This is an insider’s tips for the best photos of Machu Picchu! There are many different angles of this fabulous city… an excellent guide to getting that perfect, different or enigmatic glimpse of these famous ruins!
It’s fair to say that Machu Picchu is amongst the most photographed places on earth – but so many photos are similar. This guide doesn’t assume to be a ‘how to photograph’ Machu Picchu guide but an overall view of the logistics and angles that you might consider to get a spectacular shot! We do not profess to be anything more than amateur photographers but do provide tips that will help you get the best photos of Machu Picchu.
Logistics for the best photos of Machu Picchu
Machu Picchu Weather
Machu Picchu is located in the high jungle, “the eyebrow of the jungle” in Spanish and is generally wet and moist all year round; even in Cusco’s dry/high season (June – August) you will get rainy days. On these days there is a lot of cloud, mist and it is extremely atmospheric. However, if you want to be sure of a rain free day, consider planning two days at the site. Some of the most beautiful shots we have taken were during a December visit, when it’s slightly less busy. Weigh up the pros & cons of adding an extra day to your itinerary in order to get the ‘perfect’ shot.
Sunrise over Machu Picchu
Plenty of glossy brochures talk about ‘being at Machu Picchu at sunrise.’ In our experience sunrise at Machu Picchu is s over rated as the site seems shrouded in mist in the very early morning and the sunrise comes up over one of the neighbouring mountains. That said, on a clear, slightly misty morning it is gorgeous!
Time of Day
Not with-standing the point above about Sunrise over Machu Picchu, go early and you will be rewarded by less people and some stunning light clouds floating over the site. Machu Picchu’s gates open at 6am, and by 9am there are a lot of crowds. (To be amongst the first in the gates at 6am be prepared to be in the bus line at around 4am).
Generally our favourite time for people free photography has been about 4pm when most people have gone home and the site is blessed with a gentle light… we’ve always recommended packing a lunch, or eating at the buffet at the Machu Picchu Sanctuary Lodge in order to get your energy up for the rest of the day. (If you have been up from 4am it is a long day!)
BREAKING news!!!! from July 1st 2017 the administering bodies of Machu Picchu have announced that they are changing the entry system and there will be two entries each day, one from 6am to 12.30pm AND another from 12.30pm to 5pm. Presumably if you are a photographer this will mean you need to buy two permits – a costly exercise. Stay tuned or Apus Peru Adventure Travel Specialists directly – email: firstname.lastname@example.org if you need more info.
Be prepared to wait
Patience is a virtue, especially at Machu Picchu. People come and go and eventually you can get a photo without the crowds, if that is what you are looking for. Keeping in mind that if you have allowed two days to shoot your photos it should be easier to be patient!
Get up close
There is much beauty in the details…. When photographing Machu Picchu look for the stones, close ups for different angles.
Different angles for the best photos of Machu Picchu
Based on our many visits to Machu Picchu, with kids, without kids, with photography on our mind, or simply adventure, these are some different angles you can think about.
#1 The Classic shot
It is said that travellers in Incan times had to undergo cleansing rituals at the Caretakers cottage before being allowed into the Sacred City. Things aren’t so stringent these days – this is the classic Machu Picchu photograph taken by thousands. Get here early in the day as it only gets busier as the day goes on.
#2 Inti Punku (The Sun Gate)
Doing the last stretch of the Inca Trail in the dark to be at the Sun Gate for sunrise is memorable if nothing else! As the ancient city is in the cloud forest it is sometimes difficult to see sunrise through the clouds – but you still remember it though! Alternatively do the Short Inca Trail and arrive here in the afternoon. It’s not necessarily the view from the Sungate itself that gives the best pictures, but points along the trail to Machu Picchu.
#3 Huayna Picchu (Young Peak)
This peak dominates pictures of Machu Picchu – and if you climb it, is likely to be your highlight of your visit to the Lost City. It’s a tough couple of hours up on narrow stairs – but you will never ever forget the impressive view of the ruins. Not recommended for people with fear of heights or poor fitness.
#4 Huchuy Picchu (Small Peak)
Full of gung-ho (they will need it) to get up Huayna Picchu people tend to race past the unassuming Huchuy Picchu. However it is well worth a look for its close up overview of the ruins – with a lot less climbing than for the bigger peak behind it!
#5 Montana Machu Picchu
This is the mountain peak above the ruins itself. The climb takes about 3 hours return, and is steeper and more difficult than Huayna Picchu. Now that Huayna Picchu books out months in advance, many people choose to do the Machu Picchu Mountain. Requires entry permit.
#6 Hiking up and down to Machu Picchu
For those that like a relatively easy climb/ or descent it takes about an hour. Not only do you feel somehow superior to those in the tourist buses, you get an appreciation of what an awesome feat it was to build a city there! And look at the fantastic rainbow picture we got one day when hiking down.
#7 Hiking along the railway tracks from the Hydroelectric
Since Peru Rail have increased prices for this short ride, more people are hiking for 2 hours along the train track. The lower ruins of Machu Picchu tower above you – perched with breathtaking audacity over a gorge – and tourists seem like ants.
#8 Llactapata (High Town)
These ruins were rediscovered in 2002 (after being lost for nearly 100 years!) and their position on a ridgeline across a valley from Machu Picchu helps us to understand the complexity of the network of Inca cities. It’s great to camp here and see the ruins of Machu Picchu from your tent.
#9 Mandor Pampa
A stop on the Hydroelectric train ride or a hike from Aguas Calientes, visit the botanical garden and waterfall here as a nice day trip. Far away from the crowds you get in touch with the cloud forest, and get a good look at Huayna Picchu..
#10 Putu Cusi
Not for the faint hearted, this is the mountain opposite Machu Picchu. Climbing up rickety ladders and steep slopes, this is for adrenaline junkies and those that really want to get a different perspective on the famous city. Highly recommended!
We’ve travelled with Lonely Planet for over 20 years! For unbiased and detailed advice, they are our trusted guide book. Even in this digital age, you can’t go past them for maps and info on the go. Take a look>>
Looking for more information about how to travel & photograph Machu Picchu?
Best Family Hotels in Machu Picchu is our summary of where to stay when visiting this famous site.
Make your reservation early Book your Machu Picchu Family Holiday early – 6 reasons why!
Consider asking a travel agent for help for some of the logistics. Apus Peru Adventure Travel Specialists have plenty of experience in offering customised travel
Ariana Svenson is a mother, traveller and CoFounder of Apus Peru and Threads of Peru; she been returning to Cusco for over 15 years and considers it her second home. She has trekked and explored nearly every trek offered by Apus Peru and is passionate about sustainable and responsible tourism.The mother of a two small children, she is learning that travel is just fullfilling when adapted to their needs!