How to get to Machu Picchu

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A back road through the Andes from Ollantaytambo to Cusco. I took this journey in a taxi on the way back from Machu Picchu. I paid 20 Soles.

The challenge with visiting Machu Picchu in high season is trying to book the ticket. It’s not just the ticket to get onto the site which is the drama, although that is painful enough. You also need to figure out how you are going to get there.

As far as I am aware there are four ways you can get to Machu Picchu.

  1. Walking the Inca trail.
  2. Take the tourists’ train.
  3. Take the residents’ train.
  4. Take a bus to Hydro Electric Station. Then walk about two hours to the Aguas Calientes (the tourist trap you need to pass through to get to Machu Picchu).

Option 1 is not an option if you have a budget, time constraints, and booked last minute. Option 2 is the way most of us seem to travel but you are being ripped off. Tickets are about $55 USD (at least) and you travel 40 kilometres. I tried to do option 3 as I technically am a resident but in high season I needed to book my ticket from Cusco’s San Pedro station in person, and tickets were booked a week in advance.

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I now wish I had taken option 4 but I didn’t know enough about this alternative route last minute and I preferred to guarantee making it to Machu Picchu instead. I have heard stories that this is a frightening route through the Andes.

I tried option 3. Failed. So I went with option 2.

To get to Aguas Calientes by the tourist train you can travel from either Poroy (about 15 kilometres from Cusco), or from Ollantaytambo in the Sacred Valley. I decided to go from Ollantaytambo even though it was about an hour and a half from Cusco.

I am glad I did it because Ollantaytambo was majestic and a great warm-up to the world wonder itself.

Okay, so I was anxious about how I was going to get to Ollantaytambo. I didn’t need to be. If you go to Calle Pavitos in Cusco (near San Pedro markets) you can take a bus. The tourist guide and the owner of the hostel I was staying at claim 120 Soles a taxi. But the moment I reached Pavitos and was walking to where I thought the bus was, a taxi driver stopped and offered me a shared ride for 15 soles.

We drove through the sacred valley as he picked up hitchhikers, including a Quechua man who played a pipe from the back seat. We picked him up from Urumbamba, and we had a limited conversation in Spanish while driving along roads with snow caps glaring from the horizon.

(*It has since come to my attention, from travelers from Manchester, that there is a much easier and even cheaper fifth option. If I remember correctly, if you pay 120 Soles to the right tourist guide, you can get a ride to Hydro Electric Station. From there you can walk to Aguas Calientes. The price also includes a night (or two?) at a hostel, and the ticket price into Machu Picchu. This seems too good to be true for me, but if it’s the case, this is by far the easiest and cheapest option for a foreigner on a budget).

Cusco!

When you make a life for yourself in a foreign country, the things you truly came to experience are forgotten, for life often is predictable. Predictability means complacency for someone such as me.

I had one week off for holiday and I knew I had to do something with it. I had to borrow money and use my damage deposit to scrounge up enough money.

I bought a return flight from Trujillo to Cusco for 680 Soles for an overnight flight, packed one bag to last six days, and scoured tickets for Machu Picchu.

While in Cusco I stayed at a hostel called Puriwasi (18 bed mixed room for 29 Soles). That is a decent price compared to other places during this journey.

Here is some quick advice before I focus later posts on experience:

-Altitude sickness! Cusco is more than 3000 metres above sea level. If you fly here you will not acclimatise as well. I was in hell for 18 hours in my hostel bed. Avoid alcohol.

Maybe drink a lot of water, and wear a hat! Avoid too much walking on the first day.

Drink a coca tea from time to time. It is better to drink it before you feel the effects of the sickness.

-To visit many ruins or museums here you will need a ‘Boleto Turisto’ pass which covers about 17 places. Get it from the La Muncipalidad office in Av Sol (near the plaza de armas). The pass lasts 10 days and costs 130 Soles (if you a resident it costs 70).

-Travelling to Machu Picchu is its own story! There are many ways to get to the world wonder. I will mention more in detail in another post.

-Knowing Spanish helps with the experience but most people in customer service have an excellent ability in English (better than many visitors travelling from across the world).

It is a great place to practice with confidence. Try it, and you will meet many interesting people from across the world. For me it included Peruvians, Americans, Canadians, French-ians, amd Argentinians (who taught me how to pronounce their country properly!).