On the way to the top of Machu Picchu
We all have seen it multiple times on T.V. shows, documentaries on how this great Inca city might have been the works of aliens and dozens of other publications that describe this wonder of the new world as a magnificent work of human civilization. This might all be somehow accurate depictions of Machu Picchu, but as close as a description of what this place is, there is no way to describe the magnitude of awesomeness that this place radiates.
How to get to Machu Picchu
The typical trail to Machu Picchu starts in Lima, Peru for most people. Lima is an awesome Latin-American capital that seems to get very mixed reviews by their tourists, but I was very amazed at how much this city has to offer. From there you flight into Cuzco. Check out different airlines, this short flight is often very expensive by the larger airlines because they know how many people take this flight on a daily basis, make sure you check out www.starperu.com, we were able to find the same flight at a fraction of the cost of the bigger airlines. This short flight has some of the most magnificent scenery I’ve seen on any flights I’ve been in, make sure to get a Window seat so you get to see the awesome mountaintops of the Andes. Cusco is a very colorful town full of touristy places to visit, museums, churches etc. For accommodations I recommend you look a couple of streets behind the main plaza, you will find much cheaper hotels than the ones right of the plaza, most of them are very comfortable and clean. You can find great small boutique hotels for around $30 – $40 per night, with free “coca leaf” tea included, which is what they give you to get used to the high altitude. If you got the time while in Cusco make sure you take the 1 or 2 day bus trip to see all of the other ruins around the city. Most people do not know that Machu Picchu is only one of dozens of ruins of awesome historic Inca architecture in Peru. This trips are offered all around town, don’t buy the first one they offer you, make sure you ask around as prices for this trip vary significantly depending on where you buy it.
To get to Machu Picchu you first have to get to Aguas Calientes what is known as Machu Picchu Town. The only way to get there besides trekking, which I really want to do one day, is by train. The Peru Rail offers two different options (regular and luxury). We decided to pay the extra fee on the way to Aguas Calientes on the Luxury train and came back to Cusco on the regular wagon. The difference is not all that much, the luxury wagon offers bigger windows and better service/food, but if you are on a budget the regular wagon will do the job just fine. This has to be one of the most beautiful train rides in the world. The scenery is just beautiful, passing through rivers, small villages, mountains etc. Getting off the train you arrive to what is probably one of the smartest tourist traps of all times, to get off the station you have to walk through a market full of little stores selling all kinds of Peruvian and Inca souvenirs. Aguas Calientes (Machu Picchu town) is a very small town that it’s only purpose is to receive tourists on their way to Machu Picchu, so watch out for expensive restaurants, souvenir stores etc. I do recommend if you have an extra day on your trip to spend the night in Aguas Calientes, instead of going to Machu Picchu the same day you arrive from Cuzco. What happens is the vast majority of people visiting Machu Picchu will arrive in the early train from Cusco and head right out to Machu Picchu making it very crowded around 11am. If you can, spend the day in Aguas Calientes walking around and relaxing (Do not go to the thermal water pools, definitely not what we expected out of that place) and spend the night in Aguas Calientes. This way you can wake up very early and take the first bus to Machu Picchu at 5:20am. (Bus ride that is a total rip-off, about U$20 for a 15min bus ride). Seeing the sunrise in Machu Picchu is one of those unforgettable experiences of a lifetime. Best of all is you pretty much have all of Machu Picchu for you and a few other tourists for about 3 hours before the first massive wave of tourists arrive on the trains. If you are serious about having some awesome photos in Machu Picchu this is the only way to go. You can take your sweet time taking all the photos you want without having to fight for every spot or having 1,000 people in the background in all of your pics. If you have the money for it, I guess the next best alternative will be to actually spend the night at the Machu Picchu resort, which is right there next to Machu Picchu, but all I know is that is expensive.
You can’t actually appreciate the massive work involved in Machu Picchu until you stand in top of it and wonder how in the hell did the Incas hundreds of years ago moved all of those rocks into perfect formation in top of this insanely high mountaintop. The Incas thought of pretty much everything, they had dedicated places where they planted their food, running water channels that still work until today and even a clock that works with the shadow of the sun. This place makes you wonder of what humans are capable of doing when they work together. Besides Machu Picchu you will find two mountains at each end of the city, Machu Picchu Mountain and Huayna Picchu. If you decide to climb up any of the two make sure you buy the tickets in advance as I hear that they sell out a couple of weeks in advance, specially Huayna Picchu which is the most popular of the two. We decided to climb up Huayna Picchu at the 11am slot, which was perfect timing, since we saw much of Machu Picchu by the time the trains got in and were already in our way up to Huayna Picchu when most tourists where just getting into Machu Picchu. Huayna Picchu is a very exiting climb, not to hard, but definitely not recommended for people who are afraid of heights. I actually found out in Huayna Picchu that I was a little afraid of heights, had never felt that before in my life. The view of Machu Picchu that you get from the top of Huayna Picchu is awesome. Check out our picture gallery below to see how tiny Machu Picchu looks from up there. A very interesting story about our climb up to Huayna Picchu is how we saw a couple in their seventies who were climbing all the way up. The man had an old-school videotape kind of camera hanging off his neck and still climbing the steep stairs to Huayna Picchu. I stopped to ask them if they needed any help, after denying our help to carry their bag of the heavy camera they told us how they had bought the ticket to Huayna Picchu because someone had suggested it to them but they had no idea what it was. We passed them and kept going and were very surprised on our way back down to see the two of them exhausted but all the way in the top of this high mountain. I guess when you are determined to accomplish anything in life age will not stop you if you put your heart into it.
Back in Machu Picchu we strolled around the big stone walls some more and joined a guided tour for a bit just standing in the back hearing the guide talk about some of the spots in Machu Picchu. I personally do not like to be guided the whole time, this is why we decided not to do the guided tour, but if you are one who likes to follow a specific tour and have someone tell you everything about Machu Picchu a guided tour might be recommended. For photographers or if you like to take your time taking photgraphs and video guided tours will not be suited for you since they give you just a couple of minutes at each place. We were amazed to find out how knowledgeable the people who do the tours are. The guy who did our tour guide of ruins around Cuzco spoke about 4 languages, perfect English, had studied anthropology and knew everything about the Inca culture and history.
Machu Picchu is a must place to see. Besides all the tourist traps set because of the millions of people who visit this place every year, this is a trip that you won’t forget. Peru is a country that knows how many tourists they attract and do a great effort to manage their tourism very well. You find English-speaking people everywhere you go, and mostly everyone is very helpful and friendly.
Tips for your trip to Machu Picchu.
- At any airport do not use the first person that offers you a taxi service, they will rip you off.
- Try not to buy your souvenirs at the very touristy spots, stay away from airports, train stations etc. You will find the exact same stuff in stores inside the towns for half the price.
- When people approach you with lamas, kids in costumes, etc. they are asking for a “donation” to take a picture with them. We were unaware of this, and went up to the first few persons that came running with a smile to take a picture with us. After they asked for money everytime, we knew we could not smile to every single lady with a lama on the street.
- Check out for deals in Booking.com and AirBnB (use this code to get $25 off if you are new to AirBnB), hotels in general are inexpensive and very comfortable. Do not get trapped by the high prices of the big chain hotels.
- You can order food for take out at most hotels at great prices. This comes in handy when you are going out on tours or going up to Machu Picchu since you can ask them to have the food (sanwiches or something easy to carry) ready in the morning before you leave and take it with you. As you probably guessed it, it is expensive and hard to find food in some of the places you will be visiting. If you decide to hike up Huayna Picchu make sure you take plenty of water, no water dispensers available on the top 😉
Enjoy our video and pictures and don’t forget to drop us a line in the comments!