Planning a trip to Machu Picchu can be complicated and expensive.
So much so, that at one point, I uttered these words to Jared:
“Do we really need to go to Machu Picchu?”
Yes. In a moment of temporary insanity, I suggested that we skip Machu Picchu, the #1 tourist destination in Peru. Jared just looked at me and chose to disregard the comment.
Of course we were going to go to Machu Picchu. It was just a matter of how we were going to get there. Hiking was out, because you have to book an Inca Trail hike months in advance and I’m not a big hiker. Taking a 4-hour train from Cusco to Aguas Calientes was out, because it costs a billion dollars. Taking a tour was out because we had recently vowed to avoid tours at all costs.
So here’s how we did it:
- We bought our entry ticket to Machu Picchu in Cusco for 126 soles. You can only buy them from one place, an office a 20 minute walk out of town. Ask at the tourist office for directions and take your passport. (Tickets can also be purchased online or in Aguas Calientes, but not at the gate!)
- From Ollantaytambo, we caught the train to Aguas Calientes. It cost about $50 each, but was essentially our only option. We bought our tickets through a travel agency after our credit card wouldn’t work on the Peru Rail website. I’d recommend buying them directly from the Peru Rail office if this happens.
- We spent the night in Aguas Calientes, the closest town to Machu Picchu. To cut costs, we stayed in a dorm room at Supertramp hostel. The beds were super comfy, they start breakfast at 4 AM, and when we came back they let us use the facilities until our afternoon train left.
In the morning, we left at 5:30AM to tackle the hike up to the ruins. From Aguas Calientes, you can follow a trail across a rushing river into the mist and vegetation of the mountains. That leads to a seemingly endless series of stairs that takes you higher and higher, until finally – you arrive.
The hike took us about 90 minutes, and we only saw two other people. It was tiring, but I actually loved it. Much better than paying $10 for the bus.
When we arrived, dripping with sweat, the fog was so thick that we could barely make out a few rows of stones. The atmosphere was otherworldy, but inside I was sort of panicked. What if the fog didn’t clear? What if, after all this, I couldn’t even see Machu Picchu?
Within minutes, the fog shifted, revealing the epic city piece by piece.
We rambled around the grounds, stunned by every new nook and cranny we uncovered. Eventually we arrived at a low-lying platform that allowed us to see the ruins in their entirety.
I was adequately dazzled. This was Machu Picchu. One of the few places we knew for sure we’d visit when we were in the early stages of planning this trip, way back in South Korea.
There was only one other couple near us, accompanied by a guide. Jared said hello, but the guy was closed off and fidgety.
We soon learned why. A few minutes later, his girlfriend’s English accent cut through the silence.
“Are you being serious right now?”
He was down on one knee, offering up a ring. Her hand was covering her open mouth, the guide was smiling, and they were surrounded by the most famous city the Incas ever created.
We stepped aside (even though I wanted to stay and gawk), to give them their moment, barely catching the word “Yes” as we left.
When it comes to ruins, I’m not one to linger. In, a few admiring glances, photographs, and I’m ready to leave. But with Machu Picchu, we stayed for four hours, exploring the city, the roaming llamas, the old Incan bridge, and the Sun Gate, Intipuku.
It didn’t bring me to tears, like the Taj Mahal. But it captivated me and justified all of the expense and planning that had gone into this leg of our trip.
And now I can answer my initial question – Yes, we really did need to go to Machu Picchu.