Machu Picchu….one of the seven Wonders of the World and the most visted place in South America. I’ve always dreamed of one day standing at the entrance of this phenomenon and the day it happened was pretty amazing. It literally looks like a huge giant was playing with legos and perfectly placed all the rocks and stones on top of a massive mountain in the middle of the sky. It actually doesn’t even look real….more like a backdrop of something that was drawn out of a fairy tale. Some locals believe that aliens had something to do with how it was built because it looks so perfect. MP is also known as the “Lost City of the Inca’s” and was built in the height of the Inca era and then abandoned over 100 years later. It’s also pretty hard for me to try and wrapped my mind around the fact that somehow and someway, actual people in the 15th century, moved stones all the way up to almost 8,000ft to build this fortress.
If you’re in South America, you have to make a pit stop and see Machu Picchu for yourself. It’s one of those things that you must see before you die. And because it’s one of the 7 wonders of the world, traveling on a budget and getting there is of course, not so easy. Depending on the time of year you go, you have a couple of different options and routes to actually get to MP. I went around February, which is considered the low season for visitors. This pretty much narrowed down how I was going to make my trip. There are three options: Train, Inka trail, or bus/hiking combined. The Inka trail is closed the entire month of February because of the rainy weather, however, if you chose this option outside of the slow season, it takes about 4-6 days to hike there from Cusco. The other option is to take a train from either Poroy station, 20 minutes from Cusco, or take a bus from Cusco to Ollantaytambo, (1.5 hours) and then to Aguas Calienetes (AKA Machu Picchu). If you decide to take this route, be prepared to pay for it. The Peru Rail and Inca Rail trains are the most expensive trains I have ever seen in all my travels. Your final option would be to take a bus from Cusco to Hydroelectrica (7 hours) and from there hike to Aquas Caliente (2.5 hours). Here you have the option to pay around $40 to take a train instead of walking. I will warn you, do not listen to anyone that says you can get a ticket for $18 from Hydroelectrica to Aquas Caliente. It’s not true! Option 3 is going to be your cheapest and best route. But be prepared for a lot of driving, swerving, and hiking. Because the process will take you all day.
When I was in Cusco, I shopped around and talked to 4 different tourist shops to get the best price for my 1 night 2 day trek to MP. The first shop quoted me for $110 a person, but, I quickly realized that each place I went to after that, the price got lower and lower until I found a place for $85 a person. This included the bus ride from Cusco to Hydroelectrica (6-7 hours), lunch that day, a hostel for one night in Aquas Caliente, dinner when you arrived, breakfast the following morning before MP, your bus ride back to Cusco from Hydroelectrica, and the entrance fee to MP aong with a tour guide, which alone is around $50. So I thought that was a deal that couldn’t be beat.
I woke up at 530am the morning of the tour. We met our tour guy outside of the our company and then walked to the mini van that was going to take us up to HydroElectrica. We all got matching wrist bands so we knew which vans to get back in on our way back. We all pile in the van and started the 7 hour ride through the sacred valley. The views were amazing at first.
But, once we got over half way, and was working our way up into the mountains, the roads turned into gravel and got more narrow on every turn. At one point, there was another van coming towards us and we had to stop and almost hang off the edge of the cliff to get by. And not to mention, all the turns and stopping and going, because of the snake-like roads, was getting annoying. The worst part of it all was the bumps. It rattles the heck out of you because of all the gravel on the roads!! We stopped twice on the way there, because in all reality, that’s all you can really stop. There is nothing along the way. We got to Hydroelctrica around 230-3pm. From there we started our hike to Aquas Caliente. I’m not much of a hiker, so I was’t looking forward to it. I didn’t really know what to expect and there really isn’t a trail. You just follow the train tracks. I will say that if you have actual hiking shoes, bring them. There is no level trail you actually walk on. After 2.5 hours of walking on massive rocks and hitting the sides of your shoes on the tracks and rocks, I developed blisters on the sides of my pinky toes.
Remeber, everything you bring with you will have to be carried throughout your entire trip, even up to MP. So pack light. Most hostels will let you leave your bag there for the night and you can get it the following day or whenever you make it back to Cusco. I packed a small backpack that worked perfectly. Since I went during rainy season, I brought a couple of layers of clothes, a poncho, leggings, and extra pair of socks. Also loaded up on some snacks, and of course water. I wore the same clothes for two days. It just made things easier that way.
We took our time with the hike. I was enjoying not being cooped up in that mini van. There were tons of other people around us doing the same trek, so your never alone when your walking. The views along the way make it really pleasant and relaxing. Don’t
forget to bring mosquito repellant. There are tons of them along this route because you are trekking next to a river the entire time. Along the way they have little stops for you to get food or buy water. There was even some people who pitched a tent along the way.
It took us about 4 hours to get to Aguas Caliente. Once we arrived, we walked through the entire town. It’s not that big, but it’s filled with tourists. Everything is crazy expensive. Our hostel that was part of our arranged deal with the tour agency was absolutely horrible. It was so disgusting. There was 3 of us traveling together and we were lucky enough to get a private room to ourselves, but it was still really gross. That night, our entire group met for dinner that was included with our package. Dinner was basic. Our tour guide came down to talk to us about the plan for tomorrow. We had to be up at 530am to eat breakfast and then we could either hike up, or pay $12usd and take the bus up ($24 roundtrip). We all were suppose to meet at the top of MP and he was going to be our tour guide for the day, which was also included. I highly recommend taking the bus up. The hike to the top is straight stairs. They will tell you it take only 45 minutes, but I can assure you it will take at least 1.5 hours.
The park opens up at 7am. Everyone gets there at the same time to watch the sunrise. The bus line will be crazy long in the morning, so either wake up earlier than everyone else, or be prepared to wait. We did the exact opposite. Instead of going when the other 400 people were, we decided to stay in bed and woke up around 8am, when everyone was already up there. In the morning time, depending on the time of year you go, it’s very cloudy, so waking up super early and fighting the crowd for sunrise didn’t make any sense to us because you wouldn’t get to see anything anyways. Plus, there was maybe 20 people buying bus tickets and waiting when we got there compare to the line being all the way through the entire town. We didn’t even wait 5 minutes to take the bus up. When we arrived up to the gate, everyone was pretty much cleared out.
If you decide to take this journey without using a tour company, depending on what time of year you go, I would buy your tickets to the park in advanced. They only sell a certain amount of tickets a day to enter Machu Picchu. I did hear that if they do sell out on a certain day you want to go, that the next morning, you can go to the top by the entrance, and they will magically have extra tickets or sale even though they stated the night before they were sold out.
At the first part of Machu Picchu, you will walk right into that picture perfect postcard moment. It actually set me back when I saw it for the first time.
Its unbelievable. But remember, like I said, if you go early in the morning where there is a lot of clouds, (the time and year play into effect here), your picture perfect moment will be ruined by the clouds. You won’t even be able to see any of the ruins or Machu Picchu itself when you hike up to the top. I actually had to wait waited about 30-40 for the clouds to clear up. But even then, there was still some left. There isn’t a bathroom inside the actual park, just outside before you enter. Your allowed to enter and reenter up to 3 times per ticket. The actual park has a one way hike throughout the entire complex, so once you get inside, if you leave, you have to start back at the beginning again. Dont forget to bring your passport. There is a MP stamp outside of the gate where you exit to stamp your passport page. If you decide not to buy a roundtrip bus ticket, don’t worry, you can buy it when you exit MP.
We had the bus driver stop at the bottom of the hill since we were hiking back so he didn’t take us all the way back into Aguas Calentine. As part of the tour package, our bus back to Cusco left Hydroelectria at 3pm, so in order to catch the van back, we had to leave MP no later than 12.
This left us about 3 hours to walk though and take as many pictures as possible and soak in how amazing this wonder of the world was. In all honesty, that’s all we needed. By the time we left the park, the sun was out and the clouds were almost gone. So really, the best time to go would be around noon. But thats only if you don’t book a tour package and have to leave by a certain time.
The 2.5 hour wake back wasn’t that bad. I was so exhausted from everything I just wanted to be back. I made it back in less than 2 hours. I didn’t stop one time. Once I arrived back, I hoped in the van and prepared myself for the curvy 7 hour drive back to Cusco. On the tiny road in the mountains, we ended up having a flat tire and pulled off to fix it. I would advise grabbing some food in Hydroelectrica before taking off. We didn’t stop on the way back other than to fix the tire. This would be where your snacks will come in handy. We arrived back in Cusco around 9pm in the pouring down rain and I have never been more happier not be in a van.
Even though my experience getting to and from MP wasn’t that great, in the end, the only thing I would of done different would have been more research on the hostel and tour company I choose. But all in all, MP itself was completely worth everything and more. So if you are in South America, and you don’t make a trip here, you have missed out on one of the best things you will ever see!