How long does it take to climb Machu Picchu?
Machu Picchu, often referred to as “The Lost City of the Incas,” is one of the most iconic landmarks in the world. Nestled high in the Andean mountains of Peru, this ancient city attracts countless tourists each year who are drawn to its stunning architecture, rich history, and breathtaking vistas. The journey to reach Machu Picchu is an adventure in itself, involving a combination of flights, train rides, and hiking. The experience is often described as spiritual and transformative, a testament to the power and allure of this Incan masterpiece.
The length of time it takes to climb Machu Picchu can vary significantly depending on the route you take, your physical fitness, and how much time you spend exploring the ruins.
The standard route most tourists take is the train ride from Cusco to Aguas Calientes, the town at the base of Machu Picchu, followed by a bus ride up to the ruins. The train ride typically takes around 1.5-2 hours, and the subsequent bus ride up the hill takes about 30 minutes. Once at the site, you could spend anywhere from a few hours to a full day exploring the ruins, depending on your interest. So, in the broadest sense, getting from Cusco to Machu Picchu and exploring the site can be done in one long day.
However, many visitors to Machu Picchu choose to take a more adventurous route: the Inca Trail. This is a 26-mile (42 km) hiking trail that begins at the Urubamba River and winds its way up through the mountains to the ruins. The Inca Trail is not just a means to reach Machu Picchu, but a journey through a beautiful and diverse landscape. Hikers traverse cloud forests and alpine tundra, pass other, smaller Incan sites, and witness stunning views of the snow-capped Andes.
The Inca Trail is typically hiked over four days and three nights, with hikers camping along the trail. This allows plenty of time to enjoy the scenery, acclimatize to the altitude, and rest. However, the exact time can vary depending on the speed of the hikers and the specific arrangements of the tour group. Some groups offer shorter or longer versions of the trek. It’s important to note that hiking the Inca Trail requires a permit and must be done with a guide. Permits are limited and often sell out months in advance, so planning ahead is essential.
There’s also the option of climbing Huayna Picchu or Machu Picchu Mountain, two peaks within the Machu Picchu site. Both require additional tickets and offer different experiences. Huayna Picchu is the more popular of the two due to its proximity to the main ruins and the unique views it offers. The hike up Huayna Picchu takes about 45-60 minutes for most people, but the steep, narrow paths can be challenging. Machu Picchu Mountain takes longer to climb—about 1.5-2 hours—but the paths are less steep and the views equally spectacular.
In summary, the time it takes to climb Machu Picchu can range from a single day for those taking the train and bus, to four days for those hiking the Inca Trail. Climbing Huayna Picchu or Machu Picchu Mountain adds a few hours to the journey.
Whatever route you take, it’s recommended to spend at least a few hours exploring the ruins themselves. There’s much to see, from the intricate stonework of the buildings to the terraces that cascade down the hillside. The Temple of the Sun, the Intihuatana stone, and the Room of the Three Windows are among the many highlights.
In the end, the time of year you visit can also affect your experience. The best months to visit Machu Picchu are usually from May to October when the weather is typically sunny with clear skies and temperatures range between 15 and 25 degrees Celsius (60-77 F). The rainy season lasts from October to March and during these months, there are frequent showers and thunderstorms that can last for hours1.
In the midst of the Andean landscape, at an elevation of nearly 2,500 meters (around 8,000 feet), weather conditions can change rapidly, and visitors should be prepared for a variety of climates. Even during the dry season, it’s a good idea to carry rain gear and to dress in layers to adjust to changing temperatures.
In terms of physical preparation, it’s essential to consider the effects of altitude. The altitude of Machu Picchu and the surrounding region can lead to altitude sickness for some visitors, particularly those who aren’t used to high elevations. Symptoms of altitude sickness can include headaches, nausea, and dizziness. To prevent this, it’s recommended to spend a day or two in Cusco or another high-altitude city before embarking on the journey to Machu Picchu to allow your body to acclimatize.
Ultimately, climbing Machu Picchu is more than just a physical journey. It’s a journey back in time, a connection to the ancient Inca civilization, and a chance to marvel at human ingenuity. The exact time it takes to climb will vary depending on numerous factors, but the memories you create and the feelings you experience will undoubtedly last a lifetime.