Postcards & Passports

Machu Picchu is Calling You

This post was most recently updated on May 23rd, 2019

If you listen carefully you’ll hear it. Peru is calling! Specifically, that call is coming from Machu Picchu. Voted among the 7 New Wonders of the World at the dawn of this century, it is also one of the most pictured places in the world on Instagram.  

My college graduating son put Machu Picchu on my bucket list to celebrate his achievement. And we had an incredible experience visiting this remarkable site. Let’s revisit that journey together now.

From Los Angeles to Cusco

Our adventure to Machu Picchu begins in Southern California with a flight on Avianca to Cusco, Peru. It is a journey of 19 hours, two connections and 1 taxi to the hotel. The descent into Cusco is especially impressive with all the Andes peaks surrounding the city. This is “base camp” for most of our brothers and sisters from around the world who are also en route to the sanctuary of the Inca civilization. Some of those fellow trekkers we see on the planes and at the gates. In fact, we’ll see them around Cusco and even at the Inca ruins! Cusco sits at 11,000 feet elevation; that is sure to elevate your heart rate and respiration as well as the incredible sights you’ll see.

Choosing a Route to Machu Picchu

For many the path to Machu Picchu is literally the Inca Trail.  It is the only hike directly into the site. This path requires a permit which the government only sells to tour groups. That can be an expensive way to get to this remarkable monument not to mention a crowded way too. We opt for one of several routes within the same mountain range as the Inca Trail, called the Lares Trek. It requires no permit and can be done without guides. We spend a couple of days in Cusco to acclimatize to the altitude before our march. The Principe III hotel is the perfect lodging and location for our needs.

Ollantaytambo to Aguas Calientes

Our arrival to Machu Picchu is preceded by two classic days in Cusco and three amazing days hiking in the Andes.

Having gotten ourselves to Ollantaytambo it is time to catch the train to Aguas Calientes.

Either Peru Rail or Inca Rail will get us there on the same tracks. We choose Inca Rail with their excellent accommodations both before and on the locomotives.

The trains are not cheap and will be second only to airfare in terms of total trip cost. But the ride itself is reason enough for the fare. We travel during daylight hours to be able to see the beauty.

Aguas Calientes

The 90-minute ride passes quickly as we pull into Aguas Calientes, also known as Machu Picchu city. This is the village at the foot of the mountain which houses the citadel of the Inca emperor. The walk to El Tambo hotel from the train stop is just a few minutes long. Friendly staff assists us, our room is tidy and the bathroom excellent.  We drop our backpacks, use the facilities and head out in search of dinner.

An energetic restaurant employee invites us in with a discount on an already inexpensively priced meal. We enjoy many savory tastes including the best ceviche we’ve ever had!

Machu Picchu Day!

Early the next morning it is time to ascend to Machu Picchu. We have two options; take the bus or the stairs. This sacred Inca destination sits at about 8000 feet elevation and about 1200 feet above the village. The stairway sign indicates it’s 60 minutes to the top and that comes after somehow getting from the city to the foot of the mountain.

We’ve satisfied our pedestrian desires on the Lares Trek so we opt for the bus.  Round trip costs $24 US each, which the ticket office preferred in cash and not my Visa.  Taking the bus is not unlike an amusement park ride with its twists and turns as well as bumps.  An “Indiana Jones (Disneyland)” ride come to life!

Pro Tip: Get Your Tickets in Advance

We have purchased our Machu Picchu tickets online and well before we even embarked on this expedition. We did the same for our train tickets. To wait until we’re here would have been risky, given the popularity of this haven. Entrance tickets are marked with an entry time; ours is 8:00 am. We’ve arrived 45 minutes early and try to enter but are turned back. And we hear that entry is good only for an hour after your marked time. We use the time to check in for tomorrow’s flight back home. We also read the information near the entry. This scheduled access to the ruins makes it so that there is little wait to actually enter the remains of the Inca.

Machu PIcchu is Breathtaking!

Finally our Machu Picchu moment arrives. The view is spectacular! So is the vibe. There are 3 suggested courses to follow to divide the crowds. We take the first which brings us to the end of the Inca Trail. We climb up it in part to be able to say that we hiked that famous pathway.  

Almost to the Sun Gate we encounter an assembly of stone walls and more amazing views. We return towards the relics at this point and are soon admiring the fascinating handiwork of an ancient civilization. This unbelievable undertaking was the product of a decade of transporting stone to this plateau to form its roughly 200 structures.

More About the Machu Picchu Ruins

Machu Picchu was built for the emperor and for spiritual purposes. Once the abode of royalty and the religious, it is now tended only by llamas.

In the indigenous Quechua tongue this mecca means Old Pyramid, a fitting description of the aged and pointed peaks of the Andes mountains. We see temples, lodgings, observatories, courtyards, fields, and farming terraces. We envision the activities of the population of about 750 Inca who traversed these walkways until winter reduced the inhabitants to just essential support staff. Ultimately this hub would become the Lost City of the Inca, saving it from the effects of the Spanish Conquest.

Exploring Aguas Calientes 

There is no time limit on how long we can spend at Machu Picchu. Having deeply enjoyed its story and beauty and spirit, we are ready to board the bus back to Aguas Calientes. Now we have time to walk the markets and to find another great meal in both cost and taste. We take in the plaza with its statues and fountain. There is a beautiful cathedral as well.

As the time approaches for us to take the train back to Cusco we return to El Tambo hotel. They have graciously stored our backpacks without cost while we’ve been exploring, even though we have already checked out before bussing up the mountain this morning.

And Back to Cusco…
Cusco restaurant

La Brasa Brava in Cusco

We are returning to Cusco at the tail end of the off-season (end of April). I think that is why this commute will be half by train, then finished in a bus. Inca Rail calls it their Bi-Modal transit. Both vehicles are comfortable and each of their respective routes take us through stunning scenery. It is a long trip but we are back to the Principe III in Cusco by dinner time. Here, too, we have been able to store baggage free of charge while we hiked the Andes and walked Machu Picchu’s pathways. Finding another excellent meal is easy, a short walk from the hotel. Eating will only cost us about $75 US each, over the week we’ve spent in Peru!

 

 

 

What a marvelous adventure we have shared as we’ve virtually made our way to Machu Picchu! When your time comes to see it in person you will not regret the trip. Happy travels to this and every amazing place you are blessed to visit.

This post was composed for you by my husband, Darren Wilcox. We are a traveling family, and I often encourage my family to record their travel experiences for you — especially when I am not fortunate enough to accompany them. Thanks, Darren!

Machu Picchu

Machu Picchu

44 thoughts on “Machu Picchu is Calling You

  1. Evelyne

    Ah this brings back memories, I went many moons ago, I also based myself in Cusco. Totally a must once in a lifetime. I still have a gorgeous tablecloth I got in Aguas Calientes.

  2. Heather

    What an amazing journey and stunning pictures to remember it by! Although, my main question is, “where are all the selfies with you and the llamas/alpacas??!”

    1. Tami Post author

      Apparently, those pictures will be in the Cusco or Lares Trail backpacking posts that will be published soon!

  3. Melody PIttman

    Darren did an excellent job! I’m so glad to see him writing for you. I’m trying to persuade my hubby to do the same. I’ve always wanted to do this trip and saving your itinerary in case I get the option. Looks wonderful!

  4. Gary Quackenbush

    Awesome post. Thanks Darren and Tami . . . and Caleb for some of the photography and of course modeling! It’s on Cheryl and my lists and this post makes it easier to envision and plan.
    Thanks guys!
    GQ

    1. Tami Post author

      I hope you get to go soon. Maybe we’ll run into each other there because I still want to go!

  5. Lisa

    Machu Picchu is still a dream destination of mine. I too would pay extra and do the Inca Rail; it sounds more comfortable, plus I love your photos of the passing views! It looks like you had an amazing time, and I too hope to make this trip one day.

  6. Nicole

    We went to Machu Pichu just before they changed the rules. We could enter when we could and do whatever we wanted. We had a guide and we’re blown away by what we saw. It sounds like you organized your trip quite nicely. I loved the little town of Aguas Calientes and wished we spent a night like you.

  7. Brian

    I remember eating alpaca for the first time in Aguas Calientes and running out of breath when I got up to Machu Picchu. Cusco was nice too!

    1. Darren

      I talk about that in the post that goes up next week, our hike through the Andes Mts. For 2 months I ran 4 10k’s a week, hiked local mountains, did a shakedown hike. No issues with altitude sickness from touchdown in Cusco through the Andes and to MP. Hydrate, eat carbs and use vitamin I (Ibuprofen).

  8. Medha

    I think it’s a great suggestion to do the Lares Trek instead of the Inca Trail as you said one requires a permit which is only available to tour groups and thus is expensive. I can’t wait to get to Machu Pichu myself, I’m planning it for 2020. Thanks for the suggestions, I’d base myself as Cusco as well so that I can spend some time exploring the city.

    1. Darren

      I’m so excited for your moment at Machu Picchu! And good call taking in Cusco too. You’re going to have a great time.

  9. Sofia

    Machu Picchu has been on my bucket list for years now and your post gave me all the feels! Hopefully, one day, I’ll get to visit – I hear they’re going to build an airport nearby!

  10. Shreya Saha

    Machu Picchu is seriously on my list since a very long time. I thought the trains would be cheap though. Thanks for informing, but as you said, the main reason is the scenery and I am surely going to take the train for heading close to the ruins. Hope to visit the place someday.

    1. darren

      Glad MP is on your list! As for the trains, I suppose it could be worse. They do have a bit of a monopoly on getting people to and from the ruins.

  11. Marion

    Peru and the Machu Picchu are on my dream list! It looks so spectacular! And I’d love to just spend time lazying around and enjoying the food as well.

    1. Darren

      You have a great dream list with MP on it! It is definitely epic and yes, the tasty food easy on the wallet is another plus.

  12. Divyakshi Gupta

    Macchu Pichu is indeed on every traveler’s bucket list. MINE Too!! I am so glad you did the Lares Trek ( gives us the reader a different perspective from the regular Inca trail route). Cusco is breathtakingly beautiful and I am in awe of your pictures!
    The Urumbamba river view from the train is totally worth the day train ride. Thank you for sharing the journey up to the mountain as well as the ruins. The best part is that there isn’t any time limit to stay! That should be so blissful.

    1. darren

      Good call having MP on your bucket list! I loved the Lares Trek and still can’t believe all the epic things we saw and the people we met. And yay for no limits!

  13. Linda (LD Holland)

    We were so sorry we had to cancel our Machu Picchu trip last year. It is one of those sites that will get harder to visit each year. I did not know that there were other routes that did not have a fee or permit. But I would probably opt for the rail trip into the site. And we would take your tip and get our bus tickets to the top in advance. But your images reinforce why we need to put this back on the travel plans.

    1. darren

      Your persistence to MP will be rewarded for sure! You’re going to love it when it comes into view. Thank you Incas for such an epic monument.

  14. Sherianne

    This isn’t super high on my list because I’m scared I’ll get altitude sickness. And now that I’m aware it’s a 19 hour flight I’m even more hesitant. But then you see the images and all that flies out the window

    1. darren

      Altitude sickness is unlikely to disrupt your day at MP since it is only at 8000 ft. Since you do fly into Cusco to begin this adventure it is possible you could have some symptoms while you’re there (at 11000 ft) but even so most are able to make it through. Do go!

  15. Jean

    Oh your photos bring back such good memories of our own time in Macchu Picchu. Though we were able to get the train all the way into Ollanyaytambo.

    Love seeing that you got to enjoy this experience with your son

  16. Vaisakhi Mishra

    Machu Picchu is so high on my bucket list, but I have always been scared of the hike due to the altitude. So glad that they have I trains on a scenic route that gets you close to the ruins! Your pictures have totally shown the value of the train ride ^_^ It would also give us some time to recover from the long flight from US and acclimatize to the altitude. 😀

    1. Darren

      And the bus up the mountain finishes off the arrival so you can save all your hiking for around the ruins!

  17. Indrani

    Yes Machu Picchu is calling me and the call just got louder.
    Amazing to see the proofs of spirituality that existed then. I wish I can find myself in one of those pictures soon.

  18. Nicole LaBarge

    I went in 2017 and loved it. I was so sad to read that they are increasing visitor numbers instead of listening to UNESCO and protecting it. I hope Machu Picchu stays as beautiful forever.

    1. Darren

      Timing visitor entry is helping and the site looked to be holding up well. They just need to nix the discussions of an adjacent airport!

  19. Ami Bhat

    Machu Pichu has been on my list for long and I really don’t know when I can make it from India. Am actually not so worried abt the altitude for they seem to be taking enough precaution to get you acclimatized. Would love to hike it but the train too seems fine!

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