How To Get To Machu Picchu
If you are planning a trip to Peru, chances are that Machu Picchu is the main reason. Thousands of people flock to Peru to get a chance to visit the breathtaking Inca ruins of Machu Picchu. Now that you decided to visit this wonder of the world, you may ask yourself “How do I get to Machu Picchu”?
FLY INTO LIMA
Most international flights will fly into the capital of Peru... Lima. Once you arrive in Lima, you can spend a day or two in Lima or just head to Cusco. Cusco is the gateway into all the Machu Picchu adventures. Your call, we decided to skip Lima and discover other cities and towns along the way. The easiest way to get to Cusco is to get on a flight from Lima. We landed in Lima around 6pm and took the first flight to Cusco the following day. Airlines start operating as early as 4am, but most start between 5am-6am so you can catch a flight fairly quickly if you plan accordingly. If you want to save some money and avoid a possible taxi scam, just stick around in the airport. You will notice many others doing the same and waiting for their flight early the next day. Grab a bite to eat and pick a corner. You got some hours to burn. They start letting people through security around 1:30am. We attempted to cross security the same day we arrived to sleep inside the gate, but no luck. The system rejected our boarding ticket and the officer told us we had to wait outside since the boarding pass is dated for the following day. The flight to Cusco is about one hour and a half. You will start getting some incredible views of Peru during the flight. The mountains are everywhere and you can really appreciate them from the plane. Fair Warning: Flying to Cusco is the fastest way to get there, but also could be the riskiest option. The reason I say this is because of the difference in altitude. Be sure to give yourself a couple of days to acclimate to the altitude. Do yourself a favor, have a coca tea everyday in the morning to help you out. More on how we overcame altitude sickness here.
LIMA TO CUSCO BY BUS
You can take a bus from Lima to Cusco if you want. You will have to plan accordingly to arrive to the airport and go straight to the bus station. I suggest booking a ticket with Cruz Del Sur if you go this route. The seats are very comfortable and it is top class for bus transportation. In our experience, we received hot dinner and cold breakfast for any overnight rides. You can find tickets as cheap as $24 or an average of $56. Cruz Del Sur leaves in the afternoon at 2pm and 5:30pm from Lima. If you can't make these times, you will have to look into other bus companies or spend the night in Lima and catch the bus the following day. Please Note: These departure hours may change, so visit Cruz Del Sur website for the most up to date information. It is about a 18-21 hour journey. Depending on the bus company, there may be some stops along the way to pickup and drop off passengers. This also helps you start acclimating to the altitude during the drive. Beware: You will be going through the Andes Mountains at night and it can really be a rough ride so bring Dramamine or motion sickness pills. It can also be dangerous with all the curves at late hours of the night, but we felt very safe with Cruz Del Sur. This route is always an option if you are short on time and money.
TIP: If you decide to buy your tickets with Cruz Del Sur, their website has the ability to change languages. For us, it defaulted to English, but if you can read Spanish or figure out the steps to book in Spanish, do it! Once their website is changed to Spanish, the cheap tickets will appear. You will have access to some seats being sold at a 50% discount! This obviously depends on demand and some planning on your end. .
BACKPACKING ROUTE LIMA TO CUSCO
The last option is also by bus, but it follows a route that allows stops during your travels. This route includes: Paracas, Ica, Nazca, Arequipa, Puno and finally Cusco. This would have to fit in your plans, especially if you have a pre arranged date to enter Machu Picchu. Many people take this route and then fly Lima to Cusco. You could also do the route the other way (Cusco-Puno-Arequipa-Nazca-Ica-Paracas-Lima). This totally depends on what you want to do and where you want to spend your vacation at. Which ever option you chose, make sure it works for you. Your time is valuable and should be spend in places you really want to visit.
JOURNEY STARTS: CUSCO TO MACHU PICCHU
Once you are in Cusco and have acclimated to the altitude, we start moving towards Machu Picchu. (Tip: We would suggest a couple of days in Cusco to see how you respond to the altitude. Last thing you want is to rush to Machu Picchu only to get sick.) There are several ways to arrive to Aguascalientes. Aguascalientes is the town closest to Machu Picchu and where you will most likely settle in before your visit.
Inca Trail: This is by far one of the most famous trails in all the world. It is a 4 day trek towards Machu Picchu. This option is also one of the most expensive ones. Since this is an option many choose, make sure to book your trip months in advance. They are only a certain number of permits given per day and they sell out quickly!
Salkantay Trek: This is an alternative to the Inca Trail. It’s less popular due to how challenging it is, but we’ve heard it is beautiful . When we looked at this option a month before going to Machu Picchu, it was still available. As for the Inca Trail, it had been sold out for the following 2 or 3 months.
Train - Cusco To Aguascalientes: Another very famous option is taking a train from Cusco to Aguascalientes. If you go with this option, make sure to book in advance to get a seat. There are two major trains that operate the service to Aguascalientes: Peru Rail and Inca Rail. (Note: Inca Rail does not operate a service from Cusco to Aguascalientes. The first part of the trip is by bus from Cusco to Ollantaytambo. Once in Ollantaytambo, you will get on the train towards Aguascalientes.) Both are priced competitively and offer similar options on the train. Check out the different train options with both companies as they offer an entry level service up to a fancy and expensive ride.
Train - Ollantaytambo To Aguascalientes: If tickets sell out because you didn’t listen to book in advance, don’t worry you still have other options. There are many trains leavening to Aguascalientes from Ollantaytambo. Ollantaytambo is about one and a half hours from Cusco and can be reached in many ways. Inca Rail offers the bus transportation if you buy the ticket Cusco to Aguascalientes. Another option is to jump in a taxi and head over to the train station in Ollantaytambo. The last option and the most economical, is to get on a colectivo and head over to Ollantaytambo. We took this option and paid S/10 ($2.99 USD) each for transportation from Cusco to Ollantaytambo. The van had 12 passengers and it made a couple of stops here and there, nothing too crazy. You can also select to ride on a car colectivo which is S/15 ($4.48 USD). They usually wait to get 4 people on the car and head out. Ask around in town where you can find Calle Pavitos for the colectivos to Ollantaytambo.
Take the Bus/Van from Cusco to Hidroelectrica - Walk to Aguascalientes: The most friendly budget option is…. local colectivo and walking! The ride to Hidroelectrica is about 5 - 6 hours. Once you arrive to the town, you will need to walk the remainder of the way to Aguascalientes. The walk should be between 2 - 3 hours. Many people that have done it state that the walk is not bad at all and has gorgeous views. Just remember… stay along the railroad tracks and you will not get lost. Make sure to be very careful just in case a train is approaching. Pack some snacks and water for the walk.
GETTING TO MACHU PICCHU
Once you decide on how to get to Aguascalientes, you need to plan how to get up to Machu Picchu. You have two options of getting to Machu Picchu: you can walk up the mountain, which takes anywhere from one hour and a half to two hours. We saw people start their walk up to Machu Picchu at 3:30am. If this does not appeal, you can take the minibus up for $12 USD per person each way. If you decide to take the minibus, we highly suggest purchasing your tickets a day or two in advance if possible. Since we were in Cusco for 7 days, we bought our bus tickets at InterBank. The process was very straight forward. We walked in, told the person we needed to buy tickets to the bus for Machu Picchu and they walked us through the process. You will need your passport and your ticket to Machu Picchu. The tickets are sold with a date and can only be used that day! Also, please make sure you bring in “nice looking dollars” to pay for the tickets. I had to go home because my bills were “too old”. Yup, they like them nice and crisp. Your other option is to buy tickets in Aguascalientes. If you opt for this option, try to buy them the day before. The lines get crazy very quickly and you don’t want to wait for tickets the day you plan to go up to Machu Picchu. The ticket office is by the train station in Aguascalientes. Ask around or head over to the booth by the train tracks that can give you the exact location. The bus starts operating at 5:30am. Beware: people start getting in line since 3:30am or 4am. Make sure to get there early.
MACHU PICCHU TICKET OPTIONS
I highly suggest buying your tickets in advance for Machu Picchu. This can be done through the Ministerio de Cultura website. We bought them a month in advance and had the opportunity to purchase tickets to climb one of the two mountains inside the Machu Picchu grounds. The following are the different options you have for Machu Picchu tickets:
Machu Picchu Main Grounds (1er & 2do Turno): If you are visiting only the main ground (Machu Picchu ruins) you will have to select between an AM or PM time slot. The AM slot (1er Turno) runs from 6am - 12pm and the PM slot (2do Turno) from 12pm - 5:30pm. The cost for each ticket is S/152 ($45.62 USD)
Machu Picchu Main Grounds + Machu Picchu Mountain: This was the option we selected for our trip to Machu Picchu. For this ticket, your entrance to the Machu Picchu Grounds will be during the AM slot of 6am-12pm. When selecting the Machu Picchu Mountain they do have a restricted allowance of 400 people per day which is broken up into two groups. If you select the 7am-8am, you are considered the first group and will be allowed into the mountain between 7am-8am and the second group goes up between 9am-10am.
TIP: If you select the morning slot between 7am-8am, you will have plenty of time to go up and down the mountain and then explore the Machu Picchu grounds. It is also not as hot during the morning and it will help going up those 2,670 steep steps! The cost for this ticket option is S/200 ($60.03USD)
Machu Picchu Main Grounds + Huayna (Wayna) Picchu: The last and most famous option is climbing up Huayna (Wayna) Picchu. For this ticket, your entrance to the Machu Picchu Grounds will be during the AM slot of 6am-12pm. The total allowance of people to this mountain is 400 per day, broken up into two groups. The first group goes up between 7am-8am and the second group goes up between 10am-11am. The cost for this ticket option is S/200 ($60.03USD).
Please note: If you select to climb a mountain, please keep in mind your ticket to the Machu Picchu Grounds will automatically default to the AM slot of 6am-12pm. Even though your ticket will state 6am-12pm for Machu Picchu grounds, if you climb any of the mountains you will have access and plenty of time to be in the Machu Picchu Grounds after 12pm. For example, we entered at 6am and were able to stick around until 3-4pm with no issues.
Regardless of how you get to Machu Picchu, the point is to simply get there! The best part is that all budgets are welcomed. Our biggest tip is to plan in advance and save some money by doing it yourself. An expensive travel agency is NOT the only option anymore. You will be surprised by how much you can save by putting in a little bit of effort. Not only will you save money, but you also have the chance to experience this wonder of the world at your own pace. Enjoy!
In Peru you will find a very small amount of locals that speak English.
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CREDIT CARDS AND BANKS
Cash is best for buying at local markets, street food or small stores as these do not accept credit cards.
ATMs are readily available.
We mostly used Banco De La Nacion while in Peru since this one allows us to take money out with out any fees.
VISA REQUIRED FOR US CITIZENS:
Visas will be given at time of entry into Peru. The length of approved stay will be determined by border officials when you enter the country and can range from 30-183 days. Be aware of the time they allow you to stay in the country. If you overstay, you will be fined and it will be a hassle when you try to cross your next border, specially if traveling by land. (This happened to us!)
Your passport must be valid for at least 6 month and have 2 free pages in the visa section when entering Peru.
(Make sure to check with your local embassy for visa updates.)
We decided to fly to Cusco from Lima since we had a predetermined date to visit Machu Picchu. You can also take a bus into Cusco. We would recommend using Cruz Del Sur for your travels. There are other buses less expensive, but we felt completely safe with them. They are the only ones we saw which go above and beyond to make you feel secure.
Breathalyzer tests are given to their drivers before starting their journey
Always have 2 drivers who must rotate every 4 hours
Video record all passengers traveling
A hostess is available for you 24/7 and attends to your needs on the bus
Meals are included like breakfast, lunch or dinner depending on your time of travel (the food is really good!)
You get a personalized screen to watch movies in Spanish with English subtitles
They can’t drive faster than 90kmph, there will be a screen showing how fast the bus is going (in some cases it even beeps when the driver goes over).
TIP: If you decide to buy your tickets with Cruz Del Sur, their website has the ability to change languages. For us, it defaulted to English, but if you can read Spanish or figure out the steps to book in Spanish, do it! Once their website is changed to Spanish, the cheap tickets will appear. You will have access to some seats being sold at a 50% discount! This obviously depends on demand and some planning on your end.
(In no way, did we get any commission or free rides with Cruz Del Sur to write this piece, we really loved them!)
We had heard mixed opinions about safety in Peru. Some cities seem to have more of a bad rep than others, but through out our stay we always felt safe. Even when riding on night buses. I was mostly concerned about all the road accidents you read about online, but if you book with a good bus company you should not worry. Just like in any other place in the world, use common sense like you would in any country. Make sure to steer clear of the roudy neighborhoods.
Be prepared for the full day in Machu Picchu! Check out Everything You Need To Know Before Visiting Machu Picchu.
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