Welcome to our first post and also the first episode of DIY Travel Guide. This is a video mini-series in which we will be sharing some of our travel advice on various destinations we’ve experienced around the world. Today, we’ll talking about one of the most popular tourist sites, but also one of the hardest places to get to: the Inca estate of Machu Picchu. So, without further adieu, here are some important tips on the easiest, cheapest and most importantly, the safest ways to get there, along with some other important tips.
- Producer/Host: Charles Huang
- Editor/Co-Host: Kai Mathias
- Camera: Stan Trac
- Music: Capo Productions “Stranded”
Machu Picchu is an Incan citadel set in the Andes Mountains in Peru, high above the Urubamba River valley. Built in the 15th century and later abandoned, it is renowned for its sophisticated dry-stone walls that fuse huge blocks without the use of mortar, intriguing buildings that play on astronomical alignments and ridiculously stunning panoramic views. How they managed to transport those large blocks remains a mystery to this day. (Wikipedia)
Before I share how to get there, here is some very important information and advice:
1. Altitude Sickness
One of the main reasons people get altitude sickness is a result of hypoxia, a condition in which the body or a region of the body is deprived of adequate oxygen supply. The higher the altitude, the less available oxygen in the air, which means less oxygen for your brain. This can result in the following symptoms:
- loss of appetite
- trouble sleeping
- Increased heart rate
In comparison to U.S. and Canadian cities, like Washington D.C., which is 410 feet (125 m) above sea level, or Los Angeles, 230 feet (70 m) and Toronto 246 feet (75 m). Cusco has an elevation of 11,150 (3,400 m) feet above sea level and Machu Picchu sits at approximately 8,000 feet (2,430 m). That is a huge difference from what us city folk are normally accustomed to!!!
Therefore, to avoid altitude sickness we recommend:
- Go to Aguas Calientes meaning ‘hot springs’, the town on the base of Machu Picchu as soon as you land in Cusco. Because this town has a lower altitude, a stop-over can allow your body to more easily adjust to the lower levels of oxygen in the air.
- Be sure to chew coca leaves or add hot water and make it into a tea. Although coca leaf is famous for its psychoactive properties, namely cocaine and alkaloid, you will NOT get high by consuming it in its natural form. Rather, it will improve blood flow to the brain, hence provide more oxygen. Most consider it harmless and similar to a mild stimulant comparable to coffee. It has been used for over 3,000 years by the indigenous population in high altitudes, such as Bolivia, Peru and Tibet.
2. Buy your train tickets and Machu Picchu admission tickets at least two (2) months in advance!
Machu Picchu is the most popular tourist attraction in South America. As of 2015, the main site is limited to 2,500 people per day, costs S/. 120 or $40 USD. For those that wish to take the extra Huayna Picchu climb, it is limited 400 people per day, costing $48 or S/.158. Up to 200 can go up at 7 am and 200 can go up at 10 am.
- Machu Picchu Admission Tickets are NOT SOLD at the entrance!
- We recommend you ONLY buy Machu Picchu tickets on the official website: http://www.machupicchu.gob.pe and Inca Rail: http://incarail.com and and Peru Rail: http://www.perurail.com
- The ticket for the Huayna Picchu climb is in extremely high demand, so be sure to book at least two (2) month in advance
- Morning and afternoon departing trains and Inca Rail trains from Ollantaytambo are in high demand. In addition, the evening train returning from Aguas Calientes train stations are also in high demand. Customers should book tickets at least six weeks in advance to avoid disappointment.
- If you can stay overnight at Aguas Calientes, we highly recommend taking the early morning returning train to Ollantaytambo, because it is less crowded.
- Keep in mind there is NO LUGGAGE allowed on board the train, given the limited space. Both Inca Rail and Peru Rail do not allow you to bring large bags aboard. However, most hotels and hostels in the area will allow you to drop it off in advance of your stay at no charge. Inca Rail do not offer overnight storage at the Ollantaytambo Station, but the slightly more expensive Peru Rail do offer that option.
3. More Advice:
- Always be sure to bring a raincoat or umbrella since weather is pretty unpredictable in this area. You should also bring a camera case to protect your camera on the event of rain.
- Everything in Aguas Calientes is way over-priced, so bring some light snacks from Ollantaytambo or Cusco.
- Make sure to bring pocket change since washrooms in Machu Picchu are not free. We don’t advise using the bushes.
- No food or plastic bottles (including bottled water) is allowed. If you need water, bring a metal or glass bottle.
Unfortunately, there is currently no direct transportation from Cusco Airport to Machu Picchu. With that being said… let’s talk about how to get to this amazing place,
deemed one of the “New 7 Wonders of the World“
STEP 1 – GO TO CUSCO CENTRAL SQUARE CALLED “PLAZA DE ARMAS”
From Cusco Airport, take an official taxi to Cusco Central Square, known as “Plaza de Armas” to exchange your Inca Rail or Peru Rail electronic payment voucher to receive a train ticket. Alternatively, you can exit the airport and take a regular taxi for half price.
- The cost for the official airport taxi is S/.10 or approximately $3.00 USD (NOT $10.00), do not get scammed, as this is known to happen. You should negotiate the total fare you’ll pay with the driver before getting in the cab.
- Inca Rail: Portal de Panes St. 105 Plaza de Armas, Cusco
- Peru Rail: Address: Portal de Carnes 214 Plaza de Armas, Cusco
STEP 2 – CATCH A BUS TO OLLANTAYTAMBO TRAIN STATION
From the Plaza de Armas in Cusco, you can either walk 10 minutes or spend $1.00 or S/.3 to take a taxi to Calle Pavitos “Calle Pavitos Colectivo” bus terminal between Belen and Av Grau. You can find the directions here.
- The share taxi or mini-bus leaves when it is full, so pick the bus with most passengers to leave earlier. There is normally a bus leaving every 15 minutes.
- The fare is S/.10 or $3.00 and takes approximately 1.5 hours to get there.
- Request your driver to drop you off directly in front of the Ollantaytambo Train Station
- Get your camera ready, you’ll pass by some of the most speculator breathtaking scenery of Sacred Valley of the Incas on the way to Ollantaytambo.
STEP 3 – TAKE THE TRAIN FROM OLLANTAYTAMBO TO AGUAS CALIENTES
In most cases, the driver will drop you off directly in front of the train station. In event that he drops you off at the Central Square “Plaza de Armas”, don’t worry, the Ollantaytambo Train Station is only a 10 minute walk and easy to find – Directions Here or alternatively, you can take a taxi for S/.1 or $0.33 USD.
- For those traveling on Peru Rail, leave your luggage at their storage across the station at their ticketing office.
- Inca Rail passengers, leave your luggage in any one of the hostels located at Plaza de Armas in Ollantaytambo for free, we suggest you tip the staff $5 if you do not plan to stay in the hostel. It’s just good courtesy and will ensure your stuff is safe.
4. TAKE THE BUS OR HIKE TO MACHU PICCHU
Exchange your Electronic Payment Voucher for a Admission TicketYou need to exchange your electronic receipt voucher for a Machu Picchu admission ticket at the Cultural Centre across from Central Square “Plaza de Armas”
- Centro Cultural Machu Picchu, Av. Pachacutec 103, is a 10 minute walk from the Machu Picchu Train Station – Direction Here
- Once you exchange your voucher for the admission ticket, it is valid for one (1) admission within a three (3) day period
If you plan to hike up by foot from Aguas Calientes to the entrance, we want to warn you on few potential issues and dangers:
- It takes approximately 1 to 2 hours to hike up, consisting of stairs. It is very exhausting and not suitable for those with heart conditions or are not physically fit
- You must start around 4:30 am to see the sunrise, there is danger in hiking in the darkness and nowhere near as breathtaking
- You must be on the look out for buses at all times
- We do not recommend you hike up during the raining seasons in February due to slippery conditions.
For most us who are taking a shuttle up the mountain, it is located right across the bridge from the Train Station. Here is some advice:
- The round trip fare is $19.00 USD (As of 2015)
- First shuttle departs at 5:30 am and last bus leaving from the mountain at 4:00 pm. So, do not overstay or else you will need to hike down
- Line up early in the morning at 4:45 am to avoid a lengthy wait time and catch the speculator sunrise.
Lastly, DO NOT bring coca leaves home!!!
It is illegal in most countries!!!
So, we hope you enjoy our Machu Picchu Travel Guide, please watch our YouTube Video for illustration.