What Is The Best Way To Get To Machu Picchu in Peru?
WHERE IS MACHU PICCHU?
Machu Picchu is located in the country of Peru, a country in South America that is home to a section of the Amazon rainforest and the ancient Incan city high in the Andres mountains. It was founded by Hiram Bingham beneath thick layers of jungle growth. His discovery brought attention to the world in 1911.
Machu Picchu is an Incan fortress set high in the Andes Mountains. It is known for its amazing polished dry-stone walls. It is often referred to as the "Lost City of the Incas." The Inca's built the estate around 1450, lies 50 miles northwest of Cusco, but abandoned it a century later at the time of Spanish Conquest. It was voted one of the New Seven Wonders of the World in 2007.
Here's a short video that summarize our trip that my husband made.
There is no doubt that Machu Picchu is on every traveler's bucket list. It's a true masterpiece of the Inca civilization and was remarkably well preserved due to it not being found by the Spanish conquerer. When you see photos of this amazing place, all you can think about is imagining yourself being here.
Despite the one of a kind beauty of Machu Picchu, nobody really talks about the different ways of getting there or how easy/difficult it can be. I guess it depends with what you are willing to take and do, but even I found it very tiring taking the easiest route.
WHERE TO STAY?
Machu Picchu is absolutely amazing and nothing like you've ever experienced before. But there are some things that you must know before planning a trip. First things first, you have to decide where to stay. Some people go straight to the Aguas Calientes, but some stops in Cusco.
We decided to fly to Lima first, then we headed to Cusco. Cusco is a city in the Peruvian Andes that was once the capital of the Inca Empire. It is now known for its archaeological remains and Spanish colonial architecture.
Cusco falls within 11,000+ elevation. Due to the high altitude, some people who visit the city have a hard time breathing. Most travelers who plan to visit Machu Picchu stops in Cusco to get use of the elevation before trekking. I suggest to have at least 3 full days in the city before trekking in such a high altitude especially if you are not use to it.
In my opinion, the best place to stay in Cusco is near Plaza de Armas. It is the central square in the old city, with carved wooden balconies, arcades and Incan wall ruins.
You will also see many beautiful places to explore including; Santo Domingo and Coricancha, Inca Walls, Sacsayhuaman, La Compania, Cathedral, Museo Inka, La Merced, San Francisco Church and Monastery, San Blas and the Plaza de Armas itself.
Cusco is full of life that offers many restaurants, markets and even shops. Many of the known hotels are also located around the area. There are many talented local artists that creates hand-made items and one of a kind painting pieces. Their culture is truly colorful.
We took a private tour to experience the exotic produce at their local market. We picked up some delicious delicacies from traditional street food stalls. We also picked up some of Peruvian's exotic fruits as a snack while we explore the Incan trail.
Video of me buying food in the market!
After the market, we head out to the country side to explore the ancient Inca Legend at the mysterious Temple of the Moon.
On top of the Temple of the Moon, we heard a old man playing an instrument. It was lovely.
While exploring, we saw many Peruvian families gathered around. In Peru, people like to gather around heat and meat too. Except the heat and the meat are buried in the ground. It's called Pachamanca. It's a traditional way of cooking that dates back to the Inca Empire. The pit cooking technique has evolved over time but remains an important part of the Peruvian cuisine and culture.
We also walked up the hill to see the panoramic city view of Cusco
We got the chance to take a picture with our Alpaca friend! :)
An amazing experience for us to witness, was the Peruvian's way of celebrating their Independence Day from Spain. We watched the whole parade and everyone were cheering and celebrating in the Plaza.
On our third day, after getting adjusted to the altitude, we finally took our trip to see Machu Picchu. Here's a few ways on how to get there.
WAYS TO GET TO MACHU PICCHU
What is the best way for you?
1. By Train - I love to hike and I'm always up for some adventures. But I had a hard time adjusting due to the high elevation. I needed an oxygen tank when I got to the hotel because I had trouble breathing. Keep in mind that oxygen tanks are available for sale in the trains but make sure to ask your local hotel because they often provide the service for the guests for free.
I told my husband I would prefer to take the fastest way to Machu Picchu that is why we decided to take the train. Thinking that it would be the easiest way, our 12 hours of expected journey turned into 16 hours. The trains going to Aguas Calientes were the SLOWEST train I have ever been to. We probably averaged out going 15-20mph the whole way to the town with many stops due to the rail being shared by multiple trains and making way for them to "cross".
After four hours, we arrived in Aguas Calientes and had to ride a 20-30 min bus ride to the top of Machu Picchu. It was indeed the longest and most tiring day of my life. You will pretty much spend almost 5 hours just to get there from Cusco.
2. By Hiking/Trekking - No one would expect that hiking in the Andres mountains would be easy, but many have been surprised at just how tough it is. The high altitude can leave even super-fit trekkers breathless. Even if you spent time getting use of the elevation before hiking, you may still experience sickness during the hike due to the thin air. I've met a few people in Cusco who did the 3-5 days hike that experienced nausea, and headaches. Cold camping in the mountains at night is not very pleasant and so does the dirty toilets. If this is something you don't think you can tolerate, you might want to find other options.
3. By Bus - not your popular options but it is probably the cheapest and the longest way. Have not met anyone that took the bus but if you want a more local and exotic experience and have plenty of time to explore and have many patience, this one is for you!
You really don't have that many options when visiting Machu Picchu. The train may be the fastest way. It's great that they provide snacks along the way, but it's definitely not an easy four hour train ride. I suggest to buy your tickets in advance and reserve your seats.
WHAT TO EXPECT IN MACHU PICCHU
Please remember that this is not your average walk in the park. There is no food or restroom inside the ruins. Please use the restroom before you go inside. It is not handicap friendly so please be prepared. There are a lot of steep stairs and no rails so watch your step. Even though the elevation is around 8000, lower than the city of Cusco, there might still be a few challenge on breathing. Bring water with you in case you get thirsty. It does get crowded and expect restrooms to be long in line especially if you go in the afternoon.
The wild llamas are a charm, but please do not pet them. They are still wild and not very friendly at times.
Waynu Picchu is one of the most popular hikes. They limit the amount of hikers in a year. If you have a long experience of hiking in such altitude and difficulty, this might be for you. They suggest for hikers to be at their best shape and very fit to do such a difficult task. Here are a few photos we took when we were there.
Is this possible to do in a day?
Absolutely. You can do this in a day, but it will be very very tiring. There is not much to do in Machu Picchu town, so the choice is yours. If you have the time to spend overnight in town to take a break from a terrible long day train ride, you can go to Machu Picchu the following morning to also avoid the crowd. Please book as early as possible and confirm your reservation frequently.
My husband and I did a one day trip. We were exhausted when we got back to our hotel that night. We had an extra day to spare so we ended up booking a couple's massage the following morning in Belmond Hotel in Cusco.
Machu Picchu is a MUST see. Nothing great comes easy. Getting your mind and body ready for this trip is definitely something you have to be ready for. Peru is a great country that is rich in culture and history. It's truly a place to visit if you want something extraordinary.
"Better to see something once, than hear about it a thousand times." :)