How do I begin to talk about Machu Picchu? First of all, this blog post is going to be a little different from the others because it will also serve as travel advice (especially to my friends who are heading to Machu Picchu in the next month or so). I started on my adventure to Machu Picchu by taking a 10 hour overnight bus from Arequipa to Cusco. I arrived in Cusco at 7am and immediately went to my hostel to go to sleep. It is impossible to sleep on the bus when the roads are never straight and your driver is set on passing every other bus and truck on the road.
In Cusco, I stayed at the Pariwana Hostel which was perfect for me. It’s in a great location, very clean, hot showers, free wi-fi, free breakfast, and full bar/restaurant to order from throughout the day. I spent the day catching up on sleep and emails and wondering around Cusco a little bit. I made a friend on the bus on the way to Cusco and it just so happened he was staying in my same hostel so the two of us went out for dinner that evening at Los Perros. I had a really good chicken curry dish and a glass of well deserved wine. Cusco is a great city and has so many different restaurants available.
I woke up early the next morning because I had to take a cab to the Poroy (Cusco) train station which is 20 minutes away. I decided to take the train straight from Poroy to Aguascalientes (known as Machu Picchu town), but most backpackers take a combi or bus to Ollantaytambo and catch the train from there to Aguascalientes. It saves them some money and actually a little bit of time as well, but I was just lazy and had earlier decided that I just wanted to sit and enjoy the train ride. The train ride from Cusco to Aguascalientes takes 4 hours and depending on the train you’re on, they serve you a snack or a meal.
I arrived in Aguascalientes just before noon and a guy from my hostel was waiting for me and some other guests at the station. Aguascalientes is extremely small and you can book a place once you get there as long as you’re not visiting during the high tourist season (may- august). There are no cars in Aguas and you can walk the entire town in about 10 minutes or less. I stayed at the Pirwa hostel which was fine for me…nothing special, but nothing to complain about either (oh…except for that enormous spider that I killed in my room). I had the entire afternoon to kill because I was not going up to Machu Picchu until the following morning. I went and bought my ticket to Machu Picchu (126 soles or about $45 for a foreigner non-student) and I bought my roundtrip bus ticket ($14) to go up and down to Machu Picchu. I highly recommend buying your tickets the day before so you do not have to bother with it at 5am the day you want to visit. Of course there are tourists that visit throughout the day and you can go up at anytime, but I wanted to be there early for 3 reasons. One, I wanted to be one of the first visitors in the park so I could get pictures without a ton of people in them. Two, it’s cooler in the morning. And three, if you want to climb up Wayna Picchu, you have to be one of the first 400 people there to get your stamp. Wayna Picchu is a small mountain at the far end of the park and they only allow 200 people to climb it at 7am and 200 people to climb it at 10am. You can choose which time you want when they stamp your ticket. The first bus leaves to go up to Machu Picchu at 5:30am so the line starts forming around 4:30am. The bus ride is about 20-25 minutes each way. ***You must buy your entrance ticket to Machu Picchu down in Aguascalientes. They do not sell tickets at the park entrance.
There are so many rules when visiting Machu Picchu…no walking sticks, no food, no water, etc. Not one person had their bag opened and searched. I brought in a 1.5 Liter bottle of water and plenty of snacks. They just don’t want anyone leaving trash so be respectful of that and bring out whatever you brought in. Also, there is only a bathroom at the park entrance for 1 soles ($0.30) and no bathrooms once you are inside. As far as walking sticks go, I saw people with them, but only elderly visitors (maybe they make an exception for them). Another important reminder! Bug spray and sunscreen. I wore pants and a long sleeve shirt and sprayed deet on myself and did not get one bug bite (if you know me, you know that I am prone to getting eaten alive and have really bad reactions). It was cool the morning I visited, so I was fine being covered up. I also left a lot of my stuff down at my hostel in a locker so I wouldn’t have to carry so much around. I think every hostel/hotel in Aguas offers this complimentary. Also, bring your passport!!! You can get your passport stamped that you visited Machu Picchu between 9am – 5pm at the office as you walk into the park. They have maps available for free at the entrance office or where you buy your ticket in Aguas. I found the map and route very easy to follow and did not want to pay for a guide. If you enjoy having a guide with you, you can hire one at the gate to the park or down in Aguas. I have heard they charge around $100, but I can’t be quoted on that.
Machu Picchu itself is so incredible to see in person. I tried to understand how the Incan people built this incredible city so far into the jungle. The views are breathtaking no matter what the weather may be. I immediately went to left after entering the park and walked for about 10 minutes up a bunch of stairs to get a view of the entire city from above. Some people decide just to walk into the city, but I don’t think you can appreciate it unless you see the entire thing from above. I highly recommend visiting while you are physically capable to doing everything in the park. As I walked through the homes, temples, and central areas, I tried to imagine the city inhabited with families and children and what it would be like to live that high up into the mountains and jungle.
After I finished visiting the site, I headed back down to Aguascalientes to soak in the thermal baths. They are only 10 soles ($3.50) to visit, but I did get some bug bites here. I guess my deet wore off. The thermal baths feel great after walking up stairs and around the city of Machu Picchu for hours.
One note about the town of Aguascalientes…I have not known anyone to visit there and not get some sort of food poisoning. I even met a guy that ended up in the hospital for 3 days with salmonella poisoning from a chicha drink (fermented corn drink popular in Peru). Most people just have the typical food poisoning consisting of running to the bathroom and throwing up. I decided that if I was going to eat in Aguas, I was going to eat right. I found the most fantastic restaurant called The Tree House Restaurant which is part of Rupa Wasi resort. This resort is also a nice place to stay, but a little pricey ($80) and they teach cooking classes for $35 every afternoon at 5pm in their kitchen. I spent around $20 for my meal, but it was fantastic and I did not get sick. I also ate this meal late in the afternoon so it was my late lunch/early dinner which made it pretty economical. The next day, I had a vegetarian lunch before I left Aguas at a coffee shop in the center of town. I tend to bring a lot of snacks with me everywhere just in case I do not find somewhere that I want to eat.
Here is a breakdown of my costs in U.S. dollars:
$130.00 roundtrip train (this can be done so much cheaper…probably around $60)
$45.00 ticket to Machu Picchu
$14.00 roundtrip bus ticket to Machu Picchu from Aguascalientes
$30.00 hostel (I had a private room, only $10 for a dorm bed)
$20.00 nice lunch on the first day in Aguascalientes at The Tree House Restaurant
$8.00 snacks and water
$3.50 thermal baths
$8.00 lunch on the day I left Aguascalientes
I hope this post helps my friends and anyone who reads this with their visit to Machu Picchu. It does require a little planning, but it is not a difficult place to visit. Enjoy the pictures and feel free to post any comments or questions. Now, I’m off to Panama!!!!