As I began to plan my trip to Machu Picchu, I quickly realized that getting there was definitely not going to be a walk in the park. But let’s face it, anything worth seeing is not going to be easy to get to, especially a world wonder like Machu Picchu.
Many trains depart from the Poroy train station which is located about 20 mins from downtown Cusco. The train stops in it town of Aguas Calientes where you will then take a 15 minute (heart stopping) bus ride up to Machu Picchu. Bear in mind that the buses to Machu Picchu and back down operate from 6am to 4:00pm. So be sure to catch that last bus or you’ll have to walk all the way down!
The town of Aguas Calientes
There’s too much to explore in Machu Picchu to only make a day trip. I suggest spending one or night in the town just below the ruins known as Aguas Calientes. This will leave you a full day open to explore Machu Picchu and another day to try out the mini hikes.
Note: Aguas Calientes, is about 8,000 feet above sea level as opposed to Cusco which is over 11,000 feet above sea level. I was affected by altitude sickness in Cusco more so than Machu Picchu so I suggest starting your trip off in Machu Picchu initially and then spending 2 or 3 nights in Cusco afterwards.
Alas, the glorious Machu Picchu! To make the most of your experience, I’ve rounded up a few quick tips for you to keep in mind.
1.) Bring rain protection. Be prepared for the weather to fluctuate unexpectedly. It could be clear and dry one minute and pouring rain the next.
2.) Bus. The only way to the citadel is to take the bus, unless you want to do the steep, 90-minute walk from Aguas Calientes and back! Lines can be long and boarding the bus is on a first come, first serve basis.
3.) Coins. You’ll need them to use the bathroom and there is only one bathroom at the entrance.
4.) Passport. Don’t forget to stamp your passport with the official Machu Picchu stamp! It little station is just outside the entrance gates where you can stamp your own passport. It’s possibly the coolest passport stamp I have 🙂
5.) Alternative hikes
If you’re not into the idea of hiking the Inca trail, there are mini hike alternatives
Huayna Picchu. Purchase tickets in advance as entry is limited to about 400 people per day. The peak is about 1,180 ft higher than Machu Picchu, offering stunning views and a nice alternative hike to the Inca trail. note: if you have a fear of heights, this hike is not for you. The path is very narrow and steep.
The Sun Gate. This is the hike we chose to do, it took about 3 hour round trip and it’s free! This is also where the hikers from the Inca trail enter the citadel.
The Inca Bridge. 1 hour hike round trip and free.
6.) Aggressive mosquitos. Let’s just say I am STILL suffering (2 weeks later) from the bug bites I got in Machu Picchu! Avoid open toe shoes and wear long light clothing to protects yourself from bites. A quick tip a local gave us was to use lime juice to prevent bugs from attacking.
The SUMAQ hotel is one of the best places to stay in Aguas Calientes. It’s located right along the Vilcanota River where you can hear the sound of raging river right outside of your window. It’s soothing and the best way to fall asleep after a long day of exploring the citadel. Tip: ask for a room on the street side of the hotel to face the river. The hotel also offers a complimentary cooking class where guests can learn how to make ceviche and a pisco sour. The rooms are very clean and comfortable with all of the perks you’d expect from a 5 star hotel and the service was exceptional, making guests feel right at home.
LAN Airlines is the airline with the most domestic flights with a dozen per day to Cusco. You can catch a short 1 1/2 hour flight from Lima to Cusco en route to Machu Picchu. Tip: grab a window seat! This was one of the most scenic flights I’ve ever taken. The mountains of Peru are simply breathtaking. Flying with LAN is an efficient and smooth way to get around South America, as the airline is timely, the service is great and all of the planes we boarded felt fresh and new.
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