sustain me through the morning hike, and my philosophy is generally that it’s better to ask for forgiveness than permission, just make sure not to be blatant about your munching and you should be fine. Also, please don’t litter. This is a beautiful place and it deserves to stay that way.
We walked for another hour and a half around the main site, taking pictures and learning about the Incan culture. Finally, at 1pm, I was ready to call it a day. I went back down the mountain, had a delicious lunch in Aguas Calientes and boarded the train back to Cusco.
So can you see Machu Picchu in one day? Absolutely! I spent maybe 5 hours total at the site and was exhausted. Certainly if you have the energy to do so, you could spend days exploring and soaking up every ounce of culture and mysticism this site has to offer. But for the budget conscious traveler on the go? 1 day is just enough.
Forewarning that there are plans to restrict walking among the ruins in the near future in an effort to preserve them due to unexpected foot traffic in recent years. If you want to experience this marvel in its full glory, go now! Happy travels.