Complete guide to optimize time and money in the crossing towards the sacred city of the Incas.
Machu Picchu is the Inca sanctuary par excellence, one of the seven nine modern wonders of the world and the most visited destination in Peru. The place surprises with its impressive and preserved architecture, and with an energy that contagious to the visitor. These are some practical recommendations to optimize your trip to this sacred mountain.
1. How to get there?
The fastest and most comfortable way is by train. There are two companies that offer daily frequencies to Aguas Calientes (the town just below the citadel) from Ollantaytambo: PeruRail and Inca Rail. In addition, PeruRail is the only one that operates from Poroy station (in Cusco). Cusco is located at 3,400 meters above sea level.
Although some take the train to Machu Picchu as soon as they arrive in the city, it is advisable to take the first day to acclimatize, eat light and leave the next day.
2. Inca Trail
The most famous Andean trekking is no longer as adventurous as it was a few years ago. Today, you have to book at least four months in advance. You can’t go on your own either: it’s obligatory to hire a licensed tourism agency, a guide and eventually a porter.
Although it has become quite massive, it is still an essential route for any traveler: it starts in the town of Piscacucho, at km 82 of the Cusco-Quillabamba railway line, and lasts five days in total.
After crossing an impressive variety of altitudes, climates and archeological vestiges, it is crowned with an imposing entrance to Machu Picchu through the Inti Punku or Puerta del Sol. The short version of the road starts at km 104, in Cachabamba, and takes only two days but costs almost the same. After several accidents in previous seasons, a few years ago it was decided to close the Inca Trail during February. Five hundred people per day can do the Inca Trail.
The citadel is open from 6 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tickets can be purchased online (Visa only), at the site of the ruins or in cash at the Casa de la Cultura in Cusco. You must present your passport, both to buy and to enter the park. In addition, you must add the bus promotion ticket to Machu Picchu. There are no taxis or private transfers.
Between May and August is the dry season and the favorite of Europeans. However, this is when prices are highest. In summer it rains a lot, but it is the high season for South Americans.
4. You have to bring provisions
Inside the complex there is a restaurant, but it is very expensive. Huayna Picchu, the “young mountain”, 2,667 meters high, is part of the Salcantay massif. From its top, where there are more ruins, you have a different and amplified perspective of Machu Picchu. To climb it you need to be in optimum physical condition.
At a good pace it takes between 45 and 60 minutes. The maximum quota is 400 people per day, which are distributed in two shifts (at 7 and 10) and to ensure a place should be booked from the website of the park. Essential: bring water and trekking shoes.
Machu Picchu Mountain is plan B when there is not enough room to climb the Huayna. Although less well known, it is also very impressive, even higher (3,082 82 meters) and takes four hours to climb up and down.
5. The guides
It is best to hire a guide to tour the complex and understand the meaning of each stone. It really makes a difference. They usually offer their services at the entrance to the park and set a price according to the number of people.
6. Where to sleep?
As it is the closest enclave to the Archaeological Park, 6 kilometres away, the archituristic city of Aguas Calientes is the ideal base before and after the excursion. Its hotel offer is for all tastes and pockets. Although there are some luxury hotels, there are also hostels that lack infrastructure and services. Paradoxically, sometimes hot water is scarce.
7. A luxury hotel
The Belmond Sanctuary Lodge is the only hotel adjacent to the Lost City of the Incas. Its guests are the only privileged ones who stay to watch the sunset when the park closes. Rooms are around $700 and must be booked well in advance.
Watching the sunrise over the citadel is an unforgettable experience. To see the exact moment when the sun rises over the mountains, it is essential to take the first bus from Aguas Calientes. It leaves between 5:00 and 5:30, depending on the season. It is worth the sacrifice.
In order to avoid the congestion of the public that concentrates in the morning, the park put to the test a few months ago an evening shift, from 13:00 to 17:30. It is 30% cheaper, but strict in the schedule: you must arrive at 13:00, not before.