Two llamas in the central plaza of Machu Picchu, which you can see no matter how many days you spend in Machu Picchu

How Many Days Should You Spend in Machu Picchu?

If you’re trying to figure out how many days in Machu Picchu you’ll need to get the full experience, you’ve come to the right place.

From the seeing the amazing Inca ruins themselves, learning about Machu Picchu’s history, and experiencing Quechua and Peruvian culture, there’s a lot to do. But a lot of your itinerary will depend on how long you have to visit Machu Picchu and how long you plan to stay in Peru.

How Many Days Do You Need in Machu Picchu?

Central Plaza of Machu Picchu

How many days in Machu Picchu do you need to get the most out of you’re trip? Well, I’m a history nerd and avid traveler who likes to take all the photographs, so my recommendation would be as many as you can!

But, you know, that’s not always feasible. How many days you should spend in Machu Picchu depends on your time and budget flexibility.

To help you figure out how many days you need to see the Inca sites you’re dreaming of seeing, let’s explore the benefits of single-day and multi-day guided tours.

Note: To get into Machu Picchu, you’ll need an entry ticket. So don’t forget to secure yours!

Single-Day Guided Tour

People on a tour of Machu Picchu

A single-day Machu Picchu tour is like speed dating with history. You’ll get to see the breathtaking ruins, snap Instagram-worthy shots, and soak up the natural beauty of Machu Picchu Mountain, all in a matter of hours. If you’re short on time, this is the express route to the lost city.

Most single-day tours start early in the morning. Why? Well, to catch that unforgettable sunrise over the ruins, of course! You’ll need to rise with the roosters, but it’s worth it for that magical moment when the sun peeks over the mountains.

To make the most of your day, opt for a guided tour. A tour guide can bring the history to life, revealing the secrets and stories behind the stones. Plus, they know all the best angles for photos.

With just one day, you’ll need to stay on the well-trodden path. You’ll enter Machu Picchu at the Sun Gate and see other main attractions like the Temple of the Sun and the classic Machu Picchu view we all dream about from neighboring Huayna Picchu Mountain.

But don’t expect to wander off on extensive hikes or explore hidden corners – you’ll need more time for that.

The beauty of a single-day tour is that you can experience Machu Picchu at your own pace. Some folks sprint through it all, while others prefer a leisurely stroll, taking it all in. Just remember, you’ve got a limited number of hours, so choose your tempo wisely.

But, because there’s so much to pack into one day, it’s a long day! Single-day tours of Machu Picchu tend to take upwards of 10 hours. And, once your tour is over, you will not be able to re-enter Machu Picchu with the same ticket.

Multi-Day Guided Tour

People on tour of the caretakers hut at Machu Picchu.

One of the most significant advantages of a multi-day tour is the opportunity to dive deep into the heart of Machu Picchu. You can explore not just the main attractions but also hidden nooks, secret corners, and off-the-beaten-path wonders (like the Inca Bridge) that many day-trippers miss out on.

If you’re an adventurer at heart, a multi-day tour lets you tackle the legendary Inca Trail, hike Huayna Picchu, and more. Most guided tours will take you through the Sacred Valley, the heart of the Inca empire and civilization, where you’ll see a lot of other Inca sites that aren’t as famous as Machu Picchu, but just as incredible.

With extra days on your hands, you can savor the iconic sunrise and sunset moments. Watching the sun cast its glow on these ancient stones is a memory you’ll cherish forever.

While there’s plenty to love about a multi-day tour option, there are a few drawbacks we should mention.

For one, a multi-day tour costs more than a single-day trip and requires more time off work or your busy schedule. So it might not be suitable for those with tight budgets or limited vacation days.

For two, a longer stay requires more planning, from accommodations to meals and various activities. While tour companies can take care of a lot this for you, you need to be a little more organized the longer you plan to stay in Peru.

Got Extra Time? Take a Hike!

Hiking is a great way to slow down and appreciate the Andes’s incredible landscapes. And there’s so much to see on the way to Machu Picchu too! If you’ve got the time on your journey to Machu Picchu, hike one of the incredible treks that wind through the Andes – you won’t regret it!

Class Inca Trail

People hiking the Inca Trail.

If you’re an adventurer at heart and have Machu Picchu on your bucket list, hiking the Inca Trail is a journey of a lifetime.

Over the course of approximately 26 miles (42 kilometers), you’ll meander through lush forests, pass picturesque waterfalls, and be treated to jaw-dropping vistas of the Andes mountains. And the best part? You’ll stumble upon ancient Inca ruins and archaeological sites along the way, like Wiñay Wayna, which adds a layer of historical intrigue to your trek.

Walking in the footsteps of the Incas (literally!) is a surreal experience. The trail is part of an extensive road network built by the Incas to connect their empire. So as you hike, you’ll encounter impressive engineering feats, like the famed Inca terraces, that have stood the test of time.

Make no mistake – the Inca Trail is no walk in the park. You’ll be climbing up steep mountain passes, descending into valleys, and tackling uneven terrain. Altitude can be a challenge too, so be prepared to huff and puff a bit. But hey, it’s all part of the adventure!

During your trek, you’ll camp at designated sites, surrounded by the beauty of the Andes. Your porters will work their magic, setting up tents, preparing delicious meals, and making the journey a lot more comfortable.

The grand finale is, of course, Machu Picchu itself. Your final day starts with an early morning trek up Machu Picchu Mountain to reach and enter Machu Picchu itselff at the Sun Gate, where you’ll get your first breathtaking view of the ancient city as the sun rises. It’s a moment you’ll never forget.

Keep in mind that you’ll need a permit to hike the trail, and they sell out fast. So, it’s essential to plan your trip well in advance.

Short Inca Trail

A group of people walking down a switch back on the Inca Trail.

The short Inca Trail, also known as the 2-Day Inca Trail, is like a bite-sized history lesson. In just two days, you’ll journey along centuries old Inca roads, visiting archaeological wonders like Winay Wayna before ending your journey at the iconic Machu Picchu.

The trek is a stunning blend of lush forests and awe-inspiring mountain scenery. You’ll catch glimpses of local flora and fauna, with orchids, hummingbirds, and, if you’re lucky, maybe a llama or two.

The adventure begins at Kilometer 104, a spot accessible by train from Cusco. You’ll hike for around 6-7 hours, crossing the Chachabamba archaeological site and making your way to the charming Wiñay Wayna campsite. Trust me, the views along the way are well worth the legwork.

On the second day, it’s an early start to get up Machu Picchu Mountain, but the payoff is massive. After a couple of hours of hiking, you’ll enter Machu Picchu at the Sun Gate, Inti Punku, and be greeted by a postcard-perfect view of Machu Picchu at sunrise.

Once you’ve made it to Machu Picchu, you’ll have plenty of time to explore the site. Most Inca Trail tours will include a day in Machu Picchu, so you can explore the marvelous Inca site.

The short Inca Trail is an ideal choice if you have limited time or aren’t up for a more challenging trek. You’ll still get that satisfying sense of accomplishment and a fantastic experience of Machu Picchu.

Like the classic trail, permits are required for the short version, and they’re limited. Be sure to book well in advance to secure your spot.

Salkantay Trek

View from the Salkantay Trek trail.

If you’re up for a thrilling adventure to Machu Picchu that’s a bit off the beaten path, the Salkantay Trek is calling your name.

One of the biggest draws of the Salkantay Trek is the diversity of landscapes you’ll encounter. You’ll wander through high-altitude mountain passes, lush cloud forests, and remote villages. Each day brings something new and jaw-dropping.

The Salkantay Trek is a bit more challenging than the classic Inca Trail, but the sense of accomplishment you’ll feel is unmatched. With altitudes reaching more than 15,000 feet (4,500 meters), you’ll need to be prepared for some steep climbs, but the views make it all worthwhile.

Like the Inca Trail, the Salkantay Trek follows old Inca roads to Machu Picchu. But, the journey is quite different. The Salktantay Trek is about 20 miles longer than the classic Inca Trail and reaches elevations around 1,500 feet higher.

This trek also provides a fantastic opportunity to interact with locals in the small Andean villages you’ll pass through. You’ll get a taste of Peruvian and Quechua culture, enjoy delicious meals, and even soak in hot springs to soothe your tired muscles.

The trek is named after the breathtaking Salkantay Mountain, one of the tallest in the region. Its icy peaks are a sight to behold and provide a striking backdrop to your adventure.

One big plus for this hike that is that permits are not required. Still, booking in advance is a good idea, especially during the peak trekking season.

Choquequirao Trek

Main plaza of Choquequirao.

If you’re yearning for a Machu Picchu adventure that’s off the tourist radar, the Choquequirao Trek is your ticket to an epic journey.

The Choquequirao Trek is all about unveiling the secrets of Choquequirao, a lesser-known, partially hidden archaeological wonder. Built during the same era of Inca history as Machu Picchu, Choquequirao’s construction started under Emperor Pachacuti and was completed during the reign of his son, upaq Inka Yupanki.

To create this amazing site, Inca engineers literally flattened the peak of a mountain and used stone terraces to keep the site stable. In the centuries since its construction, it has become partly covered by dense vegetation, but still offers an intimate experience for those looking to get up close and personal with Incan history.

This trek is not for the faint of heart. The Choquequirao Trail is known for its steep ascents and descents, making it a physically demanding adventure. But the breathtaking views of the Apurimac Canyon and the sense of accomplishment are truly rewarding.

Along the trail, you’ll have opportunities to engage with local communities, learn about their traditions, and appreciate the Peruvian way of life. It’s a chance to immerse yourself in the rich culture of the region.

One of the perks of choosing the Choquequirao Trek is that it’s far less crowded than the classic Inca Trail. If you’re seeking solitude and a deep connection with nature, this is the way to go.

The Choquequirao Trek isn’t just about Choquequirao itself. The extended trek (nine days/eight nights) will take you all theto Machu Picchu! The final leg of the journey includes a scenic train ride to Aguas Calientes, the gateway to the iconic citadel.

Spend a Few Days In Cusco and Aguas Calientes

Spending time in Cusco and Aguas Calientes is an integral part of any Machu Picchu adventure, and it’s essential to adjust to the high altitudes to fully enjoy your trip. Let’s delve into what to do and how to acclimate in these two charming Peruvian towns while keeping altitude sickness at bay.

Exploring Cusco

View of Plaza del Armas in Cusco, Peru.

Cusco, the historic heart of the Inca Empire, is a fascinating place to kick off your journey. Wander through its cobbled streets, visit ancient Inca ruins like Sacsayhuaman, and explore vibrant markets. Don’t miss the Plaza de Armas, a bustling square surrounded by stunning colonial architecture.

To avoid altitude sickness, give your body time to adjust. Arrive a day or two before starting your trek to Machu Picchu should do the trick, but it’s important to listen to your body and adjust your timeline as necessary. During this time, take it easy, drink lots of water, and consider drinking coca tea, a natural remedy believed to help with altitude. Avoid heavy meals and alcohol initially, and get plenty of rest.

The Gateway Town of Aguas Calientes

Aguas Calientes, Peru.

Aguas Calientes, also known as Machu Picchu Pueblo, is the gateway to the famed Inca city. While there, explore the vibrant town, relax in its hot springs, and prepare for your Machu Picchu visit.

Aguas Calientes is at a lower altitude than Cusco, which helps in the acclimatization process. Enjoy your time in this charming town and use it as a transition before visiting Machu Picchu.

By spending quality time in Aguas Calientes, and allowing your body to adapt to the altitude gradually, you’ll be better equipped to savor your Machu Picchu adventure without any altitude-related issues. Enjoy the unique culture, sights, and experiences these towns offer, and embark on your journey to the iconic citadel with confidence.

How to Get to Machu Picchu

Getting to Machu Picchu is a thrilling journey, and it’s more accessible than you might think. Whether you’re a seasoned adventurer or a first-time traveler, here’s how to reach this iconic wonder.

  1. Fly to Cusco: Your adventure starts with a flight to Cusco. Several airlines offer daily flights from Lima, Peru’s capital. Once in Cusco, take a few days to acclimate to the high altitude, as the city sits at about 11,000 feet (3,400 meters) above sea level.
  2. Train to Aguas Calientes: From Cusco, your next stop is Aguas Calientes (Machu Picchu Pueblo). You can take a scenic train ride from Cusco or Ollantaytambo, a picturesque town in the Sacred Valley. The train journey itself is a feast for the eyes, offering spectacular views of the Andean landscape.
  3. Hiking Options: If you’re an adventure seeker, there are various trekking options to Machu Picchu, such as the classic Inca Trail, Salkantay Trek, or the shorter Inca Trail. These hikes offer a more immersive experience, allowing you to explore ancient ruins and lush landscapes along the way.
  4. Bus to Machu Picchu: From Aguas Calientes, you can catch a shuttle bus to Machu Picchu. The short ride takes you up a winding road to the entrance of the citadel. The journey offers its own set of breathtaking vistas, and it’s a convenient way to reach Machu Picchu’s entrance.
  5. Arriving at Machu Picchu: Once you’ve reached Machu Picchu, you’ll likely join a guided tour to learn about the history and significance of this incredible site. Alternatively, you can explore the ruins at your own pace.

To learn more about how to book train tickets and bus tickets in order to get to Machu Picchu, check out our more detailed post on this topic.

Ready to Book a Tour?

Ready to book a Machu Picchu tour and enter Machu Picchu, citadel of the Incas into your travel log? Check out our post on the best Machu Picchu tours to find the experience that’s right for you, book your Machu Picchu tickets, and more.

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