Machu Picchu, the Inca city located 2453 meters above sea level, is often included in any traveler’s bucket list. How can it not be? This UNESCO World Heritage Site along with its surroundings does create a majestic site. However, actually getting there might not be as easy. So, if you are just starting to plan on travels to Machu Picchu and is still clueless about the how and when, then this article might be for you.
How do you get to Machu Picchu?
There are a few ways to reach Machu Picchu: by train or by foot. If you search on the Internet, you will find plenty of travel agents offering multiple day hikes from Cusco or Ollantaytambo. However, if you are on a tight budget and a tight schedule, then you will most likely take the train. The two train companies that will take you to Aguas Calientes, the city near Machu Picchu, are Peru Rail and Inca Rail. The trains leave from three different locations (Urubamba, Ollantaytambo and Poroy, a village 30 minutes away from Cusco) and the journey will take up from one to three hours depending on your location of departure.
Purchase your rail tickets in advance!
For a budget traveler, taking either Peru Rail or Inca Rail can still be quite expensive, starting from 60 USD. That being said, it would be wise to purchase your tickets ahead of time from their website. That way, you will not need to spend a large sum of money when you are in Peru. It is also a good way to reserve your seat in the high seasons.
Understanding your options to get to Machu Picchu
The trains to Machu Picchu depart from different cities including Cusco, Urubamba, and Ollantaytambo. I would recommend Peru Rail, whose most affordable price is the Expedition class (which costs approximately 60-100 USD depending on the time and the station of departure), but do not be fooled by the fact that it is the most affordable option. You will find that the Expedition train is just as comfortable as any high-class trains in other countries; they also have onboard service and a very clean toilet.
After reaching to Aguas Calientes, walk straight towards the Machu Picchu bus stop. The price for international travelers is approximately 12 USD for a one-way ticket and it will take around 25 minutes to get there. There are multiple buses that come and go every 10 minutes, but arriving early in the morning is still the best option since many tour groups arrive later. Remember that you must present the entrance ticket to Machu Picchu before getting on the bus.
If you would like to save up the money or just love a good hike, it is also possible to walk to Machu Picchu. The hiking trail consists of stairs along with marked signs and is very popular among tourists. However, if you are not used to hiking, it might be best to take the bus to Machu Picchu and hike down on your way back because the mountains are steep and a bit difficult to hike. The hikes would usually take about an hour, but it will also depend on your speed and strength.
Best season to visit
Machu Picchu is visited by thousands of people every year, no matter if it is April or September. However, the best times to visit the ruins is in between the months of April to August, on the weekdays. Machu Picchu is filled with steep stairs and a little hike is inevitable. That being said, it would be safer to visit around those months to avoid the rain that usually pours at the end and beginning of the year. If you are traveling long term, planning to go before summer holidays begin would also be a good idea since many visitors usually show up on summer vacation.
Best to visit in the morning
If you have done a little digging about the best hours to visit Machu Picchu, you might have been informed that the best time is in the morning; you heard correctly. Peru Rail has trains that leave Ollantaytambo at 5 AM in the morning; if you take that train, you will arrive at Machu Picchu around 7 AM. That time is the best time to enjoy Machu Picchu. The sun has just risen and it shines over the city beautifully without burning your skin too much like in the afternoon. Also, more people tend to visit in the afternoon and the site gets a lot more crowded than the mornings.
Make use of the Colectivos
When planning your trip to Machu Picchu, keep in mind that time management is crucial. For example booking the earliest train will not only get you to Machu Picchu before the other visitors, but also save you some money since the prices are usually cheaper. The earliest trains usually leaves at 5am from Ollantaytambo Station, which is about 2 hours away from Cusco. However, travelers usually prefer to stay in Cusco because accommodations at Ollantaytambo are not the cheapest.
Fear not! There are colectivos that can help solve your problem. Colectivos are transport vans that take your from one city to another for a cheap price; passengers usually pitch in a small fee for the cost of the transport which makes it cheap. There are colectivos from Cusco (between Avenida Grau and Calle Pavitos) to Ollantaytambo that operate from 2am, every 30 minutes, for only 12 PEN (approximately 4 USD), which is cheap compared to taxis or car services that would cost about 30 USD. Keep in mind that taking a colectivo is not a luxurious option, you will be sharing a car with locals too and it would be wise to take some medications before the trip for car sickness since the road from Cusco to Ollantaytambo is located on the mountains.
Plan before you go
To sum up, Machu Picchu can be expensive and going there needs some amount of planning. However, I can definitely say that it is worth it. Remember to do things ahead of time, especially if you are visiting in the high season, and don’t be afraid to do as much research as possible and ask questions. Another tip would be: enjoy your time there; it might be years before you decide to go back so don’t spend all your time focusing on taking the perfect picture. Breathe in the air, say hello to the llamas, walk around the ancient city and have fun!
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