Traveling to Machu Picchu: The Basics
I have already written a detailed report about our trip to Ecuador.
This series of posts will detail our trip to Peru and ultimately one of the new seven wonders of the world – Machu Picchu.
This post (part 1) will cover things you need to know prior to your trip. Check out our other posts to learn more about our trip to Peru.
- Part 1: Traveling to Machu Picchu: The Basics
- Part 2: Planning Travel and Lodging
- Part 3: Travel from Cusco to Ollantaytambo
- Part 4: Things to do in Ollantaytambo, Peru
- Part 5: Eating in Ollantaytambo, Peru
- Part 6: Cycling down a mountain
- Part 7: Hiking on an Inca trail
- Part 8: Zip lining and hiking to Aguas Calientes
- Part 9: The climb to Machu Picchu
- Part 10: How much did our trip to Peru cost?
Be aware that most of Peru is at a relatively high altitude.
- Cusco – 3,399 m (11,152 feet)
- Ollantaytambo – 2,792m (9,160 feet)
- Aguas Calientes (Machu Picchu Pueblo) – 2,040 m (6,693 feet)
- Machu Picchu Sanctuary – 2,430m (7,979 feet)
Some travelers, especially coming directly from sea level, do suffer from altitude sickness. Dehydration is a common cause. Be sure to drink liquids prior to and during your visit. Peruvians recommend drinking coca tea. That’s fine but be sure not to try to bring some coca leaves home with you or you risk being detained.
Arrival in Peru
Lima, the capital, is the most populous city in Peru and your most likely entry point into Peru, via Jorge Chaves International Airport (LIM). You can spend a little time in Lima, but eventually need to catch another flight to Cusco (CUZ). I strongly recommend you fly because a bus between the two cities will take about 18 hours.
The main form of currency in Peru is the Peruvian Nueva Sol. The exchange rate in the airport was comparable to other places. As of 2019, the exchage rate was about $1 USD equals 3.3 soles. Get small bills as getting change for large bills can be difficult.
Be aware that many places do not accept credit cards, so be prepared by carrying enough cash with you.
Electricity in Peru is 220 volts. Laptops and cell phones are designed to operate on 110 volts or 220 volts so those should be fine. However, if you come from a country that operates on 110 volts (like the United States), for other appliances you will need a voltage converter. The majority of sockets are 2-prong and not 3-prong.
Also be aware that your device may overheat when charging, so be sure to unplug it when you are done charging; and don’t leave it plugged in overnight.
Entrance Fee to Machu Picchu
The entrance fee alone is quite expensive, costing 152 Peruvian soles (about $45 USD).
You cannot get an entrance ticket at the entrance to Machu Picchu. You can get one at the ticket office in Machu Picchu Pueblo. However, since there is a limit of 2,500 people per day, I felt better getting my ticket ahead of time on the Peru Ministry of Culture website.
The main language spoken in Peru is Spanish. Though in most tourist areas, many people also speak and understand English.
Often public toilets are free. However, they are not equipped with toilet paper. Bring your own toilet paper everywhere you go!
Transportation and Traveling to Machu Picchu
You will need to start your journey in Cusco. From there you will have a few options, and none of them are simply driving there, as there are no roads to Machu Picchu. Nope!
The easiest option is taking a tour from Cusco. This option will most probably provide bus transportation to Ollantaytambo and then a train to the village of Machu Picchu Pueblo, and then a bus up to the Machu Picchu Sanctuary. If you do this, and you don’t mind “winging it”, you will find cheaper tour prices in Cusco than you will online. So just wait unti you get there and scope out the dozens of tour companies. You can’t miss them.
A variation of this is taking a multi-day trek with a tour company. There are multiple versions such as the traditional Inca Trail, the Salkantay Trail or what I chose to do – an Inca Jungle Trek, which included cycling, hiking part of the Inca Trail, ziplining, hot springs and concluding with a final hike from Machu Picchu Pueblo to Machu Picchu. The price of this was actually very reasonable ($275 USD), as it covered all transportation, three nights lodging, four days of meals and the entrance fee to Machu Picchu. I did the math and it was cheaper for me to do this than pay for food and lodging for 3 nights, train tickets and a Machu Picchu ticket. I used Loki Travel and was satisfied but you can pick any one you want.
Another option is taking a taxi or colectivo (minibus) to the town of Ollantaytambo (2 hours). Don’t pay more than 100 soles for the taxi. By the way, I really liked using Olltantaytambo as a base for Machu Picchu and the Sacred Valley. From Ollantaytambo, take a train to Machu Picchu Pueblo and back (1 hour). You can choose Peru Rail or Inca Rail. I chose Peru Rail because it offered more departures daily. Since this is the major way to get to Machu Picchu, it is very expensive, with tickets costing around $100 USD each way. Once you get to Machu Picchu Pueblo, you can either take a bus to the top ($24 USD round trip) or hike the final hour.
The cheapest option is a little tricky (but cheap). I would do it now that I know my way around, but would hesitate if I have never been there before. That’s why, at the time, I chose to do the Jungle Trek. Take a colectivo for the two hour ride from Cusco to Ollantaytambo (10 soles). Then take a colectivo to the town of Santa Maria and another to Santa Theresa (about 10 soles). Then hire a taxi to the Hydroelectrica (anyone in Santa Theresa will know where that is; I am guessing it is 10 or 20 soles). If you want to do it even cheaper, just hike the 30 minutes to Hydroelectica instead of taking the taxi. Finally, hike the final 3 hours along the railroad tracks to Machu Picchu Pueblo. Don’t worry about where to go – the only reason anyone is at the Hydroelectrica is to hike to Machu Picchu, so just follow the crowd.
Citizens of the United States, Canada, and most South American and European nations do not require a visa if the stay is less than 90 days.
Tap water is non-potable. Buy bottled water or bring something like a life-straw.
Being near the equator, there really isn’t a winter or summer but rather a rainy season and dry season. The rainy season runs through April. The dry season starts in June. May can be a mixed bag. We went in July. Daily highs were in the 70s Fahrenheit (low 20s Celsius). Overnight lows were in the 50s Fahrenheit (low teens Celsius). Weather in Machu Picchu right now .
Conclusion: Traveling to Machu Picchu
Hopefully, this has given you some helpful basic tips to make your trip to Peru less stressful and more enjoyable.
Do the math to see if a tour works for you. As you see, between train tickets and the entrance fee you are already at about $245 USD. My Jungle Trek was $275 and it included four days of meals, three nights of lodging and a heck of a lot of fun.
If you have any questions, please ask.