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.
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…
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!