Machu Picchu – an awesome visit and our handy travel tips (April 2013)

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It goes without saying that Machu Picchu is incredible. It also goes without saying that it is incredibly touristic. Many people choose to do the Inca Trail, a 4 night hike into Machu Picchu, but this requires booking months in advance – way beyond our organisational prowess – and is very expensive. There are numerous tour options but we wanted to save some money and go under our own steam – this was straight forward but finding out how to do this was surprisingly complicated.

Here are some pictures of what we found along the way and how we went solo (and what we paid in April 2013).

OUR ADVENTURE TO MACHU PICCHU
Machu Picchu can only be accessed from the small town of Agua Calientes and this is only accessible by a very expensive (but fun) train or by foot along the train line. It is in fact the price of this train and the entrance into Machu Picchu which accounts for the high prices of many organised tours.

NOTE: Train and entrance tickets must be bought in advance and this is easily done both online or in Cusco. Train tickets can be bought at the offices of Inca Rail or Peru Rail on the Plaza de Armas in Cusco (or from their websites). Entrance tickets can be bought from the office on Wayna Capac near the junction with Avenida de la Cultura, also in Cusco.

Step 1: Minibus from Cusco to Ollantaytambo (1.5 hours, 10 soles per person)
Ollantaytambo is the start of the train journey to Machu Picchu and is a quaint village in the Sacred Valley (the Sacred Valley leads up to Machu Picchu and contains many small villages and ancient ruins). There are other train options but the quickest and cheapest way is this one. The bus journey is really scenic and the bus can be taken from the intersection of Pavitos and Avenida Grau – they leave when they are full which appeared to be regularly.

Step 2: Train from Ollantaytambo to Agua Calientes (1.5 hours, $52 per person)
We chose to spend a night in Agua Calientes and so we took a a late train at 12:58. It is possible to visit Machu Picchu in one day by taking a very early train, these trains are more expensive (up to $80 per person). The train journey runs along side a rather aggressive looking river through an incredibly steep valley – no wonder this place was hard to find.

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Standing in front of the train on the track at the (clearly safety conscious) station in Ollantaytambo - it took me days to remember this name. The train has cheaper carriages for Peruvian people and posher, much more expensive ones for tourists - Peruvians and tourists cannot travel together. This seemed a bit wrong to us.

Step 3: Night in Aguas Calientes (night at Hostal el Mystico, 70 soles per room w/o breakfast)
Agua Calientes is an unusual place, remember everything gets here by train and it is really just the tourist stop of point for Machu Picchu. It has a strange charm and a thermal baths (hence the name – hot waters). The thermal baths were really not so hot and quite small, more a writhing mass of pink tourist flesh. On the plus side they sell beer and pisco sours. Apart from that expect average food, cobbled together buildings but an incredibly beautiful setting.

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The mysterious town of Agua Calientes. Touristic - yes, strangely charming - yes, awesome views - YES.


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Roads, where we're going we don't need roads. No really, Agua Calientes just has a train track. Ok, there is a road to Machu Picchu along with buses - I have no idea how they got them there.

Step 4: Bus to Machu Piccu (30 mins, $18 return per person)
A very early start, we left the hotel at 5.15 – we wanted to get our money’s worth in Macchu Picchu. We did not have to wait long for the bus which were leaving continously as they filled up from the line of people waiting. We waited for about 10 minutes. The bus then snakes up a large number of switch backs to the entrance of Machu Picchu. Keep your eyes closed if you don’t like steep drops!

Step 5: Machu Picchu and Huaynu Picchu (entrance 152 soles per person, guided tour 30 soles per person for group of 4)
It is hard to put this into words so we have included some of our pictures. All I can say is that it is just like the pictures you have seen but at the same time a million times more awesome.

There is so much to do here that you can easily spend a whole day. We entered at around 06:15 and left at 15:30ish. We spent the first 2 hours on a guided tour, the guide can easily be picked up in the queue to get in. In advance we also paid the extra $10 to climb Huaynu Piccu (only 400 people allowed per day). This is a steep uphill climb/scramble with some unbelievable views of both Machu Picchu and the steep drop down the side of the mountain – well worth it.

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Our first view on Machu Picchu. We could have done this in photoshop for a lot less money. That big mountain on the right is Huaynu Picchu which we climbed later.


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The Inca's were awesome at turning impassable mountains into livable and farmable refuges. These terraces were used for farming.


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The Inca's were also big fans of astronomy - however they were not supposed to look at the sky because this is where the gods were hanging out. This made astronomy a little difficult so they built these useful mirrors out of stone so they could look at the sky indirectly. Apparently this was okay.


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The Inca's were masters of working with stone. Many temples and habitations took advantage of natural features in the stone.


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Taking a stoll around the streets of Machu Picchu - we learnt that the people were short.


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Em conquering the route up Huayna Picchu. Machu Picchu and the switch backs from the bus route can be seen in the background. This walk was a good 45 minutes walking up hill. It is a good thing we got in some training at Colca Canyon.


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The route up was quite a scramble in places and included this rather narrow tunnel - fortunately only about 5m long.


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It was well worth the climb up for the great views of Machu Picchu. Also we do love a good picture of the two of us sweating profusely.


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In places the walk back down was a little narrow - nonetheless Em managed to stop for this lovely picture.


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After lots of walking around the site it was nice to take some time to chill out at the end of the day when many of the tourists had started to leave.


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I still managed to stumble across many groups of tourists - these ones had conveniently arranged themselves into a triangle.

Step 6: Bus back down to Agua Calientes (already paid for on the way out)
This seems fairly self evident.

Step 7: Train back to Ollantaytambo (1.5 hours, $77)
We came back on the slightly fancier ‘Vistadome’ train. Unfortunately the slightly later and cheaper train was sold out by the time we booked. However, we were treated to a ‘dance show’ and a ‘fashion show’ in the short journey.

We then chose to spend a night in the quaint village of Ollantaytambo – we don’t like to rush. It seems most people just come through here to the station but we spent a very relaxing evening at the lovely Casa de Wow. You could easily kick off a trip through the rest of the Sacred Valley from here.

Step 8: Taxi back to Cusco (1.5 hours, 15 soles per person)
You can easily pick up another minivan – there is a small car park near the train station where they leave from. We shared a taxi with another couple for a shared cost of 60 soles.

Total price including one night of accommodation in Aguas Calientes but not including food: 660 soles, $250, £170 per person (ouch)

Other options
– The super cheap way to get there is to take a bus to Santa Theresa (6 hours or more) and then hike (3 hours) the train line of catch one of the trains coming to Aguas Calientes from the other side. The people we met who did this started the hike in the dark – not ideal! This saves the expensive train fair which costs between $100 and $150 of the trip – if you do this both ways. It is possible to take the train in one direction – the one way train tickets are about 15% more expensive than when bought as part of a return.
– Jungle tour: this alternative to the Inca trails is a 3 night hiking, biking and rafting tour to Machu Picchu. The train only needs to be taken one way. The total cost for this trip was between $200 and $270 dollars – remember very little of this is likely to make it to the local community.
– There are numerous alternative tours through the scared valley or over the nearby mountains – shop around.

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6 responses »

  1. Hi Chris and Em,
    This is a great help actually, thanks!! We’ve just decided to go to MP and the only real time we can go is the 1st week in April, as I’m going to Argentina to see the Orca’s feeding and they do this between February and April (sorry I just thought I’d throw that in there! kkk). It seems from what I’ve read is that Nov-April is the rainy season there, and we really don’t want any rain! So my question to you guys if you don’t mind is, what time in April did you go? And did it rain at all?
    Thanks a million!!
    Keith

    • Hi Keith,

      Thank you so much for your message. We were there 13-14 April 2013. There was quite a bit of rain in Aguas Caliente (the gateway town to Machu Picchu) but I don’t remember it in a negative sense. There is so much vegetation that it almost seemed natural for so much humidity, We had no actual rain when we visited Machu Picchu. Clouds came and went (the weather there is very changeable) but we had a glorious sunrise in the morning. Don’t hesitate to go – even with a risk of rain. It is a tremendous experience and the visual delights will distract you from any weather problems! Let us know how you get on. Em

      P.s. So jealous about the Orcas – sounds amazing!

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