Trying to plan our Machu Picchu visit, we found that the first difficulty is to decide how and what parts to visit. There is a lot of information on this subject out there but some of it is inaccurate, most is focussed on only one aspect of the tour, but nothing I found seems to give a simple, comprehensive overview. I will try to do this here.
Machu Picchu Terminology:
There are a number of different options to visit the Machu Picchu complex and each one entails a different cost and allows you to visit different parts.
What is being referred to with the name “Machu Picchu” is where most of the confusion begins, so let me clarify.
The whole Machu Picchu complex consists of three parts:
1. The Machu Picchu City Ruins
2. Mount Huayna Picchu Mountain (North of the city ruins, seen in most photographs)
3. Machu Picchu Mountain (South of the city ruins)
The so-called Inca Trail is actually a (long) way to GET THERE.
(A pretty good contour map can be found here http://www.waterhistory.org/histories/machupicchu/machu7.jpg)
With “Machu Picchu”, people may be referring to the City Ruins, Mount Machu Picchu, or The entire archeological complex itself (including the city and both mountains combined).
All visits to the complex are initiated from a nearby town called Aguas Calientes.
To get to Aguas Calientes you:
A. You will need to make your way to Santa Teresa, NorthWest of Machu Picchu. From there, you can walk or take a taxi to the Hydroelectrica plant (approx. 8Km) SouthEast of Santa Teresa. From Hydroelectrica, either take a train or WALK (along the railway tracks approx. 10Km) to Aguas Calientes. You cannot take your own vehicle further than Santa Theresa if you have one. Actually the closest point you could drive to yourself is Hydroelectrica but parking options there are questionable. We noticed there is actually some sort of hostel accommodation and restaurant there though.
B. You take a TRAIN directly to Aguas Calientes from Cuzco or Ollantatambo.
From Aguas Calientes:
A. BUSES buses transport you from the town centre train station or, (closer to Machu Picchu) the Puente Ruinas train station, to and from the Entry Gate of the Machu Picchu Ruins which opens at 6AM. (The buses are costly.)
B. Alternatively you can WALK from Aguas Calientes to the Machu Picchu Stairway Gate (approx 1.5Km), or preferrably from the closer situated Puente Ruinas camp ground (approx. 500m). The Machu Picchu Stairway Gate opens 5AM, and you’ll need to show your passport and ticket. From the Machu Picchu Stairway Gate you walk up the mountain to the Entry Gate of the Machu Picchu Ruins (approx. 1 hour, gate opens 6AM).
More detailed information about bus/train/transport options and costs can be found here: (http://www.machupicchu-inca.com/aguas-calientes-to-machu-picchu-buses.html)
The exception to these methods of entry is by WALKING the Inca Trail. This is a several-day hike approaching from the South of Machu Picchu Mountain. (I have heard talk of alternative hikes to the Inca trail but these I know nothing about, nor whether they truly exist.)
1. You can can check availability, reserve and buy tickets directly from the offices of the Instituto Nacional de Cultura (INC) in Cuzco (Condomio Huascar, Corner of Av. La Cultura and Av. Huascar, No. 238) and in Agua Calientes (Centro Cultural near the Plaza de Aguas Calientes).
2. The easier option is to do it online at the Ministerio de Cultura Web Site (http://www.machupicchu.gob.pe/). On this site you can check availability of spaces and cost for the various visitation options, make reservations (lasting from 2 to 6 hours), pay for your tickets and print them electronically.
3. Another good option (as we did), is making a reservation online and going and paying directly at one of the INC offices. This gives you the comfort of checking availability from your hostel and not risking any electronic balls-ups with the payment and getting your tickets.
(Details of the various payment options, reservation durations, etc. can be found by clicking on the “FAQ/HELP” link on the website.)
4. Of course you could ask a tour operator to handle everything for you, but this will almost certainly cost you more.
5. The Inca Trail is by its nature a more complicated endeavour. It’s expensive, permits are required and you will probably do it through a tour company. I recommend careful research and management of this to avoid any problems. A good source of information seems to be (http://www.incatrailperu.com/inca_trail_introduction.html).
- The most popular visit is the Machu Picchu archeological complex in combination with the Huayna Picchu mountain.
- Huayna Picchu tickets sell out quickly so book at least 24hours ahead, preferably a few days! There are two entry windows or “groups” (08:00-09:00 and 10:00-11:00) and your ticket will specify which you booked. Tickets for each group are limited to 200 tickets per day.
- Machu Picchu mountain is less visited and therefore tickets tend to be available all the time.
- The Inca Trail is majorly popular (i.e. most popular trek in South America) and limited to certain times of year, so allegedly it sells out many months ahead.
Recommendations for Your Visit:
- Take a pack lunch and water! We were allowed in with our 1.5litre plastic water bottles – just don’t leave litter.
- Hostels in Aguas Calientes are a bit expensive so camping is definitely a good option. It’s cheap (15PEN/tent), there are showers and toilets although all a bit rustic, and it’s in a nice spot and seems to be less frequented so it’s nice for a quiet experience, And of course you get to walk the near kilometre from there to A.C. in the pitch dark to get dinner after your big trek.
- Forget the bus, walk everything you can. It’s worth it!
- Huayna Picchu, though very popular, is very much worth it. And in my opinion, no Machu Picchu visit is complete without the visit to the “de la Luna” temple down the rear of Huayna Picchu (fitness permitting of course). It’s long, scary and tough!! But man, does it give you some perspective on the lives of these people. Take some cookies! And note that the park rangers may close access to the Temple of the Moon-route by 12:00. (If you’re not too late and you ask, they may still let you through though.)
- Spend the following day at Santa Theresa’s thermal mountain baths; be ready for the sand flies!
- Find the resonating room in the complex and hummmmm into the walls – it’s mental!