Machu Picchu is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world – and for good reason. It’s absolutely breathtaking.
I visited Machu Picchu in May 2016; it was the end of my first trip to South America. I started off by spending a few days in Cusco, the adorable little city that acts as the hub for tourists to acclimate to the elevation before going to Machu Picchu, which is located in Aguas Calientes.
I stayed in Cusco for five days before heading to Aguas Calientes to visit Machu Picchu. I didn’t think I had any problems acclimating to the elevation, until I took a flight of stairs to get to my hostel dorm. It was a bit tough to get up, but I’m not sure if that is from the elevation or the shape I am in 😉
I booked a tour from a local tour company to get from Cusco to Machu Picchu, which cost $200 USD and included the following:
- Transport by van to the railway to get to Aguas Calientes (there is a 3 hour drive before a 30 mins train ride), and back to Cusco
- Hotel room for one night (one room, two twin beds, shared with my brother)
- Lunch, Dinner on day one; Breakfast on day 2
- Tour guide for your exploration of Machu Picchu
- Ticket entry to Machu Picchu
This tour did NOT include the following:
- train service from Hidroelectrico to Aguas Calientes (a 30 min, $30 train ride, or about 3-4 hour hike)
- the bus from Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu (a 10 min, $18 bus ride, or 1 hour hike)
We left on this tour early in the morning on Day 1. We met at the city center, hopped in a taxi van, and were driven about 3 hours out of Cusco to Hidroelectrico. We had a pit stop to use the restroom and grab a coffee/lunch/snack if we needed it. We drove a bit more and then had another stop off for lunch, at an open concept, local restaurant surrounded by mountains.
We arrived in Hidroelectrico (where the road ends) at about 2:30 PM. My brother and I were interested in a little hike, so we strapped our backpacks on and began the trek along the train tracks to Aguas Calientes with the rest of our group.
The hike had some beautiful views, and took us about 3 hours to get to Aguas Calientes. We trekked up the mountain into the city just as the sun was about to set. We were assigned a room at the hotel, had a briefing with the tour guide, and then went to sleep, as we had an early morning.
We woke up at 4 am the next day to head up to Machu Picchu. My brother and I had purchased round trip tickets for the bus to get up to Machu Picchu the night before. Another option is to hike up the mountain; it’s a very steep, 1 hour hike, which you’ll have to begin at 4 am. I’m not a morning person, so bus tickets were worth the $36 round trip to me. Pro Tip: if you are in decent shape before going to Machu Picchu, you can save a pretty penny on transport by hiking.
We got in to Machu Picchu early in the morning and walked through the ruins with a guide. It was so foggy, but the guide said it could clear up before we left.
After our guided tour, which was very informative, we had a couple hours to wander. The llamas were all over the place. I actually had to jump out of the way while walking up some stairs to avoid getting stampeded by a llama!
We walked up to the top of the mountain for the best view – but it was still a bit foggy.
Overall, it was a great trip. If you’d like to see Machu Picchu, I’d highly recommend going sooner rather than later. The tour guide mentioned that the tourism at Machu Picchu is causing some erosion of the mountain – meaning that it could be shut down to tourists as soon as two years from now!
Tips for Visiting Machu Picchu:
- Save money by hiking versus taking expensive transport
- Bring food into Machu Picchu – there is one restaurant there and it’s very expensive
- Don’t overpack – this will make it easier to hike and get around in general
- I would recommend not booking a tour, or booking a 3+ day tour, to get the most amount of time at Machu Picchu (I was only at Machu Picchu for about 4 hours total; not very much time considering how long it took to get there)
- Bring water
- Wear layers, as it gets very cool and windy
- Bring an umbrella and rain poncho even if you don’t go during the rainy season
- If you have time, spend a couple days in Aguas Calientes. It’s a cute little town and full of natural beauty – take a soak in the hot springs or take a hike outside of the town to see waterfalls