Tag Archives: machu picchu

Part 7: I Came, I Saw, I Conquered (Machu Picchu)

Part 1: Getting to the Sacred Valley is Not Easy
Part 2: The Most Awesome Hotel Ever
Part 3: When in Urubamba…
Part 4: A Town Called Olly
Part 5: Can You Pass the Salt?
Part 6: How to Get to Machu Picchu

We had grand plans to wake up at 4:30 a.m. and get to Machu Picchu for sunrise. That did not happen. By 6 a.m. we were seated on the bus, marveling as it winded its way up the mountain for the next half and hour.

The line was a little long, but I found some amazingly colorful birds to distract me from the morning chill.

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Remember to bring your passport!

We finally set our eyes on the majestic Machu Picchu at about 7 a.m.

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Since we were too cheap to hire a guide we wandered around at our own pace snapping way too many pictures and waiting for the sun to peak out over the mountaintop (I was freezing).

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This is one of my favorite pictures, taken by my friend Lisa.

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I developed a minor obsession with llamas.

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*IMG_4322After I took my thousandth picture of Machu Picchu, a nice couple from New York walked by with their guide and we started eavesdropping on their tour. Clearly, we were not as discreet as we thought because the husband invited us to crash their tour. So we shrugged our shoulders and said why not?

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Our new friends

To be honest with you, I was doing more snapping than listening, but I vaguely remember the guide talking about the Temple of the Sun, and it seemed important so I took a picture.

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But I really cared more about the llamas.

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And the terraces. I love terraces.

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*IMG_4641At 9:45 a.m. we left our impromptu tour group and made our way to Wayna Picchu for our 10:00 a.m. hike. This would be a good time to mention that Lisa hates heights, particularly heights involving unstable steps and narrow ledges. I should also mention that the hike up Wayna Picchu is literally stone steps the entire way. Except for the narrow tunnel at the very end and the rickety ladder. To Lisa’s credit, she agreed to try it, and despite the occasional whimpers from her general direction, she hiked up and down in one piece.

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Waiting to let the macho hikers go first.

The hike is supposed to take about one hour up and one hour down, but we were a) on the slow side and b) taking a lot of pictures, so it definitely took us longer. The views from the top are pretty awesome.

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That crazy windy road is the path the bus takes up to Machu Picchu!

At the end of the trail, you’ll have to squeeze through a tiny tunnel, climb a ladder, and slide across a rock that overlooks a pretty steep drop. Lisa gave me a look that said, “I’m going to kill you,” but she slid across like a pro.

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Perhaps the scariest part is the very narrow, very steep series of steps you need to climb down to return to the main trail. But if you have plenty of meat on your butt (guilty), it’s not as bad as it looks. Just sit down and slide down carefully.

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By the time we finished the hike, we were pretty tired and dirty. Remember, we had been up since 5:30 a.m. and we had spent a good six hours exploring the ruins. Really, all we could think about was how much we wanted to take a shower. There is nothing quite as disgusting as sunscreen mixed with dirt embedded in your pores. We made our way slowly to the exit, snapping our last photos of the famous Machu Pichu. We got on a bus at around 3:00 p.m. and our historic day was done.

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Practicalities: As I mentioned in Part 6, entrance tickets to Wayna Picchu are limited to 400 people a day. If you miss out, you can hike Machu Picchu mountain. Based on my research, the hike to the top of Machu Picchu mountain is somewhat longer but the views are prettier since you are looking down on Wayna Picchu and the surrounding ruins. The advantage of hiking Wayna Picchu is that when you show friends your pictures, you can point to the famous mountain overlooking the Machu Picchu ruins and say: “I hiked to the top of that!”

Wayna Pichu - arrow

Other practicalities: Bathrooms and food/water are available outside the park near the entrance so plan accordingly. Additionally, the bathrooms cost a sole per visit and no amount of begging will get you in without payment. You can buy water right outside the bathroom, but a small bottle will cost you 8 soles so bring water with you if you’re cheap. Finally, you can stamp your passport with a Machu Picchu stamp, which is rather silly but super fun.

 

 

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Part 6: How to Get to Machu Picchu

Part 1: Getting to the Sacred Valley is Not Easy

Part 2: The Most Awesome Hotel Ever

Part 3: When in Urubamba…

Part 4: A Town Called Olly

Part 5: Can You Pass the Salt?

Getting to Machu Picchu is not that hard. But it sometimes seems like the Peruvian government goes out of its way to make it difficult.

The first thing you need to do is decide whether you are taking a guided Inca trail hike to Machu Picchu or the train with the rest of humanity. Either way, make this decision in advance especially if you decide to hike because there are a limited number of passes and I’m told they sell out quickly. You also need to decide if you want to purchase entrance to the Wayna Picchu (also called Huayna Picchu) hike. Wayna Picchu is the famous mountain in the backdrop of all the Machu Picchu pictures. They only allow 400 people up a day, 200 at 7 a.m. and 200 at 10 a.m. Entrance costs an additional $10.00.

We chose the coward’s route for a number of reasons: 1) We didn’t want to spend $600+ on a guided hike. 2) We didn’t want to sleep in tents. 3) We were nervous about climbing 4,000+ feet  at an altitude of 12,000 feet. 4) We didn’t want to spend half our vacation on the Inca trail. There were a number of other sites we wanted to see in Peru and hiking the Inca trail is a sizable time commitment.

The government limits the number of Machu Picchu entrance tickets to 2,500 a day, so buy your tickets as soon as you know your schedule. Buying the entrance tickets is probably the hardest part of getting to Machu Picchu. The site is in Spanish, and it frequently refuses to accept credit cards. Note: You can set the site to English, but it will only proceed to payment in Spanish. Yes, the appropriate reaction is this:

bite my thumb

We used this very helpful site to navigate the language barrier and other quirks. The site refused my credit card twice, but Lisa managed to get approval after she called her credit card company. It is important to note that the site will issue you a reservation slip before it issues tickets. The reservation slip is not the same as tickets, and will not gain you entrance to Machu Picchu. Make sure you receive and print out tickets, which will look like this:

Machu Pichu Reservation - redacted

Note: Our tickets say Machupicchu + Huaynapicchu 2G 10:00 which means we purchased tickets for the Huayna Picchu hike at 10:00 a.m.

If all else fails, you can use a travel agency to book your tickets.

Next up, we booked our train tickets from Ollantaytambo to Aguas Calientes, the small tourist town at the base of Machu Picchu. In the olden days, there was only one train company. Today, there are two (PeruRail and IncaRail) leaving from Cusco, Urubamba and Ollantaytambo. And among these companies, the trains vary from basic to nicer, to downright luxurious (and expensive). We ended up choosing our train based on our schedule which is how we ended up in the slightly more expensive Vista Dome train through Peru Rail. The Vista Dome features ceiling windows with slightly better views and a hysterical fashion show on the way home.

A very important note that we did not see mentioned on the many blogs we poured over: Officially, the trains to Machu Picchu limit the amount of luggage you can take to 10 kilos (22 lbs or so). You can pay to store your luggage at the train station (which works if you are leaving and returning to the same station) or you can fork over a hefty sum to have your luggage transferred to your next hotel. That is what we did. As we boarded the train, however, we saw plenty of people with real luggage, so it is not at all clear how much they enforce this rule. Carry at your own risk.

The train is comfortable and the view is pretty. Almost all the seats feature two rows facing each other with a table in the middle so make friends. We met a lovely couple from Canada and ended up hiking with them the next day.

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Enjoying the train ride to Aguas Calientes.

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Lisa and I with our Canadian friends!

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The fashion show on the return train trip.

When you get to Aguas Calientes, you will have two options for actually getting up to the famous Machu Picchu. You can walk up – have fun with that – it takes about an hour and a half. Or you can pay $19 ($38 round trip) to take a bus up the windy road. We bought our bus tickets as soon as we arrived on our way to our hotel.

Aguas map

The buses start as early as 5:30 a.m. and go continuously throughout the day. There are also all sorts of rules about what you can bring into Machu Picchu – no food, no disposable water bottles, no walking sticks — but we saw people violating these rules left and right. My advice: Put any contraband in your backpack as you go through the entrance and you should be fine.

 

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