This post is really a combination of my work and my need to save time, money and energy when travelling. I will take you through my journey from Chiclayo North of Peru to Machu Picchu. You can read about my actual Machu Picchu experience here.
Step 1: Lima to Cusco
After arriving in Lima from Chiclayo by LAN Air to save time, it was time to start my journey down South. I opted to fly as I did not have much time and was not willing to spend a day just to get to Cusco.
By Air – The local airlines have very good pricing if booked in advance this could be as low as US$ 80 for one way flight. TIP – if you can speak or read Spanish book you flight in Spanish and save up to US$ 70 on return flights. You can fly Lan Airlines, Avianca Airlines or Star Peru.
By Road – If you have more time and do not mind long bus rides, you can take a bus and this could range from US$ 45 to US$ 75 each way depending on the bus and service class. This could take up to 25 hours. Some good bus companies would include Cruz Del Sur, Tepsa or Oltursa. If you choose to book in advance use the Peru Bus Portal as they always have offers for up to 50% off.
Step 2: Cusco to Aguas Calientes
Aguas Calientes is a colorful and vibrant town at the base of Machu Picchu and it is also the last stop of the train. There is no road access Aguas Calientes hence train or hiking trails are the only 2 options to get there. I will only talk about the train options as the Inca trail hikes can be booked through the numerous travel agents in Cusco and prices could range between US$ 450 – US$ 650 for the 4 day hike option. If you are fit and want to save on money you could alternatively solo walk along the train rails to the town.
Cusco has an altitude of 3,395mts and hence many people get altitude sickness and hence it is recommended to head of straight to Machu Picchu after your plane lands without spending time in Cusco then make your way back to Cusco.
Cusco – Aguas Calientes
Peru Rail is the only company offering this service and has only 4 flights that all leave before 9.05am. There are 3 classes of service (Expedition, Vistadome, Hiram Bingham), Expedition is the cheapest and costs US$ 73 one way. The train time is about 3 ½ hours. If you have a morning flight from Lima and want to go straight to Machu Picchu this option may not be feasible. Tickets can booked online at Peru Rail
Ollataytambo – Aguas Calientes
This option requires getting to Ollataytambo then taking the train from there. We opted to save money and take the train from Ollataytambo rather than Cusco as this would allow us to visit the town and save cost
To get to Ollataytambo there are 3 options as below:-
• Taxi – This costs about US$ 30 and takes 90 minutes
• Bus – you take a bus to Urubamba from Cusco that costs US$1.50 and then change to another then hop on another bus to Ollataytambo that costs US$1. This could take about 2 hours.
• Collectivo (shared taxi) – This is the most convenient option and costs about US$ 4 and takes 90 minutes as well. The van leaves once full and often leaves within 10 – 15 minutes of waiting. This is the option we picked 🙂
The road from Cusco to Ollataytambo is a nice scenic road that’s well paved. The town of Ollataytambo is beautiful with temples and ruins that can be visited. This small town has nice restaurants and good backgrounds views of the hills making it a nice stop. We arrived on the morning of Women’s day and were happy to be part of the celebrations as we waited for our train that departed at 1245hrs. The train ride was US$ 52 one way and is 2 hours to Aguas Calientes.
The trains I must say are nothing like I had imagined, they are very well maintained, great service and the clear roof makes the 2 hour ride extremely present. They serve you a nice snack and give you background information about Machu Picchu and Cusco in general. TIP: seat on the left side (if facing forward) you get better views.
Upon reaching to Aguas Calientes you are welcomed by a small town in the middle of high forest hills with nice quant restaurants. This little town offers great food, happy hours drinks all day and great massages for those who have hiked all the way from Cusco. The accommodation here is more expensive than anywhere I have been in Peru but it’s with good reason: You can literally smell Machu Picchu 🙂
We had a great dinner and explored the small narrows streets and slept well in readiness for the big day hat was to come about. It poured that night and sine we couldn’t do the thermal baths then we opted to get up at 5am and got get a nice hot soak before a day in Machu Pichhu.
Step 3: Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu
From Aguas Calientes you can take a short 20 minutes bus ride through multiple scenic switchbacks up to Machu Picchu. Those who are fit can opt to hike up to Machu Picchu in 2 hours. I do not recommend this as you should save your energy for Machu Picchu itself. There are buses running every 10 minutes interval depending on demand from 5.30am to 5,30 pm. The bus tickets costs US$ 24 for a return trip and US$ 12 for one way. It is recommended to buy the tickets the night before to avoid the long queues in the morning.We got to the bus at 6am and we hardly had to wait to get on the bus. The cues are longest between 6.30 and 7.30am.
Step 4: Getting your tickets to Machu Picchu
Machu Picchu tickets are NOT sold at the entrance gate and MUST BE BOOKED in advance. I recommend buying from the Ministry of Culture Peru rather than agencies since they do not charge service fees. This will save you about US$ 23 on the ticket. Tickets can also be bought from other travel agencies and most hotels in Cusco and Aguas Calientes. General entrance (US$ 50 or S. / 128) are limited to 2,500/ day with entrance to Huayna Picchu and Machu Picchu Montana (US$ 55- 59 or S. / 142 – 152), being limited to 400/ day.
The Government site lists number of tickets still available for each day. Be sure to bring your original passport, as it is required upon entry. I also recommend getting a memory stamp of your visit.
Step 5: Enjoying Machu Picchu and Return Trip
You can see all of Machu Picchu in 5 – 8 hours depending on your pace and whether you do the hikes to the Machu Picchu peaks that take 2-3 hours round trip. Some tips on enjoying yourself:-
The best view of Machu Picchu is at sunrise between 6 and 6.30 am. Stay the night at Aguas Caliente, buy bus ticket night before and be among the 1st to get on the bus.
If you are fit enough and choose to do Huayna Picchu take the 10 – 11 option, this will allow for best views of Machu Picchu at sunrise, hike up and enjoy a picnic lunch on the peak. – elevation is steep and strenuous.
- Do not carry your bag pack, leave at Aguas Calientes as only day packs of 20lts or less are allowed. Luggage storage is available at the entrance.
- Don’t forget sunscreen, water and hat if used, let the high altitude not fool you, it is the rainy season now but we had a full on sun day with not an ounce of rain.
- Food at Machu is expensive (US$ 14 for a burger). Pack an easy picnic lunch and walk to the Sun Gate and have lunch as you observe the Machu Picchu city on aerials view. This is the best lunch option for those not hiking Huayna Picchu
- Allow enough time to catch the bus and your return train. Return trains fill up fast, if you miss it, be ready to split with about US$ 600 or more for a night at Belmond Sanctuary Lodge 🙂
- Take 6.05pm train to Ollataytambo and spend the night in this lovely village before heading to Cusco. If not there are collectives ready to take you to Cusco. You can also opt for direct train to Cusco leaving at 4.45pm and arriving Cusco at 8.25pm
We stayed the night at Mama Simona Guest House and it was a nice way to end our Machu Picchu journey.
To the Glory of what awaits