| WHEN TO VISIT |
Visiting is a must. We’ve gotten that far. Now when to visit is the question. Machu Picchu is open year-round, however keep in mind that the Inca Trail is closed during the month of February. For those hardcore hikers who get off on trekking for days at a time among beautiful mountainous scenery and stunning cloud forests, take a mental note that the classic 26 mile 4-day hike is closed during this time. November to April is the rainy season, although it’s not uncommon for Mother Nature to throw showers down all year round. Peak season is in July and August, but one thing is for sure…you can always expect crowds.
| STRATEGY |
For those of you who like to get in and get out, seeing Machu Picchu in one day is definitely doable. You’ll most likely fly into Cusco, Peru, and take the 4 hour train to Machu Picchu Pueblo (formerly Aguas Calientes). Spend the afternoon filling memory card after memory card and ride the train back in the evening.
The more enjoyable and leisurely way of going about it would be to book a couple of nights at Inkaterra Machu Picchu Pueblo Hotel in the Sacred Valley and experience a true luxury Peruvian adventure. May I suggest heading straight there after landing in Cusco in order to acclimate to the high altitude. Machu Picchu sits at 8,000 feet whereas Cusco rises high at 11,000 feet. If you’re susceptible to altitude sickness, do yourself a favor and allow your body time in Machu Picchu Pueblo before spending a few nights in the high rises of Cusco.
| Planes, Trains and Automobiles |
It took me all three modes of transportation to arrive in Machu Picchu Pueblo. No, it’s not exactly cheap or efficient, but it’s faster than how the Incas got around (their own two feet). After flying into Cusco, there are two rail companies you can choose from: PeruRail and IncaRail. When buying your train tickets online, you’ll be presented with various options including the Expedition, Vistadome and Hiram Bingham (operated by Orient Express and thus pricey with white tablecloths and fine wine). I took the Vistadome where every seat had a full on scenic view. Allow about 15 minutes to get from the airport to the Poroy train station, and you want to be at the station at least 30 minutes before departure.
Important advice: Make your train tickets into Machu Picchu before making your plane tickets to Cusco. I know that sounds backwards, but because only 2,500 people are allowed into the park each day, train tickets can sell out months in advance. If tickets from Poroy station in Cusco are sold out like they were when I booked, fear not. You can take a two hour car ride to Ollantaytambo and take the train from there. I booked a car and driver with Cusco Transport a few days in advance, and they were spectacular.
Important note: There is an ambiguous rule once at the station that you cannot board with a large suitcase. My boyfriend and I had to consolidate our clothes into one suitcase, even though it far exceeded the maximum weight of PeruRail’s 6kg, or about 13 pounds. My carry-on weighs more than that!
| WHERE TO STAY |
This one’s a no-brainer. As I’ve previously mentioned, Inkaterra Machu Picchu Pueblo Hotel is the place to be. You can’t go wrong with its proximity to the entrance (20 minute bus ride) and 12-acre land to explore. While you can stay merely feet away from the entrance at the Belmond Sanctuary Lodge (Orient Express’s new hotel brand), it’ll put you back about 4 figures per night. You may not be booking rooms here, but Belmond’s buffet lunch is a convenient way to eat as it’s incredibly close and a great option to break up the day. Inkaterra also has a decadent cafe that’s open to hungry, paying customers if you aren’t a guest of the hotel.
I recommend a comfortable 2-3 night stay in Machu Picchu. Then, it’s time to properly explore Cusco while staying at Inkaterra La Casona.
View from Huayna Picchu
| Tips, Tips, Tips |
Entrance tickets: If you’re traveling independently (and a hotel is not buying tickets in your name) you can purchase them here. There are three types of tours/treks:
- Machu Picchu entrance only
- Machu Picchu + Huayna Picchu (7am OR 10am – go for the 7am and avoid more people!)
- Machu Picchu + Montaña (a bit of a harder hike than Huayna Picchu)
Keep in mind that there are only 400 passes for each of the hills per day, so tickets can sell out far in advance. Get those credit cards out!
Passport: Bring it. You must present it at the gates of the park. Just outside of the entrance, there’s a station where you can stamp your passport. Don’t miss it.
Coins: It costs 1 sol to use the restroom.
Eat lunch: The Belmond’s buffet lunch may be steep at about $40 per person, but you’ll work up an appetite while seeing all those ruins. Food is not permitted inside the gates, however you’ll find people who smuggle it in to feed the animals which is also prohibited. Some people like to live dangerously.
Bus to the ruins: If a hotel or guide is not purchasing bus tickets in your name, you can get them at a booth near the very long line of people that will be awaiting a bus to Machu Picchu. They start running at 5:30am. You can also do the 90 minute uphill trek to the ruins…and if so, Godspeed.
Bring: It’s recommended to bring a rain jacket, even if it looks like a gorgeous day. You just never know what the weather is going to do. Be smart and bring some water and sunscreen as well.
Guides: While you can see the ruins on your own with a guidebook, don’t underestimate what a real human guide can do for you. Ours was from Inkaterra and added some local flair and copious amounts of knowledge and history. You can book with one in the city or near the gates.