How Much Time Do You Need to See Machu Picchu?
To get to Machu Picchu involves flying from Lima to Cusco, driving from Cusco to Ollantaytambo, taking the train from Ollantaytambo to Aguas Calientes (newly christened Machu Picchu Pueblo), and finally hopping on a bus to reach the famed Inca site. Given plane and train schedules and a park closing time of 5 p.m. sharp, even a headlong rush to Machu Picchu would take a minimum of two days.
Technically speaking, you could check Machu Picchu off your bucket list in four crammed days. Here is a possible itinerary:
Day 1: Fly to Lima
Day 2: Fly to Cusco, drive to Ollantaytambo, and take a train to Aguas Calientes
Day 3: Visit Machu Picchu and return to Cusco
Day 4: Fly from Cusco to Lima and then home
Of course, you would miss a lot: marveling at how the Incas were able to fit impossibly heavy stones together so precisely without the benefit of mortar in Cusco, sipping chicha and admiring ancient weaving techniques in the Sacred Valley, bravely sampling baked cuy (guinea pig), and witnessing the melding of colonial and Inca cultures in Qoricancha and Cusco’s cathedral.
A more reasonable schedule is seven days. It would give you time to enjoy what the area has to offer. Here is a possible itinerary:
Day 1: Fly to Lima
Day 2: Fly to Cusco and explore it on your own as you acclimatize to the altitude
Day 3: Visit Inca ruins and learn how Inca symbolism pervades religious works in Cusco’s cathedral and Qoricancha
Day 4: Pet llamas in the Sacred Valley, visit a remote community to see a demonstration of ancient weaving techniques, sample chicha, and taste cuy
Day 5: Explore Machu Picchu and soak in the hot springs of Aguas Calientes
Day 6: Have a picnic at the ancient salt pools of Salinas de Maras on the way back to Cusco
Day 7: Fly back to Lima and return homeIf your flight home leaves in the evening, you may even have a chance to visit UNESCO World Heritage sites in colonial Lima and enjoy ceviche for lunch.