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I can’t remember the first time I saw a photo of Machu Picchu, it must have been a few years ago. I didn’t know exactly where it was or how you got there but I knew I wanted to go and Machu Picchu was probably one of the reasons towards me wanting to travel South America this year so I was very excited to get to Cusco and start looking into booking the trip to Machu Picchu on a budget!
Just quickly I’ll say that online I had read to pre book this trip well in advance but I didn’t know when I would reach Peru and from other experiences I know that companies tell you to pre-book online and then charge you way more than it would cost to book it once you’re there in Peru.
February is the low season in Southern Peru too and the Inca trail is actually closed for this month so I knew that it wouldn’t be a problem getting a trip to Machu Picchu from Cusco and entry into the site as they are limited to a certain number per day.
I didn’t fancy doing a trek as it was rainy season and my savings for this trip had gone down pretty quickly so I had to get one of the cheapest options and was happy to see you could get the trip for $100 USD by going by car to Machu Picchu rather than $250 USD by going by train. This trip was 2 days & 1 night and included transport from Cusco to Hydroelectric (a place just before Aguas Calientes- the town before Machu Picchu), accommodation in the town, 1x breakfast, lunch & dinner and entry into Machu Picchu (you also didn’t need to pre purchase a ticket online as the agency did it for you and had an allocation).
You can of course do the trip by yourself but because I was travelling solo around South America and Peru I opted for an organised trip to Machu Picchu.
I don’t want to dwell on it but I’ll start by saying that the first day of this trip was awful! Luckily the second day when I went to Machu Picchu was great so I left the trip on a high but this is basically what happened…
From Cusco to Hydroelectric it takes about 6 hours in a bus, we had a mini bus and the journey is along windy roads on the edge of cliffs which take you pretty high and then back down again as Machu Picchu is actually lower in altitude than Cusco.
I think the high altitude got me first as I started feeling nausea as I had done in Bolivia but after this it was clear than it was also the drivers driving, he was taking the bends way too fast, accelerating and then braking so much and I noticed I wasn’t the only one feeling very sick on our bus. I was also told by the agent I booked with that we would stop, be able to take photos of the great views but of course this didn’t happen, we just stopped briefly for lunch and another toilet stop.
We arrived at Hydroelectric and I was feeling sick, unhappy and angry, firstly at the driver and the agent and secondly at myself because I kept thinking ‘I wish I had booked the train!’.
To get to Aguas Calientes the town that you leave for Machu Picchu from we walked along the train tracks, you could get the train (which I did on the second day but it’s $25USD for the journey and after a 6 hours in a mini bus I was happy to walk) it took about 3 hours, all flat and I really enjoyed it. There’s something quite dare devil-ish about walking along a train track as you grow up being told not to and the train did pass as I was walking but it’s loud enough to notice in advance and get to the side!
I arrived in Aguas Calientes which is actually a lot bigger than I thought and full of restaurants, souvenir shops and accommodation for a different budgets and was taken to my accommodation, a nice hotel by the river so this made the day more bare-able. After an organised dinner that was included in the trip I headed to bed.
My alarm was set for 4.30am, due to a mess up by the agent I had to collect my ticket myself from the ticket office in town which opened at 5.30am, (another reason I was unhappy as I should of been given this before leaving Cusco) I was third in the queue so this all went to plan and then I got in the queue to get the bus up to the entrance to Machu Picchu (this cost an extra $27 USD for a return bus, you can walk up and down the hill in about 2 hours but I didn’t have time as I had to get my ticket that morning and once I got back to Cusco this is one of the points I complained to the agent about and I got the money refunded!)
I met my guides at 6.00am just outside the entrance and we started our 2 hour tour of the sight. We were meant to be there for sun rise but firstly it started getting light while I was on the bus (!) and secondly it was really foggy anyway.
The tour was interesting and I learnt a lot about the history of Machu Picchu, how it was found, what they think each section was used for and how it was uncovered to the world and became a wonder of the world in 2007, but we just couldn’t get over how foggy it was! We were told by 9am it would clear and luckily did! After the tour I headed back to the entrance to get some food as you can walk in and out as much as you want and then headed up to the viewpoint. It was a lot of steps and you are still at pretty high altitude which makes it harder to breathe, at one point I turned around and caught a glimpse of the oh so iconic scene you see in photos and couldn’t believe my eyes so I powered up the hill to see it properly and what an amazing feeling I got when I got to the top!
It was still quite cloudy (I guess we were literally in the clouds) so I had to wait a few minutes while the clouds passed to yet again see the amazing views. I got the iconic pictures I wanted, took in the views and then set to see more of the site. Because I had seen it from the top it made more sense when I was below as I could picture where I was walking.
At about 11am I left (not before getting my passport stamped on the way out!) and took the bus back to the town, then the train to Hydroelectric and then back onto a mini bus for the 6 hour journey back to Cusco. I was initially allocated the same driver back as day 1 but I complained that he drove too fast so got another bus and driver and had a very pleasant journey back (if only I had had him on day 1!).
I really enjoyed the trip in the end, it’s an obvious must-see in Peru and I can totally understand why it became a new wonder of the world! It really is incredible and full of history about the Inca’s.
One tip for going to Machu Picchu on a budget I have is that if you can afford to spend more on the train rather than the bus then do as even the cheapest train with Peru rail has pretty much panoramic windows, comfy seats and is a much more pleasurable journey, also if you only speak English and no Spanish make sure your guides speak enough English so you know what’s going on!