Machu Picchu + Cusco

The idea to wander the iconic Incan ruins, to walk through a sacred place that was called home for the Inca leaders, is on everyone bucket list. Recently, I’ve been getting a few inquiries on how people need to go about reaching it to the top of Machu Picchu.  As some of you know I finally was able to tick Machu Picchu off my bucket list in May 2015.

When to go: Machu Picchu is open year round, but know it’s always rainy and always packed! High season is July – August, where you can expect the most crowds. In addition to this information I went in May and thought the weather was perfect. Cloudy, cooler from sunset to sunrise and steamy during the day!

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So here’s how to visit this famous spot everything from tips, how far to book in advance, favorite eats, and lodging accommodation.

How to get there:

Book a round trip flight to Cusco.

From Cusco you can either take a train to Aguas Calientes (3.5 hour train ride) or you can do a guided hike from Cusco to Aguas Calientes (I recommend my good friends at Travel & Healing). The main hikes are the Inca Trail, and the Lares Trek. The Lares trek is more of a cultural walk where you will come across a dozen villages tucked away in the Peruvian Andes, I spent the most humbling 4 days of my life on that trek.

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School girls in typical traditional Peruvian clothing walking a few miles back to their village along the Lares Trek in May 2015

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Big sister and little sister playing together along the trail while mother was working in the field… we would save our snacks and give them out to the Quechan children along the trail. This was the most humbling moment of my life.. to this day. 

If you’re taking the trains to Ollantaytambo, Peru Rail is the way to go, yes you are paying a bit more but it’s worth it. I was able to take Inca Rail on the way back from Aguas to Ollantaytambo and it was the most rickety train rides of my life, (my neighbors drink spilled all over me, joy)! Book WAY in advance for trains. They fill up fast, I purchased ours two months in advance. I cannot emphasize this enough.

It’s not the end of the world if the trains are sold out, taxis and minivans can be booked to Ollantaytambo from Cusco.

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Peru Rail

Cusco:

Cusco is situated at 10,800  feet elevation, for Florida travelers that’s sky high! I suggest staying in Cusco AT LEAST two nights before setting off to Machu. Purchase acetazolamide or Diamox pills, and take 2 days before you set off on your hike.

Side note: Chocolate bars actually save lives. On my second day in Cusco, we were walking around during the heat of the day, when I felt light headed, so I laid down on a park bench while the boys were shopping (ha!) and when I got up to leave I started following them and blacked out. Lucky my family friend Dr. Fairleigh was there to catch me, less than a minute later after I had downed half a liter of water and ate half a Milkyway I was feeling 100%

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Woman guiding llamas in the streets of Cusco. Notice her baby waddled up in traditional Peruvian attire. Also me trying not to get pushed in the street by a llama.. #peruadventure

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A woman and her handmade merch to be sold.

Lodging Accommodation:

There are many to choose from we stayed at the Novotel Cusco, and the Casa Andina Catheral Cusco (Free Breakfast for the win!) and I recommend both. Located right off Plaza de Armas in the main square.

In Aguas our tour operation company set us up at the Killa Inn (Killa in Quechua (the local language!) means Luna or Moon). My parents stayed in yet another Casa Andina – Machu Picchu. Both places are fabulous, wonderful service, great hospitality, and right along the river, I suggest you book these hotels in advance too. There’s dozens of options depending on which type of traveler you are, from luxury hotels, to small hostals (which I would have chosen for myself but I was with the rents).

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Tigers milk paired with complimentary traditional Peruvian snackage!

Food:

Eat a high calorie diet while at high altitude (carry around chocolate bars and snacks fa real)

Aguas Calientes is very touristy and small, to be honest there’s not too much authenticity for Peruvian cuisine. We did find some good restaurants such as Toto House, it had a great atmosphere, open fire, spacious floorplan, and floor to ceiling windows to look out and see the river. Walk down Pachacutec Ave and find many options for dining, we chose a small restaurant called Indio Feliz. After a full day at Machu, I suggest this place for a big filling dinner!

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Our last meal before Machu Picchu, in Ollantaytambo with the boys..

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Indio Feliz, Aguas

Things to do in Aguas other than Machu Picchu:

Aguas Calientes obvi has thermal baths hence the name, Entrance Fee $10.00 (obvi not the main attraction in the area…) however my mother and our friend Mrs. Fairleigh had great things to say about the baths.

Handicraft markets are near the train station

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Tips:

Entrance: Buy your tickets in advance here!

Huayna Picchu is a separate ticket from your Machu Picchu ticket, it’s worth the money and time but needs to be booked in advance.

Bring: Water (always!) and extra change for the bathroom.

Carry your passport so you can re-enter after using the restroom, and also don’t forget to stamp your own passport with a Machu Picchu stamp AH!

Bus: If you are doing the bus to Machu I say get there at 5:25 AM. Buy your ticket the day before at the ticket booth off of Hermanos Ayar. First bus leaves at 5:30 AM. The line at 6:00 AM is worse than Universals Dragon Challenge on opening day. Your other option is to do an upward climb for an hour and a half, free of course. The boys hiked the descend after a full day at Machu Picchu, and gave away their bus tickets to come college kids, the ladies and I took the bus down.

Guide: Machu Picchu can be seen through the help of a good guidebook but its less authentic in my opinion. A guide came with our tour we book through Travel and Healing, we were so so thankful for this addition in our tour. He would show us rocks sculptures were actually water mirrors for observing the sky.. then go on to point out rock formations in the shape of a Condor, an observation we would have never noticed before.

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You guys gotta hike to the Inca Bridge within the Machu Picchu, but don’t forget to write your name down before entering. They make you clock in and out just in case you fall.. I’m serious. You may never return (kidding) you got this. No railing but you got this.

The second place you MUST go when inside this iconic landmark is the Sun Gate, here you can get a pano view of Huayna Picchu, truly spectacular and magical place. Photo below.

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Well that’s all I have for right now! If you have questions or plan on going please don’t hesitate to comment below or shoot me an email, information in bio.

I would love to hear from you!

Cheers! Safe travels!

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Dad and Tyler headed up to Hualcajasa Pass (15, 200ft)!

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Machu Picchu

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3 thoughts on “Machu Picchu + Cusco

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