I firmly believe that the best places on Earth are the most difficult to reach. This belief was strongly tested nearly a year ago when I decided to embark on my second international solo travel.
Destination: Machu Picchu, Peru.
*Note: There are multiple travel agencies operated by locals at Cuzco. Travelers do not need to plan in advance like I did. Any one of these travel agencies can accommodate tourists and plan trips to visit the Sacred Valley, Machu Picchu, Rainbow Mountain, etc. BUT, since I’m not fond of travel agencies planning out my itinerary, here is Adrielle’s Type AAA Personality’s guide to visiting the Lost City of the Incas.
1) Book airfare to Lima (LIM) or to Puerto Maldonado (PEM) and/or obtain Inca Trail permit.
Once your flight is booked, the first question you want to ask is: to trek or not to trek? Machu Picchu can be reached by foot or by bus, either hiking the famous Inca Trail or by taking the train. The Peruvian Government issues a limited number of Inca Trail permits per day, so it’s best to secure yours as soon as possible. Permits generally sell out six months in advance.
In my case, I opted to take the more convenient route, mainly because I was traveling solo, I didn’t have the proper gear for the hike, and I didn’t have the luxury of time.
2) Reserve accommodations (hotels/hostels).
I spent about $130 total for my 8-night stay in Peru, staying in various hostels. To each their own.
3) Arrange transportation to Cuzco.
Cuzco is the closest airport to Machu Picchu, which is still around 4 hours away from the citadel by train. It is not an international airport, so you will need to book a connecting flight within Peru to reach it. An alternative — cheaper but more time-consuming — route to reach Cuzco would be by bus. The ride is about 20 hours long. I personally did not want to take this mode of transportation because a) I did not have the luxury of spending an entire day commuting, b) I read that these buses are known to carry tourists, which automatically makes them an easy target for theft, and c) I was traveling alone, and I did not want to put myself in a situation where my safety is compromised for the sake of saving a few dollars.
4) Secure Machu Picchu tickets.
As soon as I finalized my flight, I purchased my Machu Picchu tickets to ensure that I get a ticket for the date I wanted to visit. Initially, I was under the impression that Machu Picchu tickets must be bought from the official Peruvian Machu Picchu website (which is in Spanish, which may or may not have induced a minor anxiety episode). Thankfully, I didn’t have to. I was able to locate a legit travel agency that distributed Machu Picchu tickets.* Keep in mind that there are limited tickets available each day at Machu Picchu, so it’s best to book your desired date as early as possible. The link I shared includes more information on the different types of entrance fees.
5) Purchase PeruRail tickets.
There is a small town at the foothill of Machu Picchu called Aguas Calientes (aka: Machu Picchu Pueblo), and it can only be reached either by foot or by train (PeruRail).
Once you purchase/reserve a ticket online, you will receive an email confirmation, containing a purchase code. NOTE: This is not a valid PeruRail train ticket. Your actual PeruRail ticket(s)– which will include a date/time/assigned seating– will need to be redeemed at any one of PeruRail’s servicing or ticketing offices in Peru. The following information is required in order to retrieve your ticket:
1) The purchase code number assigned in your confirmation email.
2) The credit card used to make the purchase.
3) Valid identity document.
Instructions on how to redeem your ticket as well as a listing of all servicing offices will be listed on your confirmation email.
PeruRail offers different options, depending on the traveler’s budget, similar to classes on an airplane. I chose the economic and least expensive option, The Expedition, riding from Ollantaytambo Station all the way to the last stop, MP Station (aka: Aguas Calientes). The train was comfortable, nothing fancy apart from the sunroofs… it moved fairly slow, but the views were incredible as we weaved through the Peruvian jungle.
6) Get necessary vaccinations.
Please visit the CDC website, Health Information for Traveler’s to Peru.
7) Re-confirm accommodations, print-out important documents and itineraries.
Make sure you have a valid passport. It is required for entry at the citadel. Your name/date of birth/passport number, etc. must match the information on your MP ticket.
8) Spend the night before at Aguas Calientes (aka: Machu Picchu pubelo) prior to the big day.
Traveler’s tip: Acclimate at Cuzco (around 11,000ft in elevation) for a few days, then spend the day and night at Aguas Calientes the day before the big day. It is the last train stop of the PeruRail and the last town/civilization before Machu Picchu. From Aguas Calientes, Machu Picchu is only a short 20-minute bus ride away.
By spending the night before at Aguas Calientes, I eliminated 98% of my commute up to MP, therefore freeing up more time during my day to explore the ruins!
Also, make sure to purchase your bus ticket for the following day as soon as you arrive at Aguas Calientes as they sell out quickly (approx. USD $24.00 for a round-trip) and the ticketing booth closes early.
THE BIG DAY:
– Bus rides up to Machu Picchu start at the main square in Aguas Calientes every 5 minutes starting at 5:30AM. Main gates open at 6:30AM.
– Make sure to bring your passport, MP admission ticket, bus tickets, lots of water, snacks and food. The nearest eatery located just by the MP entrance serves overpriced food and beverages (think USD $3 for water bottle). No thanks!
– Comfortable hiking/trekking shoes are highly recommended. You will encounter lots of stairs!
– There are no restrooms at the citadel. They are located OUTSIDE the main site, which is about a 10-minute hike away, and they are available for use at 1 S/.
My personal journey to Machu Picchu consisted of a 5-hour flight from Los Angeles to Mexico City, then another 5-hour flight to Lima, sleeping overnight at Lima’s airport for an early morning 2-hour flight to Cuzco. From Cuzco, I rode a van for 2 hours to Ollantaytambo, then boarded the PeruRail for another 1 hour and an half ride to Aguas Calientes. Finally, a 25-minute hair-raising bus ride to here, and best best believe that “here” was worth all the time and money and energy.
Thanks for reading! Stay tuned for my travel diary exploring the Sacred Valley and Lima!