For the past 3 weeks, my boyfriend and I have been travelling around Bolivia, Chile and Peru and after anticipating this trip for so long, I have to say it’s been truly amazing! So amazing in fact, that I have done a poor job of honouring my blogging duties… But better late than sorry, I present to you, my practical guide to visiting the most famous Inca citadel in the world: Machu Picchu.
In order to reach this well-hidden gem, you will have to pass through the little town of Aguas Calientes, also known as Machupicchu Pueblo. From there departs the only existing road up to Machu Picchu. Surprinsingly, it is impossible to get there by car, and you will find no cars in the village either. Your only remaining possibilities are a multiple-day hike through the Sacred Valley or taking a train. We personally chose the latter, which worked out very well!
There are two train companies you can take to Aguas Calientes: Inca Rail or Peru Rail. Both companies have similar prices and share the same rails. We chose Peru Rail because their trains go all the way to the Poroy station, located about 20 minutes from Cuzco by taxi, while the Inca Rail trains mostly stop in Ollantaytambo, an old Inca city in the Sacred Valley, located about 1h30 drive from Cusco itself. The companies also have a slightly different schedule so I would recommend checking out the times that suit you most, knowing that prices are pretty similar.
Tip 1: While it might be tempting to leave booking the train to pretty late, both our train wagons were full, so I’d recommend leaving enough time ahead of your booking. The website for PeruRail was really easy to navigate and you can get your tickets printed for free in their Cusco office.
Tip 2: If by any chance you are Peruvian or hold a permanent residence visa in Peru, you would be able to access the local trains, which are much less comfortable but cost a fraction of the price: 20 Soles. These trains cannot be booked online, and have to be boarded from Ollantaytambo.
If like us, you are on a pretty packed itinerary and think the train is a better option for you, here’s a 2 day itinerary, which is probably the least amount of time you’d need for a visit to Machu Picchu.
- Book an evening train from Ollantaytambo on the way up to Aguas Calientes (Machupicchu Pueblo).
- To get there, if, like most people, you are staying in Cusco – head to the colectivo station on Pavitos Street in the late morning the day of your train. From there, you will have two vehicle options to get to Ollantaytambo:
- either board one of the colective taxis which will offer you their service all along the street. These leave as soon as they get 4 people on board and take about 1h30, likely stopping in the city of Urubamba for a passenger drop-off/pick-up. They cost 15 Soles per person, but if you are a good negociator, I believe you might be able to get it for 10 Soles.
- The other option is to board the mini-buses departing from the station, also in Pavitos street. I believe these might be a little cheaper but might take longer and be harder to fill up.
- Ollantaytambo is home to a beautiful ancient inca ruin, which is included in the Boleto Turistico you will likely have purchased in Cusco. The Ollantaytambo ruin was one of my favorites we’ve seen so I would really recommend visiting even if not heading to Machu Picchu!
- Apart from visiting the ruins, the lovely Sunshine Café in Ollantaytambo, selling lemonades, homemade brownies, cupcakes and ice cream is a lovely option!
- For lunch or dinner, Panq’a located on Avenida Ferrocaril, near the train station, is also very nice. It offers a 12 Soles “touristic menu” as well as a very reasonable happy hour!
- After your visit of the ruins and the city, it is time to head to to Machupicchu city by train. The journey from Ollantaytambo only takes about 1h30. With PeruRail, a snack and drink are provided on board.
- If, like us, you have the morning turn to visit the Machu Picchu, have an early night, you will need to be up very early! Most hotels in Aguas Calientes are adapted and will ofer a very early breakfast service and keep your luggage too. Otherwise, you will have a little time in the morning to rest and walk around Aguas Calientes.
- Plan of action: for the morning turn to Machu Picchu and if you plan to make the most of it, here is what I recommend.
- Take advantage of the 4h30 hotel breakfasts and plan to be out by 5 AM. Then, as soon as you are ready head to the bus queue, the buses start at 5h30 but be aware that the queue will be really long by then so be there as soon as you can! (Check out the next section on how to get the bus up to the Machu Picchu 🙂 )
- Be patient – it might take a lot of queuing, but you will get there and it’ll really be worth it!
- Once there, many guides will offer their services. We didn’t have enough cash for one sadly but these are the prices we were told: private tour: 130 Soles – Shared tour: 30 Soles per person. I think if you are interested in history, it might really be worth making this small investment (and not making the mistake of forgetting to bring cash 😉 ) to learn more about what you are visiting. I know I would’ve liked to know more and kept trying to pick up little bits and pieces from other guides!
Getting the Bus Tickets up to the Machu Picchu
To get your bus tickets there are different options.
1- You can get them directly in Aguas Calientes, which is what we did. If you plan on doing so, the office opens at 5 AM. It is possible to pay by card there unlike what you may read on other websites (as of August 2018)! Also, if you are in a group, it is wise to send someone to queue for the bus and someone to buy the tickets from the office (if you do that, don’t forget to give the passports to the person buying the tickets).
2- If you can, I would recommend getting them from Cusco, either from the Interbank on Avenida del Sol or from a place called Wanchaq on Avenida Infancia, it will maybe earn you a few minutes sleep if you are alone or allow your group to queue together. Check out this link for more information on selling point, times and prices.
Tip: If you want to save a little money or fancy a trek, you could also walk up the road to this incredible citadel. This is an 1h30 climb and you might be dusted over by the many buses on their way up as you will have to share the road.
Visiting the Machu Picchu
There are different circuits you can do after entering the Machu Picchu, depending on your physical shape and the type of ticket you purchased. Overall, with the normal ticket, the recommended time to visit is 4 hours, but no staff checked how long we were there for so don’t worry. Circuit number 1 is the longest and the only one taking you to the house of the Guardians, from where you can take this classic Machu Picchu picture.
There are a few optional walks you can take as well. We chose to walk to the Sun Gate, which took about 1h30 round trip. It led us further away from the main ruins and gave us a panoramic view on the site and the mountains surrounding it. It was also a really peaceful walk, as most guided groups didn’t seem to go this way. It was amazing!
The Inca bridge is also another optional walk but we didn’t have time to do it.
I am not sure whether or not maps are given out at the entrance, but if you are lucky like us, you will get one from your hotel!
When you have finished your visit, don’t forget to get the free Machu Picchu stamp on your passport or travel notebook for a cute souvenir!
A Personal Note
Machu Picchu is one of the most amazing things I had a chance to visit so far in my life, and even if it will likely be one of the most expensive parts of any South American trip, I think it is worth every penny!
Despite some people stating it is over crowded and extremely touristy, I had an amazing time and didn’t feel overwhelmed by the amount of people around… maybe that was the reward for the 5 AM start! But I’m sure that you will enjoy your experience no matter when you go, so don’t forget to stay calm, chill and take in the views, just like this little guy!
That’s it for the first travel article of this crazy summer guys! Once again sorry for the delays, I hope you find this helpful and interesting. Please comment with any questions or additional information & have the best summer! xx