Having just returned from my own trip to Machu Picchu a few weeks ago, I wanted to share some of my travel tips! If you haven’t been to Machu Picchu, I highly suggest a trip! It is absolutely beautiful and words can’t even describe the amazing views.
*Note: we booked our entire trip to Cuzco and Machu Picchu through a travel agent, so most things were included. We got the cheapest deal- $225 USD for it all (3 nights + 4 days, tour guides the whole way, transportation, 4 meals, Machu Picchu ticket included), and as prices are constantly subject to change with travel agencies, tickets, and transportation, there’s a potential you might pay a different price for a similar trip. These are tips from my own experience, and as you know, everyone has a different experience traveling!*
>>> If you’re planning a trip to Machu Picchu, you’ll need to fly from Lima to Cuzco. While most Peruvians take LAN for domestic flights, I recommend tourists fly with Star Peru. Quick, safe, no-nonsense flight for a decent price. Book as far in advance as you can, because those flights fill up fast! Each flight was complete with a cute little box of snacks to enjoy.
>>> Upon arriving in Cuzco, it’s important to let your body acclimate to the altitude. Altitude sickness is no joke, I’ve experienced it before, so take the first day easy! Rest as much as you can without missing out on the great sightseeing opportunities in Cuzco! It’s a beautiful city with so much history and culture. I recommend drinking lots of water and coca tea, which helps with altitude sickness and pretty much anything else. That tea is a miracle drink!
Cuzco is a city with much to see, so it doesn’t hurt to spend a day or two there before traveling to Aguas Calientes. Traveling from sea-level Lima, to Cuzco’s 10,800ft, then Machu Picchu’s 8,040ft, will take a toll on your body… take it easy!
>>> There are a few ways to get to Aguas Calientes from Cuzco, and the most popular one is taking a van filled with other tourists. It’s the cheapest route, and included in any travel packages one might buy for a trip to Machu Picchu through a travel agency. Our van ride was included, so I don’t know the exact price. The other option is to take a train (I recommend Peru Rail) straight into Aguas Calientes. The tickets range from $50 USD to $380 USD depending on the type of train you want to take and departure time. Train travel is the easiest and probably more comfortable method of transportation, but for budget travelers, I suggest taking a van! It was a very bumpy but interesting ride that offered great views of the mountains and different landscapes we drove through. The van ride can take from 6 to 8 hours, depending on your drivers and the conditions of the roads.
>>> Taking a van will only get you so far (literally) so be prepared for a 10KM hike on Camino a Machu Picchu to get to Aguas Calientes. It can take anywhere from 2 to 2 1/2 hours, be sure to pack a small flashlight and raincoat! You never know what can happen while hiking in Peru!
>>> Because Aguas Calientes is the springboard to Machu Picchu, be prepared for jacked-up prices on everything. This includes a “service” fee on bills at restaurants. We each ordered pizza that cost S/.18 (~ $6.50 USD) and the bill came with a service fee of S/.8 (~ $2.90 USD) plus we had to leave a little tip on top of that! And water costs a lot more in Aguas Calientes than any other city: S/.6 (~$2.20 USD) instead of the usual S/.2 (~ $0.75 USD). Just a small detail, but add to your travel budget for food expenses!
the size of a tortilla
>>> Find restaurants with “menu” in order to get the most bang for your buck. (This applies to traveling anywhere in Peru!) There are lots of restaurants that offer this, and it includes a soup, main dish, and a soda or hot tea. It’s usually a reasonable price, and definitely more food for your money than at some places!
>>> Once in Aguas Calientes, after finding lodging and eating an overpriced meal, check on your tickets for Machu PIcchu. I recommend booking these as soon as you determine your travel dates to Peru! The price for a non-Peruvian is S/.128 (~ $46 USD), while Peruvians pay S/.65 (~ $24 USD.) In our case, we ordered our travel package about 3 weeks in advance, so our travel guides took care of the tickets. You could book them a few days in advance, if you are a last-minute traveler, but they only allow 3,000 guests per day so keep that in mind.
>>> To get to the actual site of Machu Picchu, you have two options:
- option 1: hiking on the rest of the Camino uphill on a steep trail to get to the entrance. This would take about 1 1/2 hours for an “athletic” person, and twice as long for a “non-athletic” person. Our guide suggested leaving the hotel by 4:30am in order to get to the park on time. Free.
- option 2: taking a 20+ minute bus ride to the entrance. $18.50 USD for non-Peruvians. $13 USD for Peruvians.
[[We were not told about these options when we ordered our travel package, so we were kind of surprised that we had to shell out extra cash since we did not want to take the trail! I guess you might think that's whiny of us, but after our 10K hike the day before, we had had enough of that camino!]]
>>> The bus station is conveniently located near the plaza, at the center of the little touristy town, so there’s no way to miss it… especially early in the morning when all the other tourists are lined up waiting to get their tickets and board a bus! The buses leave the station every 5 minutes or so, so there’s virtually no wait. The ride was 25 minutes, and we were standing in line to enter the site a little after 6:00am.
>>> Tours at Machu Picchu are best in the mornings... it’s still relatively cool, not as crowded as later in the day, and you have plenty of time to explore without worrying about time constraints!
>>> Most people visiting Machu Picchu are there with a travel guide, but if you aren’t, don’t worry- there were dozens of guides standing outside the entrance offering to give tours in German, Chinese, English, Portuguese, etc. Because we were with a big travel group, we split up into two- one tour in English, one in Spanish. I opted for the Spanish group, and was so glad I did! Our tour guide was so informative, funny, helpful with questions, and just a really nice guy. The tour guides are all very well informed about the history of the site and the importance of each building. It was really impressive how much he knew!
>>> Things to bring into Machu Picchu:
- water bottle
>>> After enjoying hours inside Machu Picchu, don’t forget to get your passport stamped on your way out! They have a cute little Machu Picchu stamp and I was so excited to add it to my passport!
Our visit was 09/13/13 hence my choice of page #13
>> The trains from Aguas Calientes depart around 1:00pm, so be sure to grab lunch or snacks in town before leaving. If you opted for train ride into town, then you’ll take the train back to Cuzco. If you took the van, be prepared for another bumpy ride back to Cuzco. Honestly, after being awake so early to spend the morning at Machu Picchu, we were exhausted and tried to sleep most of the way back!
Those are some of my basic tips for traveling from Cuzco to Aguas Calientes, and then onto Machu Picchu. I’m sure I left some things out (like the fact that there are hot springs that are popular for tourists!), but I feel like these tips are the most important things to know about traveling there!
If you have any questions about my experience or have comments about your own experience, please share them with me!