Machu Picchu | Updated 20209 min read
Machu Picchu is one of the most popular destinations in all of Peru. Surrounded by the mystery, the purpose of this 15th century Inca citadel still remains a secret. Nestled deep in the Andes Machu Picchu was discovered only in 1911. There is no evidence why the city turned into an abandoned citadel.
One of our guides mentioned there is a link between the location of Machu Picchu and Mount Salkantay – the most revered apus in Incas cosmology. Apus are the spirits of the mountains considered protective of nearby inhabitants. Could it be one of the reasons the city was hidden for so long and survived all of the earthquakes!?
WHERE IS MACHU PICCHU
Machu Picchu stands 2430 meters above the sea level in the middle of tropical forest. There is NO DIRECT road which takes you from Cusco to Machu Picchu. The closest town Aguas Calientes can be reached only by train but if you feel adventurous you can walk alongside rail tracks starting from Ollantaytambo (approx.30km). We decided to stay for one night in Aguas Calientes but it’s totally possible to get back to Cusco on the same day. However, the lower elevation in Aquas Calientes helps to reduce unpleasant symptoms of altitude.
NOTES ABOUT MACHU PICCHU TICKET
- NO TICKETS at the door means booking it online in advance, it is highly recommended especially during the high season,
- Ticket to Machu Picchu cost 50$(~40£) and here is fairly good guidance on how to get it in less than 5 minutes,
- It’s possible to purchase a ticket via tour agency and at the official ticket office in most of the big cities,
- From 2020 entries are divided into 3 slots, we still recommend to skip the morning, the last entry has fewer people and around 3 pm most of the tours will be leaving,
- A tour guide is mandatory, groups of 16 people max,
- Extra fee for Huayna Picchu hike (limit 400 per day) plus 15$(~11.5£),
- Extra fee for Machu Picchu Mountain hike (limit 400 per day) 15$(~11.5£)
Make sure to sort out your travel insurance ahead. It’s super important to feel safe and secure when it comes about altitude sickness and trekking in the high elevation.
HOW TO GET THERE
With so many options on how to get to Machu Picchu, we picked only a few. Those tips are based on our own and our friend’s knowledge.
- Option 1: Book a train to Aguas Calientes, prices range from 63$ up to 200$ and it’s a freaking scenic ride! Booking train tickets from Ollantaytambo will save you some money, just hop on colectivo from Cusco 12S(~2.8£),
- Option 2: DIY Machu Pichu Trek, simply take a colectivo on the route Cusco-Ollantaytambo, then another one Ollantaytambo-Santa Teresa, and one more Ollantaytambo-Hidroelectica, from there it’s just 8km walk alongside rail trials before you reach Aquas Calientes (approx.3h). This is the cheapest way to get to Machu Picchu.
- Option 3: Two day Inca Trail for those with limited time, a shorter version of Inca Trail when the trek starts from Ollantaytambo,
- Option 4: Salkantay Trek 4D/5N hike does not require a permit and can be booked with short notice, always do your own research and check recommended tour companies in Cusco, it’s cheaper to book this trek it in person than online, requires good fitness level,
- Option 5: Inca Trail 4D/3N trek of 40 km starting from Cusco and finishing in Machu Picchu, it has to be booked months in advance, beware this requires a decent fitness level, always check what is included with the price before booking a tour, cost around 650$(~500£), the trial is closed for one month in February,
- Option 6: You can also participate in an organised tour, there are plenty of options online such as Exploor Peru
ON THE WAY TO MACHU PICCHU
Why don’t we stop in Ollantaytambo? It’s a tranquil village full of tiny cobblestone streets. By getting here early we had plenty of time ahead of our trip to Aquas Calientes. Cafe del Abuelo looked really cosy and their coffee was top notch. There are plenty of restaurants and cafes with plant-based and gluten-free options where you can get decent food. I stayed there during my second trip to Peru in 2019. Mama Simona Hostel has comfy beds, hot water and a beautiful garden by the river. What else do you need after all day of exploring?
The trains to Aquas Calientes were designed with the panoramic ceiling windows. The trip takes around 1,5 hours so you have plenty of time to admire astounding views. We can confirm that is one of the most scenic train rides in the world! The route goes through various forms of vegetation starting with the snow-capped peaks till lush rainforest. Surely when you think about a variety of landscapes Peru has plenty to wonder at.
With many options where to stay a night, we booked the hostel Luna Muna. Next morning it was super foggy and we got scared of the views. The weather can be really unpredictable but the clouds are usually burning off around noon. That being said, the early morning entry is always a bit tricky! There is obviously a huge difference when you visit in April (end of the raining season) and for example in July (dry season). At the same time during the dry season you can expect more tourists.
Machu Picchu entry gate is about 30 minutes drive by shuttle bus 12$(~9£) from the main bus stop at Avenida Hermoas Ayer. Once you enter the site you have one of those jaw-dropping moments in life. You may see thousands of photos of Machu Picchu but nothing really prepares for this feeling. We stayed around 4 hours, mainly climbing endless steps and finding good spots for shots. The best time is towards the end when the place gets almost empty.
Note: There are no toilets inside the complex, once you pass the entry beware of how much you drink
Another interesting fact, when rotating some of the pictures you can discover hidden human face carved into mountains. Natives will tell you that it represents the face of the Inca looking upward towards the sky. Our minds got blown at that time!
Note: Food, drone, tripod, selfie stick and big backpacks are also not allowed inside the ruins. Lockers are offered at the entry.
WHAT TO PACK – ESSENTIALS
- Printed Machu Picchu entry ticket,
- Passport (photocopies, screenshots are not accepted),
- 2 litres of water,
- Insect repellent,
- Lightweight raincoat
- TRAVEL INSURANCE