Machu Picchu, we dream it, we imagine it, we fantasize it. So imagine if you already live in Peru. And even worse if you live here already for over a year and a half, but in the north, because this is where we live, in Chachapoyas specifically. But finally we had the opportunity to travel to the south of Peru !
Our first trip to the south, we could not miss the visit to Cusco, of course, and much less the one of Machu Picchu, recently named one of the wonders of the modern world.
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Some take the Inca trail with a trek of several days and nights that leads to Machu Picchu. Apparently, this trek is more and more used and not this isolated anymore. Still others are ready to walk along the railroad tracks between Ollantaytambo and Aguas Calientes. When the train arrives, you have to run, eh?
We booked online in advance our seats on the Peru-rail train. The cost of the trip between Ollantaytambo and Aguas Calientes is 67 dollars for foreigners and 31 for children.
Yes, it is very expensive, especially when you know that the road is only 20 kilometres.
The walk along the gorge is breathtaking.
Of course, if you want to visit Machu Picchu (who would go to Aguas Calientes for another reason?), you need to buy the ticket for the site well in advance.
Living in the north of Peru, we asked an agency in Cusco a long time in advance and they gave us the following rates: 64 soles (around 19 dollars) for Peruvian adults or residents like me. And 128 soles (38 dollars) for foreign adults, foreign children it was 65 soles or 32 soles for small residents or young Peruvians such as our children.
These are the same rates that you find directly in Aguas Calientes. Yes, I know it is far from the prices that you can sometimes read in some forums where travellers can see some pretty amazing things.
Once in Aguas Calientes, the most courageous thing is to realize the ascent to Machu Picchu walking. It takes between 1 hour and 1 ½, but you better be in shape.
Otherwise, the ascent can be done by bus. We could see the question several times : Can you buy tickets for the bus one day before ? The answer is “yes” (always check the date of the service, the same thing for your tickets). Two small wooden huts lodge the tickets sellers almost opposite where you board the bus. And here is the return Rate: the bus 24 dollars per adult and 12 dollars per foreign child, 15 and 8 to nationals or residents.
You might also choose to take the bus to go up and come back down the stairs, but the knees are not so happy about this decision either.
The company has 24 buses. The first one leaves at 5:30 am to Aguas Calientes. So we also have to wait for them to fill up, even if there are many people waiting.
There is no time for the bus ticket, only the day indicated on the ticket is valid. First come, first served !
In terms of guides, some of them are recommended by hotels in the city. They will come to pick you up at the agreed time and place to take the bus together with you. This will obviously be more expensive than finding a guide at the entrance of the archaeological site. 150 soles for a private visit or otherwise you can get it at 20 soles per person if you are part of a group.
One of the main attractions of the visit to Machu Picchu is witnessing the sunrise over the citadel. To do this you should get up early, no matter if you make the trip by foot or by bus.
Useful Information from the agencies: it seems that there are days that are more crowded than others in Machu Picchu. These are Tuesday, Thursday and Sundays. Agencies organize more rounds these days, I didn’t ask why. So I would say these days are to be avoided if it is possible for you.
We went on a Wednesday, and in these last days of June there were already many, many people. We are told that in this period the site can receive up to 4 000 people per day. It is far from the recommendations of the UNESCO that requested to limit the number of visitors in 2 500 to avoid the deterioration of the place.
We got up at 5 am to be in the bus queue, we will be there at 5:10 am and many other people are already waiting in line, it is impressive. But not as impressive as the number of people who will arrive while we are waiting !
In fact, the queue only starts to move at 5:30 am, logical, with the departure of the first bus, and we got on our bus at 6:05 am. If you can, sit on the right side, the view is more impressive.
25 minutes later, we are there. We are at the entrance of the site, the entrance of Machu Picchu.
In terms of logistics, I mean food and others, it is best not to wait to get the site to think about the organization. Everything is expensive there. Already in Aguas Calientes it is 2 times more expensive than in others places, so imagine Machu Picchu?
So don’t forget your water bottles. As for food, officially you are not allowed to eat sandwiches in the citadel. So we won’t talk about it. Hold on, so what! I can tell you that you just have to be as discreet as possible. Of course, if you do it responsibly and without leaving residues.
But where do I buy the sandwiches if everything is so expensive here? Well, in Aguas Calientes, of course. Your hotel will surely offer a Box Lunch service, with sandwich, drink and fruits.
However, it is probably cheaper to buy snacks and water bottles along the street where you have to queue anywhere while you wait to catch the bus. At 5 o’clock in the morning, no problem there are already open stores. The snacks might not be from the same morning, but I thought they looked good. And the offer is quite large to choose the product that you like.
Once at Machu Picchu you can either leave the citadel to eat the snacks off the classified site. You are entitled to 3 entries all day on the site. This can be useful for going to the bathroom, take another route or redo a tour of Machu Picchu, quietly, but also in the direction of the circulation (yes, there is a sens for your visit and the guards might whistle you, if you take a direction in reverse, as this is not allowed). Check anyway about the number of entries, because they are already talking about reducing the number of entries allowed per ticket. You will have to organise yourself then, because the bathrooms are only outside the protected area.
Should I talk about the condition of these toilets, at the entrance of the site, after two days without water? Maybe not ! At least we didn’t have to pay; usually it is 1 sol per person.
Of course, these tips are applicable only if it is your intention to stay at least half a day in Machu Picchu. I know most travellers will only stay 3 hours and then leave. In this case, there is no need to think about the sandwiches if you go back to Aguas Calientes before noon.
For those who want to arrive a little later, walking towards the Inca bridge, 20 minutes from the citadel and enjoy the site when the sun changes the light on the walls of the citadel and on the mountain Waynapicchu, then yes!
I will not write another article about Machu Picchu, its history, its architecture. For this, there exist already many great publications. Just remember that this monument dates back to the 15th century, and it seems that it was the Inca Pachacutec who was at its origin. This makes it actually (you know, that I live in northern Peru) about 700 to 1,000 years younger than our main archaeological sites which is the fortress of Kuelap in Chachapoyas – Amazonas.
Route to the inca bridge
The site seems quitter in the afternoon when the day visitors are already gone in order not to miss their afternoon train that will take them back to Cusco.
We took our time as we had planned to stay 2 nights in Aguas Calientes (are crazy these Gaules ?)
After 2:00 pm, the view of the site that you have after returning from the Inca Bridge is relatively quiet. We take our time to enjoy the place.
Finally will take the bus back at 3:15 pm to Aguas Calientes. We had made the most out of this beautiful day in Machu Picchu.
In conclusion, I would say yes, definitely, for the magic of the site despite its incredible crowd. It is a fascinating place, an incredible setting, and the sunrise!!!! We are like all the others, we want to enjoy this wonder, and have it for ourselves.
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