Planning a do-it-yourself trip to Machu Picchu? The basics…

So as I stand in the queue waiting to get on a bus at 0615 I’ll start to tell you a few things you need to consider for a trip to Machu Picchu. This is what I have learnt the past three days and does not cover all options but the basics if you are doing it yourself.

  • You will need your passport at every turn from buying a bus ticket, to site entry, to getting on the train.
  • To avoid immediate altitude sickness you could fly to Cusco which is 11,000 ft and get straight on a train to Aguas Calientes (AC) which actually brings you down to 8,000ft. That way you can slowly acclimatise. But will be dependent on your flight arrival and train times.
  • The train from Cusco actually leaves from a station called Poroy and you will need to get a taxi to it. There are three train lines running at different times for different prices but all using the same line. Some have more windows than others! Look at all the options to figure out which one best fits your plans and budget. The train is 3.5 hours from Cusco and only brings you as far as AC. It is still a 30 minute bus ride up to the MP entry point. You must have your entry ticket bought prior to arriving, they do not sell them at MP.  Go to the official website to purchase. Alternatively you can go to the office in Cusco.
  • DO NOT give money over to people in the streets who are promising next day entry, its just not possible.  Your passport details all need to be on the official system for you to get in
  • Aguas Calientes is the base town at the bottom of MP. It is a town thrown together to cater for the tourists. It is full of tat and restaurants and places to sleep. You really don’t want to spend too much time here. Choose accommodation wisely, you want a good comfy bed and away from the noisy streets – they like to play loud music here, kicking off early in the morning.
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Aquas Calientes, a town thrown together for tourists
  • If you are limited on time I suggest doing the trip in a day from Cusco. Get an early morning train, organise late entry tickets (you won’t get into Huayna Picchu) and get the 1800 train or later back down to Cusco. This will allow you some time to get a late lunch in AC as well as time to wait for the bus, which could an easily be hour. There are places for snacks at the entry gate of MP but expect to pay $5 for an ice cream, $3 for a bottle of water, $6 for a small beer. Alternatively you can go into the hotel restaurant and pay $44 for a limited buffet. Make sure you bring snacks and water with you to keep you going.
  • Get the train up to AC later in the day, book decent accommodation and have your MP tickets booked for early the next morning. Get up and out early. Buses start at 0530 and take 30 mins. Entry into Huiana Picchu starts at 0700 and no doubt there will be a queue at this time as you need to sign in. We arrived at 0800 to no queue.
  • Booking your MP tickets – know the dates you want to go to MP and book your tickets online well in advance. There were problems with the website’s credit card system so if a reference number comes up on the screen then take it down. You can then email them directly if you’d don’t receive your confirmation. Alternatively you can book at the cultural office in Cusco but you are leaving the possibility of getting tickets to pure luck, just like we did. We were lucky and hit the jackpot!
  • Once in AC you need to stand in another queue and book tickets for the 30 minute bus ride to take you to the base of MP. US $12 one way $24 return. Tickets can be bought from 0500 through to 2100. Suggest buying early morning (one person to stand in the bus queue) or late evening. We queued for 45 mins mid afternoon. MP opens at sunrise. Alternatively you could hike the 5km up. 1.5km is on the road, the rest of it is uneven steps straight up the mountain. Probably takes approx 110 minutes if you are used to step walking. If not, be ready to have quivering legs on arrival with more steps to be navigated once in MP city. After a day of step walking even going down is tough going and took us 75 mins and we were quivering early on into the descent.
  • Getting a tourist guide – we had planned on getting a private guide for MP city at thev entry gates. Price ranged from $30 – $45 for the 2 hours. We were approached by one guide when another guide interfered and said the other couldn’t speak English. They then started infighting so we walked away. Alternatively you can join a group for about $10 each. If you want a guide for Huiana Picchu it’s best to organise in advance.

Basic costs to get into MP (as of May 2016 in USD)

I didn’t have a clue what this excursion was going to cost, so here is a run down on what to take into consideration not including accommodation  or meals.

$20 – taxi from Cusco to Poroy station, return (advisable to ask hotel to book the return collection)

$160 – return train from Poroy to AC

$68- basic entry into MP OR $75 – entry into MP and up to Haiana Picchu

$24 – Return bus from AC to MP entry gate

  • It is often possible to leave your main suitcase / pack with your accommodation in Cusco rather than lugging it to AC. Or bring it with you and rather than going back to Cusco, get off the train at Ollytatambo and stay there for a day or two and check out the other treks out that direction
  • If time and money are not an option then stay in the hotel up by the entrance of the MP site, The Belmond Sanctuary. You get to see sunrise and sunset before the masses arrive in. If properly organised and want to see all aspects of the area, rather than doing the 4 night Inka hike, it is possible to do just the last leg of it and stay in the hotel afterwards ready for more step walking the next day. Or you could just hang out in the spa overlooking the delights of Machu Picchu…
  • The next best way to do it all without too much thinking is to engage a travel agent who will make all the necessary arrangements for you, cater to your every whim and you sit back, relax and contemplate some pre-trip training on the step machine.

By the end of today my Fitbit told me I had walked  25,000 steps which included 321 flights of stairs. We were so happy we had got our Cusco accommodation to organise a taxi to collect us from the station on arrival into Poroy. My legs will be talking to me tomorrow…

Worth it? You betcha!

looking out from near the top of Huayna Picchu
From the top of Machu Picchu looking at the peak of Huayna Picchu

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