In order to combat the effects of overtourism, new rules for Machu Picchu were introduced in the summer of 2017 restricting visitors. Machu Picchu announced more new rules in January 2019 further limiting visitors. Most of the guides I found when planning my trip to Peru pre-dated the new rules for Machu Picchu, so finding accurate information was a struggle. This guide covers everything you need to know about the new entry times and tour requirements so you can plan your visit with confidence.
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New Machu Picchu rules 2019
Prior to 2017, visitors could spend all day exploring the ruins with their Machu Picchu ticket. In the summer of 2017, that practice was ended and two half-day ticket options were offered. Visitors were also required to enter with a tour guide, though that wasn’t really enforced. Food and drink (except for bottled water) were prohibited, as were large bags, umbrellas, and tripods. When we visited in late 2018, we entered with a guide and then explored on our own afterward for a while.
The new Machu Picchu rules announced in January 2019 further restricted entry to the archaeological site and limited visitors to 4-hour stays at the ruins. Tickets must be booked for a specific time slot, and you have to arrive within an hour of your chosen time. The requirement to enter with a tour guide is now being enforced, at least on your first visit. If you provide proof that you had a previous ticket, you’re allowed to enter without a guide, though I couldn’t find any specification for how long ago the prior visit can be so a copy of your ticket from 1992 may or may not be accepted as a prior visit.
Once you arrive, there are three circuits to choose from. Circuits one and two are the most commonly used routes, with Circuit 1 being longer and slightly more strenuous, but taking advantage of different viewpoints. Circuit 2 covers the highlights and is good for people with shorter time limits or who don’t desire to do as much walking and stair climbing. Circuit 3 is only for people with disabilities and requires prior authorization, so be sure to visit the official site when booking to make arrangements if you or someone in your party has mobility limitations.
If you want to climb one of the two mountains – Machu Picchu or Huayna Picchu – you’ll need a different ticket. You’ll have fewer entry slots to choose from as all climbs are in the morning, and a much smaller number of tickets is sold for these hikes. These tickets do allow you to have a six-hour visit to the ruins, which enables you to take one of the tours through the ruins and do your climb. The official site also says you’re allowed one re-entry if you need to use the bathroom, but it’s unclear how that’s handled so you may want to check with someone on-site before heading out.
The other important change is that reentry is no longer allowed without purchasing a second ticket. This is mainly a factor because there are no bathrooms inside of Machu Picchu. When we were there, we did our guided tour, left to use the bathroom and grab a snack at the café outside the gates, and then headed back inside to make a second loop. You’ll definitely want to hit the bathroom before visiting (there’s a small fee) and pace yourself accordingly with your water if you bring in a bottle.
The good news is that when the 2019 rule changes were announced, ticket prices stayed the same. Of course, you could make the argument that since the amount of time you’re allowed to spend at the ruins decreased, it was actually a subtle price hike. The reality is that most visitors don’t need more than four hours at the ruins anyway. We were only there for four hours total, including a long break for food and relaxing at the café.
As an incentive to visit later in the day, the late morning entry times will receive free admission to the Manuel Chavez Ballón museum on-site and the afternoon tickets will include admission to the nearby Raqchi archaeological site. The archaeological site’s admission is only around $3, and it’s too soon to tell if this will convince people to switch to the later time slots.
What to know when booking your Machu Picchu tickets
When you pre-book your tickets, you’ll have to choose a specific time slot between 6 am and 3 pm. Currently, each time slot has the same price, but one source I found said that in 2020, the early morning time slots will be priced higher in an effort to encourage visitors to spread out through the day. The early morning visits are always popular because of visitors seeking to see the sunrise over the mountains and the option to climb either Huayna Picchu or Machu Picchu Mountain. Both of those tickets are still available for an additional cost.
When booking your tickets, keep in mind that entry times will now be enforced. If you buy a ticket for the 7-8 am time slot and show up at 8:30 because your train was late or the bus line was too long, you’ll be out of luck. If you’re doing Machu Picchu as a day trip from Cusco, I would give yourself extra time to make sure you can arrive to the ruins on time. You’ll want to allow a minimum of one hour between your train arrival and your entry time. Bus tickets can be pre-purchased through a service like Get Your Guide, and they’re not timed. You only need to pick the day. You’ll still need to wait in line to board the bus, which can take a while, but it’ll save you from waiting in line at the ticket office in Aguas Calientes. When we visited in the off-season, our wait for the buses was less than ten minutes on the way up (aided by the fact that we got to skip at least a bus load worth of people because we were a party of two and they were trying to fill the last two seats on a bus about to leave). We waited around 30 minutes for the return trip down, again skipping at least 15 minutes of the line because we were a party of two, so account for that when returning for your train.
Your passport number (if you’re from outside Peru) or ID number (for Peruvian citizens and residents) is required when booking your ticket. The tickets are non-transferable, so make sure you enter your number and name correctly because they can’t be changed.
My take on the new rules for Machu Picchu
I don’t think the limitation to four hours will have much impact on most visitors. We took a guided tour, ate lunch, and returned to explore on our own in four hours, so there should be plenty of time to see the ruins. This is especially true since you’re required to take one of the three designated circuits instead of being able to explore wherever you please.
The biggest downside to these rules is that it makes planning your visit harder because of the need to make sure your arrival falls within a specific window. This can be tricky if you’re traveling in on the day you visit the ruins, so make sure you check the train time tables before booking your Machu Picchu tickets and account for potentially lengthy bus lines. Our ride to the top took around 30 minutes of scenic, but slightly nerve-wracking driving, plus however long you wait in line. Since there are no bathrooms inside, you’ll likely also want to take the time to use the one outside of the entrance before beginning your tour, so leave time for that. If you get there early, there’s a small shop and an open-air café you can visit to kill time as well.
I prefer to book in advance because I’m a planner (and since going all the way to Peru to see Machu Picchu and finding out that the tickets are sold out would be a pretty big disappointment) so I recommend booking online. There are ticket offices in Cusco and Aguas Calientes where you can purchase them as well if you want a bit more flexibility, though they can sell out during the busier months so calculate the risk accordingly.
I’m not generally big on guided tours – I like to explore at my own pace – so I was disappointed when the new rules were originally announced in 2017 requiring a guide. However, after visiting Machu Picchu, I’m glad we hired a guide. There are no maps provided and almost no signage within the ruins, so without the tour guide giving us context and explaining what different sites were, we wouldn’t have gotten as much out of our visit as we did.
I was concerned about pre-booking a tour (like I said, I’m a planner) in advance because I couldn’t find any options that didn’t include tickets through third parties. I asked about it on a forum and was told that there would be plenty of guides available right outside the gates. We somewhat reluctantly went along with that and ended up being thrilled with the guide we found. He offered us a private tour for just the two of us for 200 soles or said if we waited for a few minutes so he could find some other English-speakers, he’d charge 40 soles each. We opted to wait and were soon joined by another American couple. Our guide was fantastic and super helpful. Plus, if he wasn’t there to assure me that the fog completely obscuring the site when we arrived would clear quickly, I might actually have cried looking at a solid wall of grey at the first overlook. I don’t want to post his contact info publicly, but if you’re interested in pre-arranging a tour with him, fill out the contact form on my site and I’ll send it to you.
Tips for booking your Machu Picchu tickets
- The official government website is here. They recently revamped it (It was super clunky before and wouldn’t work in Chrome when I was booking our tickets) to make it easier to use and select your timed ticket. If you have flexible dates, there’s even a calendar feature that shows the number of tickets available for each day for a particular time slot. You can also purchase tickets as part of a tour or through a site like Viator.
- I’d recommend booking your train tickets before your Machu Picchu tickets so that you know your arrival and departure times before committing to a time slot.
I mentioned it before, but I can’t stress how important it is to give yourself enough time to get up to the entrance to Machu Picchu after arriving via train, getting in line for the bus, or doing the hike to the top. You can save yourself a few minutes by pre-booking your bus ticket so you don’t have to wait in line to buy them.
- The tickets most likely to sell our are those for the two mountain hikes – Huayna Picchu and Machu Picchu Mountain – as they’re limited to a much smaller number of participants. If you want to do either of these hikes, I’d recommend booking as early as possible.
- Because of the need to hit a much narrower time window for arrival than was necessary in the past, I’d recommend spending the night before your visit to Machu Picchu in Aguas Calientes. You can take an afternoon train in the day before, relax in the hot springs, and get up early to go in the morning. This will give you more control over your arrival time. Though the trains to Machu Picchu don’t allow luggage, many Cusco hotels offer luggage storage before or after your stay with them, and you should be able to pack for an overnight in a backpack.
- Regardless of whether you’re doing one of the mountain hikes, you’ll want to wear good walking shoes or hiking boots. The stairs are not even and were definitely a bit slick when we were there due to rain.
- Large backpacks aren’t allowed in the ruins, so be sure to leave them at your accommodations or in the luggage storage area.
Check out these other great things to do in Peru:
- Inca Rail vs. PeruRail: Picking the Best Train to Machu Picchu
- Relax at the Hot Springs in Aguas Calientes, Peru
- Ten Reasons Not to Miss the Parque de la Reserva’s Circuito Mágico del Agua in Lima
- Visit the Pre-Incan Ruins of Huaca Pucllana in Lima