7 Biggest Mistakes Travelers Make at Machu Picchu
March 24, 2016
When visiting one of the most spectacular sacred sites on earth, you’ll want to do it right. That means booking ahead, avoiding the crowds, and resisting the lures of Peru’s intoxicating national beverage (for at least one night). Here are seven mistakes to avoid when planning your first trip to Machu Picchu.
Mistake #1: Not booking ahead
Usually, I prefer to go with the flow in Latin America. Nothing beats the thrill of rocking up to a Colombian town and finding a donkey festival or grabbing a last-minute spot on a tour around Bolivia’s Salt Flats. But that attitude won’t fly at Machu Picchu. Only 2,500 people can visit each day—and only 1,000 can trek the Inca Trail—so tickets go fast. You’ll also need to carry your passport (or at least a photo ID) while trekking. And keep in mind that an 11-pound bag restriction applies.
Due to the site’s immense popularity during high season (July–August), hotels in Aguas Calientes, the town at the base of Machu Picchu, book up quickly, so plan at least a two to three months ahead.
Mistake #2: Trying to do everything in one day
The first time I visited Machu Picchu, I decided not to stay overnight at Aguas Calientes—a rookie mistake. My train broke down, I missed the chance to climb Huayna Picchu (open only once 7 a.m. and then again at 10 a.m.), and I was left with just two hours to explore one of the most majestic mountain sceneries I had ever seen.
Fortunately, I’ve since redeemed myself on return trips. I recommend spending the night in Aguas Calientes, then setting off on the first bus to Machu Picchu, which leaves at 5:30 a.m. The reward? You’ll be one of the first people to enter the site.
Pro tip: The ruins close at 5 p.m., so you’ll also encounter fewer crowds if you explore in the late afternoon.
Mistake #3: Avoiding low season
Many travelers avoid Machu Picchu in February because the famous Inca Trail is closed for maintenance. But it’s actually a great time to visit. Not only are there fewer visitors, but you can still access the ruins via alternative trekking routes—such as the Salkantay or the Lares—which can be just as rewarding as the Inca.
If you want a guided tour, journey with G Adventures on the three-day Lares Trek, which winds over towering green mountainsides. The nearly 21-mile route offers ever-changing landscapes: you’ll see huge granite columns, shimmering lagoons and the Colque Cruz glacier, etched into a jagged mountain peak. Don’t expect to see any other foreigners, either. In February, you’ll be the only one passing local Quechua women with babies strapped to their backs in rainbow-hued papooses, and men whistling and chirping as they chase llamas over the horizon.
Mistake #4: Jumping around (literally)
Post a photo of yourself jumping in front of Machu Picchu’s famous peak and you’ve guaranteed a flood of Facebook likes. You’ve also helped, in a very small way, to sink the sacred city into the ground. According to various studies commissioned by the Peruvian government, Machu Picchu drops by “2-3 cm” every year under the weight of visitors. In an attempt to arrest this alarming statistic, the park now forbids anyone to leap into the air.
Other big no-nos include eating in non-designated food areas, sitting on the sacred ruins, touching their stone surfaces and, most importantly, getting nekkid.
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