Detailed information on the time it takes to hike the famous Inca ruins of Machu Picchu in Peru.
Machu Picchu is one of the seven New World Wonders and attracts roughly a million tourists a year. The famous Inca ruins are located on top of a mountain some 2.400 meters high in a very remote valley roughly 100 kilometers away from Cusco. There is no easy access to Machu Picchu and it is not possible to see the ruins without a little hike (If you want to know more about the ruins itself, do read my ultimate Guide to Machu Picchu).
I compiled this list of questions to help other tourists and backpackers along, as they plan their trip to this majestic site. It can be quite confusing on your first trip, especially since there are quite a few different options to consider. Here is the summary ahead, read on for more detailed information.
- Aguas Calientes to main entrance of Machu Picchu: 20 min by bus (hiking 60 min)
- Touring the ruins of Machu Picchu: 2 -3 hours
- Hiking Huayna Picchu: 3 hours (+1 h for Temple of the Moon)
- Huchuy Picchu: 1 hour
- Hiking the Sun Gate: 1 hour (roundtrip)
- Inca Bridge: 40 minutes
- Machu Mountain: 4 hours
- Inca trail: 4 days or 1 day available
Wondering what to pack for Machu Picchu? Check out my detailed Machu Picchu packing list
How long does it take to Hike Machu Picchu from Aguas Calientes?
You might already know that the there is only one hotel in Machu Picchu (wrote a detailed about this true insider tip here). All other tourists will come in from Aguas Calientes, which is located in the valley below the ruins (for the best hotels in Aguas Calientes, read this post). The fastest and easiest way to get to Machu Picchu from there is by bus. Right in the middle of Aguas Calientes, you will find a bus station some 5 minutes’ walk away from the train stations. Buses leave continuously throughout the day (get your tickets first). The bus takes about 20-25 minutes to reach the main entrance of Machu Picchu. Be prepared for a scary ride along a very steep mountain road. First bus leaves at 5:30 am.
If you want to save on the bus (~15 Dollar) you can also hike from Aguas Calientes to the main gate. How long does it take to hike Machu Picchu through this option? It will roughly take 45 to 60 minutes for an experienced and fit hiker and will cover some 400 meters difference in height. I only recommend hiking, if you need to budget a lot because you will arrive in Machu Picchu all sweaty and exhausted. After you spent so much money to see it, I feel the need to experience it to the fullest and not trying to catch your breath every 10 meters. Also, it takes a lot of precious extra time.
If you are wondering if altitude sickness will be a problem, I recommend you to read my detailed article about the precautions you should take.
How long does it take to tour the ruins of Machu Picchu?
The bus will drop you out right at the main entrance. This is where the circular walkway through Machu Picchu starts. There is more or less only one circular route you can follow, with very few side alleys. This will take you roughly 2 hours, 3 hours if you take your time and take a lot of pictures. Again, read my guide to climbing Machu Picchu where everything you will see is explained. Local tour guides offer their services at the entrance.
But the circular route is not your only option once you are INSIDE. In fact, there is a lot more to do, so I want to cover some more questions you might have about hiking Machu Picchu.
How long does it take to hike to the Sun Gate?
A very auspicious place in Machu Picchu is the Sun Gate (Inti Punku). This was once the main entrance and offers a splendid view of Machu Picchu. It is also the perfect place to see the sunrise above Machu Picchu (though better read my article on the Dark side of Machu Picchu). From the main entrance, you will roughly need 30 to 45 minutes to hike to the Sun Gate. It is a long, but not particularly challenging hike (do figure in the high humidity and altitude, though!).
The sun gate will be where travelers taking the Inca trail (Camino Inca) will enter the ruins; Downwards will be faster, so roughly 20 minutes. Machu Picchu opens at 6 am, so it is possible to enter through the main entrance, hike to the Inti Punku and see the sunset in time.
How long does it take to see the Inca Bridge?
Another attraction inside Machu Picchu is the so-called Inca Bridge. There once was another entrance to Machu Picchu that only lead over a precarious little bridge. The bridge is, in all honesty, nothing too spectacular, but it is a pleasant and flat little walk of roughly 20 minutes one way to see it. You will, however, continuously flank a sheer vertical drop of 400 meters, so you might need strong nerves.
How long does it take to hike Huayna Picchu?
Huayna Picchu is the mountain directly behind Machu Picchu seen on the classic pictures (I wrote a detailed guide here). Only 400 people are allowed to climb it each day, and you need extra tickets. If you want to go, I do recommend you to book your tickets in advance (here is the official website). The climb is quite challenging. You can only start the hike in the morning and it will take you roughly 3 hours round-turn.
So what if you are not that an experienced hiker, will you take longer then? To be quite honest, the hike is nothing for beginners or people with unsure footing. Some even call it the stairs of death.
Either way – if you option to hike Huayna Picchu, you will have to be in Machu Picchu very early in the morning, otherwise, you will not be able to see it all. This means sleeping in Aguas Calientes or in the Belmond Sanctuary Lodge right at the gates of MP as mentioned above.
You can extend the hike by seeing the Temple of the Moon (+ 1hour) and Huchuy Picchu (+1 hour).
No tickets for Huayna Picchu? You can also get tickets for Machu Mountain. The hike is a bit longer and it will take you higher up, but it is no less challenging and less frequented. This will take you 4 hours.
Time to do the Inca trail
The classic Inca Trail takes roughly 4 days, though the last of those four days will be only a short hike to be in Machu Picchu in time to see the sunrise. The hike will reach a height of 4.2000 meters of altitude, so it is best to acclimatize in Cusco before and plan 2 days to explore the city (read my guide of 20 amazing things to do in Cusco).
There is also a short Inca Trail that only takes 1 day. Or only roughly 4 hours. Basically, you leave the train a bit earlier and cover the last meters of the ancient Inca Trail.
Another option is taking the Salkantay trek, which will be 6 to 7 days.
Please read my article on the weather in Machu Picchu, before you book. The trek is not open all year and there is a rainy season you might want to avoid.
How to get to Machu Picchu/Aguas Calientes?
Last but not least, there is no way to travel to Machu Picchu directly. And there is only ONE hotel directly in Machu Picchu. All traffic to the Inca ruins passes through Aguas Calientes, a town at the bottom of the valley below, where most of the hotels and hostels are located. But it gets worse – there is no direct road leading to Aguas Calientes either – only a very slow driving train.
The train from Cusco to Aguas Calientes takes roughly 3.5 hours. You can get it in Ollantaytambo as well, where other famous ruins are located. This will reduce the traveling time to roughly 2 hours. So Machu Picchu really should not be done on a day trip from Cusco. Theoretically speaking it is possible to see parts of MP on a day trip, though I feel rushing through it is the worst you can do.
Okay..so I hope I covered everything you need to know about how long it takes to hike Machu Picchu and all that belongs to it. If you got any questions, feel free to ask them in the comments below.
What about hiking from Machu Picchu down the trail to the city instead? Is that alot easier?
Well, it’s probably easier (but puts more strain on your knees). The hike down (or up) itself is pretty unremarkable, though. I can only recommend doing it if your really want to save those 12 USD.
We are staying in Ollantaytambo for the night then travelling by train to MP the next morning. We reserved entrance tickets to the citadel and Wayna (10am-11am) hoping to return to Cuzco that afternoon to get a flight back to Lima that same night.
Can you tell me how many hours in total will be required to see the ruins at the citadel and climb Wayna?
I couldn’t possibly say that as that totally depends on your walking speed, how much pictures you take and what you want to see. I’d say roughly 6 hours.
I’m thinking of taking the train then hiking the last leg to MP. Thoughts?
and then the trek from Ollanta to Cusco and a plane flight to LIma?? doesn’t sound do able in a day…unless I’m missing something here…
it sounds like you think a day trip from Lima to Machu Picchu is possible? Never said that and i’m afraid it isn’t. a Day trip from Cusco IS possible however, just take the train ;-)
I appreciate reading your information .
I’m excited to travel with my husband and my 2 Adult children. We have been assigned a private tour guide. My only question is. How long does it take to climb/ walk up the steps to Machu Picchu site. How many steps will be climbing?? Approx time it takes ??
Look forward to your response 💫
If you take the bus, there are no steps to climb. Well, there are quite some steps within the ruins, but there really is nothing to be worried about.
If you don’t take the bus from Aguas Calientes, then it will probably take one and a half hours.
I have seen something similar in some other thread. You can definitely find certain parts of that post helpful, not everything of course, but I still think it’s worth checking out.
My legs feel weak!
Great information! We are going to Machu Picchu with the family this year. We hope it is as good as this experience.