Best Travel Guide to Cusco & Machu Picchu, Peru: Tips & Essentials

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Aguas Calientes, also known as Machu Picchu Pueblo, is the gateway town to the iconic Machu Picchu ruins. While the primary reason people visit Aguas Calientes is to explore Machu Picchu, the town itself offers several attractions and activities to keep travelers entertained. Here are some things you can do in and around Aguas Calientes:

  1. Visit Machu Picchu: Of course, the primary reason for being in Aguas Calientes! Early morning visits allow you to witness the magical sunrise over the ruins. There’s also the challenging hike to Huayna Picchu or Machu Picchu Mountain for panoramic views.
  2. Hot Springs: After a long day of hiking, soak your muscles in the thermal baths for which Aguas Calientes is named. These hot springs are located a short walk from the town’s center.
  3. Machu Picchu Museum and Botanical Garden: Learn more about the archaeological site and the region’s biodiversity.
  4. Explore the Town: Wander around the bustling market, pick up souvenirs, and try local Peruvian cuisine in various restaurants.
  5. Mandor Gardens and Waterfalls: A beautiful walk from Aguas Calientes, this trail takes you through orchids and coffee plantations, culminating at a lovely waterfall.
  6. Putucusi Mountain: Another challenging hike in the vicinity, Putucusi offers a unique vantage point of Machu Picchu and the surrounding valley.
  7. Visit the Artisan Market: Perfect for picking up local crafts, textiles, and souvenirs to remember your trip.
  8. Church of Aguas Calientes: A small church in the heart of the town which, while simple, gives you a glimpse of local religious life.
  9. Try Peruvian Cuisine: The town offers a range of eateries, from street food stalls to upscale restaurants. Trying local dishes like ceviche, lomo saltado, or alpaca steak is a must.
  10. Explore the Surrounding Nature: The area around Aguas Calientes is rich in biodiversity. Take a walk along the railway or river and enjoy bird-watching or simply the lush greenery.
Volunteer Peru
Volunteer Peru

While Aguas Calientes is often seen just as a base for visiting Machu Picchu, taking some time to explore the town and its surroundings can provide additional depth to your experience in this part of Peru.

Machu Picchu, often referred to as “The Lost City of the Incas,” is one of the most famous and breathtaking archaeological sites in the world. Here’s what you can see and some tips for your visit:

What You Can See at Machu Picchu:

  1. Intihuatana Stone: A ritual stone associated with astronomy. It’s said that when a person touches their forehead to the stone, it connects them with the spiritual world.
  2. Temple of the Sun: Used for ceremonies in honor of the Sun God, it has a distinctive round shape and offers a fantastic view of the surroundings.
  3. Room of the Three Windows: A significant room in the royal section with three trapezoidal windows overlooking the Sacred Plaza.
  4. Principal Temple: A prominent structure located in the Sacred Plaza, known for its fine masonry.
  5. The Royal Tomb: Situated below the Temple of the Sun, it’s believed to be a burial site, though no mummies were found here.
  6. Sacred Rock: A carved rock monument where ceremonies were likely held.
  7. Agricultural and Urban Sectors: The site is divided into two main areas, one agricultural and the other urban. You’ll see terraced fields and a complex of temples, plazas, and residential buildings.
  8. Huayna Picchu and Machu Picchu Mountain: These are two mountains you can hike for panoramic views of the ruins and the surrounding landscape. Note that separate tickets are required and must be booked in advance.

Tips for Visiting Machu Picchu:

  1. Arrive Early: To avoid the midday crowds and have a more serene experience, aim to be at the site by sunrise.
  2. Buy Tickets in Advance: Entry tickets to Machu Picchu are limited and can sell out, especially during peak tourist season. It’s essential to buy them well in advance.
  3. Dress in Layers: Weather can be unpredictable. It can be chilly in the morning and warm by midday. Wear comfortable hiking shoes.
  4. Pack Light: Only small backpacks (under 20 liters) are allowed inside Machu Picchu. Larger bags must be left at storage near the entrance.
  5. Stay Hydrated and Protected: Bring water, snacks (though eating is not allowed inside the archaeological site), sunblock, a hat, and insect repellent.
  6. Respect the Site: Stick to designated paths, don’t touch or climb on the ruins, and always pack out what you bring in.
  7. Guided Tours: Consider hiring a guide to enrich your experience. They can share the history, stories, and significance of the site.
  8. Accommodation: If you want to be the first in, consider staying in Aguas Calientes the night before or booking the Belmond Sanctuary Lodge, the only hotel located right next to the entrance.
  9. Avoid Peak Season: If possible, avoid visiting during peak tourist season (July and August) to escape the heaviest crowds.
  10. Altitude Sickness: Machu Picchu is at a high elevation, so be mindful of altitude sickness. Stay hydrated, avoid alcohol, and consider spending a few days at elevation before your visit to acclimatize.

Remember that Machu Picchu is not only a UNESCO World Heritage site but also a significant cultural and spiritual site for many. Always approach your visit with respect and reverence.

“A Broader View Volunteers” ( is a non-profit organization that focuses on volunteer abroad programs, and they don’t primarily specialize in organizing tours to specific attractions like Machu Picchu. Their programs in countries like Peru might be centered around community service, healthcare, education, and other volunteer activities.

Volunteering in Peru Cusco
Volunteering in Peru Cusco

However, if you’re interested in combining a volunteering stint with a visit to Machu Picchu, here’s a general guideline you might consider:

  1. Research and Enrollment:
    • Visit the “A Broader View” website and explore their volunteer programs in Peru.
    • Select a program that’s based in Cusco or nearby areas, as Cusco is the primary gateway to Machu Picchu.
    • Enroll in the program of your choice and coordinate with their team.
  2. Coordinate with the Organization:
    • After enrolling, communicate with the organization’s coordinators about your interest in visiting Machu Picchu either before, during weekends, or after your volunteering period.
    • They might provide recommendations or connect you with local tour operators.
  3. Book a Machu Picchu Tour Separately:
    • If the organization doesn’t offer direct assistance in booking a Machu Picchu tour, you can easily find and book a tour through numerous travel agencies in Cusco.
    • Always ensure that the agency is reputable by checking reviews and testimonials.
  4. Preparation:
    • Ensure you have all the necessary permits, especially if you’re planning to hike the Inca Trail or the mountains of Huayna Picchu or Machu Picchu Mountain.
    • Make travel arrangements (like train tickets to Aguas Calientes) and accommodations, if necessary.
  5. Integrate with Your Volunteer Schedule:
    • If you’re visiting Machu Picchu during your volunteer program, make sure you’ve informed the organization and made any necessary adjustments to your volunteer schedule.
  6. Enjoy!
    • Combine the fulfilling experience of volunteering with the marvel of exploring one of the world’s most iconic archaeological sites.

It’s always a good idea to directly reach out to the organization (via email, phone, or their contact form) to get the most accurate and up-to-date information on their offerings and any potential partnerships with tour agencies.

Weather in Cusco and Machu Picchu

Remember that these are average figures, and actual conditions can vary from year to year.


MonthAvg High (°F)Avg Low (°F)Avg Humidity (%)
cusco weather

Machu Picchu:

Being at a lower altitude than Cusco and closer to the Amazon rainforest, Machu Picchu tends to be warmer and more humid.

MonthAvg High (°F)Avg Low (°F)Avg Humidity (%)
machu picchu weather

The aforementioned figures are general averages. For precise, up-to-the-minute weather updates or monthly predictions closer to your visit, consider consulting a dedicated weather service or website.

Cusco, with its rich Andean heritage, offers a plethora of delectable dishes and drinks. Here are 10 that you should consider trying:


  1. Cuy al Horno: Guinea pig is a traditional Andean delicacy. Typically, it’s marinated in spices, then baked or roasted and served whole.
  2. Lomo Saltado: This is a Peruvian stir-fry that consists of marinated strips of beef, tomatoes, peppers, and onions. It’s usually served with both rice and fried potatoes.
  3. Alpaca Steak: Alpaca meat is lean and has a flavor somewhere between beef and lamb. It’s a common delicacy in the highlands.
  4. Rocoto Relleno: This dish is made by stuffing spicy rocoto peppers with a mixture of beef or pork, vegetables, cheese, and then baking them in the oven.
  5. Chiriuchu: A traditional dish of Cusco which is generally consumed during the Corpus Christi festival. It contains a mix of meats like roasted guinea pig, chicken, and chorizo, along with seaweed, corn, and cheese.
  6. Sopa a la Criolla: A hearty noodle soup with beef, milk, and aji panca (Peruvian red chili).
  7. Anticuchos: Grilled skewers, usually made of beef heart marinated in a mix of garlic, aji panca, and spices. They’re typically served with boiled potatoes.


  1. Chicha Morada: A sweet drink made from purple corn, flavored with pineapple, cinnamon, and cloves. It’s non-alcoholic and very refreshing.
  2. Chicha de Jora: A traditional fermented corn beer with a slightly sour taste. It’s been consumed in the Andes for centuries.
  3. Pisco Sour: While not exclusive to Cusco, you can’t leave Peru without trying its national cocktail. It’s made from Pisco (a grape brandy), lime juice, simple syrup, egg white, and a dash of Angostura bitters.
Volunteer as a family
Volunteer as a family

Remember, while Cusco offers a range of traditional dishes and drinks, the city also has an emerging contemporary food scene. There are numerous fusion restaurants and upscale dining options that merge traditional ingredients with modern culinary techniques. It’s a gastronomic journey waiting to be explored!

Cusco and Aguas Calientes (the gateway town to Machu Picchu) are among the most visited places in Peru due to their historical and cultural significance. Generally, they are considered safe for tourists, but as with any popular tourist destination, there are certain precautions you should take.

Safety in Cusco & Aguas Calientes:

  1. Pickpocketing and Theft: Like many tourist hotspots, Cusco and Aguas Calientes can have instances of pickpocketing, especially in crowded areas.
  2. Scams: Be wary of overly insistent street vendors or people offering unsolicited assistance. Some may offer to be your guide, but it’s best to hire certified guides from reputable agencies.
  3. Altitude Sickness: Cusco is over 3,300 meters (11,000 feet) above sea level. Some visitors might experience altitude sickness. To minimize the risk, consider spending a few days acclimatizing before undertaking strenuous activities.

What to Avoid:

  1. Unlicensed Taxis: Always use licensed taxis. It’s even better if your hotel can call one for you.
  2. Walking Alone at Night: Stick to well-lit, populated areas if you must go out, and try to avoid walking alone.
  3. Flashy Displays of Wealth: Avoid displaying expensive jewelry, electronics, or large amounts of cash.
  4. Unofficial Tour Operators: Always book tours, especially those to Machu Picchu, through recognized agencies.
  5. Local Protests: Cusco occasionally witnesses protests or strikes. While they’re generally peaceful, it’s a good idea for tourists to avoid them.

What to Bring for Safety:

  1. Money Belt: Useful for keeping your money, passport, and essential documents safe and hidden.
  2. Copies of Important Documents: Keep photocopies of your passport, visa, insurance, and other essential documents in a separate place from the originals.
  3. Personal Medications: Bring any medications you need, as well as a basic first-aid kit. Include medicine for altitude sickness if you’re prone to it.
  4. Emergency Contact Information: Keep a list of emergency contacts, including the local embassy or consulate, local police, and medical facilities.

Travel Insurance with “A Broader View”:

As of my last update in September 2021, “A Broader View Volunteers” ( is primarily a non-profit organization focused on volunteer abroad programs. If you’re considering getting travel insurance through them or any associated partners:

  1. Visit Their Website: Go to and look for information related to travel insurance. They might have partnerships with insurance providers or recommendations for volunteers.
  2. Contact Them Directly: Reach out to them via email, phone, or their contact form to inquire about travel insurance options they recommend or provide.
  3. Consider Other Insurance Providers: Even if “A Broader View” recommends a particular insurance, it’s always a good idea to compare offerings from different providers to ensure you get the coverage that’s best suited to your needs.

In any travel scenario, having comprehensive travel insurance is crucial. It can cover unexpected events like medical emergencies, trip cancellations, lost baggage, and other unforeseen events.


If you’re planning a trip to Cusco, Peru, it’s essential to consult a travel clinic or your healthcare provider for personalized advice, as vaccination recommendations can vary depending on your individual health status, exact itinerary, activities you plan to engage in, and the current health environment.

However, as of my last update in 2021, the following are general vaccine recommendations for travelers to Peru:

Routine Vaccinations:

Make sure you are up-to-date on routine vaccines before every trip. These vaccines include:

  • MMR (Measles, Mumps, Rubella)
  • Diphtheria-Tetanus-Pertussis
  • Varicella (Chickenpox)
  • Polio
  • Influenza (annual flu shot)

Recommended Vaccines for Peru:

  • Hepatitis A: Recommended for most travelers as you can get hepatitis A through contaminated food or water in Peru.
  • Typhoid: You can get typhoid through contaminated food or water in Peru. This is recommended for most travelers, especially if you are staying with friends or relatives, visiting smaller cities or rural areas, or if you are an adventurous eater.

Some travelers might also consider:

  • Hepatitis B: If you might have sex with a new partner, get a tattoo or piercing, or have any medical procedures.
  • Rabies: Peru has a presence of rabies in bats. Rabies is not a major risk to most travelers, but it is recommended for those involved in outdoor and other activities in remote areas that might bring them into direct contact with bats (such as caving), those with occupational risks, and long-term travelers.
  • Yellow Fever: There’s a risk of yellow fever transmission in certain parts of Peru, especially if you plan on traveling to the Amazon basin or other jungle areas. Cusco itself is not in the yellow fever risk zone. However, if you’re planning on visiting other parts of Peru or neighboring countries, this vaccine might be recommended.

Malaria Prophylaxis:

While Cusco is not a malaria-endemic area, some parts of Peru are. If your travel plans include regions with malaria risk, you’ll need to consider taking antimalarial medication.


Ideally, you should see a travel medicine specialist or your healthcare provider at least 4-6 weeks before your trip to get vaccines or medicines you may need. Some vaccines require multiple doses spread out over time, and others might take a few weeks to offer full protection.

Lastly, always ensure you have comprehensive travel insurance that covers any potential medical expenses while abroad. Safe travels!


Do I need a Visa

Citizens of many countries do not require a tourist visa to enter Peru for short stays, usually up to 90 days. The requirements can change, so it’s always a good idea to check with the Peruvian consulate or embassy before traveling. Here’s a general list of countries whose citizens (holding regular passports) do not need a tourist visa for short stays:


  • All South American countries (as members of the Union of South American Nations)
  • Most Central American countries (exceptions often include countries like Nicaragua, Cuba, and others, but again, this can change)
  • Mexico
  • United States
  • Canada


  • European Union countries
  • Most other European countries, including Norway, Switzerland, and Iceland


  • Israel
  • Japan
  • Malaysia
  • Singapore
  • South Korea


  • Australia
  • New Zealand


There are other countries beyond this list that have visa-free arrangements with Peru, and this list doesn’t cover every single one. Additionally, visa-free entry often comes with conditions related to the duration of stay, purpose of visit, etc.

It’s essential to remember that while many countries’ citizens can enter Peru for tourism purposes without a visa, they still get a “Tarjeta Andina de Migración” (Andean Immigration Card) upon arrival. This card should be kept safe and presented upon departure.

Regardless of visa-free privileges, always check the specific entry and exit requirements for Peru well in advance of your trip. This ensures you have the most up-to-date information and can travel smoothly.

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