Machu Picchu has probably been on 99% of all travel bucket lists since the invention of travel bucket lists. It was number 5 on ours and yet we went into this venture with a ton of trepidation. The big fear was that there is a lot of time, money and preparation in getting there and hopefully it wouldn’t end up a tourist trap with just a couple piles of rocks on a hill.
Since we’re not people who like to leave other people in inexorable suspense… It wasn’t just a pile of rocks it was much more.
So, how do you Machu Picchu? We (six of us) decided to forgo the travel/tourist companies and booked all of the travel ourselves which saved us thousands per couple and was not that complicated. Details of that are at the bottom of this article.
The train ride from Ollantaytambo to Aguas Calientes is part of what made the trip great. The majestic mountains viewed from the glass-topped train, the river with farmers and colorfully dressed local towns people strewn about, and the band going train car to train car playing pan-flute music really sets the tone for Machu Picchu.
Aguas Calientes is a small town at the base of Machu Picchu that has shops, restaurants and most importantly the bus terminal. You can walk to the entrance to Machu Picchu, but it is best done by bus unless you are an extremely good hiker and completely acclimated to the thin air. Altitude sickness was something we saw over and over while up on Machu Picchu. From the looks of it, the park is used to the problem as we saw them administering oxygen to people several times. Believe it or not most of the people were young . Getting acclimated to the altitude is very important as there are tons of steps and it is a very large area. You see people hunched over half way up steps everywhere. Having spent a few days at Lake Titicaca and a day in Cusco both of which are higher altitude than Machu Picchu, we were good to go.
The short bus ride up and down along the cliff is scarier than many amusement park rides. At the park entrance there were several tour guides offering their services but we opted to go it alone having been that road before. We purchased our entrance tickets, a map and a small book that had the basics of what everything was and never looked back.
One of the cool things about Machu Picchu are the llamas and alpacas that roam the terrain freely. We saw several of them running scared from people who were chasing them for pictures and opted for a different approach. The park had placed small apples around for them to eat so we sat in an area where bunches of them congregated to eat and let them come up to us. It made for some great photo opportunities, well, that was until people saw us there then came over and scared them away.
Another cool thing was the several amazing trails off the beaten path like the one along the cliff in the picture below. The thing that was odd was that we never saw the tour guides anywhere near any of them. To us it seemed like the people who took the tours missed out on some of the best parts of Machu Picchu. We used our map as our guide and because of the sheer size of the place we found ourselves referencing it pretty often.
We walked around for hours on end snapping photo after incredible photo and sometimes just sat to take it all in. Somehow, one of the “New” Seven Wonder of the World, Machu Picchu completely lived up to its hype.
This is how WE did it (we had two other couples from USA join us)
- Used round trip Delta Airlines using miles to fly roundtrip to Lima Peru from the USA
- Flew to Lake Titicaca for a few days then to Cusco Peru both on Tam Airlines booked on Cheapoair.com
- Took a taxi to Hotel in Cusco (JW Marriott booked on points)
- In Cusco town square we purchased round trip train tickets from Ollantaytambo (a town close to Cusco) to Aguas Calientes on Peru Rail.
- Early the next morning we took an early taxi from our hotel to the train station in Ollantaytambo Peru. (booked the Taxi at the hotel front desk)
- Took the Peru Rail train to Aguas Calientes (small town at the bottom of Machu Picchu)
- In Aguas Calientes we got off the train and purchased a round trip bus ticket to Machu Picchu
- Took the bus up to the Machu Picchu entrance
- After a day at Machu Picchu we took the bus down the hill back to Aguas Calientes .
- Then the train from Aguas Calientes to Ollantaytambo Peru (read below)
- Taxi from Ollantaytambo to our hotel
- Taxi from hotel to Cusco Airport
- Flight from Cusco to Lima (Tam Airlines)
- Lima flight to USA
A few tips.
I’m pretty sure 90% of the people staying in the hotels in Cusco are going to Machu Picchu. Just ask at the front desk of any hotel and they will tell you what to do, how long taxi/train rides are and everything else you need to know. They have answered these questions a million times.
We purchased tickets for Peru Rail in the Cusco town center. They were much cheaper than purchasing online. After we received a detailed explanation, we chose the train embarking from Ollantaytambo Peru because the train from the closest train station in Poroy Peru got you up to Machu Picchu way later in the day and the extra cost was the same as the cab. They do not have taxi’s or a bus that will take you to all the way to Aguas Calientes (at the bottom of Machu Picchu).
Machu Picchu bus tickets are easily purchasable when you get to Aguas Calientes. About $15 dollars for them to take you to the entrance at the top with a return ticket included. You can also walk to the top, but it is a big hike.
We recommend purchasing a bottle of wine in Aguas Calientes for the train ride back to Ollantaytambo . Make sure to take an opener with you that day! We did, and they will supply you cups on the train.
Staying in Aguas Calientes is also an option, but the hotel prices in our opinion were not worth it, plus we loved Cusco!