Machu Picchu is one of the new seven wonders of the world, and a must-do if you are in Peru. It is a once in a lifetime experience to see how the Incas managed to build a sacred retreat high up in the mountains of Peru. Given that the Inca empire only lasted for a hundred years (before the Spanish conquistadors came and destroyed them in the 1500s) it’s truly amazing to see how much they built and the technology they had developed.
There are several ways to travel to Machu Picchu, none of them especially cheap (more on that later), but all of them start from Cusco, which was the Inca capitol. Cusco itself is a nice town with lots to do for adventure-hungry tourists (there are about 200 travel agencies across town), but as Mathias got a bad case of altitude sickness we had to take it pretty slow the first days. Cusco really is a “tourist town”, which has both its positives and negatives. Positives being many good restaurants (we especially recommend La Bodega 138 and Jack’s Café) and options for tours, and negatives being that you feel that everyone wants to get some money from you and exploit the tourists as much as possible.
To get to Machu Picchu we opted for the popular scenic train ride from Ollantaytambo to Aguas Calientes (aka Machu Picchu town), spending a night there and walking up to Machu Picchu early the next morning. From Aguas Calientes it’s about an hour and 10 minutes brisk walk, mostly steep uphill, to get to Machu Picchu. We started in the dark at 5 o’clock in the morning in pitch black with only the stars to guide us (ok, and a headlight), which turned out to be a little late to get started as there were several busloads of people already in line at the top when we arrived 6:10. Not a big problem, but we were hoping to get a look before there were people everywhere. We did catch the sun rising above the mountains and the first light on Machu Picchu, which was spectacular!
We managed to spend a full 10 hours walking around, taking pictures and relaxing while taking in the view of Machu Picchu. There are several tracks around the main “urban area”, and also tracks further out to the Sun Gate (great views!), the Inca bridge (a bit disappointing), and Huayna Picchu if you have the tickets (we didn’t :( ). We walked around marvelling at the views and the many many llamas grassing in the area (even a baby llama!). It really is a spectacular location and we can imagine this to be a retreat for the wealthy (which is one theory).
Tips on travelling to Machu Picchu
There are mainly four ways to do Machu Picchu:
- Doing the Inca Trail. This is the highlight for many backpackers. A 2 or 4-day trek through stunning views and several Inca ruins. Price is about $400-500 and it must be booked several months in advance. We talked to some Brits who booked it two months ahead, but this was in the shoulder season (April).
- Booking a shuttle tour. This is the cheapest option, we found it for about $125 including the shuttle to the hydro station, a night in Aguas Calientes, the guide at Machu Picchu and the shuttle back to Cusco. There is a one and a half-hour trek from the hydro station to Aguas Calientes.
- Booking a tour with train. This includes the bus to Ollantaytambo, train to Aguas Calientes, overnight there, bus to Machu Pichhu in the morning and a 2 hour guided tour, and the return train. The cheapest we found this for was about $225 p.p.
- Booking everything yourself. This is what we did. We booked with Incarail both ways for $106 each (Perurail is another option for trains), bought our Machu Pichhu tickets (PEN 128=$49 each), stayed at the first hostel we found (Hostal Inca II for PEN 65 total including breakfast), and walked up to Machu Pichhu (we took the bus back which is about $10), and took shuttles betwen Ollantaytambo and Cusco (10 PEN pp each way). Our total ended up nearly the same as the cheapest tour with train, but we loved being masters of our own time an being able to spend all the time we wanted at Machu Picchu. We had a Wikipedia article on Machu Picchu (on the iTravel app), asked some of the guards around, and slyly overheard some of the guides in the passing tour groups, and all in all got a lot of information without our own guide!
There are also other tours such as jungle tours and more adventure filled tours to get to Machu Picchu. We didn’t look into that but they are probably not in as high demand as the Inca Trail.
- Whatever option you choose, bring lots of water and snacks as it gets hot and tiring walking around Machu Picchu and the food outside is pretty expensive (it’s a bit of a no-no, but the guards didn’t check any bags as far as we saw)
- The best time is before 9 am and after 3 pm, because of the sun and the crowds (much better pictures!)
- Book early for cheaper train tickets, and also if you want to do Huayna Picchu!
- A free map is available at the entrance after they have checked your tickets
- Bring some information about Machu Picchu either on your phone (iTravel!) or in print if you don’t want to spend the money on a guide ($25)
Check out more pictures from Machu Picchu and the rest of Peru here.