Earlier this year Bala surprised me with tickets to Peru and we visited Machu Picchu on my birthday! Click here to watch our travel diary. If you’re planning your own trip there, I am sharing some of my tips below. I wish I knew these tips for our trip- it would have saved us a lot of money and hassle!
Book a hotel for two nights in Aguas Calientes
After a day trip to Machu Picchu, you are going to be exhausted! Our train ride back from Aguas Calientes to Cusco was absolutely tiring!! I would highly recommend that you take the train to Aguas Calientes the day before, stay the night, visit Machu Picchu in the morning, stay a second night, and then head back to Cusco the next morning.
Give yourself enough time to catch the train back to Cusco
Fun story- we missed our train back to Cusco and had to book new tickets for which we paid the full price! We didn’t plan our time accordingly so we didn’t make it back to the train station from Machu Picchu on time!
I read a ton of articles when I was planning our trip but surprisingly none of them mentioned the massive lines that you have to stand in to get on a bus to head back down the mountain. I believe we waited for a little over an hour. Take this waiting time into consideration when you plan your day. If you still end up running late, call the train station and inform them. I found out later that if we had called them an hour before our train was scheduled to leave, we could have rescheduled our trip for free. The tour company we used didn’t let us know about the long bus lines and when we called them while we were running late, they didn’t ask us to call the train station. We don’t blame them but I am sharing this with you to remind you to always do your own thorough research when planning any trip!
You don’t need to hike up the mountain!
I prepared myself for a serious hike when packing for our trip. I even bought fancy (and expensive) hiking boots for the climb. While we were there I decided to read a few more articles to prepare for our day trip. The author of one of the articles explained that unless you are planning to hike from the bottom of the mountain to the top, which we were not, you are simply just climbing up a few flight of stairs- nothing out of the ordinary which would require you to dress like you are going on a strenuous hike.
So let me try to explain how it works. You start the day by taking a taxi to the train station and then a train to a city called Aguas Calientes. Once there, you will take a bus up to Machu Picchu. The car and bus rides were probably the scariest rides that I have ever been on! Once you get off the bus at the top of the mountains, I would say we spent roughly 5-10 minutes climbing up a few flights of stairs. Compared to the Sigiriya Rock which took us about 30-45 minutes to climb up, Machu Picchu was a piece of cake! After reading the article I decided to skip the hiking boots and wear the same flats that I wore on the day we climbed Sigiriya Rock. On a side note, I only wore those flats to Sigiriya Rock because it was completely unplanned! We were supposed to climb the rock the next day but ended up taking a pit stop to climb the rock on our way from Negombo to Dambulla.
You can plan a hiking trip from the city of Aguas Calientes all the way up the mountains to Machu Picchu instead of taking the bus. In that case, you should do more research on the web about how to prepare and what to expect. However, if you are simply planning to take the bus, like I and a lot of tourists do, then don’t be intimidated by the idea of climbing Machu Picchu. If you’re in good shape, you have nothing to worry about. Regardless, I would still recommend wearing running shoes because it rains quite frequently there. You don’t want to accidentally slip and fall! Luckily, it only rained for a little while towards the very end of our time up in the mountains.
Wear sunscreen and a hat!
Bala got a really bad sun burn because we both forgot to wear sunscreen and bring along a hat! Yikes, do as I say and not as I do!
Be cautious when purchasing your Machu Picchu tickets
There are a hundred different tour companies in Cusco selling tickets to Machu Picchu and I have to admit that it is a little intimidating. We heard stories from the hotel staff about individuals who were scammed but who knows if they were just trying to convince us to book through them! On that note, please keep in mind that it will be much more expensive to book through your hotel there than through one of the tour agencies you will find in Cusco.
We did end up booking our trip through one of the tour agencies in the city square and thankfully almost everything worked out in our favour. I say almost because we did miss our train and as a result we missed the car that was waiting for us back in Aguas Calientes. Our tour company actually refunded the taxi fare we paid as a result and we were impressed by their customer service during the entire process!
Don’t wait till the last minute to book your Machu Picchu trip
When you book your trip to Machu Picchu, there are two different time slots available. The first group of people are allowed to go in during a certain time slot and then a second group of people are allowed to go in during the next time slot. Additionally, there are a limited number of tickets that are sold for each time slot. On top of that, you also need to remember that there are obviously a limited number of train tickets that are sold each day as well. The time that your train arrives in Aguas Calientes needs to align with the time slot your ticket allows you to visit Machu Picchu. It all might sound a little confusing but what I hope you take away is- plan your day (paying close attention to the timings) and book your tickets well in advance! Otherwise, you might not be able to buy your train and Machu Picchu tickets on your desired date and/or time!
Consult with your doctor prior to your trip
I experienced altitude sickness on the first day that I arrived in Cusco. I thought I was simply tired from our long plane ride but realized that something else was going on when I was still not feeling the greatest on the second day. Please consult with your doctor prior to your trip and note down all of their recommendations. I had to rely on the internet and advice from the locals and you should never rely on either of those for medical advice!
Machu Picchu is located at a much lower altitude than Cusco so I did not experience any altitude sickness during our trip to Machu Picchu. However, if you experience altitude sickness in Cusco then it might take some fun away from your trip as a whole and I wouldn’t want that for any of you! Here are some things that helped me on my first day in Cusco when I experienced altitude sickness- drink lots and lots of water, get enough sleep, and if you’re walking around the city, remember to take lots of breaks to stop and breathe. You will find yourself getting out of breath much quicker in Cusco than you typically do!
I hope you found my tips helpful! If you have any additional questions regarding my trip to Machu Picchu, please leave them as comments to this blog post and I will be sure to answer them and help you plan your trip! I hope you all have a safe and fun trip to Peru!