When I found out we had a race lined up in Peru, I decided I was going to go, so that I could visit Machu Picchu. I’ve wanted to visit Machu Picchu for a long time, and this was finally my chance to visit. I didn’t know at the time how difficult it would be.
I don’t really like tour companies. I prefer to build my own itinerary, or to fly by the seat of my pants. But getting to Machu Picchu isn’t simple or cheap, this might be a good time to use the services of a tour company. But make sure the tour company is one familiar with the area.
First you need to get to Cusco. Most people fly into Peru through Lima, which I had to do since it was closer to the race. There are fairly regular flights from Lima to Cusco. Cusco’s elevation is about 3300 meters, a bit higher than Machu Picchu. It is a good idea to spend a day or two in Cusco to help acclimate to the altitude. There are two sets of ruins near Cusco. The ones right about Cusco can be seen in an afternoon. Then there is the Sacred Valley. I didn’t have time to visit the valley, but it would take about a day.
From Cusco, you can either hike the Inca Trail, or take the train. The Inca Trial is a several day hike and only a limit number of people are allowed on the trail. The train is the faster option, but still takes several hours. You can catch the train at Poroy, about a half hour from Cusco, or from Ollantaytambo which is further away. The train runs about $50-$70 depending on the train type or destination, and tickets can be purchased online at perurail. Tickets can sell out, especially during the high season.
You also need to buy a ticket to Machu Picchu itself. The tickets start at $40 a day, and are limited to 2500 people a day. There are several places in Lima and Cusco you can purchase tickets. But starting in late 2011 you can also purchase your tickets online at www.machupicchu.gob.pe. I would recommend purchasing your rail and park tickets before making any other accommodations.
The train will take you to the town of Aguas Calientes. From here you take a bus up to the ruins. You can also hike up, but as it is almost straight up the mountain, the bus seems the easier option. If you take the first train in the morning you’ll arrive about 10:00 AM. It is possible to visit the basics of the park in about 5 hours, returning to Cusco in the evening. But considering the amount of time and money it takes to get here it is worth spending two days in the park.
Spending two days allows you to visit more of the park, and to do it at a leisurely pace. There isn’t much to do in Aguas Calientes except visit the many restaurants. Although I couldn’t figure out how many of the restaurants differ. They seem to share the same menu, including the same pictures and bad translations! You can visit the hot springs, which are open fairly late. No matter what you do, get an early start in the morning. The light is wonderful in the morning, and the crowds are thinner.
I took the first train out of Cusco, to maximize my time at Machu Picchu. After checking into my hotel, and getting a bite to eat I headed up to the ruins. For some reason I started out with the left hand rule, to tour the ruins. This lead me almost immediately to the sun gate.
After hiking back from the sun gate, I just chilled out on the steps overlooking the ruins for a bit. I had some company.
The view from the agricultural section is probably the best view of the ruins, while in the ruins.
I roamed around the houses near the main gate.
At the top of the mound Is the Inithuatana stone.
The park closed at 5:00 and so I headed back to town. I thought it was a little earlier to close, but it was pitch dark by 6:00! Aguas Calientes is a fairly small town. It seems to mostly consist of hotels and restaurants. I checked out most of the restaurants, looking for something interesting. But all of the restaurants seemed to offer the same thing! All of the menus I checked out were identical, literally identical.
I got up early the next morning to hike Huayna Picchu. You need a special ticket as they only allow 400 people up the mountain. The hike is fairly difficult, almost straight up the mountain. The top of the mountain has some more ruins.
The view from the top was absolutely amazing.
I had a couple of hours before I needed to head back, so I wanted to wander around the ruins a bit, there were a few spots I hadn’t seen.
One of the most interesting rock features is the Condor.
The last interesting structure was a circular building.
It was time to head back. I’ve heard stories that it could take up to an hour to wait for a bus. I know when I came up the first day, there was a long line waiting for the buses. I guess a lot of people head back around noon for lunch. I figured if it was a bit after noon I might be ok. Fortunately there wasn’t a huge line. It still took me a while to get back into town.
I grabbed a quick bite to eat at a pizza place. It was very good pizza. There are two train tracks that run through town. One set go to the passenger station, and the other set continues on through town. This second set of tracks are fairly close to some of the shops and hotels.
The train ride back is interesting. The first section goes through the jungle, and was very beautiful. There are also quite a few ruins you can see on the way. The second section isn’t quite as impressive as the jungle, but it is still worth checking out.
The ruins are quite impressive. The claim is they were abandoned not long after the Spainards arrived. The ruins were “rediscovered’ in 1911, after several hundred years. I visited some water fountains in Lima.