So you want to see a wonder of the world, good for you! Machu Picchu is definitely worthy of being visited, but boy is it complicated to get to. It is completely isolated. I’ve said that a place was “in the middle of nowhere” hundreds of times, I live in Arkansas after all, but Machu Picchu is actually in the middle of nowhere. We thought originally that we could do it as a day trip from Cuzco…and maybe you can, but we turned it into a 2 day trip for a variety of reasons. Your other option is to hike the Inca trail but because we only had 11 days in Peru we chose not to spend 4 days of it hiking this trail, but if you are lucky enough to have the time and the foresight to get a permit, enjoy! You have to book your trail spot 6 months in advance, and planning that far in advance isn’t really something we can do so we took a less strenuous route.
Here we go: Cuzco to Ollantaytambo to Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu and back.
Phase 1: Cuzco to Poroy or Ollantaytambo
You cannot take the train from Cuzco to Aguas Calientes, which is the closest town to Machu Pichu. You have to travel by road to either Poroy or Ollantaytambo. Poroy is much closer to Cuzco, only a 30 minutes car ride. This is great unless, like us, you are making this trek between January and April. Because of the danger of rockslides onto the tracks, the Poroy station is closed the first 4 months of the year. This means you will have to travel 2 hours to Ollantaytambo by car. One option is taking a collectivo, which is basically a van for about $4, but they are very slow and we heard they are fairly dangerous. Luckily taxis are very cheap in Peru, so a 2 hour ride to Ollantaytambo was only $30. We actually used Uber just because it was convenient. Our uber driver even asked when we would be back in Ollantaytambo and told us he would meet us there the next day. What good service!
Phase 2: Ollantaytambo to Aguas Calientes
Now, you will need to get a train. We bought tickets, with return, for $110. They vary in price anywhere from $45 to $120 per leg. It depends on what type of train you take and at what time. Generally, the Expedition is the cheapest, and the Hiram Bingham is the most expensive. We decided to take the Vistadome to Machu Picchu, which is the middle ground. The big selling point of the vistadome is the panoramic windows. There are breathtaking views the entire journey, and they provide free snacks and drinks on the Vistadome which you won’t find on the Expedition. It was a very enjoyable trip, if you can, go ahead and splurge the extra $10 for the vistadome.
Phase 3: Aquas Calientes to Machu Picchu
Congrats friend, you have almost made it. We spent the night in Aguas Calientes and tried pisco sours with our dinner. To summarize: Katelyn was a fan, I was not. It’s a very cool town and gives off a very ancient vibe. You can wind around the steep streets, looking up at the mountains surrounding you. It is so cool. I’m glad we had a few hours to wander in this Incan town. We went to bed early because of what is coming next: a 4:15am wake up call. Like most people that come here, we wanted to be at the gates when it opened at 6am. The first shuttle buses start leaving for machu picchu at 5:30am, but the line to get on the bus starts forming even earlier. You have to get to the bus stop, which is near the train station, early enough to buy your tickets for the shuttle ($19) and stand in line to get on the earliest buses. We got there at about 4:30 and made it on the second bus of the day! If you don’t really care what time you get there then sleep in to your heart’s content. The shuttles run every 15 minutes all day long.
- You have to pay with cash
- You have to have your passport for each person you are buying a ticket for
Phase 4: Machu Picchu
Let’s talk tickets.
Option 1: Buy them online. I’m going to be honest people seem to have a lot of trouble with this option. It’s kind of complicated. The Peruvian government should really hire someone to streamline their websites. However, it may work just fine! Go for it. There is a 5% service charge to do so.
Option 2: Buy them at a registered office. We bought ours at the Cusco Association of Travel Agencies (Calle Nueva Baja Nº 424-Cusco) in Cusco. You can also buy them in Aguas Calientes (Av. Pachacutec cuadra 1 s/n) but you can only pay in cash there. Also remember they only allow a certain amount of people into Machu Picchu per day, so it would stress me out to wait until the day you go to Aguas Calientes to find out if you are one of the lucky 2500! But hey, you do you.
One more decision you have to make is whether you also want to hike a mountain that day…or not. Only 400 people per day are allowed to hike each mountain, so if you have your heart set on it, then buy tickets early. Wayna Picchu sells out months in advance, it is by far the more popular hike. By the time we bought tickets Wayna Picchu was sold out, so we opted to climb Montana Machu Picchu.
Both give you views of the ruins and the surrounding mountains, but honestly by the time we got to the top of Montana Machu Picchu we could see absolutely nothing because of the fog! It’s apparently a common problem. Both climbs should NOT BE ATTEMPTED IF YOU ARE SCARED OF HEIGHTS. (Katelyn I’m talking to you)
Montana Machu Picchu: is taller, you hike up about 2000ft while you only gain 950 ft Wayna Picchu. The start times are more staggered so you are alone in the cloud forest for more of it. Takes about 3 hours to climb and descend. There are narrow places with small steps sticking out of rocks with only a long fall to your death on the other side…not trying to be dramatic but excuse me, seems very unsafe. It’s a little more covered with forest so if you are scared of heights you might survive this one (maybe, Katelyn had some trouble and wouldn’t let us stay at the top for very long hahaha) People who climb this mountain are the coolest of the cool and are willing to take the mountain less traveled…at least that’s what I heard somewhere.
Wayna Picchu: Everyone starts at the same time so it is more crowded. You don’t have to hike as far . It only takes about 2 hours to climb and descend. This is the loser mountain that only losers climb so don’t do it…just kidding its for those mysterious people that plan ahead and want to spend more time in the ruins.
I’m glad we chose to hike a mountain but boy was I sore the next day! This is not necessarily an easy hike mainly because of the altitude.
|Inca City of Machu Picchu||Inca CIty of Machu Picchu+ Montana Machu Picchu||Inca City of Machu Picchu + Wayna Picchu|
Once you have explored Machu Picchu to your hearts content you can get on a shuttle back down to Aguas Calientes, they run all day. Don’t forget to get a super cool Machu Picchu passport stamp before you leave!
Just so yall know that random taxi driver really did meet us back at Ollantaytambo and drove us back to Cuzco. Honestly couldn’t believe it. He was holding a sign at the train station! This was awesome until about 5 minutes later when he turned down a gravel path that we had not seen before and we were pretty sure it was over for us. Katelyn asked him and he said it was a shortcut. I was 100% certain this would be the last anyone ever heard of us. SO we drive down these dirt backroads for a while and eventually come to this cliff and start driving along the edge. I mean on. the. edge. Even better turns out this dirt path is also ONE WAY and when a car comes from the opposite way one person has to edge along and almost push the other off the cliff. This requires a lot of yelling and honking and reversing, while we sit trying not to notice what’s going on. To top it all off, there are signs everywhere saying DANGER. ROCKSLIDES. This non-road runs along the traintracks which are CLOSED because of rockslides. Lord help, I honestly cannot believe we survived. Yikes.
The point is we made it back to Cuzco safely and Machu Picchu was a trip of a lifetime!