September 20, 2014

Travel Hack: Making the Most of Machu Picchu

Machu Picchu structure detail

Photo Credit: Trek Hound

Itís one of the most coveted spiritual destinations and indigenous heritage sites in the world. Donít you want to get the most out of it while youíre there?

Letís face it. Machu Picchu in Peru’s Sacred Valley is not only expensive, itís incredibly difficult to get to. Once you do, a couple of rookie mistakes could seriously cut into your time there. Whatís a traveler to do?

Donít make the whole trip in one day.

Seriously, I mean it. Most people start in Cuzco, regardless. From there, itís a several hour train ride to Aguas Calientes where you still have to meet your guide, wait for the bus up the mountain, stand in line, fight the crowds . . . see where Iím going with this? If you donít even make it through the entrance before one oíclock and have to be out by five, thatís not much time to experience what for many is a once in a lifetime spiritual and cultural event.

Rest up.

Not used to being at high altitude? Neither was I. And quite frankly, itís a long enough day to get up at the crack of dawn to leave from Cuzco. Add in at least another day if youíre coming straight from Lima, multiplying your exhaustion level by about 25 due to altitude adjustment, and you will (believe me) be more than ready to rest a bit and spend the night at the base of the mountain.

There are plenty of little shops, restaurants, hotels and massage opportunities. Take a break, gather your energies and prepare for the next day.

Make the most of your entry ticket.

When my husband and I were there, every entry pass was good for only one time, they cost around forty dollars each, and once you were in, you were in. There was no coming in and out of the site to go to the restroom. In retrospect, we should have gone to Aguas Calientes the day before, spent the night, and taken the earliest bus up to the site the next morning. That way, we would have had the entire day to explore, meditate, photograph, etc.

Obviously, bathroom issues are a bit trickier this way. Suggestion? Take steps to clear your system the night before. Take only trail mix and fruit to the top, and maybe snag an egg for protein before you leave your hotel. Lightly sip water throughout the day rather than gulping. This should help keep things under control.

second Machu Picchu travel hack pic

Photo Credit: Trek Hound

If moneyís not a huge issue, consider staying at the top.

Thereís one hotel at the very top of the mountain, just outside the entrance gate to the ancient city. In short, it isnít cheap. Several hundred dollars a night, in fact. However, in addition to being a higher-end, full service eco-hotel, it offers another major perk. Guests of the establishment are the only people allowed into the ancient city prior to the arrival of the first tourist bus each day and after the last bus leaves at night.

Also, my understanding (although things may have changed) from the local guides and tour books was that these hotel guests werenít required to have an additional entry pass either. Nothing like having a world heritage site all to yourself, coming and going as you please. Particularly this world heritage site.

Bring a tote.

In addition to whatever day pack and camera gear youíll be lugging, bring along a bag to carry any trash you generate throughout the day. In an attempt to keep things as pristine and authentic as possible, no trash cans are available inside the city.

Move ahead one train station.

Just outside of Cuzco is another station where busses and drivers can drop you off and pick you up. Bonus? You get to skip the uber-tedious track shifting and save significant time and frustration off your day trip to the spiritual city.

In my opinion, this is one of the most incredible travel experiences you will ever have, and a must-see when traveling to Peru. And unless youíre independently wealthy, youíll only have a certain level of funds to spend on your journey there. While we were there, we had a fantastic time, if a short one. We plan to go there, and to Lake Titicaca, again in the next year or two. When we do, weíll be using some of these tricks we wish weíd known about the first time.

Do you have a Machu Picchu travel tale? Let us know about it!

Photo Credits: These pictures of Machu Picchu were photographed by the Trek Hound team and are available through a creative commons agreement with Pictures of Travel Places for outside use, provided the linking requirements are reasonably followed.

Comments

  1. Dave says:

    Great tips! I’ll be there in about a week, let’s see how I do. It’s tricky to get there now due to the tracks being out from the mudslide a few months ago. I’m debating to get 2 tickets for Machu Picchu: one for the day of arrival to look around the ruins, and a second the day after to get up early and hike Huayna Picchu, the overlooking mountain. But I might just go up once, on day 2, and spend day 1 relaxing in my hostel in Aguas Calientes.

  2. webmaster says:

    Hi Dave,

    Yeah, not sure what the getting in is like now with those tracks out. Even with those in place it took hours to get from Cuzco to Aguas Calientes. It will all depend on how long it takes you to get in to Aguas Calientes. How are they having people do that now? I haven’t had a chance to follow up since I found out the tracks went out.

  3. Dave says:

    Right now you have to take a bus to Piscacucho, then the train the rest of the way. But due to all kinds of worries about the stability of the new tracks, they are running lighter trains and baggage is restricted to a small carry-on (no hiking backpack or luggage!).

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