Private Machu Picchu luxury travel
Perched within a misty, orchid-filled tropical forest high in the Andes Mountains of Peru, Machu Picchu is one of the most alluring archaeological sites in the world. The full purpose of this mid-1400s Incan citadel in the sacred Urubamba River Valley is yet to be understood, but the simple fact that the entire limestone city is built mortar-free and that the sun happens to perfectly align with certain features on the winter and summer solstices makes one wonder about the Inca who once lived there. You can kick back with a pisco sour and get to Machu Picchu in style by elegant luxury train from Cusco—the former capital of the Inca Empire—or fit adventure-seekers can earn the views by crossing the same peaks and valleys the Incans would have once taken from the Sacred Valley to Machu Picchu. No matter how you choose to arrive, you’re sure to be overtaken with a sense of awe the second you lay eyes on this UNESCO World Heritage Site.
What to expect on a Machu Picchu luxury trip
There is no getting around the fact that Machu Picchu attracts tourism. More than 1.5 million visitors ascend Machu Picchu each year, which means an average of 2,500 per day. Extraordinary Journeys South America travel experts know how to make the experience feel relaxed and exclusive.
Many visitors arrive in Aguas Calientes, the closest town to Machu Picchu, by train. They stay overnight and board a coach bus in the morning to arrive at Machu Picchu for a guided group tour (maximum 10 persons). Trains depart in the afternoon, so Machu Picchu tends to clear out as departing travelers rush off the mountain.
A luxury trip, by contrast, ushers you in by foot or via the Hiram Bingham luxury train, having taken care of all transfers and connections. At the ancient citadel, you’ll enjoy a privately guided tour where you’ll be able to understand what each space in the Incan stronghold could have been used for. You will leave with a comprehensive glimpse into Incan history and culture. We’ll use our expertise to try and plan your site visits to coincide with the quietest parts of the day.
Your luxury trip to Machu Picchu will end each night, with exquisite Peruvian cuisine and memorable accommodations that offer jaw-dropping views of the surrounding Andes. There are great opportunities for wellness experiences infused with traditional knowledge and rituals.
Lastly, when you travel with EJ, you benefit from in-destination support. We have reliable boots-on-the-ground support and a 24/7 concierge just a phone call away.
Machu Picchu travel highlights
- Watch the sunrise over the Sun Gate
- Hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu or via the Salkantay Trek or the Lares Trek
- A privately guided tour with a hand-selected expert
- Hike to nearby Huayna Picchu or Machu Picchu Mountain for breathtaking views
- Ride the Hiram Bingham luxury train into Aguas Calientes
- Wander the streets of Aguas Calientes, a small town circled by mountains, and shop the artisan market
- Sumptuous meals enjoyed in a mountainous, cloud forest setting
- Andean shaman-guided ceremonies and wellness treatments
- Visit the remarkable Incan ruins and architecture of the broader Sacred Valley (Ollantaytambo, Maras, and Moray)
Machu Picchu FAQs
International flights will land in Lima at Jorge Chávez International Airport. Then, you will take a one-and-a-half-hour domestic flight to Alejandro Velazco Astete in Cusco, the closest airport to Machu Picchu. It is the second-busiest international airport in Peru after Lima, and has good amenities.
Most people explore the ruins for only one day, but we recommend at least two for an unhurried experience. Spending the night near the park also means that you can depart the site much later in the day than you could if you had to take the train back to Cusco. Most visitors hope to catch the sunrise at the park, but equally gorgeous is the soft, late-afternoon light after the majority of the day’s visitors have left.
Mornings are the busiest. Buses travel between Aguas Calientes and Machu Picchu all day, with the earliest departure leaving at 5:30 a.m. Visitors wanting to catch sunrise will queue in the dark for the first buses.
Afternoon crowds tend to thin a bit as day-trippers return to the train station for their trip back to Cusco, offering you the chance to snap unobstructed pictures of the gorgeous site; your guide will help you find the best vantage points.
Sundays can be crowded as that’s when Cusco locals can visit Machu Picchu for free.
No, gone are the days when you could freely wander the site. With your general admission ticket, you will choose between one of five circuits which helps protect the ancient site from congestion and overcrowding. What’s more, your reservation will include a specific entry time. If it sounds a bit confusing, worry not. Your guide will coordinate your Machu Picchu visit for you based on your interests and ambitions.
The ideal booking window for a luxury trip to Machu Picchu is eight months to one year in advance.
For the Inca Trail, permits are historically usually released in October and 80 per cent of the reservations are sold before Christmas. The 2023 Inca Trail reservations were limited to 500 per day, but this figure includes people who are part of the trekking support teams. This means that roughly only 200 tourists daily can enter Machu Picchu via the Inca Trail.
As for entering Machu Picchu arriving by train, it’s still important to book ahead. In 2022, the park was completely sold out in June, July, and August.
If you only want to visit Machu Picchu, it can be done on a five or six-day itinerary, where two days are dedicated to traveling to and from the United States.
Visiting Machu Picchu is not a day trip from Lima. It takes at least three days to make the round-trip journey from Lima to Machu Picchu, which involves a flight to Cusco, transfer to the Sacred Valley, and a train ride to Aguas Calientes.
This bare-bones timeline offers some acclimatization and a full day at the ruins, but doesn’t allow for any time to meaningfully explore Cusco and the Sacred Valley. Being so rushed, it’s not an itinerary we recommend.
What are the best months to go to Machu Picchu?
Machu Picchu is open year-round, but the best time to visit or hike the Inca Trail is May through September when the weather is clear. May and September are sweet spots that skirt the June, July, and August crowds. In February, the Inca Trail closes for routine maintenance.
It’s practical to acknowledge that rain isn’t exclusively a feature of the “wet season”— October through April. Even in the so-called “dry season,” you can expect anywhere from two to three inches of rainfall to fall each month. (Welcome to a cloud forest!) On rainy days, mornings can be foggy. Some travelers worry about fog obscuring a full view of Machu Picchu, but many who have visited on a grey day would agree that a misty veil only adds to the mysticism that cloaks the site.
Peak season tends to attract crowds from May to September, in addition to festive season (December 20 to January 5). Realistically, there will always be crowds at Machu Picchu, but since re-opening post-pandemic, new rules and restrictions have been installed to combat overcrowding. (Time limits and “circuits”—explained below.)
Trekking and Hiking to Machu Picchu
It’s important to discern what it means to “climb Machu Picchu.”
Usually, this means arriving on foot after hiking the multi-day Inca Trail, Salkantay Trek, or Lares Trek. It’s also possible to hike just the final leg of the Inca Trail, km104 trek. This hike spans seven miles, gains a whopping 3,200 feet in elevation, takes four to six hours to complete, and welcomes hikers to Machu Picchu via the Sun Gate.
If you don’t want to trek to Machu Picchu, you can do some moderately challenging on-site hiking. The peaks of Huayna Picchu and Machu Picchu Mountain preside over the ruins, and ascending either rewards with postcard-perfect, birds-eye views.
Do you have to be fit to climb Machu Picchu?
While you don’t need any technical skills to trek to Machu Picchu, this is not a walk in the park. As with any multi-day expedition at high altitude, you need a degree of fitness, and it’s wise to train in advance of the trip. And though you won’t be carrying your entire camp, quality hiking gear and footwear will dramatically improve your experience.
Hiking at altitude
Travelers should also be aware that the only way to journey to Machu Picchu is to pass through Cusco, a city sitting at a (literal) breath-taking ~11,000 feet of altitude. Whether you’re fit or not, you will feel the immediate strain of altitude, but it should pass as your body acclimates. The Sacred Valley and Machu Picchu are located at lower altitudes—around 8,000 feet.
If you have cardiorespiratory diseases, chronic illnesses, or circulatory problems such as hypertension or heart disease, talk to your doctor about the possible effects of altitude and take any precautions you might need. People with some illnesses, like sickle cell anemia and severe pulmonary hypertension, should not travel to high elevations under any circumstances. Concerns about altitude should be shared with your EJ travel specialist during your initial call.
Where to go on a Machu Picchu luxury trip
While Machu Picchu seems like the shining star of a Peruvian luxury vacation, it’s just one destination in what is known as the Sacred Valley. Stretching some 62 miles and bisected by the Urubamba River, the fertile landscape was the heart of the Incan Empire. There are many sacred sites and quaint, authentic villages worth visiting—each with its own temple and ruins. The Scared Valley has also emerged as a destination for outdoor recreation and eco-tourism.
Most travelers will arrive in Cusco and it’s worth spending a few days in this UNESCO World Heritage Site, where Spanish colonial architecture mingles with austere, pre-Columbian structures. While you acclimate, walk charming streets, shop, and linger in plazas to admire well-preserved history, Incan ruins, and to take in present-day Peruvian culture. From here, travel onward to spend some time exploring the Sacred Valley.
Pisac is less than an hour’s drive north of Cusco and is known for a busy Sunday handicraft market, and hilltop Incan citadel. The ruins, which are located a 20-minute drive away, deserve a visit. In one big complex, you will be able to see well-preserved military, agricultural, and religious buildings, as well as a “Royal Sector.”
Ollantaytambo is about an hour and a half ride from Cusco and is one of the best -surviving examples of Inca town planning. It has ancient, cobbled streets, cafes, and even a chocolate museum. On the valley wall is the Ollantaytambo ruins, a hulking Inca fortress composed of large stone terraces, regarded as some of the best stonework outside of Machu Picchu. Important sites within the complex, which was originally used as a royal residence by Emperor Pachacuti, include the big Sun Temple and the Princess Baths fountain.
Note: An important detail that can not be overlooked when planning a luxury trip to Machu Picchu is that while villages within the Sacred Valley can be reached by road, no roads reach Machu Picchu. If you are not arriving at Machu Picchu via the Inca Trail, the train ride from Ollantaytambo to Agues Calientes takes one-and-a-half incredibly scenic hours.
Recommended itineraries featuring Machu Picchu
Travel through Peru’s greatest sites in style and comfort
Unveil the ancient wonders of Machu Picchu and Easter Island
Cruise the Amazon and explore the wonders of Machu Picchu and Cusco
Lima, The Sacred Valley of the Incas, Machu Picchu Pueblo and Cusco
Discover the Sacred Valley, Inca Trail, Machu Picchu, and Cusco
Wilderness of the Galapagos and Cultural History of Machu Picchu