The most familiar icon of Inca civilization, situated in the Cusco region of Peru and, officially voted as one of the New Seven Wonders of the World in 2007, Machu Picchu is a must visit. As my first time visiting not only Peru, but South America , I wanted to make the focal point of my first trip learning the history of the Incan culture and exploring Machu Picchu, eating my way through the country.
Aside from studying abroad in Egypt in 2013 and taking an organized trip to South Africa in 2017, I pretty much plan all of the logistics and activities for my trips, relying on google searches and fellow bloggers sharing their experiences. Machu Picchu proved to be a difficult and confusing trip to plan, despite reviewing 10-20 blogs, so I wanted to document and share my experiences to help anyone who wishes to check this wonder off of their bucket list.
For our Peruvian escapades, we started in Lima and after spending a few days there, flew to Cusco. From Cusco, it is necessary to get to nearby town, Aguas Calientes, where you can either walk up to Machu Picchu or catch a bus. Here is what we did:
4am: Private van pickup from our hotel in Cusco, The Illa Hotel
5:30am: Arrival to Ollantaytambo, village in the Sacred Valley of south Peru. From Ollantaytambo we boarded the Inca Rail to head to our next stop, after stopping to use the restroom and eat breakfast/purchase snacks at local shops.
6:10am: Boarded Inca Rail to head to Aguas Calientes. We officially departed at 6:30am
8:30am: Arrival to Aguas Calientes where we met our tour guide at the train station who led us to our bus that took us to the entrance of Machu Picchu. The bus took approximately 30 minutes to get to the top of the mountain to enter Machu Picchu. *The bus ride is a bit nerve racking as you are right on the edge of the mountain, but safe nonetheless.
After exploring Machu Picchu for 4 1/2 hours, we caught the bus back down to Aguas Calientes, ate lunch and boarded a 4:30pm train back to Cusco. Buses depart to and fro Machu Picchu approximately every 10 minutes. We did not have to make a stop on the way back in Ollantaytambo, as the train transported us all the way to the main square in Cusco, where we caught a 10 minute taxi back to our hotel. We arrived back to Cusco around 9pm.
We actually purchased all of our tickets before leaving for Peru, securing our trip to Machu Picchu early. If you are planning to hike Huayna Picchu, smaller mountain situated inside of the citadel, you must book tickets well in advance as it is restricted to 400 visitors a day. We did not hike Huayna Picchu but, it only takes approximately 2 hours to do so, and it would have been cool if we had. If like us, you do not plan to hike Huayna Picchu and instead, just explore the main citadel, it is not necessary to book arrangements so far in advance as it is easy to get tickets at visitor centers around Cusco. Obviously, if you are not planning to make a stop in Cusco, which I highly recommend that you do, you should book your trips in advance. Additionally, despite us not hiking Huayna Picchu, we still marveled at the site that was Machu Picchu and were actually wiped out due to the walking and hot sun, it is definitely still an enjoyable experience.
The company that I worked with, Cusco Reservations, is a Cusco based company and the owner’s name is Gilber Fernandez. We communicated via What’s App and occasionally via email (firstname.lastname@example.org) . Per person, all of our entrance (Machu Picchu) and transportation fees included (van, train and bus), we paid $265 USD.
Another company that I communicated with and would recommend is Traveling In Peru, the agent that I spoke with Susana Aguirre, was extremely helpful and attentive to my questions. Her email is email@example.com. I would have went with her company if I had not been referred to Gilber’s company via a good friend.
In order to complete your booking and to confirm transportation, it is necessary that you release your passport information, I was uneasy with this at first, but it is a common and again, necessary, practice.
It is also completely doable to purchase your own tickets and plan your own trip to Machu Picchu. Dependent upon your starting point, you mainly need to get to Aguas Calientes where you can either board the bus to Machu Picchu or walk. Find more information on booking your bus ticket to Inca City, Machu Picchu, HERE. The site to book the Inca Rail, to catch the train from Cusco or Ollantaytambo can be found HERE. After our trip, we found that it was not necessary to catch a van to Ollantaytambo and we could have caught the train directly to Aguas Calientes from Cusco, but it was a scenic ride and Ollantaytambo is an unique little town, so, no regrets.
One option that I have yet to discuss, is the infamous Inca Trail. Typically, a four day experience, there are three overlapping trails to choose from that will route you directly to the entrance gate of Machu Picchu. It is quite possibly the world’s most famous hike and can be incredibly challenging. The price for the trek can range anywhere from $600- 1500 USD. Being that I myself did not complete the Inca Trail, I wanted to provide you with other resources to helping you plan your trip, found HERE and HERE. You can also reach out to my contacts above, Gilber and Susana, who may be able to point you in the right direction with the various packages their perspective companies both offer.
Third, what to expect once you’re in Machu Picchu.
As an extremely popular tourist attraction, it was crowded, I’m talking people everywhere. Once inside, there are no restrooms or areas to purchase water or snacks so please be sure to handle your business before entering because, once you’re in, you’re in. It costs 2 soles (less than 1 USD) to use the restroom situated outside of the entrance and the ladies’ line was wrapped around the corner.
It is prohibited to eat inside of Machu Picchu so please be sure to fuel up before approach as the altitude and depending on how lucky you are, the sun, can and will beat you down. You can however, bring in water, so be sure to pack your own bottle(s) to keep yourself hydrated. Also, pack sunscreen, despite my brining mine and reapplying, I still managed to get sunburn, as well as a hat, glasses and comfortable walking/hiking shoes. Whether or not you are hiking the mountains inside of Machu Picchu, you must have sturdy, comfortable shoes. Converses or sandals will not cut it.
You can also get a really cool Machu Picchu stamp in your passport, for free! For those like me, who are obsessed over those coveted passport stamps.
By happenstance, our tour turned into a private one as we were the only ones in our group. Via us organizing and purchasing our tickets to Machu Picchu through Gilber, we were also granted a tour guide whom was extremely knowledgeable of Machu Picchu. Our guide was able to teach us of the history of Machu Picchu, importance of the mountains and, of the Incan Culture. The guide is not necessary, and many others were there sans a guide but, we appreciated ours for the knowledge he was able to share.
Machu Picchu is located 7,970 ft. above sea level. If you are coming from Cusco, Peru, this is a lower altitude and thus, shouldn’t be that hard to adjust to. If you are coming straight from Lima, Peru or other locations with lower altitudes, it may be a hard adjustment, coupled with the physicality of the trek. Having altitude meds and taking the coca leaves, either via tea or chewing on the leaves directly, help to alleviate any symptoms of altitude sickness, rapidly. *Coca Leaves/ Tea is very easy to find once in Peru.
Purchase water and other snacks either in Cusco, Ollantaytambo or in Aguas Calientes, as they are overpriced once at Machu Picchu.
We lucked up with an unusually sunny, extremely warm day, free of rain or clouds!
Machu Picchu is one of the most visited locations in Peru, one of the most visited tourist attractions in Latin America and, one of the most important archaeological sites in America. This, coupled with the views and the natural emotions you’ll feel once at the top of this magnificent site are hopefully enough to encourage a visit.
Have more questions or recommendations? Feel free to drop them below!