Machu Picchu is an Inca citadel right in the middle of the Peruvian Andes mountains. It was built in the 15th century and today it is considered one of the most important archaeological sites in the world. Of course this also means that it is also one of the most touristic places in the world!
The only two ways of getting there is by train or walking. We chose the first one since Machu Picchu itself implies a lot of hiking. So we caught the Inca Rail Train at the Ollantaytambo train station, leaving our car in the Ollantaytambo hotel we stayed the night before: Hotel Tierra Inka Sacred Valley. The trip takes around 2 hours and they serve you a snack and a drink (included in your ticket price).
Aguas Calientes (also known as "Machu Picchu Pueblo") is the closest access point to the historical site of Machu Picchu. As you can imagine it is also a very touristical place so it surrounded by many hotels and restaurants. We stayed in Aguas Calientes the night before so after we woke up, we went to buy some food for the day and we caught the official buses to the archeological site. The ride takes around 40 minutes by bus and approximately 1,5 hours walking (8km, very steep walk).
Contrary to what most people say you don't need to wake up at 4am to visit this place. Actually the best time to visit Machu Picchu is during the afternoon, when most people is traveling back Ollantaytambo or Cusco. The problem is that in this time of the year (almost winter!) it gets dark very early (around 5pm) so "afternoon" really means starting the visit in the end of the morning or just after an early lunch.
Machu Picchu is not mentioned in any of the Spanish chronicles remaining almost forgotten until the first half of the 20th century. This citadel sits at 2430m and it was built in the classical Inca style having three primary structures: Inti Watana, the Temple of the Sun and the Room of the Three Windows. Part of Machu Picchu has been restored and reconstructed to give people a better idea of how originally appeared. A recent theory suggests that this place was a royal retreat or the country palace of Pachacutec, abandoned at the time of the Spanish invasion.
Machu Picchu was declared World Heritage Site in 1983 by UNESCO and it was voted one of the New Seven Wonders of the World in 2007.
Just after entering the gate there were several tour guides and one of them picked us and proposed a tour of around 2,5 hours for 30 soles each (we were in total 4 people). We can actually recommend this tour. Although we had our usual Lonely Planet guide book, having someone to explain you better all the ruins and facts was very informative. Contrary to a museum, this place has no directions or descriptions so unless you are an expert, having a guide can help you a lot. And you are helping local people if "hiring" a guide in the site (contrary to most guided all-inclusive tours that don't hire local people).
After the guided tour we decided to hike all the way to the Intipunku (Sun Gate). Most people just go to the first viewpoint (where you can actually get some of the best Machu Picchu views) and call it "sun gate" but that's not true. Hiking into the Sun Gate will take you at least one hour through a sinuous trail always up the mountain. The Sun Gate was the control gate for those entering and exiting Machu Picchu, so it is considered one of the most important archeological constructions. The hike was not easy specially because of the sun but we made it! When we were descending we saw several llamas around so we stopped for a while to rest and take a few pictures.
We left Machu Picchu around 5pm and we actually had dinner immediately after arriving in Aguas Calientes. We ate a few snacks while visiting the site but we were starving at that time so we enjoyed a pizza in one of the many terraces of the main plaza before going to our hotel and finally rest!
Next stop: Nazca (Peru!)
- If you are planning to visit Machu Picchu, don't forget to include in your itinerary other important archeological sites, like Ollantaytambo and Pisac. We wrote a detailed post about it and you can read it here.
- You can buy the tickets to visit Machu Picchu online (recommended and specially if you plan to visit Huaynapicchu). The official website to buy the tickets is: http://www.machupicchu.gob.pe/. After making your reservation you have to pay it, which you can do using your credit card and the reference they give you when you make the online reservation. You can also pay in one of the agencies stated in the same website.
- You can also buy the train tickets online. We bought it through Inca Rail but it is also available at Peru Rail. Not sure which one is better but prices are approximately the same (depending on the day/time).
- Tickets to the bus from Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu you can buy in the offical ticket office located on the main road (close to the river). You will need your passport to buy it but you just need to say the day since the time is flexible.
- Main costs: Train Inca Rail (108 US$ the 2 ways per person), Bus from Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu (81 Soles the 2 ways per person), Machu Picchu entrance (128 Soles per person), Tour guide (30 Soles per person).