The following Machu Picchu safety tips cover just about everything that could potentially go wrong during your trip to the Inca archaeological site, apart from the most extreme and/or improbable situations (and I’ll mention some of them, too).
Generally speaking, there’s not much to worry about. The vaccinations for Machu Picchu are fairly standard, and most people will already have had some of the recommended shots. Altitude sickness is arguably the most pertinent concern, and even that’s nothing to be paranoid about.
Routine and Highly Recommended Vaccinations for Machu Picchu
Before you travel, you should ask your doctor about the recommended vaccinations for Peru, all of which apply to travelers in Cusco and Machu Picchu. Some of them you’ll have had already, but you might need a booster jab. Others will be new.
The routine vaccinations are:
- measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine
- diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis vaccine
- varicella (chickenpox) vaccine
- polio vaccine
- yearly flu shot
The highly recommended vaccinations are Hepatitis A and Typhoid. You can read more about these by following the link above.
Mosquito-borne Diseases at Machu Picchu
The risk of mosquito-borne diseases at Machu Picchu is very low. Diseases transmitted by mosquitoes include malaria, dengue, yellow fever, chikungunya and zika.
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) states that travelers who visit only Lima, Cusco and Machu Picchu do not need to take antimalarial medication and do not need a yellow fever vaccination. The risk of dengue is also very low, and chikungunya and zika almost non-existent.
Unless you hear of an outbreak in the Cusco region, you do not need to worry about any of the above. That said, it’s always wise to protect yourself from mosquito bites.
If you are heading into the jungle after Cusco and Machu Picchu, you’ll need to reevaluate the need for malaria pills and the yellow fever vaccination. Diseases like malaria, dengue and yellow fever are more common in jungle regions.
Leishmaniasis at Machu Picchu
Leishmaniasis, or the “flesh-eating disease,” does occur in Peru, and cases have been reported in the Cusco Region. But the risk for tourists visiting Cusco, Machu Picchu and the Sacred Valley is so low that it shouldn’t be a concern.
Leishmaniasis is spread by infected sandflies. And sandflies along the Inca Trail and at Machu Picchu can be a royal pain in the ass (and the legs, the hands, the ankles and everywhere else). So even though the risk of leishmaniasis is incredibly low, you should still carry DEET-containing insect repellent to keep these little buggers at bay.
Rabies at Machu Picchu
The pre-exposure vaccination for rabies is not generally recommended for Peru, and is certainly not necessary for visiting Cusco and Machu Picchu. Rabies in dogs has been greatly reduced in Peru over the last 15 years, and cases are rare.
Altitude Sickness at Machu Picchu
The risk of altitude sickness at Machu Picchu is a genuine concern, although Machu Picchu itself is below the elevation at which altitude sickness normally occurs. You’re at greater risk in Cusco, which is more than 3,000 feet (900 meters) higher than Machu Picchu.
It’s a good idea to know the symptoms of altitude sickness before you go to Machu Picchu. If you begin to feel ill at Machu Picchu, or while hiking the Inca Trail, tell someone and, if you start to decline, seek medical attention.
Falling Accidents Involving the Inca Trail and Machu Picchu
A small number of falling fatalities have occurred at Machu Picchu and along the Inca Trail in recent years. These include a German man who crossed over security barriers at Machu Picchu to pose for a photo; he jumped in the air for the shot, but fell to his death in the canyon below.
To avoid falling accidents, always be aware of your footing and take it slowly in areas with dangerous drops. Respect security barriers, and don’t risk your life for the sake of a selfie.
Travelers’ Diarrhea (TD) in Cusco and Machu Picchu
As many as half of all visitors to Peru suffer from travelers’ diarrhea (TD) at some point. To reduce the risk of diarrhea — especially in the days before your much-anticipated trip or trek to Machu Picchu — avoid dubious-looking street food and dirty restaurants. And never drink the tap water in Peru — it’s not worth the risk.
Sunburn at Machu Picchu
You’ll probably be hoping for a clear, sunny day at Machu Picchu. And if you’re lucky, that’s exactly what you’ll get. But don’t go ruining the rest of your trip with painful sunburn.
Machu Picchu sits at 7,972 feet (2,430 meters) above sea level — and Cusco even higher — and at these heights you can burn easily on a sunny day. UV levels increase by 10% to 12% with every 1000 meters of altitude, so the higher you go, the more careful you need to be. Don’t forget to take a hat and sunblock.
Struck By Lightning at Machu Picchu
While not common at all, tourists have been struck by lightning at Machu Picchu. The last reported lightning strike was in October 2016, when a Spanish citizen and her Peruvian guide were struck near the famous Three Windows area of the site. Both suffered minor injuries.
Previously, in 2004, a 35-year-old Russian tourist was killed by lightning while on the peak of Huayna Picchu Mountain, the iconic mountain that rises up above the archaeological site.
If you’re at Machu Picchu during a severe lightning storm, your best option is to seek shelter in one of the huts dotted around the site.
Kidnapping at Machu Picchu
Now we’re getting to the more improbable end of the spectrum, but I’m mentioning kidnapping at Machu Picchu simply because of a strange incident that occurred in February 2013.
Nothing actually happened, but the U.S. Embassy in Peru did release an official warning regarding a potential plot to kidnap a U.S. tourist at Machu Picchu. It was a bizarre warning to make, and was roundly rebuked by the Peruvian government.
Beyond that strange little blip, kidnapping at Machu Picchu is not something that anyone ever worries about. And neither should you.
Do You Have Any More Machu Picchu Safety Tips?
If you have any additional Machu Picchu safety tips to share, please leave a comment below. Thanks!