What we did: LAX > Lima Airport directly to Cusco > 1 night in Cusco > Bus to Ollantaytambo to stay for 2 nights (day trip to Machu Picchu* on 2nd day) > back to Cusco for 1 night.
*What can we say about Machu Picchu? It’s a journey to get there, and it was worth it. We enjoyed our visit there. Once you go there, all the pictures you’ve seen of become so familiar. It’s a pretty cool place…Here’s how we got there and our experience. Sorry, it is a wordy post!
Train from Ollantaytambo
Woke at 5:45 am. We got our box breakfast from our hotel and walked 15 mins downhill to the train station. They tell you what time the train will be at the station – we made it on the train 5 mins. before and it was packed with folks; departure at 6:40 am. We took Inca Rail (the other train service is Peru Rail) – it is a vintage feeling train, with comfortable seats and no leg room. The seating arrangement has 4 passengers facing each other, sharing a little table. The train weaves through the mountainy region. You get a beverage included – the cafe con leche is very good. We notice the Peruvian Train Attendants are pretty good looking. We like Andean music, but it is just awful when they play covers, like Pretty Woman, or the theme song from Titanic. They played the same song over and over – that was the worst part about the train ride. Otherwise, it was great!
We sat by 6 Japanese tourists, who were in their 70s, I’d venture to think. They were organized, traveled with light day packs, full of energy and were very pleasant. They had 2 guides with them, one Japanese and the other Peruvian, that seemed to speak perfect Japanese (from the bit I can glean) – he was so impressive! We couldn’t help but smile by being around this group.
You can only get to Machu Picchu by train. It is pricey, $55/per person per leg, so that comes to $110/pp roundtrip, and each trip is about 1 hour 30 mins. Book in advance! Both services are similar in price. Fern picked Inca Rail as it seemed more local.
Arrival at Aqua Calientes (aka “Machu Picchu Pueblo”)
Make sure you go to the bathroom at the Train Station upon arrival, as they charge inside the park. If you didn’t bring your lunch, purchase at the Train Station or some stall as you get funneled through the town. Up in the park, it will cost much more!
Pay for a bus ticket, either 1 way or roundtrip (it costs the same) – we bought it for 1 way which is about $9.50/per person because we thought about walking back (that didn’t happen!). Hop on the bus and it is a 20 minute, zigzag, pretty scary as it is next to the cliff ride up the mountain to Machu Picchu. Maybe take a Dramamine if you get motion sick – we were okay.
Enter Park and Admire
You can check your bags for S/.3 at the park entrance. We left our lunch and stuff there, as there is a security guard that checks some bags. You’re not supposed to bring food or plastic bottled water. It’s fine to sneak some in, as most people had snacks or lunches.
There are guides that approach you – we decided to skip that and go at our own pace.
You must bring your passport for the train and park entry. You can get your passport stamped with a Machu Picchu stamp (apparently illegal, but everyone does it).
It’s about 8:30 am or so by the time we get into the park. We have time to stroll through and admire. We also booked the hike to Hyuana Picchu (aka Wayna Picchu) which is at 10 am. You MUST book this in advance, as they only let 200 in at 7 am and 200 in at 10 am. You can just hang and look at everything, then make your way to the entrance of the hike. We applied sunblock and organic bug spray (reapplied 3X), wore long pants and long sleeves, and wore hats, which we recommend. We de-layered as it warmed up, but we were lucky with the weather.
Wayna Picchu Hike
This hike is up that mountain you always see in the distance in photos of Machu Picchu. This giant thing, in the back there:
They say it is a 2 hour loop. Well, it took us 3 hours. It is harder than they tell you too. There’s the issue with the elevation, and it is 95% steps, all the way up. Way up there! We took sitting and water breaks, and then relaxed once we got to the top.
I found this blog that reviewed the hike, which I agree with. It is really high up, and you are almost always cliffside. So, if you are really afraid of heights, or have a fear of death, maybe not for you. I was thinking, I guess with anything, you could die. Yah, you can just misstep and take a dive down the mountain. You are really high up and can see straight down to the river and the train station. The views from up there are spectacular though. It makes the site look really small. It was hard for us, but we did it and we can say we did it!
The hike is an additional $10 and you have to book in advance (when you buy the ticket for Machu Picchu). Oh, getting into the park is $50. Yah, they gouge you a bit.
Alternatively, you can just go up to the Sun Gate in the park, near the entrance, and see that “postcard view” of Machu Picchu. It doesn’t cost extra and is more of a steady incline than stair-climbing. This is the entrance for the Inca Trailers – what a payoff they must get when they arrive after their 3-4 day hike!
Climb Down, enjoy Machu Picchu
Climbing up the mountain is definitely more physically difficult and hard, but going down is more mental. If you go to the ultimate top of the mountain like we did, the steps are more precarious, especially coming down. I got on my butt, went backwards, and held onto the stone wall in parts.
Once you get down, you can say “Yeah, I scaled that giant mountain!” Then you can continue and take a leisure stroll though the park. We hiked up to get another spectacular vantage point of Machu Picchu and saw some alpacas.
We kept an eye on the time as our train was at 4:15 pm and you don’t want to miss it! We didn’t feel like exploring Aquas Calientes after riding the bus back down. It is a town that isn’t so pretty or charming and is built up for tourists. We went to the train station and chilled; I had a mango juice and Fernando had an espresso for S/.15 (~$5.70) – not too bad.
I had the best yet brief nap on the train. We sat across from 2 Canadian ladies. Upon arrival back in Ollantaytambo, we walked 15 mins. back to Hostal Iskay and relaxed. The next day, my right thigh and butt were hurting a lot (guess I used that side more); Fern was sore too. It lasted a couple days, no problemo.