(For ease, I will use USD in all my currency referencing. Pricing is subject to change from when I was there. All hotels I mention were private rooms with your own bathroom and had heat and wifi)
Where To Start
I enjoy the everyday hike, and while hiking the Inca Trail sounded cool, I had too much to cram into my itinerary. If you are trying to find an easy relaxing way to see Machu Picchu this is your guide.
I always find it cheapest to fly round trip to one country and then get one way flights from there to surrounding cities/countries and end back where I started. So I flew from Seattle to Lima, Peru and spent one day there. Not to say Lima doesn’t have anything to see, but there were many other places I would prefer to spend my time. I had taken an airport taxi to my hotel, but later realized Uber is widely used throughout Peru and it is much cheaper.
My hotel in Lima was called La Quinta de Amat and only $25/night. It wasn’t anything fancy, but located within walking distance to Plaza Mayor, Basillica of San Francisco, and many local restaurants.
I suggest waiting until Cusco, Peru to buy souvenirs. It is the cheapest there.
Altitude Sickness in Cusco, Peru
The next day I flew to Cusco and as I stepped off the plane I immediately felt lightheaded. This was from the drastic elevation change. It effects people in differently and at varying degrees. Unfortunately, it hit me hard. I couldn’t decide if I needed to chug water or vomit. I took an Uber to my hotel up on the hill. For $35/night, Balconcillo Hotel Boutiques was a perfect place to get a beautiful view of the city.
I was so excited to get to Machu Picchu that I didnt take into account the altitude sickness I would experience. I suggest spending a few days in Cusco to get use to the altitude, drink lots of fluids, stop by any drug store and ask for “altitude pills” (they are long red and white pills), chew on Coca Leaves (Don’t swallow them, drink Coca tea, and eat Coca lozenges.
The Train to Aguas Calientes
The next morning I took a $10 taxi to the Polroy train station, about 30 minutes from Cusco. There is a train station in Cusco, but it sells out fast. I looked into getting tickets 2 months in advance and they were already sold out. There are two different train companies, Peru Rail and Inca Rail. From what I read they were about the same so I chose to go with Peru Rail. The seats were comfortable and they offered a drink and snack during the ride. The carts had windows on the ceilings as well for a great view of the 3.5 hour ride.
You will travel to the town called Aguas Calientes aka Machu Picchu Pueblos. The town is so small and there is nothing surrounding it that there are no taxis and everything is walkable. I stayed at the Golden Sunrise Machu Picchu, which was about a 7 minute walk to the bus station.
With that, you should purchase your tickets to Machu Picchu in advance too. If you wish to hike Machu Picchu or Huayna Picchu Mountain, I suggest getting those at the same time as your ticket since there are only 200 of each sold per day. Because Huayna Picchu is an “easier” hike, those tickets sell out as early as 8 months in advance. I decided to hike Machu Picchu Mountain.
The only way to get to Machu Picchu from Aguas Calientes is by bus… or walk. I suggest purchasing your bus ticket the day before at the small stand across from the bus station. It will cost you $25 for a round trip ticket and day before tickets can only be purchased from 3pm-8pm. They accept American Express, Master card, or exact cash. You must have you ticket to Machu Picchu and Passport with you. The buses run frequently starting at 5:30am and it’s about a 30 minute ride up a narrow, bumpy, winding road.
How The Tickets Work
Your Machu Picchu ticket will have an entry time. This new rule went into effect not too long ago to help with the flow of tourists and to prevent overcrowding. You must enter and exit by your ticket time. The same goes for your hike time. My entry ticket for Machu Picchu Mountain was from 9am-10am. I was not aware that I needed to summit by noon, and then a worker there has you turn around and go back down to make sure no one gets locked in. I didn’t enter until 10am giving me only two hours to summit this beast. Unfortunately, I didnt make it all the way. I was so close I could see the summit, but they are serious when they say you have until noon.
My entry ticket into Machu Picchu was at 6am-12pm, the other entry time is from 12pm-5:30pm. I know it’s an early morning, but it was worth it to see the sunrise over the mountains. It’s probably one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen. Your ticket allows you to enter twice during the day because the only bathroom available is outside the gates.
At the entrance you will find a bunch of tour guides. I found a group of 6 people to join and it was only $7 each for a 2 hour tour. I recommend it since there are no signs anywhere and the guides do a great job of bringing the history back to life.
Post Hike Meal
When I arrived back to Aguas Calientes, I met up with someone i had met at on the train for dinner. We ate at a restaurant called Indio Feliz. It was some of the best food I have tasted. Everything is made from scratch and for a three course steak dinner with freshly baked bread and complimentary sides, it was only around $24. Spendy for the area, but totally worth every penny.
Relax In The Hot Springs
The next day I basically crawled to the northern most point of the city to soak in their natural volcanic hot springs. My body hurt so bad from pushing myself up Machu Picchu Mountain. You can rent a towel if you need to and they have dressing rooms, lockers, and showers there as well. With 7 pools, there was plenty of room, but not very many people there when I went around 10am. It was a perfect way to end my time at Aguas Calientes before taking the train back to Cusco.
More Of My Favorite Pictures
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One thing that almost caused us issues is that the stand for Bus tickets takes Amex and Mastercard but DOES NOT accept VISA. This might be the only place in the world where this happens.
So before waiting in a long line to realize you don’t have a way to pay for your ticket check your wallet and ensure you have a Credit Card of a different flavor or some cash.
Hahah yea, I do mention that and I was thinking th same thing when I went to soy. Who doesnt take VISA lol
I really enjoyed your posts and pictures- you are very inspiring!
Aw thank you Pat!