On October 2017, we spent 11 days in Peru. Our main goal was to see Machu Picchu. We had such an incredible experience, that it’s hard to say if Machu Picchu was really the highlight. The amazing people, plus jaw dropping views of the mountains and delicious food, makes it a perfect recipe for an incredible journey. Here are some things to consider when planning your trip Machu Picchu.
Machu Picchu Hike or Train?
If you have the time, and capability, try completing a hike that includes a visit to Machu Picchu. There’s variety of treks, and they range from 2 days to over a week. From my experience hiking through the valleys and villages was so rewarding, that the visit to Machu Picchu was icing on the cake for an already incredible journey. Also, keep in mind that unless you hike the Inca Trail, most people take a bus from Aguas Calientes to the ruins. It’s a day filled with crowds and line ups, which always tests my patience.
If hiking is not your thing or you’re tight for time, you can take Peru Rail from Poroy (25 min. taxi from Cusco), or Ollantaytambo (2 hrs taxi from Cusco). From Poroy it’s about a 3.5 hrs train ride to Aguas Calientes. Ollantaytambo is a 2 hr train ride to the same town. From Aguas Calientes, you can catch a bus that goes up to the ruins on Machu Picchu. Most people will stay one night in Aguas Calientes and take an early bus to the ruins the following day. It’s a good idea to book your train, bus and Machu Picchu tickets ahead of time.
We don’t usually go on guided hikes. However, we weren’t familiar with the area, or with altitude sickness. I had no regrets with our decision. We had such an amazing time. I felt lucky to share the experience with such great people.
There’s a variety of Trekking companies in Cusco. We chose to go with Alpaca Expedition based on a recommendation from my sister and her friends. They completed the Inca Trail with Alpaca in 2013 and had an amazing time. They are also highly recommended on TripAdvisor.
We chose the 5 day/4 night Salkantay Trek which was $595 USD per person. It was worth every penny. I got altitude sickness. However, our guide and porters made sure we were always comfortable and well taken care of. If you’re looking for a guide for your Machu Picchu adventure make sure to check out Alpaca Expedition.
If you’re a more experienced hiker you can hike the Salkantay Trail without a guide, and camp at the many camp sites along the way. For the Inca Trail you are required to go with a guided tour.
On The Ruins of Machu Picchu
There are two visiting times for Machu Picchu, 6 a.m. – 12 a.m. and 12 a.m. – 5 p.m. You can also choose to book it with the optional hike to Huayna Picchu or Machu Picchu mountain. Alpaca Expedition booked us for the 6 a.m. visit. It was worth the early wake up call, because the site was less crowded. The bus starts to run at 5:30 am, and the entrance at Machu Picchu opens at 6:00 am. It’s only a 20 minute bus ride from Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu.
It’s also good to note that if you have to go to the bathroom during your visit, you have to exit the ruins and line up for the bathroom. It cost 2 soles to use the bathroom and you have to line up again to get back to the ruins. Our guide also made sure that we brought our own water and snacks. There is a cafeteria on site but it’s more expensive to buy the food there. Once you are done your visit, you have to join the long line of tourist to catch the bus back down to Aguas Calientes. We lined up for an hour to catch the bus back down to Aguas Calientes.
Altitude sickness is caused by going up in altitude too fast, symptoms include, fatigue, sleepiness, shortness of breath, loss of appetite, nausea and vomiting. Since we were flying from Toronto at sea level, to Cusco located at 3,399 metres above sea level, I though it might become an issue. It may have been paranoia but I felt the altitude as soon I stepped out of the plane. To help prevent altitude sickness, we visited a travel clinic before flying. They recommended taking Diamox a day before we landed in Cusco, and then once every 7 hours. Some tips for altitude sickness:
- if you didn’t bring Diamox, buy some from Inka Pharma or the many drugstores in Cusco
- take at least 2-3 days to rest and acclimatize before starting a trek into the mountains
- if you have time, consider taking a bus from Lima to Cusco so you’ll have a gradual ascent to 3,399 m above sea level (the bus ride takes approx. 22 hours)
- drink coca tea, most accommodation have this available 24/7
- drink muna tea if you feel nauseaus. I think this is mint tea.
- drink lots of water, stay hydrated by all mean necessary
- avoid alcohol and coffee because it dehydrates you
We booked our round trip direct flight from Toronto to Lima with Air Canada for $700. Our round trip flight with Peruvian Airline from Lima to Cusco was $230. I don’t recommend this airline. The customer service was terrible. Latam Airlines looked like it had better service, since their line up was more organized and they have a service kiosk at the terminal. Flights in and out of Cusco are often delayed or cancelled so it’s important to pick a good airline.
Despite the flight issues we had an amazing trip. Machu Picchu had been on my bucket list for so long. I really don’t know why I waited so long to take the leap, and book the flight to Peru. I had my list of worries I guess, money, altitude sickness, limited vaca days, not being fit enough to complete the hike, getting sick, the list goes on and on. But sometimes we have to quiet that part of brain and leap.