I was surprised by how easy it was to travel Peru…in fact, it was almost too easy. (Who complains about that though?) In a brief 500 words, here’s all you need to know about visiting Machu Picchu.
Trekking Machu Picchu
Trekking with porters typically takes 3 to 4 days. A ton of operators can guide you along the Inca Trail, but there are alternate routes too: Salcantay, Chaski and four others. It’s worth noting the Inca Trail closes each February for maintenance.
How to Visit Machu Picchu Independently
You need to make your way to Aguas Calientes, a town tucked deep in the Peruvian jungle. There is no road access so you need to get there by train. There are two affordable rail companies: Inca Rail and Peru Rail. Trains depart from the town of Ollantaytambo and it takes about two hours to reach Aguas Calientes. Travelling in economy class the cost is $120 USD (or so) round-trip. Trains depart at various times of the day and it’s wise to book your ticket in advance. You can do so online, just make sure you can print the receipt.
Transportation from Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu – Coaches depart every 15 minutes (often more frequently) starting at 5:30 a.m. A line forms as early as 4:30 a.m. It doesn’t really matter if you’re on the first or fifth bus; you still have to queue again at the park gate. If you’re on the first few buses you’ll have 20 minutes or so to crawl all over Machu Picchu with few people in your camera frame. The bus costs about $24 USD for a return ticket and trust me, this is not a 3-km+ uphill journey you want to walk. Very important! Buy your bus tickets from the kiosk the night before. A huge line forms in the morning.
Food & Amenities on Machu Picchu – I had this perception food was going to be abhorrently expensive. It wasn’t. It was no pricier than a football stadium concession. Is that really out-of-this-world expensive for a New Wonder of the World?
Machu Picchu Admission – You can book your tickets direct through this website. The site is not designed well. You have to search the calendar for either general Machu admission or Machu + entrance to Huayna Picchu (to hike a trail on a nearby peak). Once you select the option you want, complete the form (you will need your passport number), and the site will generate a reservation code. Navigate to the ‘payments’ tab and enter the reservation code. Follow the prompts to pay ($128 USD per person, per day). Use the ‘check-in’ page to print your document.
Is Huayna Picchu Worth Doing? YES, you have to do it! This hike is a steep 650 step ascent up the neighbouring peak which overlooks Machu Picchu. Only 400 people per day are permitted to hike it so you should book well in advance. 200 are admitted between 7 a.m. and 8:00 a.m., 200 from 10 a.m. – 11 a.m. The cost is $152 USD and includes general entrance to Machu. We opted for the morning departure to avoid hiking in the midday sun.
Tour Guides at Machu Picchu – If you want a guided tour you need to hire one of the designated guides who hang around the entrance. They are identified by a uniform and ID. They charge about $40 for a 1.5-2 hour tour (it’s negotiable). The length of the tour varies, depending on whether you have a small or large group. Otherwise, a private tour is as quick or slow as you want it to be.
Can Machu Picchu be done in a day trip from Cusco? Yes but it would be a very long, rushed day. Do yourself a favour and stay in Aguas Calientes or Ollantaytambo (the latter being the best-preserved example of an Inca village).
Will I suffer from altitude sickness? Actually Machu Picchu is lower in elevation than Cusco so you should be fine.
How do I get from Cusco to Ollantaytabmo? Share a private car, take a mini bus or catch a local collectivo. When you return by rail to Ollantaytambo there are heaps of drivers looking to fill their mini buses. You’ll save money doing it this way if you’re comfortable without arranging transportation ahead of time.
What’s Aguas Calientes like? A touristic village enveloped by mystic mountains and a raging river. Geographically speaking, it’s pretty magical. Arriving exclusively by train creates a kind of lost-El Dorado feel. Culturally…well there is no culture in Aguas Calientes. Hotels, the market and restaurants are all priced for tourists. Apparently the hot springs the village are name for are gross. There are some hikes and botanical gardens for those who want to explore but otherwise I wouldn’t stay longer than two nights.
How much would you budget for Machu Picchu?
Train, round-trip: $120 USD
3-star hotel in Aguas Calientes (low season): $65 USD/night
Machu Picchu + Huayna Picchu: $152 USD
Bus to Machu Picchu: $24 USD
Total $415 USD