Machu Picchu Circuits Explained – Which One Is Best?

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In the past, visitors to Machu Picchu were allowed to freely explore the site. However, if you visit Machu Picchu today, whether visiting on your own (yes, it’s allowed!), on a tour like this one, or as part of the Inca Trail hike, you’ll have to walk along one of its 5 circuits, or set routes.

Moreover, while preparing for your Inca Trail or Machu Picchu visit, you’ll have to make some decisions related to the circuits. The tickets you end up buying will affect which areas of Machu Picchu you will and won’t be able to visit. You may end up buying 2 or more different Machu Picchu tickets like I did, so you can see everything.

Even though the official site (Spanish only) has a map of each of the circuits, understanding these maps can be overwhelming and requires a lot of research. In fact, many visitors don’t really understand the circuits, even during or after their visit.

What’s more, based on my recent visit (during which I tried 3 out of 5 of the circuits), I found that some parts of the circuits had recently been changed, so the circuit maps on the official Machu Picchu site and not even correct.

I wrote this article to save you all the time I spent figuring out the circuits at Machu Picchu. Below I’ll cover why these circuits exist, which Machu Picchu circuit is the best one, what you will see or miss on each circuit, the different entrances for each circuit, how to buy your Circuit tickets online, and how much time you’ll need for each circuit.

Finally, at the end, I’ve included a glossary of all the main sights at Machu and which circuit you’ll see them on.

My best resource for researching the various sights at Machu Picchu was the excellent Machu Picchu Guidebook: A Self Guided Tour, written by two archaeologist. I learned far more from this book that my guide at Machu Picchu.

There are excellent maps of each conjunto (section) of MP in the book, as well as a great pull-out map of the whole site. However, the book was written well before today’s circuits were created, so some places described in the book are no longer accessible today.

Why Does Machu Picchu Have Circuits Now?

A sign pointing to circuit 2 and circuit 3 at Machu Picchu
There are now set circuits throughout the site.

Machu Picchu has long been one of the world’s classic examples of overtourism. As many as 1.5 million people visit the UNESCO World Heritage Site and New World Wonder per year, or over 4000 per day. This is double the limit that UNESCO has recommended. UNESCO has presented other concerns about the site, too.

In an effort to appease UNESCO and to control the tourist crowds at Machu Picchu, the new circuits were introduced in October of 2021. Space is limited at Machu Picchu. Many trails, staircases, and doorways are very narrow, only allowing one person to pass through at a time. These create bottlenecks in the traffic flow, and human traffic jams are all too common.

The purpose of the new circuits is to spread out the crowds to different areas of the Sanctuary and at different times of the day. Not only will you have to enter Machu Picchu at a certain time that you’ll choose when you buy the ticket, but also you won’t be allowed to linger in certain areas with limited space for too long.

Crowds of people standing on stone terraces below the Guardian House at Machu Picchu
Typical early afternoon crowds at the Guardian House (famous Machu Picchu viewpoint)

What’s more, certain visitors MUST take certain circuits. For example, those arriving on the 4-Day Inca Trail must take Circuit 3 upon arrival at Machu Picchu. And those who want to climb Huayna Picchu can only do so by getting a Circuit 4 ticket.

Unfortunately, however, each circuit misses certain parts of Machu Picchu. So if you really want to see the whole site, you’ll have to buy multiple tickets to Machu Picchu, each on a different circuit. That’s why I had 3 separate Machu Picchu tickets for my visit!

While I understand the need to spread out the crowds, it also feels like a bit of a money grab on the part of Machu Picchu (each ticket costs 152 or 200 soles, which is US$40/55), or even more of you buy the ticket from somewhere other than the official site.

Many visitors already feel this way after riding the train from Cusco or Ollantaytambo to Aguas Calientes (starting from US$140 for tourists, while locals pay $6) and the bus (US$24 for a 20-minute bus ride – an outrageous price for Peru).

But if you really want to see Machu Picchu (let’s face it – you do…), then you’ll just have to pay up.

Also see my guides to the Cusco Tourist Pass and Cusco Religious Circuit Ticket.

Which Circuit is the Best One?

Nick Kembel standing with arms outstretched, facing away from camera, with a view of Machu Picchu
Get your classic Machu Picchu view on Circuit 2

I’ll cover each of the circuits in detail below. But before that, I’d like to cut to the chance and tell you that the Circuit 2 + Puente Inka is the most complete and best Machu Picchu circuit.

Circuit 2 on its own gives you access to the largest number of areas at the site, including the classic Machu Picchu viewpoint from the Guardhouse. In other words, Circuit 2 is the best of the 5 numbered circuits.

The option that allows you to add the Puente Inka (Inca Bridge) trail to Circuit 2 is even better. Here’s my guide to the Inca Bridge trail.

Inca Bridge at Machu Picchu
My recommended ticket is Puente Inka + Circuit 2, which includes Circuit 2 and an additional hike to Inca Bridge

Circuit 2 isn’t perfect, though. It does miss a few things that are only included on Circuits 3, 4, and 5. But overall, it is still better than those circuits because it visits several of the most important and sacred sights at Machu Picchu. And most important, Circuit 2 includes the famous Machu Picchu viewpoint, while circuits 3, 4, and 5 don’t (note: if you arrive via the 4-day Inca Trail, you’ll get to see the famous viewpoint).

If your hike or tour comes with Circuit 3, 4, or 5 (make sure to ask your company which Circuit is included!), then I recommend buying an additional Circuit 2 + Puente Inka ticket on your own for the most complete Machu Picchu experience.

Ideally, I recommend buying your second ticket for the following morning, since Machu Picchu becomes very crowded in the early afternoon. Visiting on two mornings in a row is better than making two visits in the same day. Mornings are the least crowded.

A sign with an arrow and the words "To Inka Bridge, a Puente Inka", with stone Inca wall behind it

Having tickets for two different days is also a great back-up plan in case you have poor weather and can’t even see Machu Picchu from the viewpoint on one of your days, which is exactly what happened to me.

As for the mountain tickets (Huayna Picchu, Huchuy Picchu, or Machu Picchu Mountain), these are not the “best” tickets on their own, but they are essential if you want to do any of these hikes. This means they should be purchased as an additional ticket, not as your main/only ticket.  Sure, you could buy one of these mountain tickets as your main ticket, but because each of them only come with a Circuit 3 or 4 ticket, it means you’d be missing some key sights at MP, including the classic viewpoint.

I personally recommend Huayna Picchu as the top pick of these three mountain tickets, but it also sells out the fastest. Confused yet? All of this will become clearer as you read the following section.

What Are the Different Circuits?

First and foremost, I must point the Machu Picchu circuits have changed since they were first created, so even the maps on the official site right now are incorrect! According to my Inca Trail guide, the circuits are changing every week – probably a bit of an exaggeration, but you get the point.

Thus, some of the information you find online about the circuits may be incorrect or outdated. And it will likely change again in the future, so even this article will someday become outdated too. But I’ll do my best to keep it updated. Please leave a comment at the end if you notice anything that has changed since I wrote this!

Circuit 1

Looking through the stone Main Gate of Machu Picchu, with Huayna Picchu visible in the distance
You get to walk through the traditional Main Entrance Gate on Circuits 1 and 2

Circuit 1 is meant to be an abbreviated version of Circuit 2 (the best one). It is aimed at visitors who have limited walking ability or want a shorter visit, such as elderly of visitors to Machu Picchu with kids.

After entering the site, you’ll proceed to the Guardhouse (10 minutes uphill), which offers the famous or classic view of Machu Picchu. After that, you’ll see only about half of the Upper Ruins before taking a shortcut across the middle area to the Lower Ruins and finally exiting. Because of this shortcut, you miss the northern half of the site (often the right side on maps of Machu Picchu).

However, when I visited Machu Picchu in 2023, this shortcut was actually closed! In other words, there is no longer any Circuit 1. Visitors have no choice but to walk around the whole site – in other words, Circuit 2. Therefore, the Circuit 1 map is irrelevant, unless they reopen the shortcut again someday.

When booking your tickets online (I’ll cover how to do that below), it doesn’t even matter, because you will only need to choose “Circuits 1, 2, 3, or 4.” In other words, you don’t even have to choose or tell them which of these 4 circuits you plan to walk at the time of booking or when entering Machu Picchu.

What will you see on Circuit 1?

If the shortcut ever reopens and Circuit 1 comes back someday, you will see the following: the Guardian House or classic Machu Picchu viewpoint (#1 or 2 on the official map, you can choose either, go for the higher one – #2), the Machu Picchu Main Entrance Gate, the Torreon viewpoint (#4) or Inca Quarry (#5 – you’ll have to choose one or the other when walking), and the House of Mirrors.

What will you miss on Circuit 1?

Since there currently is no Circuit 1, this does not apply. But if they ever reopen the shortcut to create Circuit 1 again, you must know that Circuit 1 misses the Torreon (Sun Temple, only possible to visit up close on Circuit 3, 4, 5), the Sacred Plaza and Temple of Three Windows, Intihuatana, Sacred Stone, and Temple of Condor.

If Circuit 1 does reopen, I only recommend this route for those who want to see the classic Machu Picchu viewpoint, but who don’t mind missing several other important areas of the site, perhaps because you want a shorter visit or have very limited time at Machu Picchu.

If you have mobility issues, then Circuit 3 (see below) would actually be best for you, because it omits Guardian House (the classic viewpoint), which required a 10-15 minute uphill hike.

Circuit 2

Ruins covering the Intihuatana Pyramid shot from afar
You can only climb the Intihuatana Pyramid on Circuit 2 from 7 to 10 AM

Circuit 2 is widely considered the best Machu Picchu circuit. There are two options for booking it: Circuit 2 on its own, or Circuit 2 + Inca Bridge (the most complete option).

Circuit 2 begins the same was as Circuit 1, including the famous viewpoint at the beginning, and proceeding to the Upper Ruins. But instead of taking the shortcut, you continue along the Upper Ruins to the Sacred Plaza, then up some stairs to Intihuatana (only open from 7 AM to 10 AM, otherwise you’ll have to skip it!).

The circuit then goes all the way to Sacred Rock at northern end of the site before looping back. At the end of Circuit 2, you’ll only be able to visit one of Temple of Condor (10 AM to 1 PM) or Hall of Mirrors (before 10 AM or after 1 PM). This is really too bad, because both are cool.

If you have more than one Machu Picchu ticket, try to time it so you catch the Temple of Condor on one of your circuits, and the Hall of Mirrors on the other.

Every Machu Picchu circuit passes by these two areas at the end. So matter which Machu Picchu circuit you choose, you’ll only see Temple of Condor or Hall of Mirrors at the end, depending on the time.

What will you see on Circuit 2?

The famous view of Machu Picchu, with terraces in the foreground
The classic Machu Picchu view

The Guardhouse or classic Machu Picchu viewpoint (#1 or 2 on the map, you can choose either, go for the higher one – #2), the Machu Picchu Main Entrance Gate, the Torreon viewpoint (#4) or Inca Quarry (#5 – you’ll have to choose one or the other when walking), Sacred Plaza and Temple of Three Windows, Intihuatana, Sacred Stone, and Temple of Condor (10 AM to 1 PM) or Hall of Mirrors (before 10 AM or after 1 PM).

What will you miss on Circuit 2?

Circuit 3 still misses a few things. You won’t get to see a close-up view of the Torreon (Sun Temple) and the cave (Royal Tomb) under it, the House of the Inka, and the Ceremonial Fountains. These three places can only be seen on Circuits 3, 4, and 5.

Circuit 3

Carved stairs and walls in a cave below the Sun Temple at Machu Picchu
The “Royal Tomb” under the Torreon (Sun Temple) can only be seen on Circuits 3, 4, 5

Circuit 3 is an abbreviated Circuit that only visits the Lower Ruins and not the Upper Ruins of Machu Picchu. Unfortunately, it is mandatory for anyone arriving at Machu Picchu to take Circuit 3 upon arrival, usually led by your Inca Trail tour guide.

While those arriving on the Inca Trail get to enjoy the classic Machu Picchu viewpoint before they exit Machu Picchu and then re-enter to do Circuit 3, those arriving to Machu Picchu by bus would miss the classic viewpoint if they chose Circuit 3.

You should only choose Circuit 3 if you have mobility issues and aren’t able to walk up to the classic viewpoint (a 10-15-minute uphill walk for able bodied people).

So, if you are coming to Machu Picchu on the Inca Trail, you must know that you are going to be walking on an inferior circuit that misses several key places at Machu Picchu. On the plus side, it does include a few cool spots that Circuit 2 doesn’t.

For this reason, if you really want to see all of Machu Picchu, then I recommend you get a second (or possibly even third ticket) for your visit. I recommend getting an additional Circuit 2 ticket for the places you’ll miss, PLUS you’ll need to get a Circuit 4 ticket if you want to hike Huayna Picchu or Huchuy Picchu.

Looking down on some ruins at Machu Picchu with clouds hovering around them
An unnamed ruin towards the end of all the circuits

If you get two additional tickets like I did, I recommend doing the Huayna Picchu or Huchuy Picchu circuit/hike right after your Circuit 3 tour, then getting your Circuit 2 ticket for the next morning (three entries in one day would just be too much, plus the site becomes really crowded in the afternoon).

Your Circuit 3 ticket will be included in your Inca Trail package. For the additional Huayna Picchu or Huchuy Picchu (Circuit 4 ticket), the trekking company will be able to arrange it for you for an added fee. However, if you want an additional Circuit 2 ticket, you’ll need to buy that on your own. And make sure to let your trekking company know so they can buy your return train ticket for the correct day and time.

To make things more confusing, there’s an additional hike, Machu Picchu Mountain, which also comes with a Circuit 3 ticket. Since those arriving at Machu Picchu on the 4-day Inca Trail have to do the Circuit 3 upon arrival anyways, if you want to also hike up Machu Picchu Mountain on the same day, make sure to inform your trekking company at the time of booking your Inca Trail so that they can get the correct ticket for you.

Another point of confusion is that, according to the map, Circuit 3 should take the same shortcut or abbreviated route as Route 1. But when I visited in 2023, this shortcut was closed, so Circuit 3 is actually better/longer than it appears on the official map. It actually is exactly the same as Circuit 4.

So if you want to know what route you will take on Circuit 3, you should actually check the map and read my description of Circuit 4.

What will you see on Circuit 3?

On Circuit 3, instead of walking up to the classic viewpoint at the beginning, the trail cuts straight across some colcas (Inca storehouses) and terraces to the Middle Area of Machu Picchu (the field between the Upper and Lower ruins). From there, you get to see the Ceremonial Fountains (#7), Torreon (Sun Temple, #5) and cave (Royal Tomb) below it, and House of the Inca (#6). These sights are actually at the base of the Upper Ruins.

If the shortcut reopens in the future, then after the House of the Inka, Circuit 3 will then go directly down to House of Mirrors before exiting the site.

If the shortcut is still closed like when I visited, Circuit 3 will proceed to the far northern end of the site (Sacred Rock), then turn back and visit either Temple of Condor (10 AM to 1 PM) or House of Mirrors (before 10 AM or after 1 PM) before exiting.   

What will you miss on Circuit 3?

Most importantly, Circuit 3 does NOT include the classic Machu Picchu viewpoint from Guardian House. But if you’re coming in on the Inca Trail, you will get to see the viewpoint before starting your Circuit 3 tour.

Circuit 3 also misses the Main Entrance Gate to Machu Picchu, the Inca Quarry or Torreon Viewpoint, Sacred Plaza and Temple of Three Windows, and Intihuatana.

If the shortcut reopens, Circuit 3 also misses Sacred Rock and Temple of Condor. If the shortcut is closed like when I visited, it will include Sacred Rock and only one of Temple of Condor (10 AM to 1 PM) or House of Mirrors (before 10 AM or after 1 PM).

Circuit 4

A steep stone staircase up Huayna Picchu, with a river visible far below on the right
The start of the trail up Huayna Picchu

The only people who should buy Circuit 4 tickets are those who want to hike to the summit of Huayna Picchu or Huchuy Picchu, the taller/shorter mountains at the northern end of Machu Picchu, the ones backing the site in classic Machu Picchu photos.

The main purpose of Circuit 4 is to get you to this hike. You actually get to see a fair bit of Machu Picchu on the way. As of 2023, Circuit 3 actually follows the route of Circuit 4. As I explained above, the shortcut that should make Circuit 3 shorter was closed when I visited, so there was no difference between Circuits 3 and 4. In other words, because Circuits 3 and 4 are the same thing, if you have tickets for each of these circuits, you’re essentially only buying that extra Circuit 4 ticket just to add on the side hike to Huayna Picchu or Huchuy Picchu.

For me, I wanted to climb Huayna Picchu (which I highly recommend!) My trekking company recommended that I climb Huayna Picchu right after our Circuit 3 tour, and they bought the additional Circuit 4 ticket for me (note, because they got it for me, it cost more than if I would have bought it myself).

I thought I might have to exit Machu Picchu after our Circuit 3 tour, then re-enter on my Circuit 4 ticket. But that’s not what happened. Because Circuit 3 is no longer abbreviated, we actually went all the way to Sacred Rock, at the northern end of the site, which is where the Huayna Picchu and Huchuy Picchu hikes start.  

Temple of Condor at Machu Picchu
You can only see Temple of Condor if you reach this point in the circuit between 10 AM and 1 PM

Therefore, I actually said goodbye to my guide and trekking group at Sacred Rock. From there, they proceeded to the Lower Ruins and exit, while I hiked Huayna Picchu on my own. In other words, I didn’t have to exit and re-enter Machu Picchu on the Circuit 4 ticket. I only had to show my Huayna Picchu (Circuit 4) ticket at the Huayna Picchu and Huchuy Picchu entrance gate, which is right beside Sacred Rock.

This is very important, because if you have more than one Machu Picchu ticket, it means you should time your Circuit 4 ticket to be around the time that you’d be passing Sacred Rock.

So, let’s say you bought the earliest Circuit 2 ticket (6 AM) and actually enter Machu Picchu at 6 AM, meaning you caught the first bus of the day from Aguas Calientes at 5:30. After entering Machu Picchu, it might take you about 1.5 hours to get to Sacred Rock, arriving around 7:30 AM. Therefore, you’d want to buy a Circuit 4 ticket for 7 to 8 AM.

If you purchase a Circuit 4 ticket only, note that choosing a time of 7 to 8 AM allows you to enter Machu Picchu from 6 to 7 AM, and you’re supposed to start your Huayna Picchu (or Huchuy Picchu) hike anytime from 7 to 8 AM.

There is some leniency in these times, but that is what is intended. I’ll further explain the ticket timings, with more examples, in the next section below.   

What will you see on Circuit 4?

Everything I described for Circuit 3 (non-shortcut version) AND you get to hike to the summit of Huayna Picchu or Huchuy Picchu.

What will you miss on Circuit 4?

Same as what I described for Circuit 3 (non-shortcut version).

Circuit 5

A famous carved staircase and doorway at Machu Picchu
Famous staircase and doorway where Hiram Bingham shot a photo of a kid, the “first tour guide at Machu Picchu”, only possible to see on Circuits 3, 4, 5

The fifth and final Machu Picchu circuit is Circuit 5. I believe this route was added sometime in 2022, because I don’t remember it being there when I first started planning my trip, but then suddenly it was there one day.

The only people who need to think about Circuit 5 are those who will arrive at Machu Picchu via the 1-day, 2-day, or 5-day Inca Trails. All three of these treks are different than the classic 4-day trek because they involve sleeping in Aguas Calientes for one night, then visiting Machu Picchu by bus the next morning.

I’m really not sure why they did this. Essentially, all of these visitors are being robbed of the classic Machu Picchu viewpoint. For all three of these treks, what happens is that you will get to see Machu Picchu from the Sun Gate (Inti Punku) the day before. This Machu Picchu view is pretty cool, but it’s from much further away than the classic viewpoint.

After that, you go to sleep in a hotel in Aguas Calientes, take a bus to Machu Picchu the next morning with the tourist masses, and then go on a Circuit that is virtually identical to Circuit 3. In other words, it misses the famous Machu Picchu viewpoint from the Guardhouse, and unlike those on the 4-Day Inca Trail trek, you won’t get to see it before you start your circuit.

For this reason, I personally believe the classic 4-Day Inca Trail trek is the best one. If you’ve already booked one of the others, and Circuit 5 is what you’ve got, then you’ll want to consider buying an additional 1 or 2 Machu Picchu tickets like I did (I recommend buying Circuit 2 so you can see the classic viewpoint, plus one of the mountain tickets, such as Huayna Picchu, if you want to do one of those hikes).

If you look closely at the official maps, there are some small differences between the routes of Circuits 3 and 5. Notably, Circuit 5 seems to have an extra walk down to the Three Towers (#8, Conjunto Tres Portadas). However, when I visited in 2023, the path to Three Towers was closed, so Circuit 5 is virtually identical to Circuit 3.

Moreover, since the shortcut from Upper to Lower ruins is closed, Circuit 5 will now go all the way to Sacred Rock at the end, just like I described for Circuit 3.

What will you see on Circuit 5?

Circuit 5 is virtually identical to Circuits 3 and 4 (but not including the Huayna Picchu or Huchuy Picchu hikes of course), so see my descriptions of those.

What will you miss on Circuit 5?

See my descriptions of Circuits 3 and 4. Notably, you won’t get to see the famous Machu Picchu viewpoint.

The Mountain Circuits

Machu Picchu viewed from a rocky summit of Huayna Picchu
Looking down at Machu Picchu from the summit of Huayna Picchu

When booking your Machu Picchu tickets online (see below for more details), you’ll notice there are some more options. Here is a quick description of each one:

  • Circuit 1 or 2 + Inca Bridge (Circuito 1 o 2 + Puente Inca): This is in my opinion the ultimate, best ticket for visiting Machu Picchu. You get to see most of the ruins, plus enjoy an additional side hike to Inca Bridge (30 minutes return, starting and ending from the Platforma Superior in the Guardhouse (classic Machu Picchu viewpoint) area. Since there was no Circuit 1 when I visited, Circuit 2 is the only option. I highly recommend this circuit, and buy the earliest ticket of the day if you can. If you can buy only one Machu Picchu ticket get this one. All the others below can be con considered add-on tickets.
  • Circuit 4 + Huayna Picchu Mountain (Circuito 4 + Montaña Waynapicchu): I highly recommend buying this additional ticket so that you can hike to the top of Huayna Picchu Mountain, the tall mountain backing Machu Picchu. This is considered one of the world’s greatest short hikes. The mountain might look impossibly tall when you first see it, and this hike is not for those who are scared of hikes. But the hike is not quite as bad as it seems and only takes about 1.5 hours return.
  • This ticket can be used like an add-on to any other Machu Picchu circuit. You don’t have to exit the site and re-enter to use it. You just show the ticket from the trailhead beside Sacred Rock, at the northern end of the site. If you only buy this ticket, though, you’ll miss several spots in Machu Picchu, including the classic viewpoint. That’s why it is ideal to buy this ticket as an add-on to Circuit 2, or as an add-on to Circuit 3, then buy even one more ticket to do Circuit 2 the next day (this is what I did).
  • This ticket is a little more expensive than all others (200 soles instead of 152 soles). Only 300 Huayna Picchu tickets are sold per day, with only 4 possible entrance times (7-8, 8-9, 10-11, or 11-12). These tickets sell out fast, so it’s crucial to book far in advance.
  • Circuit 4 + Huchuy Picchu Mountain (Circuito 4 + Montaña Huchuypicchu) This ticket is the same as the last one, but only allows you to climb Huchuy Picchu, the much shorter mountain beside Huayna Picchu.
  • Personally, I strongly recommend climbing Huchuy Picchu if you are fit. This is the ultimate hike, with a much higher view, crazy staircases, lots of ruins, and tunnels you get to climb through. Huchuy Picchu offers a much lower view, and minus those other cool things. Only choose this hike if you want to add an extra side hike and view of Machu Picchu from the opposite direction of the Guardian House, but don’t feel brave enough to tackle Huayna Picchu.
  • This ticket is priced at 152 soles, the same as all others except Huayna Picchu. However, in my opinion, it’s hardly worth spending the money on an additional ticket unless you are going all-in with the Huayna Picchu hike.
  • The path to Huchuy Picchu and Huayna Picchu both start at the Sacred Rock, where you’ll need to show your Circuit 4 ticket. After a few minutes, the trail to Huchuy Picchu branches off to the left. I actually didn’t see anyone at that point to monitor whether I had a Huchuy or Huayna Picchu ticket.
  • I’m not saying you should buy a Huchuy Picchu ticket to get to Huayna Picchu (because they are cheaper, or because Huayna Picchu tickets might be sold out). I’m saying that it MIGHT be possible, but it would be a risk.
  • Only 200 Huchuy Picchu tickets are sold per day, but they aren’t as high demand as Huayna Picchu tickets.
  • Circuit 3 + Machu Picchu Mountain (Montaña Machupicchu + Circuito 3): This is yet another possible side hike option, and the longest of the four. Machu Picchu Mountain is the tall mountain on the south side of the site. It is behind you if you are standing at the Guardhouse and enjoying the class view of the ruins. It takes 3-4 hours to hike.
  • There should be a daily limit of 400 people on this trail, but as a Circuit 3 ticket, it is lumped in with all other Circuit 3 tickets, so it might seem like there are more available. They still go quickly, though, so advance booking is essential. Make sure to inform your trekking or tour company of you want this ticket, so they don’t just buy you a regular Circuit 3 ticket.

How to Enter Machu Picchu on Each Circuit

There are actually four different possible ways to enter Machu Picchu, depending on which circuit ticket you have. Don’t make the mistake of waiting in the wrong line!

Main Entrance (upper gate)

A  crowd of visitors in front of the Main Entrance at Machu Picchu
The Upper Entrance Gate (Circuits 1/2) on the top left, and the Lower Entrance Gate (Circuits 3/4/5) on the bottom right just outside the photo. The bottom floor of the main building is the restrooms and luggage storage, while second floor is a cafe and small restaurant.

If you’re coming to Machu Picchu by bus from Aguas Calientes, as most visitors do, the bus will drop you off at the main entrance gate, which is here on GoogleMaps and visible in the above photo. You’ll see the site’s only restrooms (2 soles to use) and luggage storage counter right in front of you.

If you’re entering Machu Picchu on Circuits 1 or 2 (which were virtually identical when I visited, as I described above), or Puente Inca + Circuit 1/2, then you will want to take the stairs on the left up to the Upper Entrance Gate. This is usually the busier of the two entrances.

From this entrance, you will be able to access the walking path that goes uphill to the Guardian House, the famous Machu Picchu viewpoint. Before getting to the viewpoint, you’ll have a choice to go right to the Platforma Inferior (Lower Platform) or left to the higher Platforma Superior (Upper Platform).

As the names suggest, the upper one is the better choice. Although both of them actually have great Machu Picchu views, from slightly different angles, choosing the “Superior” one first is better, because you’ll also be able to take pictures from the Inferior one on the way down. If you go to the Lower one first, you won’t be able to visit the Upper one after.    

If you have a ticket for Puente Inka (Inca Bridge), you’ll need to take a left to the Platforma Superior to access the trailhead. You’ll get to see the view from the Superor Platform, hike to Inca Bridge, then walk across the Inferior Platform on the way down.

Main Entrance (lower gate)

There is a second entrance, the Lower Entrance Gate, right beside the restrooms, to the right of the above photo. This gate is for anyone doing Circuits 3, 4, or 5.

It is essential to enter from this gate because it crosses the terraces to the Lower Ruins. If you go to the incorrect gate, you won’t be able to enter Machu Picchu and they’ll send you to the correct one. Don’t waste your time, as the lines can be long!

Don’t forget to bring your passport to Machu Picchu. The name on your ticket must match the name in your passport.

Via the Sun Gate

View of Machu Picchu from the Sun Gate
Machu Picchu viewed from the Sun Gate, with the winding Hiram Bingham Highway, which buses take up to the site.

When we arrived at Machu Picchu on the 4-day Inca Trail, we caught our first glimpse of Machu Picchu from the Sun Gate (Inti Punku). We woke up at 3:30 AM on Day 4 of our trek to enter Machu Pichu Sancturary at 5:30 AM (that’s where we showed out tickets and passports) and then hike 1.5 hours to reach the Sun Gate at 7 AM. From there, it took around 45 minutes to hike to the Guardhouse for the famous Machu Picchu view.

We then proceeded downhill to exit the site (basically walking in the opposite direction as those entering Machu Picchu on Circuits 1/2), used the restrooms, then re-entered Machu Picchu through the Lower Entrance Gate to go on our Circuit 3 tour.  

Sun Gate + Main Entrance (lower gate)

For anyone walking the 1-day, 2-day, or 5-day Inca Trails, the way you enter Machu Picchu  will be a combination of the above. You will first hike to the Sun Gate, like those on the 4-day Inca Trail.

But after seeing Machu Picchu from the Sun Gate, you won’t hike the rest of the way to Machu Picchu. Instead, you will hike out and spend a night in Aguas Calientes town. The next morning, you will take a bus to Machu Picchu like most other visitors, then enter the site on a Circuit 5 ticket.

With this ticket, you’ll need to enter Machu Picchu through the Lower Gate, which is beside the restrooms, since Circuit 5 does not include hiking up to the famous viewpoint.

How to Book the Different Circuits Online

If you’re visiting Machu Picchu on a tour like this one, or as part of the Inca Trail, then your tour/trekking company will most likely book your Machu Picchu ticket for you.

However, you may be visiting Machu Picchu on your own without a guide (yes, this is allowed, contrary to what guides there might try to tell you!). Or you may be buying an additional Machu Picchu ticket for your yourself.

In these cases, you’ll have to navigate the official Machu Picchu tickets website, which is in Spanish only. There are other English websites selling Machu Picchu tickets, but they are more expensive.

Here are the steps for buying tickets on the official site:

  1. Click the above link to the official site.
  2. Close the pop-up window.
  3. Click “Adquirir Boletos” (Purchase Tickets).
  4. Select the circuit you want from the drop-down list (see the next section below for more details about which one to choose). Input your desired date
  5. Choose how many adultos (adults), estudiantes (students, student ID will be required), and menortes (children age 3 to 17 – age 0 to 2 are free) you have.
  6. Click the blue button “Disponibilidad” (Availability) then scroll down to see the numbers of remaining tickets at different entry times on the day of your proposed visit. if it says “Espacios agotados, seleccione otra fecha”, all the tickets are sold out for that day.
  7. Click the entry time you’d like and “Continuar con la reserve” (continue with reservation) at the bottom. See the “What Entrance Time to Choose” section below for my recommendations.
  8. Confirm the details (copy-paste to GoogleTranslate as necessary).
  9. Choose your country from the drop-down list, select PAS (passport) under “Tipo”, and enter your passport number under “Nro. documento”. This must be the same passport you will enter Machu Picchu with.
  10. Enter your surname under “Apellidos”, first name under “Nombre”, birthday under “Fecha Nacimiento”, and click Masculino or Femenino for male/female.
  11. Click “Siguiente” (following) to proceed with the payment.
  12. After processing the payment, you’ll receive two emails from [email protected]. One of them will contain a link to the ticket, with the blue anchor text IMPRIMIR RESERVA. Click that and save the ticket to your phone. Printing a physical copy is highly recommended, as you may have no Internet connection or your phone could run out of battery by the time you reach Machu Picchu.
  • As for step 11, paying for the ticket, several visitors have reported that their bank card or credit card simply wouldn’t work when they tried to buy their Machu Picchu tickets. If this happens to you, the only option is to try a different card or book through one of the more expensive ticket websites online.
  • Also note that you can buy Machu Picchu tickets at the Ministry of Culture in Aguas Calientes, even after all the ones online are sold out. An additional 1000 Machu Picchu tickets are released there per day. So even at the busiest times, it is possible to just show up in Aguas Calientes and buy a Machu Picchu ticket the day before your visit. Note that the line-up gets very long in high season.
  • This is exactly what I did when I decided at the last minute to postpone my third (and final) visit to Machu Picchu by one day due to poor weather. I forfeited my original 3rd ticket and just bought a new one for the next day from the office in Aguas Calientes. They still had hundreds left when I bought mine at the end of the day (note, I visited at a very slow time, when tourism was still down following the early 2023 protests).
  • Unfortunately, it is not possible to get a refund for your Machu Picchu ticket if your plans change or you buy the wrong one.

Which Circuit to Choose on the Booking Form

A screenshot of the Machu Picchu Circuit choices on the official ticket booking website
The different circuit choices on the booking form

Many visitors report some confusion when trying to figure out which option to choose when buying their Machu Picchu ticket online (step 4 above).

Mainly this is because Circuits 1, 2, 3, and 4 are all grouped together under one option called “Llaqta de Machu Picchu (Circuito 1, 2, 3, o 4)“. Choose this option if you plan to hike any of the circuits 1 to 4 (not counties the extra mountain hikes). At no point do you ever have to declare which of the 4 circuits you want to hike. However, upon arrival at the site, go to the Upper Entrance Gate (up the set of stairs) for circuits 1 and 2, or the Lower Entrance Gate (beside the restrooms) for Circuits 3 or 4.

Most people will be choosing Circuit 2 here, the best one. As I described above, Circuit 1 no longer exits because they removed the shortcut. Circuit 3 is mainly for people arriving onthe Inca Trail, but your trekking company will buy it for you. And Circuit 4 is kind of a pointless circuit here, because Circuit 4 is mainly for doing the side hikes, which require different tickets than this one.

Choose Circuito 4 + Montaña Waynapicchu if you need to purchase an add-on ticket for hiking up to Huayna Picchu. It’s possible you might choose this as your only ticket for Machu Picchu, but you must know that it misses several key sights, including the classic Machu Picchu viewpoint.

The same things goes for the Montaña Machupicchu + Circuito 3 (Machu Picchu Montain) and Circuito 4 + Montaña Huchuypicchu (Huchuy Picchu) tickets.

Last but not least, the best ticket in my opinion is the Circuito 1 o 2 + Puente Inka ticket, which is Circuit 1 or 2 (currently only Circuit 2 exists) plus a side hike to Inca Bridge. If you can only buy one single entrance ticket to Machu Picchu, make it this one!

You’ll note that there is no option for Circuit 5 on the ticket website. That’s because tour companies always book this ticket for you, as it is included in your 1/2/5-Day Inca Trail package.

What Entrance Time to Choose

Once you’ve settled on a circuit and date for your visit, you’ll need to choose your entrance time to Machu Picchu. This can be a complicated decision to make.

You might have to factor in what time your train arrives at Machu Picchu, how long it will take to get up there, what time you want to wake up in the morning, and/or what time your previous circuit will end if you’re buying more than one ticket.

Understanding the Entrance Times

For tickets that only involve a circuit (in other words, if you are just doing Circuit 1, 2, 3, or 4, and you chose the Llaqta de Machu Picchu (Circuito 1, 2, 3, o 4) ticket, then it’s very simple. For the button that says “Ingreso 06:00 a 07:00 hrs” (the earliest entrance of the day), that means you can enter Machu Picchu from 6 Am to 7 AM. This will be confirmed on the next page and on your ticket, where it says “Ingreso llaqta: 6 am to 7 am”.

For this ticket, you can catch the first bus at 5:30 AM from Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu, or any subsequent bus from around 5:30 t0 6:30. You’re supposed to enter Machu Picchu anytime between 6 AM 7 AM, but if you come a little later, they will still let you in. If you come much later in the day, I’m not sure whether they will, but I personally wouldn’t risk it.

For the tickets which include side hikes (Inca Bridge, Huayna Picchu, Huchuy Picchu, or Machu Picchu Mountain), it’s a little different. The time that you choose will be the time that you should start the hike. For example, if you choose “Ingreso 07:00 a 08:00 hrs” (the earliest one for these), you will be able to enter Machu Picchu from 6 AM to 7 AM, and you will be expected to start your hike from 7 to 8 AM.

This makes sense, because for each of these hikes, it will take you anywhere from 30 minutes to 1.5 hours to reach the trailhead after you enter Machu Picchu. At each of the trailheads, there is guard station where they will check your ticket and ask you to sign in (to make sure you make it back out again).

It only takes about 15 minutes to reach the trailhead for Machu Picchu Mountain (but this hike takes the longest). It takes about 30 minutes to reach the Inca Bridge trailhead, depending on how long you linger at the famous Machu Picchu viewpoint before starting the hike. The Huayna Picchu and Huchuy Picchu trailhead is the furthest away. It might take you 30 minutes to an hour to get there, depending on how much time you spend seeing the ruins on the way.

Buying a Second Ticket for the Same Day

Imagine you’re arriving on the 4-Day Inca trail. You will do a Circuit 3 tour upon arrival with your group. Then you will break off from your group to climb Huayna Picchu (this is what I did). In that case, you should buy a Huayna Picchu ticket for the last time slot of the day, entering at 10 to 11 AM. My Circuit 3 tour got to Sacred Rock, where the Huayna Picchu hike starts, at 10:30 AM, which was perfect.

If you wanted to buy a second ticket for, say, Circuit 2 on the same day, then choosing an entrance time of perhaps 11 to 12 would be better, or 12-1 if you’d like to have lunch at the cafe at the entrance before re-entering (no eating is allowed in Machu Picchu). In other words, if arriving at Machu Picchu at 8 AM like we did, you can expect a full Machu Picchu tour to take about 2.5 to 3 hours.

How Long to Get from the Train Station in Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu?

A very common question in Peru Facebook groups is what time to buy a ticket for if you’re arriving in Aguas Calientes by train and then going directly to Machu Picchu.

I would budget 1 to 1.5 hours for this. This includes approximately 5 minutes to walk from the train station to the bus ticket office, 10 minutes to buy the ticket, 15 to 30 minutes waiting in line for the bus, 20 minutes bus ride, and 15 minutes waiting in line at Machu Picchu.

Are There Time Limits?

Contrary to what you might have heard, there are no time limits at Machu Picchu. Nobody will be checking your ticket entry time after you enter the site or rushing you to finish by a certain time.

So how long does it take to visit Machu Picchu? Since the abbreviated/shortcut route was not accessible when I visited in early 2023, all 5 circuits go all the way to the norther end of the site, and this all of them take a similar amount of time.

On your own, if you moved really quickly through the site, you could probably finish the whole thing in 1 to 1.5 hours. However, if you’re on a tour, or you like to take your time, a typical visit takes about 2.5 hours. Circuit 2 takes the longest because most people spend at least 15 minutes taking pictures from the classic viewpoint, not to mention the 15 minutes needed to get up there. Circuits 3 to 5 omit this so they don’t take quite as long.

For the side hikes, Machu Picchu Mountain adds 3 hours, Inca Bridge adds 45 minutes, Huchuy Picchu adds 45 minutes, and Huayna Picchu adds 1.5 hours.

Although there is no time limit to leave Macchu Picchu, the side hikes do have unofficial time limits. These are 4 hours (MP Mountain), 1 hour (Inca Bridge), 2 hours (Huchuy Picchu), 3 hours (Huayna Picchu). Essentially, there’s no reason that these hikes should take longer than those times.

Therefore, if you take longer than that (and they will know, because you have to sign in for them), then the guards will know that you may have been injured or fallen, and they may send in staff to look for you. For the last time slot of the day, it is especially important to finish in time, before they will close off the entrance/exit to the hike for the day.

Likewise, if you are a little late for the designated time of your side hike, it shouldn’t be a problem. But if you’re in the last time slot of the day, you wouldn’t want to be late, because they won’t let let you through after a certain point.

Glossary of Sights and Circuits They’re On

Is there a specific sight at Machu Picchu that you absolutely must see? Or maybe you want to know which sights are must-sees, so you can decide which circuit is best for you? Then this glossary is for you.

  • Sun Gate (Inti Punku): For trekkers on the Inca Trail, this is where you’ll catch your first glimpse of Machu Picchu, but from afar. In the past you could, but today it is no longer possible to hike from Machu Picchu to the Sun Gate. You have to be on the Inca Trail to visit it.
  • Guardian House (classic viewpoint): This thatch-roofed house sits atop a series of terraces at the southern end of Machu Picchu. These terraces offer the classic viewpoint of Machu Picchu that you probably don’t want to miss. If coming in on the Inca Trail, you’ll end up on the Platforma Inferior (Lower viewpoint), which is right next to and below the actual Guardhouse. If entering Machu Picchu from the main entrance, while hiking up to the Guardhouse, there’s a point (with sign) where you can go right for the Platforma Inferior (Lower) or left for the Platforma Superior (Upper) viewpoint, which is higher than the Guardhouse. Only Circuits 1 and 2 include the Guardian House.
Inca Bridge at Machu Picchu
The Inca Bridge
  • Inca Bridge: A 20-minute (30 min return) side hike leads to this impressive drawbridge built into the side of a cliff. This was an alternative entrance to Machu Picchu in ancient times. The Incas could keep intruders out by lifting the bridge when necessary. The hike to Puente Inka (Inca Bridge) starts and ends at the Upper Terrace (Platforma Superior) in the Guardian House area. You can only do this hike if you have a “Circuit 1/2 + Puente Inka” ticket. I highly recommend it. Here’s my guide to hiking to the Inca Bridge.
  • Main Gate: This is the traditional entrance to Machu Picchu. It is a picturesque stone doorway that perfectly frames Huayna Picchu. You’ll want a selfie here, but the sign says not to linger because it is a bottleneck for crowds entering the Citadel. You only get to see this on Circuits 1 or 2.
  • Inca Quarry (Quarry Group of Granite Quarry): Shortly after you pass through the Main Gate, you’ll have the option to go left to visit the Inca Quarry, a collection of large boulders strewn about, or right to climb down to the Torreon Viewpoint. This is a tough choice, but I recommend going right. This is because later, when the trails reconnect, you’ll still be able to see part of the Inca Quarry even if you chose the Torreon Viewpoint option. Your not supposed to backtrack, but I did a little to see more of it, and the guards didn’t say anything. You only get to see this on Circuits 1 or 2.
View of the Sun Temple at Machu Picchu shot from above
Looking down on the Torreon (Sun Temple) from the Torreon Viewpoint
  • Torreon Viewpoint: If you go left after passing through the Main Gate, you’ll descend through a series of ruined structured and staircases to a viewpoint looking down on the Torreon (Sun Temple). This is the only round structure at Machu Picchu and one of its most famous attractions. It’s actually best viewed from this spot, because when you see it from above, you can see the sacred natural stone inside of it (see photo above). During the equinoxes, the sun shines directly through the Torreon’s windows onto the stone. You only get to see this on Circuits 1 or 2. However, you get to see the Torreon closer up (from below) on Circuits 3/4/5, including the cave (Royal Tomb) under it.
  • Sacred Plaza: This is a courtyard with 3 important structures and 1 viewpoint. The structures are House of the High Priest (south), Temple of Three Windows (east), Main Temple (north), and a view of the valley and mountains beyond (west). Just around the corner, you can also peer into the Sacristy. Sacred Plaza is one of the most important areas of Machu Picchu and is only included on Circuit 2. The trail for Circuits 1, 3, 4, and 5 all pass right below the Sacred Plaza, but you won’t be allowed to go up and see all these buildings, so it feels like a tease. On our Circuit 3 tour, our guide went up to ask the guard if we could come up for a quick look, but the guard said no.  
Looking over a large stone toward the Temple of 3 Windows in the Sacred Plaza at Machu PIcchu
Temple of Three Windows in the Sacred Plaza
  • Intihuatana: This is the most sacred place at Machu Picchu and considered the end point of any pilgrimage to Machu Picchu. It is a special carved stone that is actually the natural peak of the pyramid-shaped hill it stands on. The Incas used it to predict the equinoxes and it may be an abstract replica of Huayna Picchu behind it. A staircase ascends to it from behind the Sacred Plaza. It offers an awesome view of the entire Machu Picchu site, too. Also note the south-facing triangular stone on the same platform as the stone, and the carved stone shaped like the mountain behind it just before you get there. You can only visit Intihuatana on Circuit 2 and only from 7 AM to 10 AM. After that, the whole pyramid is closed and you will have to pass by the bottom of it.
  • Sacred Stone: This is a huge monolith at the northern end of Machu Picchu, between two wayrona style buildings with thatched roofs. Because the Circuit 1, 3, and 5 shortcuts were closed when I visited Machu Picchu, every single Machu Picchu Circuit now goes all the way to Sacred Stone before turning back. The Huayna Picchu and Huchuy Picchu hikes (Circuit 4 ticket) start right behind the Sacred Stone.
Close up of the Intihuatana stone at Machu Picchu
Intihuatana stone, the most sacred place at Machu Picchu
  • Huchuy Picchu: This is the smaller of the two mountains backing Macchu Picchu. It’s a relatively easy 45-minute return hike. You’ll enjoy a great view of Machu Picchu, from the opposite direction as the Guardhouse. But, in my opinion, if you’re going to splurge on an extra ticket, you might as well go for the ultimate hike, Huayna Picchu. You can only do this hike if you’ve purchased an additional Circuit 4 + Montaña Huchuypicchu ticket. You don’t need to exit and re-enter Machu Picchu to use your additional ticket. Just show your Circuit 4 ticket at the hike’s entrance gate behind Sacred Stone.
  • Huayna Picchu: This is taller mountain backing Machu Picchu in the classic pictures of the site. You can climb all the way to the top and back down in about 1.5 hours. It’s an extremely vertical hike, sometimes requiring you to use your hands. Just don’t look down! There are several ruins up there, amazing viewpoints looking down on Machu Picchu, and a super narrow tunnel you have to pass through. You can only do this hike if you’ve purchased an additional Circuit 4 + Montaña Waynapicchu ticket. You don’t need to exit and re-enter Machu Picchu to use your additional ticket. Just show your Circuit 4 ticket at the hike’s entrance gate behind Sacred Stone. I highly recommend this add-on hike, but tickets sell out fast.
A stone Grand Staircase at Machu Picchu, with ruins, mountains and clouds in background
The Grand Staircase leads to the Three Towers area, but you can only admire it from afar.
  • Three Towers: This is a very large structure at the northern end of the Lower Ruins area, but none of the Circuits currently provide access to it (even though the official Map for Circuit 5 says it does – this is no longer true). In the past, you could walk up the Grand Staircase (pictured above) to access. Today, you can only admire it from the Upper Ruins area, especially Intihuatana. After Sacred Stone, all circuits pass to the south of Three Towers, and you won’t be able to see it. You’ll see some cool walls and stones, though. Before you reach the junction in the parth (see next two entries), watch for Conjunto 12 on the left, a small but very busy/complex set of ruins on the left. All circuits will pass by here.
  • House of Mirrors: Next, the trail will reach a junction point. If you’re there before 10 AM or after 1 PM, you’ll have to continue straight and visit the House of Mirrors. You’ll see some cool staircases when you first enter this area. “Mirrors” refers to two round protrusions on the floor reflected the stars in the sky when they were filled with water. Don’t miss them in the room to the left before you exit this area. All circuits will pass by House of Mirrors or Temple of Condor, depending on the time you get there. Therefore, if you want to see both, you’ll need at least two Machu Picchu tickets. Make sure you time it well, so that you can see one of them on your first circuit, and the other on your second circuit.
Two circular stone protrusions containing water on the House of Mirrors at Machu Picchu
The House of Mirrors
  • Temple of Condor: If you reach the junction in the path between 10 AM and 1 PM, you’ll have to turn left, go down a staircase, then turn right. After going between some buildings, and passing a point that used to provide access to Intimachay, a cool cave that is sadly no longer accessible, you’ll reach a rock slide and then finally the entrance to the Temple of Condor. It is named after a condor-shaped stone on the floor, with other stones above forming its wings. This area also has some really cool caves, but you can only just barely see them from the set route.  
  • The way out: Whether you went though the House of Mirrors or Temple of Condor, the two routes will eventually reach the Prisoner’s Plaza (a field with a distinctive tree in it), after which they will meet up. The path will the cross above the Archaeological Area, a long terrace, then go below some colcas (storehouses), and then a final stretch to the exit. Essentially the exit route matches the entrance route if you came in on Circuits 3, 4, or 5, but you’ll be walking out on a slightly lower terrace than the one going in.  
A distinctive tree surrounded by ruins at Machu Picchu
Plaza of Prisoners, which you’ll walk across before proceeding to the exit.

Well, that brings us to the end of my guide to the circuits and Machu Picchu. I hope I’ve answered every question you had about the circuits and saved you many hours of research – I wish I could have had this guide when I first started planning my own visit! If you still have questions, please ask in the comments below!

Also don’t miss my guides to the Sacred Valley, Ollantaytambo ruins, Pisac ruins, and other ruins in the Cusco region!

39 thoughts on “Machu Picchu Circuits Explained – Which One Is Best?”

  1. Hi Nick. Thanks for the info. A great help. Two things: Can I take a train directly from Cusco to Aguas Calientes , and please confirm I don’t need a guide for Machu Picchu. Thanks. Graeme.

    Reply
    • Yes, you can take a train from Cusco to Aguas Calientes (the trains depart from Poroy, just west of Cusco). But these trains are pricey. You can save some money by traveling to Ollantaytambo on your own and then getting the train from there. And guides are not needed at MP. Some guides there will tell you this, but it’s not true.

      Reply
  2. Hello fellow traveler. Just wanted to reach out and say this was THE MOST informative guide for figuring out how to successfully do MP. They certainly don’t make it a simple process and I referred to this for everything. We’re heading there in October and I really appreciate the time you put into this. I hope future travelers appreciate this as much as I did. Thanks so much!

    Reply
  3. Amazing and thorough. I think I understand How to visit Machu Picchu in my own now! Thank you for putting this together.

    Reply
  4. Outstanding summary – I finally feel confident to visit without a guide. We are travelling there in December and staying at the Sanctuary Lodge for one night (we have mortgaged the house!). We will arrive in the morning of day one and leave the evening of day two. What would you recommend – I was thinking to enter at 3pm and do Circuit 2 and stay till the end to see the site almost empty. And then do the early entrance at 6am day two and do circuit 2 again but with the Inca bridge. What do you think? Any suggestions?

    Reply
    • Wow, that’s exciting! I think your plan is good. It will likely still be very crowded when you enter at 3. Maybe you can really take your time and linger at the “famous” viewpoint at first, to let those crowds die down before continuing on. The next morning will be a totally different experience, and probably much more enjoyable, if you can enter first thing. For more variety, you could consider to do Circuit 4 + Huayna Picchu on Day 1. Then you’d get to see a few things that it’s not possible to see on Circuit 2 (for example Sun Temple from the bottom). But Huayna Picchu is a tougher hike, so keep that in mind.

      Reply
  5. What an incredible guide to MP circuits and hikes. Extremely useful. Thanks very much! Together with the man in seat 61, you’ve clarified a lot of stuff for me. Cheers.

    Reply
  6. This guide is super helpful. thank you. a quick question
    Would it make sense to buy a circuit 1 and 2 say for 7 AM. Finish that by (:30 and then exit and take a break and come back for Circuit 4 + Huyana Pichu for the 10 to 11 AM slot.
    Would that be too much of an added walk?

    Reply
    • I assume you mean finish the first one by 9:30, right? Yes, that would make sense! You’d be seeing some things twice, but that’s never a problem at Machu Picchu, in my opinion. The weather can change quickly, so things could look different each time! And the Circuit 4 will give you access to a few spots that you didn’t get to see on Circuit 1/2.

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  7. Is it better to hike Huayna picchu with the 1st time slot (7am) or last time slot (1oam) for end of October. Its possibly both dry and wet season… Thanks in advance

    Reply
    • I don’t think it will make a big difference for Huauna Picchu. The same number of people are doing it at any time slot. MP as a whole will be less busy if you go in at 7 AM though. So if this is your only MP ticket, go for that. If you’re also buying a Circuit 2, do that first, to enjoy the lack of crowds, then do your Huayna Picchu at the later time slot.

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  8. Appreciate the detailed blog! One of the best I saw researching MP! One question I was wondering if you could clarify – We are planning on doing the Circuit 2 + Inca bridge. I understood how to decipher the timing on the ticket from your blog. One thing I did not fully understand is – are you supposed to finish your main Machu Pichu site tour before the hike to Inca bridge or can you come back from the hike and spend additional time at MP site, before exiting the site. Thanks!

    Reply
    • You will enter MP, proceed directly to the Upper platform of Guardian House (for famous MP view), then do the Inca Bridge side trail, then come back to the upper platform (for a second chance to see the famous view), then proceed directly to the classic entrance door of MP, and then do the whole Circuit 2, the exit MP at the end of Circuit 2. You can’t do any backtracking or changing of the above.

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  9. I also agree with the comments… In all my research this has been the most informative explanation. I have navigated the MP ticket website and I plan to travel very soon. December 28-January 7. All tickets for 2023 are unavailable on the website and it’s not an option to purchase for 2024 yet. **Do you know how soon in advance the next year will open? I thought I read 2 weeks – but can’t seem to find where I read that.
    Thank you for a fantastic explanation of the MP experience.

    Reply
    • Thanks, I’ll glad you found the post useful! I’m afraid I don’t know exactly what day the tickets will be released for 2024. If you are concerned about getting one, you can book through a third part like ticketmachupicchu, but the price will be higher. Otherwise you might have to just keep checking back on the site, and perhaps inquire in some MP and Cusco Facebook groups for local intel.

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  10. Hi, Nick, and thank you for this very informative guide. The circuits were a blur to me until I read it, and now I know what to do…almost! We’re going to Machu Picchu in early June and are planning to buy tickets for the first entry time so we can see the sunrise. I’ve read various recommendations about the best place to watch it. Do you agree the Guardhouse is the best spot? Thank you, Dave

    Reply
    • I agree that the guardhouse would be the best place to watch it if you’re coming in from the main entrance (another great spot is from the Sun Gate, but only people arriving on the Inca Trail hike can see it from there). The Guardhouse is only a 15 minute or less walk from the main entrance when you first go in.

      Reply
      • Thank you, Nick. So, if we want to catch the sunrise and hike Machu Picchu Mountain, which comes with Circuit 3, the same day, we should buy a 6 a.m. ticket for Circuit 2 and an 8 a.m. ticket for Machu Picchu Mountain? Will we have to leave and re-enter?

        Reply
        • BTW, we’re also planning on doing Circuit 2 and Inca Bridge the previous afternoon, so the current plans are to buy three sets of tickets for Machu Picchu:
          Wednesday afternoon: Circuit 2 and Inca Bridge
          Thursday 6 a.m.: Circuit 2 so we can watch the sunrise
          Thursday 8 p.m.: Machu Picchu Mountain and Circuit 3.

          Thanks again.

          Reply
          • Sounds great. Now that you mention you’ll already being doing Circuit 2 once the day before, then sure, I think you can keep your MP Mountain ticket for 8 AM (not 9 AM like I said in my other comment), since you won’t need to spend so much time on it the second time around.

        • Yes to the 6 AM ticket, but for your MP mountain ticket, maybe go for 9 AM. 9-10 Am is the time you’ll be able to enter the MP Mountain hike, but that ticket will allow you to enter the Machu Picchu from 8 to 9 AM. You’ll need 2-3 hours for your Circuit 2 walk. And yes, you’ll need to leave and re-enter. Because of the way the traffic flow is set up, you’re Circuit 2 will bring you back to the entrance, then you’ll re-enter with your new ticket. There’s no shortcut to avoid that and backtracking on the trail is not allowed.

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  11. Thank you for taking your time to explain this adventure. I am booking the plane, train and the MP tickets for my wife and me . Our train arrive MP at 945 am, I think 11am ticket for the Circuit #2 should be ok right? If you have time I can add additional circuit. Our train leaves at 3:20 pm for Poroy. Which one do you think we should add for the amount of time we have. We both are in our 50s and in good health. Last question, where can I book the bus from the train station to MP.

    Reply
    • If you’re arriving at Aguas Calientes at 9:45, you can budget 15 minutes to walk to the bus ticket window and buy the ticket, a little time waiting for the bus, and it’s around a 20-minute drive up to MP entrance. So yes, 11 is probably a good time to choose. Circuit 2 is the best choice. You don’t really have time for an additional circuit though. If you enter around 11, you can take your time and spend around 3 hours doing the circuit. Then you have enough time to bus back, maybe get some food, and catch your train.

      Reply
  12. Hi Nick, is it correct that you can’t enter Temple of the Sun, regardless of which circuit? So that you can either view it from above on circuit 1/2; or from below, and view Royal Tomb, on circuit 3/4? I read somewhere that the open time for Temple of the Sun is 1-4pm, not sure what does that mean? And I couldn’t find this info on the official ticket website. Does it mean if it’s ’closed’, you can’t get close to the bottom? When you did the circuit 3 in the morning, did you get close to the bottom to have a good view? Thanks for the info.

    Reply
    • That is correct, you can view it from above on Circuit 1/2, which is the only way to see the sacred stone inside / on top of it. On Circuit 3,4, or 5, you can walk right up to the base of the sun temple and look into the cave under it (AKA the “Royal Tomb”). When they say it’s “closed”, that means you are not allowed to enter this cave. There’s a rope blocking it, but you can at least look into it. It also means that you can’t walk onto the temple, like the part that you’re able to view from above.

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  13. Hi Nick, This is really helpful! Thank you. A quick question. I already booked circuit 2 + Inca bridge for 8-9am thinking that I would do circuit 4 + huyana hike in 10-11am slot. However, unfortunately by the time I book the huyana hike ticket it was sold out. Now I have two options for huyana – either 7-8am (start hiking sharp at 7) or 9-10am. Do you think it would be possible to do 7am hike to huyana and still be on time for 8-9am (assuming I can enter at 8:55am) for circuit 2?

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    • I feel like doing Circuit 2 first then trying to make it for that 9-10 slot is too rushed. So it were me, I would do the Huayna Picchu trek first. I would definitely to Huayna Picchu first. The 7-8 ticket means you should start the hike from 7-8. You can enter MP from 6 to 7. Go earlier to enjoy some of the ruins on the way to the hike start. I finished the hike in 1.5 hours. So if you start at 7, finish at 8:30, then budget 20 minutes back to the entrance for re-entering for your Circuit 2. You’ll be rushing through some ruins here, but keep in mind you’ll be seeing them again on your Circuit 2. Just make sure to see House of Mirrors (only open before 10 AM or after 1 PM) on the way. When you come through on your Circuit 2, it will likely be closed, but then you’ll get to see Temple of Condor (open 10-1) instead. This way, you’ll get to see both, which is a win!

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  14. Hi Nick

    Wow! Your writing so clear and helpful. Thank you! Of course, I am losing track of all the options. We are staying at the Sanctuary Lodge. For the day of our arrival from Cusco, we want to take the first observation train up, drop our bags at the hotel, and then get to the park. The next morning we would like to spend the day starting with the earliest entrance and then take the last train back to Cusco. If we want to see the Inka Bridge, both the House of Mirrors, the Temple of Condor and climb Huayna Picchu, how do you think we should sequence our tours on both days? I really appreciate your help!

    Reply
    • There are different ways you could go about this, but it will boil down to your exact arrival and departure times and the various MP entrance times for each circuit. For some reason the official ticket site with all the times is not working for me right now so I can’t even check. But you’ll need to go for a Circuit 2 with Inca Bridge and a Circuit 4 with Huayna Picchu. Then you’ll need to time one so that you’ll be close to the end for Temple of Condor’s opening time (10 AM to 1 PM) and the other for the Hall of Mirrors opening time (before 10 AM or after 1 PM). Both of those are towards the end of the circuits. When deciding this, consider that a doing Circuit 2 + Inca Trail probably takes around 3 hours. And Circuit 4 + Huayna Picchu probably a similar amount of time. So look at the various possible entrance times and do the math. Keep in mind that an entrance time of (for example) 7-8 for Inca Bridge or Huayna Picchu means you’re supposed to enter Machu Picchu from 6-7, then start the Inca Bridge or Huayna hike at 7-8. So let’s say you enter right at 6, then you have a whole hour to hike up to and enjoy the famous MP viewpoint (before starting Inca Bridge side trail) or for walking across the main ruins (before starting the Huayna Picchu hike at the far eastern end).

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  15. I would have not been able to figure this out, if it was not for your blog. Thank you so much!!!
    I bought us tickets for the circuit 2 plus the bridge on the day 1, and circuit 3 plus Machu Picchu mountain at 9 – 10 am on day 2. Do you think we could do the Huayna Pichu on day 2 before the Machu Picchu mountain hike on day 2?

    Reply
    • That would be two fairly intense hikes in one day, but yes, I feel you could do it. If you bought 9-10 AM tickets for MP Mountain, that means you can enter the site from 8 to 9 AM, and you should start the MP Mountain hike from 9-10 AM. If you wanted to squeeze in Huayna Picchu before that, the 7-8 ticket lets you enter MP site from 6-7. So if you enter early and start your Huayna Picchu hike right at 7, you can be back down at 8:30, exit the site by 9, and re-enter right away to do the MP hike.

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  16. Hey, This was absolutely one of the best detailed guide to Machu picchu and makes it so easier for us to plan it further. I am planning to spend 2 nights in Cusco, another night in Ollantytambo and then further to Aguas calientes for 2 nights where we rest the first day and explore MP the next morning. we do this since we are travelling with our 7 year old. do you think this makes sense ? Thanks in anticipation

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    • Your plan makes sense. But for me, I would prefer to to the two nights in Cusco at the end. Because Cusco is the highest of any of the places you will visit, so you are most likely to feel altitude sickness there, especially if you are flying directly it from sea level. So instead maybe do Ollantaytambo first, Aguas/MP, then Cusco.

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