A visit to Machu Picchu and the sacred valley close to Cuzco is probably the most important highlight of South America. I would go as far as to say that 95% of first-time visitors to the sub-continent will explore the lost city of the Incas built around 1450. Since Hiram Bingham, an American historian, discovered it in 1911, Machu Picchu draws high attention to the entire world. Likewise tourist arrivals grow each year. This is why I would like to share a few tips to make your experience as magical as you would like it to be.
Depending on your fitness and disposable income you can choose between three major options. The first and most common option among elder visitors is to take the train directly to Machu Picchu Town from Cuzco. The second option is to take a bus that will bring you over the pass of Veronica in 5,300metres height, followed by a stopover in Santa Teresa and a walk along the railway to Machu Picchu Town very early in the next morning. Very interesting among us more active people is to take the old Inca Trail with a guide. That is by far the most ancient and spectacular way to get there but probably the most time consuming and uncomfortable because you will spend three days in the jungle. I have heard many backpackers do the Inca Trail and it is supposed to be the “spiritual” gateway to Incan culture.
For all those who consider walking up Wayna Picchu, the big peak you see on every Machu Picchu image, I need to tell you that there are only 400 Tickets per day, so grab yours as fast as you can and make yourself comfortable with the fact that you have to start around 6am in the morning. Rules are strict and entry will only be granted to those with a ticket, specifically issued for that day, and arriving before 1pm. The good news however is that the tickets are for free and many agencies can provide access to them.
Who would like to save time and breath, taking a bus from Machu Picchu town up to the entrance is a very interesting option. I have to admit though that queuing is not extremely pleasant, so consider walking up to the entrance if you happen not to have booked a bus ticket in advance.
The walk up is demanding, no doubt but so much more interesting and relaxed. Then, up there, relax, do not try to rush through, focus your mind on the ruins and try to guess what all these houses and stone formations could have been used for, try to understand what importance this village had for the Incas. Besides that, you can ask a local guide to walk you through.
An almost secret hint: go to the eastern plains behind the houses and take a seat on one of the old grass fields they used for farming. From there you can watch over the entire mountain range at good weather conditions, or have a pick nick or just let your mind flow. This is a spot far off from the tours almost everybody is trapped to do, so there will be almost nobody to disturb you. Besides all the magic, do not forget that this is a major tourist attraction. If I should be in Peru for a second time I will try to get to Choquequirau which is a little more remote (the trail is about seven days) but less busy and as fascinating as Machu Picchu.
Watch my fellow travellers and me exploring Machu Picchu on tight budget:
Pt 1 – the long and uncomfortable road via the pass of Veronica
Pt 2 – Coca, Jungle and Lamas – our arrival at Machu Picchu