There is already an overload on Machu Picchu information available online. Therefore, I will not ‘bore’ you with the exact outlay of the complex, the history, or the Incas. Instead, this post is assuming you are already planning to visit. Which is why I will provide you with the best tips to make your Machu Picchu experience even better!
Decide early on your visiting date and mode of transportation
There are a few ways of reaching Machu Picchu, let me explain in a bit more detail below. Whichever way you choose, the scenery will be amazing
this is the easiest (and mainstream) way of reaching Aguas Calientes. This is the closest town only a few kilometres from the Machu Picchu site. The 3.5-hour train journey takes you through the scenic surroundings of the canyons and the Urubamba River in the sacred valley. Be sure to book your tour (including the train tickets) a few days (or weeks in high season) in advance, as spaces are limited.
Via the Inca Trail:
This is multi-day trekking which terminates at the Machu Picchu site. Concerns of erosion of the trail have led the Peruvian government to limit the number of maximum of 500 people per day (of which only 200 are trekkers, the rest are guides and porters). This obviously means that you have to book months in advance to be able to do hike this trail. This obviously limits your flexibility when travelling for a longer duration through the continent. In addition, take into account that the limited number of daily trekkers has resulted in high prices. (Expect to pay prices of a minimum 500 USD to much more)
This is actually not a real option, and for good reasons, as I will describe in a bit. However, we visited Machu Picchu after a period of massive rainfall. This caused landslides and significantly reduced the number of trains. Also, the trains that did make it up to Aguas Calientes had to cater for all the earlier stranded passengers who were still waiting in Cusco. Luckily, we found someone who claimed he could still take us, but by car… Let me share our experience…
Travelling to Aguas Calientes by Car
As mentioned we travelled by car, definitely an off-the-beaten-track adventure. However it is quite clear why this is not the route for the masses, but fun to share my experience!
- It did take us at least 8 hours to reach Aguas Calientes (as opposed to the 3.5 hours by train)
- Often we were unsure where our road ended and a waterfall started. For example, we lost our license plate along the way when crossing a waterfall over the road.
- The roads were not well maintained, with many landslides along the way
- One landslide literally destroyed the complete road, which meant we had to find our way over the landslides among construction workers to get to another van which would take us further.
- Then we finally reached a small, rusty, self-constructed cable cart. In which we were pulled over a canyon with a wild running river underneath us. To make things worse the 2 persons before us got stuck halfway for a few minutes…
- After the cable cart experience, we had to hike further pass landslides and next to wild running rivers to finally get to Aguas Calientes
Even though I know it is unlikely you will arrive via that same route, I just liked to share this adventurous travel alternative. Whichever mode of travel you choose, you will at some point reach Aguas Calientes… let’s quickly discuss this Machu Picchu basecamp…
What to do in Aguas Calientes
Apart from serving as the base to Machu Picchu this small touristy town is mainly focused on offering (simple) accommodation and food & beverage for the many tourists. In addition, this town which literally translates to “hot waters” is also home to hot water springs. Providing a great way to boost your muscles before or after hiking the Machu Picchu site.
Top Tip #1: Ensure to pack your swimming gear in your day-pack! As you will definitely want to enjoy the hot springs!
Top tip #2: I advise to go to bed early, as you will need to wake up early the next morning for a full day strenuous hiking.
Top tip #3: Ensure your guide has arranged an early bus (or you are able to take a bus in the early morning, with a bus and entry ticket in hand)
Enjoying Machu Picchu
The next morning you will be all set to go to Machu Picchu. Obviously only carry the needful in your daypack and leave your large luggage in Aguas Calientes (in your accommodation, or with your guide, porter, etc.). Definitely bring a poncho as it is often misty and rainy up in these mountain ranges, perhaps one of the reason why this was “lost city of the Incas” for so long.
Top tip #4: Wake up early and be sure to be in one of the first buses. As you will be one of the first ones at the gates and be able to request a (free) 2nd entrance ticket to the Huayna Picchu (Wayna Picchu) peak. This is the peak that overlooks Machu Picchu. The daily number of tickets is limited to 400 on a first come- first serve basis. Trust me! This is worth it!
Top tip #5: if not already because of tip #4, do ensure to take a bus up to Machu Picchu. Remember you will be walking and climbing for the full day at high altitude which will drain your energy! Walking up would really be a waste of your energy. We walked down to Aguas Calientes, but would perhaps rather have waited for a bus as we were exhausted!… Luckily the hot springs give some comfort to your muscles!…
Apart from the above tips, I actually do not have much more advise other than just enjoy this amazing historical site. It is all quite self-explanatory!
All excited to visit or like to know what else you can do in Peru? Check out 5 top things to do in Peru.
Looking for another key highlight in South America, then definitely do not skip the Galapagos Islands!…