Machu Picchu in Peru is one of the seven wonders of the world. The Lost City is surrounded by green tropical vegetation and steep mountain ranges, this 15th century Inca Citadel of Machu Picchu meets every expectation. This 2,430 meter high Inca city is spectacular; the Spanish didn’t even discovered and conquered it and was only discovered in 1911 by the American Hiram Bingham. Machu Picchu is both a cultural and natural UNESCO World Heritage Site that is very popular among tourist; this is generating a big income for Peru.
Machu Picchu Preparation
Before you go to Machu Picchu you can already prepare three things in advance:
- I bought my entrance ticket already in advance online via Ministerio de Cultura del Peru. I had to plan my trip around these days, but didn’t want to take the risk of not be able to enter the highlight of my trip. Cost of the Machu Picchu alone cost 152S. I had this ticket; the Machu Picchu plus the Wayna Picchu was sold out already but heard that this is a tough climb too.
- The same for the train with PeruRail, all can be bought online. The trains run often and from Cusco, Ollantaytambo and Urubamba to Machu Picchu. The trains from Ollantaytambo for example starts at 5:35 and runs more than every hour till 21:50 and will take about 1,5 hours and pricing starts at 54USD depending on class and timing for one way.
- Book your accommodation in Aguas Calientes the night before visiting Machu Picchu. I booked Hotel Ferré Machu Picchu between the rail road (half of the hotels are located here) and the loud running river Urubamba. I thought that there will be a lot of noise but I slept like a baby that night, the sound of the river was very chill. The hotel is neat and well prepared for the crowds that visit the site. They offer lunch and breakfast to take with you and relaxing massages when you return.
Tip: Book a return train ticket with a day in between. Arrive in the afternoon on the first day and book the train back for the next day in the afternoon (mine was 16:22) after visiting the site. This way you can spent all day at Machu Picchu, eat something before returning by train and continue your travel in the Sacred Valley.
Train to Machu Picchu
For most travelers the basis to visit Machu Picchu is Cusco (80 km away). From here you can travel by collectivo (shared taxi) to the station of Ollantaytambo. This will under two hours and cost ±15S. You can take the train from Cusco to Ollantaytambo too. Here you take the pre-booked train from Ollantaytambo to Aguas Calientes.
In Aguas Calientes buses depart to the Machu Picchu site high in the mountains. The first bus leaves 5:30; I was at the bus stop before 4:50 to make sure I had the first bus (30 min bus ride). You can walk from Aguas Calientes to the Machu Picchu site too; ±1,5 hours, looked pretty steep to me and I was not in the mood to do that. The same buses will bring you back to Aguas Calientes at the end of the day. Ones you are down take the pre-booked train back to Ollantaytambo. From there you can go back to Cusco or continue in the Sacred Valley.
Tip: Take the bus back a couple hours before your train leaves, this way you can pick up your luggage at the hotel, eat something, chill a bit. This way you don’t have to stress and leave Machu Picchu too early.
Aguas Calientes / Machupicchu Pueblo
Aguas Calientes is the last village before Machu Picchu (6 km). It is a small village with a road up the hill to the hot springs (baños termales); now you know where why they call it Aguas Calientes (hot water). It is nice to walk here for half a day, shop in one of the many souvenir and nice jewelry shops. If you brought your swimsuit you can use the hot springs. The large Inca Statue in the center is striking and representing the intense Inca culture in this area. There are many restaurants to get a good carbohydrate meal (mine was Pizza!) for a good preparation for the hikes tomorrow. And also when you return, its perfect to get your late lunch or early dinner before heading back.
What to bring and do for climbing Machu Picchu?
You can’t buy anything at the Machu Picchu site, only before the entrance there is a hotel and restaurant. But I can grantee you, you don’t want to go back and go back into the park. I will recommend you to bring your breakfast and snacks with you. I brought; enough water (runs fast if you walk a lot), bananas or other fruits, granola and candy bars, sandwiches or other savory snacks (chips).
Tip: Don’t forget to charge all your camera/phone batteries and bring your external battery. You don’t want to run out; for the best selfie of the year!
You should wear you walking boots (cross trainers), long pants, t-shirt and sweater. Furthermore to pack in your small day-pack; camera, phone, toilet paper/ cleaning tissues, sunscreen, layers of clothing (short pants), rain poncho/coat, mosquito spay, passport to identify yourself, money, map of the site (download the app Maps.me), the entrance ticket of the Machu Picchu site. Go to bed early the day before (for me that was 21:00, alarm went off at 4:15!!), it will be a long and exhausting day; you need the energy while you are at the top of the Inca World!
Exploring Machu Picchu by yourself
It was still dark when taking the first bus up at 5:30 in the morning. Slowly I saw the sun rising behind the green mountains. I was sooooo lucky I saw no clouds!!! The sky turned red and it became lighter and lighter. The road is very winding and I was getting so excited. Bus dropped us off and around 6:00 the gate opens; a small crowd was already there. I think the walkers and the people from the Belmond Sanctuary Lodge next door, but I was still one of the first at the site.
I walked up to Recito del Guardian (House of Guards) from here you have a perfect view and have some empty terraces where I was almost the only one. I was so lucky with the weather no rain, while yesterday it was raining in Aguas Calientes. The sky was not all blue, but perfect sight and the clouds made it mysterious. I talked to a guy that walked the Inca trail and went back today to get a no rain view.
Next walk was to a Puente Inca (Inca Bridge), this was a nice walk with some exiting and sometimes a bit dangerous parts in the route. Especially if you are afraid of heights like me. The old bridge was unbelievably, how did the Incas build this bridge and how dangerous is it to cross it!
I went back to “my” spot at the grass terraces with the view; ate some fruits and drank some water and was ready for the next walk: Intipunku (Sun Gate). Pfff what a walk, I’m not a hiker and this was tough, it was getting warmer now and after ±45 minutes I reached the top. I was exhausted but the view made me forget all the fatigue. The view on the city is breathtaking and you even realize more how special this place is. The environment is stunning and very impressive I will describe it like Avatar meets Pirates of the Caribbean. The weather is so different than in Cusco, here more jungle with warm and wet weather compared to colder and dryer.
From the Sun Gate the old city even looks small and melts away as a part of a mountain range. When you walk the Inca trail you will enter Machu Picchu here at the Sun Gate. The way back is lot more comfortable and spotted a lot of butterflies!
Down again it was getting busier, saw a lot of Chinese with guides and flags grrrr. I will do my own route through the old town, this way I hope to avoid the crowds. I joined some Americans, which I ran into that morning, who had a guide. Saw all the main places: Templo de las Tres Ventanas, Main Gate, Acceso Principal a la Ciudad Inca, Roca Ceremonial, Plaza Principal, Casa de Inca and Sector Agricola Oeste/Este.
All very impressive and unbelievable to see and hear the stories behind it. The central buildings use the classical Inca architectural style of polished dry-stone walls, where blocks of stones are cut to fit together tightly. What a work to build this city here at this impossible place in the mountains without horses and machines!
Time to relax some more and soak up the energy the city and the view gives me. Machu Picchu is definitely is a must see and a world wonder; don’t miss it!! For me it was a bucket list thing and a must see at least ones in your life!
Further to The Sacred Valley or back to Cusco and then to Lima?