Ahh, Machu Picchu: destination #1 on just about every traveler’s bucket list. There’s certainly a good reason for its popularity: the archaeological site offers a type of magic and adventure that nowhere else can. Unfortunately, though, your trip of a lifetime to this coveted spot will coincide with thousands of others’, which equates to all of you milling around among the ruins at once and trying your best not to bump into each other.
Not surprisingly, overtourism is a major threat to preserving Machu Picchu. In recent years, the Peruvian government set a limit of 2,500 visitors passing through Machu Picchu’s general entrance each day in an effort to protect the site from damage. Visitors can only enter with a tour operator and in a group of less than 20 people. And even with these limits, the crowds are still tough to handle. So how can you make the most of this magical place when there are throngs of people in every direction? Here’s how to dodge the congestion at Machu Picchu.
Take The Train Instead Of The Bus
If you’re not hiking the Inca Trail (because let’s be real, that’s the ultimate way to avoid crowds en route to the site), there are two options when heading toward Machu Picchu: a train or a bus. The bus is more affordable, but it’s not for the faint of heart: think epic bumps on the winding mountain roads and motion sickness galore. It’s also – spoiler alert – a much more claustrophobic experience. If you want a bit more personal space on your way up to Machu Picchu (and trust, it’s a long enough ride that you will), the train is your best option. There are several different train experiences to choose from – the comfortable everyday traveler train, the more affordable “backpacker train” and luxury trains – but all are a more pleasant experience than the bus.
Hike Up Machu Picchu Mountain
You’ll of course want to follow your tour guide’s presentation through Machu Picchu’s most popular features – that’s the center of the action! But when you’re finished taking in the stars of the show, there’s a side adventure you can take to find some peace and quiet at the site. Take a detour hike up Machu Picchu Mountain, a peak alongside the lost city that visitors are welcome to explore without a tour guide. (Heads up, though: you will need an advance permit for the climb.) Most visitors clamor to climb up the site’s more famous mountain, Huayna Picchu, which means Machu Picchu Mountain is usually populated by just a few stragglers. Here, you’ll actually have the time and space to breathe in the fresh air and gaze out at the panoramic views of Machu Picchu without a stranger elbowing you in the rib cage.
Make The Anticipation As Much Fun As The Trip
The reality of visiting Machu Picchu might not live up to the way you’ve envisioned it all these years. This is not because the site isn’t breathtaking – it’s an image you’ll never forget – but because of the ever-changing weather, the rushed pace of your tour, and, oh yeah, the thousands of new friends you’re pressed up against as you try to make your way through the narrow Inca paths. But it’s still well worth visiting, and it doesn’t mean your experience there has to suck! You might not have as much time as you’d like to learn about each aspect of the site in person, but you can read up in advance about Machu Picchu’s history and context. Instead of arriving clueless with no time to get up to speed, you’ll know which parts of the site you’re most excited to see. If you’re not sure where to start with your research, pick up a copy of Turn Right At Machu Picchu by Mark Adams. Trust us, you’ll love it.
Don’t Forget Peru’s Other Inca Sites
If you’re mainly interested in Machu Picchu for its archaeological history, you’ll want to make sure you also visit a few less-crowded Inca sites while you’re in Peru. There are countless other fascinating historical sites that are lesser known by most travelers. Destinations like Choquequirao, Wiñay Wayna, Tipón, and Huchuy Qosqo rarely fall victim to massive congestions. In fact, on some days, you’ll share the sites with just a handful of fellow visitors, and you’ll have the freedom to soak it all in for as long as you want. Experiencing these sites will make your Machu Picchu memories that much richer.