Visiting Machu Picchu
Machu Picchu! One of the New Seven Wonders of the World, Machu Picchu easily lives up to the hype that it generates. Even after 600 years of it resting in the Andes, it’s still such an awe-inspiring site that it’s become one of my most recommended places to visit. Honestly, much of our trip to Peru was centered around getting to, and touring Machu Picchu.
So, what exactly does Machu Picchu entail and what makes it so great?
The site itself has been around for roughly six centuries and survived the Spanish conquest, mostly due to its well-hidden location. The small town, believed to be a place for Incan rulers to rest and get closer to their gods, is still very well preserved and maintained. It consists of numerous stone houses, places of worship, and a very sophisticated water dispersion system. If it wasn’t obvious enough that the Incan’s were skilled engineers and builders, Machu Picchu stands as a monument to show just how innovative and genius of a people they were.
But enough of the history lesson, lets get into how to get there!
How to get to Machu Picchu
I’ll go into more specific detail below, but the overview of our trip was to:
- Fly int Lima, Peru
- Connecting flight to Cuzco, Peru
- Train to Agua Calientes (town at the base of Machu Picchu)
So, as far as the details go, the best way to get to Machu Picchu is by flying into Peru’s capital city, Lima, and then taking a connecting flight to Cuzco (Cusco). The airport is small at Cusco so navigating it won’t be difficult, but I strongly encourage you to have some transportation setup in advance, or at least have an address of where to go next. If you don’t have a car coming to get you, no worries, there are usually plenty of taxi’s out-front offering rides.
We stayed in Cusco for a few nights just to experience the city, but it can be scheduled to land and immediately ride to one of the train stations to disembark for Aguas Calientes.
Getting from Cusco to Machu Picchu
There are 3 main ways to get from Cuzco to Machu Picchu.
- Hike the Inca Trail
Hiking to Machu Picchu via the Inca Trail
Many people take up the option to hike the Inca Trail to Aguas Calientes from Cuzco. The Inca Trail consists of a few separate trails that have different scenery and altitudes, but all end up at Machu Picchu. There’s the Classic Trail, Mollepata Trail, and the One Day Trail, that make up what is know as the Inca Trail.
I have yet to hear negative reviews about taking the trail and everyone seems to report that it’s a phenomenal trip (I’ll still be taking the train). If the hike is something you’re interested in, be sure to book out far in advance, as there is a limit on how many tourists are allowed on the trail each day.
Taking a Car/Bus
This is obviously an option, but I don’t recommend it. Renting a car will cost more than a train ride, the bus will be inconvenient and eat up a good part of your day, and a taxi will be way to expensive. If this is the only option, then take it, but be aware there are better options.
Train from Cusco to Machu Picchu
Taking a train was the option we chose, and it was nice and relaxing. One warning though, we had an issue purchasing online where the payment was submitted twice, and it double charged us (we used Inca Rail). We did get a refund on the second charge, but just make sure if you purchase online, don’t hit submit again if it’s loading slow!
As far as options for trains, the two main competitors are Inca Rail and Peru Rail. Depending on what you want out of the train ride, each company offers a few different selections. Some packages are simple train rides while others seem to be luxury rides. We went with the simplest and if you’re looking to budget, the most affordable options we found were with Inca Rail. Regardless of the company you choose, they all end up at Aguas Calientes and I encourage booking at least 1 to 2 nights in Aguas Calientes as it makes the traveling easier and walking around the town at night was relaxing.
Getting to Machu Picchu from Aguas Calientes
We stayed overnight in Aguas Calientes so we were able to get a good nights rest prior to ascending the mountain. Be prepared to see a lot of people while you’re up there too, Machu Picchu is a very popular destination. Our tickets into the ruins were for 0800, and it was fairly crowded that early. So, the best time we figured to go was earlier if you’re able, or even around noon.
The options to get to the peak include almost constant bus departures or hiking up. If you take a bus it will only be around a 20-minute ride before you reach the entrance. We decided to hike as we wanted to stretch our legs and enjoy the mountain. We didn’t regret it either, as it only took about an hour and it was a great workout! Also, if you’re like me and want to hike but might be concerned with the safety, don’t be. The hike was very safe and there wasn’t a single part of the ascent that looked sketchy or off putting. I do recommend taking a hiking bag for a few snacks as food at the top can be pricy.
Where to stay in Machu Picchu
The closest lodge to Machu Picchu is the Belmond Sanctuary Lodge, all other options are down the hill in Aguas Calientes. This was actually preferred for us as there were plenty of places to eat in Aguas Calientes and some nice nightlife.
We ended up staying in the Hotel Ferre since it was very affordable and comfortable. We like to find a middle ground between budget and still having hot water.
There are multiple other options in the town though, but I suggest going with a hotel as it’s not that expensive. If you are really looking for a budget option though, Airbnb does have some cheap offers.
Where to eat in Machu Picchu
On the mountain itself, there are two main restaurants. I don’t need to show a map to them as you won’t miss them, they make up 2 of the 4 buildings at the entrance. That being said, TAKE SNACKS from Aguas Calientes for your trip up, as the food at the top will cost more (no surprise there). You can eat while you’re up there, but I suggest having a decent breakfast and carrying small snacks for your time at Mach Picchu. Once you get back to Aguas Calientes, then you can hit the local restaurants and have a few pisco sours!
Machu Picchu Map
Don’t forget your map of Machu Picchu! You’ll be surprised how big the ruins are and how much walking there is to do, a map will come in handy!
Sites to See in Machu Picchu
Machu Picchu has a lot to offer once you get up there, as you probably guessed from the map. While I recommend walking through the entire site, including the terraces, below are some great options that pack some history.
The Watchmans Hut
You’ll see the Watchmans Hut not long after entering the ruins. It’s also a perfect place to get a view over Machu Picchu.
Next to the Watchman’s Hut is the funerary stone. There are still multiple theories onto what the rock was used for, but some believe it was meant for sacrificial purposes.
Temple of the Sun
The Temple of the Sun represents some of Machu Picchu’s best craftsmanship. The temple was most likely a place used for astronomical observations and gives a great view of the surrounding Andes.
Temple of Three Windows
Located in the Royal Sector, the temple of three windows perfectly frame the 3 facing mountains. You’ll also notice that the stones are much larger than many of the surrounding building materials, another testament to the Incan’s ingenuity.
Located off site of Machu Picchu, the sun gate offers an amazing view slightly above Machu Picchu and the surrounding Andes. It’s a somewhat steep climb up so it may be tiring, but the views are well worth it.
Huayna Picchu or “Young Peak” is the mountain that sits directly behind Machu Picchu. This is a more difficult trek to get through due to the altitude, but the views give a perfect site of Machu Picchu from above.
Undoubtedly, you’ll find yourself here as you walk around Machu Picchu. The central plaza is the main open area in the center of the ruins and is usually populated with a few alpacas grazing on the grass.
FAQ’s and Tips about Machu Picchu
- Best times to visit Machu Picchu – The best time to visit Machu Picchu is between June and August, which is also it’s peak travel season. Between June and August, Peru reaches its coolest and driest months, making it easier to climb and experience Machu Picchu.
- Adjusting to the altitude – Altitude sickness is common among Peru tourists. Many of the local shops offer coca-based medicine to help with the headaches and fatigue. Also, make sure to drink plenty of water as your body will be using more adjusting to the altitude.
- Currency – The Peruvian Sol is the currency used and it’s best to carry cash on you as not everywhere will take card.
- Language – The language used throughout Peru is Spanish and it’s very similar to what’s taught in most schools as formal Spanish.