Machu Picchu Must-See. High on so many travelers bucket list is Machu Picchu, and rightly so; it is truly magnificent. This Inca Empire landmark rests comfortably on a mountain ridge at 2,430 meters (7,970 feet) and is a UNESCO World Heritage site as well as one of the New Seven Wonders of the World.
The Incas constructed Machu Picchu in the mid-15th century as an estate for Inca Emperor Pachacuti. Machu Picchu was abandoned just a century later around the time that the Spanish were conquering the Inca Empire. Machu Picchu was not “discovered” by the outside world until American historian Hiram Bingham brought it to international attention.
The Inca Empire arose sometime in the early 13th century and its end was met with the invasion of the Spanish conquistadors led by Francisco Pizarro in 1572. The Inca Empire at its height spanned parts of current day Peru, Ecuador, Bolivia, Chile, Argentina, and Columbia. The Inca Empire numbered over 10 million and was considered the largest empire in Pre-Columbian South America.
How To Get There
In short, you have two options to get to Machu Picchu. Walk or train. There is no road to Aguas Calientes, the town at the foot of Machu Picchu.
One popular option is hiking the Inca Trail, two options being either two or four days. Only 500 spots are available a day, so you need to book months in advance. The four day Inca Trail is not a walk in the park with Dead Woman’s Pass topping out at approximately at 4,260 meters (14,000 feet) and covering 41 km (26 miles). The two day hike tops out at 2,730 meters (8,800 feet) and covers 12 km (7.5 miles). Here is a great overview of the treks. There are some other lesser known treks which are also an option.
There are two companies that provide train service to Aguas Calientes. I took Inca Rail from Ollantaytambo to Aguas Calientes. When I departed I headed to Cusco. The train option sounded much better than trekking for four days at 10,000 feet.
A short walk from hotel in Ollantaytambo, and I was at the train station, anticipating my ride to Machu Picchu. In a short 90 minutes I would be in the town of Aguas Calientes. And in some ways that would be a slight frustration. Staring out of the window on the train was part of the magic of traveling to Machu Picchu. The passing landscape was gorgeous. The ride was very comfortable with plush leather chairs and cabin service. Complimentary drinks and snacks were provided during the ride. I was riding in Executive Class, which is approximately $60-80 one way. The train drops you off in Aguas Calientes, where all hotels are no more than a 15 minute walk away.
The next day I was back in train station after visiting Machu Picchu for my ride to Cusco. After approximately a three hour ride for about $90 you will be deposited at the train station in Poroy. The taxi ride will take around 30 minutes to get to center of Cusco. To make your reservation, click here.
Machu Picchu is the pride of Peru, and rightfully so. It is also a cash cow for the country, driving tourism for the country. Unfortunately, despite Machu Picchu being a global must-see, the monument is poorly run and organized.
The website utilized to purchase tickets to Machu Picchu (you cannot buy tickets at the site) is extremely dated and functions poorly. The government should be embarrassed that this is the site they are using to represent their heritage. Here is a great overview on how to buy tickets and which ones are available from my friends at Cachi Life.
There are three types of tickets which are available. Remember there is a finite amount of tickets per day, so buy in advance.
Machu Picchu Main Grounds. The vast majority of people will purchase this ticket. This is the general admission which allows you into the grounds. Tickets cost $47 USD (152 Soles).
Machu Picchu & Montaña (Mountain) Machu Picchu. This gets you access to the main grounds as well as allowing you to trek to the viewing point of Montana Machu Picchu. It is at 10,111ft/3,082m. There is a finite amount of tickets that are sold, and only two windows in the morning when you may start your trek. This trek takes one to two hours each way. This ticket is $62 USD (200 Soles).
Note: I had a ticket for this trek, but do to my delayed entry to Machu Picchu (due to the poor organization at Machu Picchu) I had to abort my hike and was not able to use my ticket.
Machu Picchu, Huayna Picchu & Temple of the Sun. This This gets you access to the main grounds as well as allowing you to trek to the highpoint viewing point of Montana Huayna Picchu. It is at 8,923ft/2,720m. Again, there are a finite tickets that are sold, and two windows in the morning where you are allowed to begin your trek. This ticket is $62 USD (200 Soles).
Warning: One of the other major issues, is the tickets have an end time when you must exit Machu Picchu. So for instance I was allowed to enter Machu Picchu at 6 am, and was required to leave at 12 pm. With the poor line management at Machu Picchu, my time at this landmark was severely limited.
Bus or Walk
Once you are in the town of Aguas Calientes, which is at the bottom of Machu Picchu, you have two options to reach the summit. Walk or bus.
Walking is a couple hour plus trek up a very steep hill with uninspiring views.
The bus will shuttle you up the mountain in about thirty minutes plus. There are two kiosks in the center of town on the main road. Purchase your tickets the day before (you need to bring your passport). The buses serve 5,000 people a day. The first buses leave at 5:30 am.
Machu Picchu’s organization on the behalf of the tourists is truly shameful. The poor customer service provided tourists reflects so poorly on this landmark. I lined up for the bus in Aguas Calientes but did not arrive to Machu Picchu until nearly two and half hours later. Hundreds and hundreds of people queued up in the chilly morning, the line for the buses being half a kilometer long.
Upon finally arriving at Machu Picchu, I was greeted with more lines and more waiting to present my ticket.
The amount of time spent waiting was truly disappointing and colored my experience in a negative light.
Aguas Calientes is one those touristy towns set up for a singular function. In this case, as the waypoint for entry to Machu Picchu. It is a town bereft of charm, filled with hovel and shacks. Aguas Calientes offers scores of options for lodging and restaurant. There is no need to spend more than one night here.
Machu Picchu represents one of those dichotomies that you will encounter as a tourist. Five star costs with one star service. I have always been a value purchaser. For a special experiences, I am always willing to pay a high price. Unfortunately, the value proposition is sorely lacking at Machu Picchu.
Tickets for Machu Picchu entry range from $47 – $62 per person
You must purchase a separate ticket for the bus to bring you from Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu for $24 per person.
The prices in Aguas Calientes are also inflated whether that is for food or lodging.
Food and drink is not allowed within Machu Picchu (yet does not seem to be enforced), the costs for food and drink at Machu Picchu is also highly inflated.
As you can see I was truly disappointed with the poor stewardship of Machu Picchu which contributed to my negative experience. Despite this fact, Machu Picchu is still truly a must-see experience.
Machu Picchu Must-See.
Disclosure: I was an invited guest of Inca Rail. The opinions I have expressed are my own.