There are many articles and blogs written about Machu Picchu but not for the bespoke traveler. I just returned from my first trip to Peru’s most magical and historic site.  Here are my top five tips to see and experience it with style.

  1. When is the best time to go to Machu Picchu?

Entrance to Machu Picchu

Personally, I am not a fan of dealing with large crowds.  I suggest you avoid the busiest months of mid-June to early September, which is usually summer break for schools.  During these times, you could wait up to two hours just to get to the entrance to Machu Picchu. I also recommend avoiding the rainy season that lasts from January through March.

You can avoid bad weather, crowds and long lines by planning your trip for April or May.  I was there during the second week of April and enjoyed great weather with only a moderate number of other tourists. For me, the wait for the bus to Machu Picchu took less than 10 minutes.

Pro tip:  If you want to avoid ALL the lines and buses, treat yourself to a stay at the Five Star Belmond “Sanctuary Lodge,” a luxurious Virtuoso hotel located right at the entrance to the Incan citadel.

2. Can I stay in luxury hotels?

courtyard at belmond monasterioAbsolutely!  Peru’s increasing popularity has recently created a demand for 5-star luxury hotels in Lima, Cusco, the Sacred Valley, and in Aguas Calientes, at the entrance to Machu Picchu. Belmond, Luxury Collection, and Inkaterra brands offer stunning accommodations that provide all the comfort and amenities you would expect.

My professional hotel recommendations:

In Aguas Calientes, I suggest the Sumaq Luxury Edition.  I recently stayed at this Virtuoso hotel, and truly loved the amazing views of the river. The rooms were spacious with a touch of Inka experience and charm throughout.

In Cusco, I recommend the Palacio del Inka, also a Virtuoso property and part of the Luxury Collection. This historic hotel has charm, luxury, fabulous service, great food, and art work throughout. During my stay I enjoyed having local artisans come to sell their wares in the center courtyard… and show off their baby llamas! The hotel is very close to the city centre so getting around was is easy.

In Urubamba (the Sacred Valley) I stayed at, and highly recommend the Tambo Del Inka.  This hotel felt like a luxury lodge with stunning views of the mountains all around.

3. Will I have to acclimatize to the altitude? 

City Square in CuscoYes, definitely!  As soon as you arrive in Cusco, which is 11,000 feet above sea level, your body will need to adjust to the high elevation.  I recommend that you take a day or two to relax, explore Cusco, and acclimatize.  I went immediately to the Sacred Valley since it is a good 2,000 feet lower in altitude and is the perfect way to leisurely, enjoy the sights, and prepare for the journey to Machu Picchu.

From the Sacred Valley I would urge you to take the luxurious Belmond Hiram Bingham Train for the two-hour trip to Aguas Calientes.  This train provides 5-star service that includes a gourmet meal and drinks, along with live entertainment. Trust me, this is an experience you won’t want to miss.

4. How Much time do I need?

Typically, the first stop will be in Lima, the capital of Peru.  I suggest staying a maximum of one or two nights in the Mira Flores area.  Please note that it takes about an hour to reach the hotel since the traffic in Lima can be heavily congested and chaotic.  Still, it’s well worth the time.  The Mira Flores is near the sea where you will find most of the best restaurants and shopping.

Following a stay in Lima, you should plan for a couple of days in the Sacred Valley and then another few days for Machu Picchu.  From there, I suggest returning to Cusco to take in the ancient city along with exclusive shopping and myriad of restaurants of every variety.   This city reminds me of Florence, Italy.

Floating Islands on Lake Titicaca in PeruDuring my trip, I flew from Cusco to Puno to see the incredible floating islands on Lake Titicaca.  I stayed for two days and one night.  It is another one of those must-see experiences.

Altogether, I recommend planning for 8 to 10 days to fully enjoy Machu Picchu and the surrounding areas in Peru.

5.  Will I feel safe?

Peru is a third World country in many ways, so caution is always advised.  However, simple common-sense things like going with a group or utilizing a private driver and guide can alleviate most concerns.

Having a guide who knew the area well made my own visit very safe and stress free.  I didn’t have to worry about how to get anywhere, and since Peru is a Spanish speaking country, my bilingual guide was indispensable for things like shopping and touring as well.

Conclusion

Peru is a very special place to experience. For me, it really was the ‘trip of a lifetime’ especially recommended for those loving adventure. Climbing Machu Picchu was a challenge for my wife and me (since we we did not train in advance) but so happy that we pushed ourselves to do the climb. This being said, I do recommend working with an expert because a little knowledge goes a long way.

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