About Machu Picchu
Machu Picchu is an ancient city built by the Incans. It sits in the Andes Mountains, not a far distance from Cusco, and is one of the most visited sites in the world annually. It’s an incredible place to visit and tour, and understandable why it’s one of the 7 wonders of the new world. During your travels to Peru, it’s a MUST visit.
I went to Machu Picchu over a weekend during my stay in Cusco, and I can honestly say it was one of the most memorable solo trips I’ve ever taken. To access the historical site, you must first go to the town of Aguas Calientes, which sits at the bottom of the mountain in a river valley. Because it’s such a popular tourist destination, you have countless options for tours, I’d recommend doing some research before you book to decide what is best for you.
To buy your entrance tickets to Machu Picchu, get them directly from Peru’s government website for the best price. Other websites and travel agencies charge a fee, and you can end up paying a lot of unnecessary extra money for no extra benefit.
Getting There by Train
There are a few options and methods to get to Machu Picchu, by private car, train, and even a bus + long walking route. I opted for the train as I wanted to relax and enjoy the scenery, as car trips in Peru made me really motion sick. Winding through the mountains with crazy drivers is just not something my stomach can handle.
There are two companies that operate train journeys to Aguas Calientes, IncaRail and PeruRail. I booked with IncaRail because I read online that it’s a locally owned and operated company, whereas PeruRail is foreign owned. You can see different departure times have different prices, and pick your class according to budget.
The train ride was spectacular – with open windows on the roof and stunning views the whole ride. I enjoyed a beer onboard, a local brew from the Sacred Valley. The lunch is simple, a wrap, apple, and an energy bar so I wouldn’t show up starving, but you can buy your own snacks in Ollaytantambo before getting on the train. There’s also a bathroom onboard, so no worries there. I couldn’t recommend the train more – it made the travel so pleasant.
You can book a tour guide and join a group outside the entrance on the same day as your entrance. I’d highly recommend it since you’ll learn so much more about the history of Machu Picchu and the significance of various structures throughout the citadel. Walking through is incredible – the stone structures are immaculate after hundreds of years, and it’s mind-blowing to think that an ancient civilization was able to construct Machu Picchu without equipment or sophisticated tools.
As I mentioned before, Aguas Calientes is the actual town outside of Machu Picchu. It’s essentially built for tourists, with tons of hotels, souvenir markets for shopping and restaurants. Unfortunately, a lot of spots in Aguas Calientes could easily be considered “tourist traps” with overpriced menus and shopping more expensive than what you’d find in Cusco and other small towns.
I’d recommend to save your shopping and fine dining for Cusco or somewhere else, as you’ll end up paying more here even with haggling for a lower price. Don’t have super high expectations for food either, unless you want to spend more on the higher-end restaurants. I stayed at Eco Pueblo Machu Picchu, a decent hostel close to everything in the center. There wasn’t anything remarkable about this hostel – I had a nice private room with a clean bathroom (great water pressure in the shower) there is breakfast, and overall it’s relaxed.
I went here for lunch after a full morning of walking around Machu Picchu and it was a great little spot. The lasagna was delicious, they had a variety of interesting things on the menu with great beer options. It was a pleasant surprise, as I didn’t expect much from the restaurants in Aguas Calientes.
Things to Remember
Book your ticket for an early entrance time. I went at 8 am and it was perfect – you’ll beat the heavy crowds that come between 11-2pm, and you’ll get to see it just as the clouds burn off and the mountain views become clear. Also, don’t freak out if it’s cloudy right when you arrive. This can quickly clear up as you’re starting your tour, so you’ll get the perfect photos.
Wake up and get in line for the bus early. While they are pretty organized with making sure to bus everyone in based on their entrance time, it’s a good idea to be in the line early so you don’t miss your opportunity. Also, don’t walk up the hill to the entrance. The fee for the bus is absolutely worth it.
Go to the bathroom before you enter. Seriously – there aren’t any bathrooms within the entrance and you can’t exit and re-enter. You don’t want to have to rush your tour because you have to pee!
Stick around your tour guide so you don’t get lost. This was an issue for me, I lost track of my guide about halfway through and ended up finishing the tour on my own, which was a bit frustrating. It is crowded and can be easy to lose your guide. If you do end up getting separated, don’t panic, you can continue walking and touring on your own, or possibly join another group.
Don’t forget to fully charge your camera and phone – and bring a portable battery pack if you have one. I was so paranoid I’d run out of battery during the hours I was inside exploring Machu Picchu that I had my phone on Airplane mode just in case – it would be a massive bummer if it died before you had a chance to get all the photos you want!
Dress in layers. It can be chilly when the sun goes behind a cloud, and very warm in the direct sunlight, so having a sweater to pull off and on will be helpful. Don’t forget sunscreen and sunglasses – as the rays can burn you much faster at altitude.