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11 Things You Should Know Before Going to Machu Picchu

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When thinking about going to Machu Picchu, there are 11 things you should know before going.

1. Know What You Are Getting Into

 

What You Should Know:

  • The time of the year (November – March is rainy season)
  • It is a working vacation (this is a non-stop, action filled, workout, calorie burning vacation)
  • South America operates at a much slower pace than the United States
  • Machu Picchu is a journey just to get there.
    • Once in Cusco, taxi is 2.5 hours to Ollanytambo where you catch the Train to Agua Calientes
    • Taxi should cost around 100 soles from the airport (35 USD) to Ollanytambo (know the power of negotiation; they started at 300 USD and ended at 35 USD)
    • Train Ticket Options – PeruRail – 3 Choices (Hiram Bingham, Vistadome, Expedition)
    • Book Ollantaytambo Train for 6 PM or later to Agua Calientes in case you have delays. (if on time, there are ruins about 1/2 mile from the train station if you arrive early)

What We Did:

  • We flew at Spring Break leaving Monday evening and leaving Cusco on Friday morning.
  • Spring Break was the end of March
  • It was 4 flights to get there (CMH-DFW-LIM-CUZ)
  • Once you arrive in Cusco, it is 2.5 hours to Ollantaytambo (35 USD) by Taxi.
  • Train (Peru Rail) was awesome. We booked the Vistadome (75 USD) on the way and Expedition (45 USD) on the way back.
    • Based on the 5 hour delay, Peru Rail was in the airport and was able to rebook our train tickets at no charge for the latest train from Ollantaytambo to Aqua Calientes)

2. Acclimating to the Altitude

What You Need to Know:

  • Altitude Sickness can be dangerous and it can ruin a vacation
  • Arrival in Cusco is 11,152 Feet; Ollantaytambo is 9,980 feet, and Agua Calientes is 6,693 feet and Machu Picchu is 7,972 feet.
  • It can be hard to walk up stairs with the altitude. A group of young men were stopping and could not catch their breath due to the altitude and some older less fit people just passed them. Altitude can affect anyone and it does not matter if you are physically fit.
  • While you are going up steps; there are no handrails and no wheelchair accessibility
  • As soon as you arrive in Cusco, plan on going directly to Agua Calientes
    • Advantages of this – reduction of headache and time to adjust

What We Did:

  • Arrival in Cusco; grabbed a bite to eat in the airport; then taxi to Ollantaytambo
  • Took Peru Rail from Ollantaytambo to Agua Calientes
  • Stay 2 nights in Agua Calientes then 1 night in Cusco before coming home
  • Had no issues; despite having altitude sickness meds (Diamox) with me
  • I have had altitude sickness before at 9,000 feet and 11,000 so this itinerary did not cause me to feel ill at all

3. Deciding Your Budget and Time Frame

What You Should Know:

  • Flights can cost 1,000-2,000USD to get from the United States to Cusco
  • Hotels can range from 35USD to 1500USD per night
  • Trains can cost 45USD to 400USD each way
  • Taxis can cost 35USD to 400USD
  • Dinners can cost 5USD per person to 15USD per person
  • Drinks can cost 2 USD to 8 USD per person
  • How much time do you want to spend in Peru?

What We Did;

  • We used Flight Miles to get to Cusco and tax cost each of us 72 USD
  • We did opt for a higher price by booking LATAM Airlines after looking at the safety records of competing airlines and their on time arrival percentages
  • We did opt for a taxi instead of a collective van (35USD for a taxi for 3 of us or 2 USD per person on a bus that could take 4 hours to get to the train station)
  • We did book the Vistadome (open window) train on the way there to see the sights (we had to rebook at the airport and ended up on the Expedition with no change fee)
  • We did book the Expedition (windows smaller) on the way back
  • We did not do other sights in Peru; literally just Machu Picchu/ Sacred Valley
  • We did stay at a 4 star hotel in Agua Calientes (Taypikala Boutique Hotel) and were pleasantly surprised (it is a walk up the hill from the train station)
  • We did splurge at a 5 star hotel in Cusco (JW Marriott Cusco) one of the Top 5 Hotels in South America and the Bachelor filmed there (Season Arie) we had hotels.com credit and the breakfast was delicious. They do have oxygen for altitude sickness and the location was close to the shopping area and main square.
  • We did do two days at Machu Picchu and would do it again.
  • The time frame for us was perfect; would not stay longer but others may have a different opinion.

4. Planning the Flights

What You Should Know:

  • Planes typically arrive into Lima 4:30 AM-6:45 AM. Plan to have the next flight 2-3 hours later to land in Cusco.
  • Remember deboarding the plane can take up to 30 minutes, followed by lines at customs/immigration, then checking in for the next flight (assuming you are not on the same carrier)
  • Plan to do a backpack duffel to keep everything with you; lost luggage is not a good situation. 60L was a great size for 4 -5 days.
  • Cheap does not necessarily guarantee a “good deal” – look at safety record and on time departures.

What We Did:

  • Flew American Airlines to Lima and LATAM to Cusco
  • Flew from Columbus, Ohio (6 PM departure) to Dallas, Texas (10:00 PM departure) to Lima, Peru (arrival 4 AM; 7 AM departure) and on to Cusco, Peru
    • We had 3 hours between flights scheduled for Lima (in our situation we had a flat tire in DFW and it took 2 hours to fix) then almost missed the flight from Lima to Cusco (made the flight by 5 minutes; then 5 hour delay because the door would not shut).
    • Actually arrived in Cusco around 2:30 PM (arrival was supposed to be 9:30 AM)

5. Book Hotels and Tickets Before You Arrive

What You Should Know:

  • The type of travel accommodations you want
    • Train Tickets Range from 45 USD (Expedition) to 75 USD (Vistadome) to 400 USD (Hiram Bingham)
    • Hotels range from 35 USD to 1200 USD a night
    • Machu Picchu tickets are around 60 USD per day per person
    • See my tutorial on how to book Machu Picchu Tickets  How to Get Machu Picchu Tickets Before You Go

What We Did:

  • Researched the cost of taxis from the airport to Ollanytambo (approx. 35 USD)
  • Booked Vistadome (wide open space and windows to see rainforest) $75USD on the way there
  • Booked Expedition (not as luxurious on the way back) $45.00 way back
  • Booked Taypikala Boutique Hotel in Aqua Calientes (breakfast was delicious and free; wi-fi was hit and miss) for 2 nights
  • Booked JW Marriott Cusco for the last night before returning to US

 

6. Plan to Spend 2 Days At Machu Picchu

Day 1: Sunny and Beautiful

Day 2: Rainy and Foggy

What You Should Know:

  • It rains….there is fog…..
  • Conditions vary at the bottom and at the top
  • If there is fog, you can see nothing.
  • Day 1 was 55 degrees in Aqua Calientes and at the top was a tropical 74 with sun.
  • Day 2 was 55 degrees in Aqua Calientes and at the top was a cold 50 degrees with rain
  • Peru Rail notified us that there was change in the Machu Picchu times in case we needed to change train service (so we knew before we left Ohio that the entrance was closing at 2 PM)
  • Machu Picchu closed the entrance at 2 PM on our first day; if this happens, they let you go in early even if you have afternoon tickets and you can stay once in, but cannot re-enter.
  • You must have tickets before you arrive at the top.
  • Cannot emphasize this enough….book 2 days.
  • If it is sunny on the first day, take all pictures and do everything you want. Do not assume the next day will be the same.
  • If it is rainy, look at the way the ruins drain the water; there are no puddles; fog everywhere; and for me it was unbelievable at the drainage
  • Within 2 hours, the rain stopped and the fog was lifting.
  • This picture was taken as we were leaving and it really becomes a “follow the leader”

What We Did:

  • We booked 2 days at Machu Picchu
  • Day 1 we booked the afternoon time slot because we figured with the travels we would be tired
  • We received notification from Peru Rail that Machu Picchu hours would change on our first day. We ended up going up around 11 AM and stayed until 4 PM
  • Day 2 we booked the morning time slot because our train was leaving at 2 PM.
  • We got in line at 5:30 AM and was there at sunrise to see that it was a day of rain.
  • We arrived around 7 AM at the top and left around 9:30 AM
  • We went back to the hotel and showered before hanging out at a cafe near the river before the train departure.

7. Plan on Bringing Essential items

What You Need to Know:

  • Backpack Duffel 60L appropriate size so you can take everything with you everywhere.
  • The trains do not allow big bags: your rolling 50 pound Samsonite will not work here; you will have to leave at the train station
  • Ponchos
  • Waterproof Pants, Waterproof Jacket
  • Layers
  • Boots
  • Tennis Shoes
  • Bug Spray with Deet (do not forget this)

8. Get Up Early

What You Need to Know:

  • If you go in the afternoon, head up around 11 AM and do not wait until the 12:00 time
  • Machu Picchu after 9 AM is a game of follow the leader
  • Machu Picchu early in the morning is spectacular with you and few of your newest friends
  • Can see everything without people in all of your pictures

What We Did:

  • Day 1: We went up mid-morning (Machu Picchu was closing at 2 PM and we had afternoon tickets)
  • Day 2: We got in line at 5:30 AM and the picture above shows the line…
  • Remember that when you want to leave, everyone else will probably want to as well- so make the decision early and make it happen.
    • We waited on day 1 until 4 PM to come down and stood for about 2 hours waiting on buses
    • We ate at the Belmond Sanctuary Hotel for lunch and it was worth it. 30 USD per person – buffet- excellent food; right next to Machu Picchu
    • Drinks and ice cream were also by the entrance.

 

9. Must Have Your Passport at Machu Picchu and to Buy bus tickets

What You Need to Know:

  • You have to have a passport to enter Machu Picchu; they will check it
  • There is a stand next to the restrooms where you can get your passport stamped (see above)
  • When you buy bus tickets; you can get them at once for two days; they will take credit card, but have cash in case the machines are down
  • Everyone’s passport has to be with the person making the purchase.
  • Get bus tickets when you arrive to Agua Calientes (ticket booth is where you line up to go up the mountain)
  • The bus ride up is like Ice Road Truckers in the Himalayas; curves, bumps, dangerous passage ways; no guardrails
  • When in line for the trip to Machu Picchu; make sure you get the stamp marking your Machu Picchu tickets and bus ticket OR you cannot board the bus.

What We Did:

  • Brought passports and purchased bus tickets all at once on the first day when waiting in line
  • While I ran to get bus tickets, the lady stamping passed by us; later we discovered we needed a stamp on the tickets in order to board the bus, so I had to run all the way to the top and get a signature before we could board the bus. (save yourself from this)

10. Vaccinations and Medications

What You Need to Know:

  • Have your vaccinations up to date: Flu, TDap, MMR, Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B, Yellow Fever (is optional)
  • Get a prescription for Diamox (if you have a sulfa drug allergy; there is an alternate)
  • Get a prescription filled for Z-Pak in case of Traveler’s Diarrhea
  • Pepto Bismol, Tylenol, Band-aids, and any other items you may need.

What We Did:

  • All shots are up to date
  • Since we are going to Africa in July; we opted for the Yellow Fever Vaccination; my mom did not get it (was not recommended based on age and where we were going)
  • Took Z-Pak and Diamox just in case.
  • Took a variety of medical items: band-aids, tylenol, pepto-bismol, neosporin, zyrtec

11. Food and Drinks

What You Need to Know:

  • Avoid fresh fruits, vegetables
  • Avoid water; this includes ice cubes

What We Did:

  • Avoided fresh fruits, water, vegetables, and the tea everyone speaks of.
  • Did not need anything because we appropriately acclimated (going to a low point when arriving-Agua Calientes)
  • Did not shave while on this trip
  • There are parasites and water treatment facilities and chlorination is not the same as the US
  • Tried Inca Cola- tastes like Bubblegum or Big Red Gum as a drink (surprisingly good)
  • Get food as soon as you land in Cusco. You will want to have snacks on the journey for 2.5 hours.
  • There are no restrooms or McDonalds from Cusco to Ollantaytambo.
  • Bottled water and snacks are essential at Machu Picchu and to have with you at all times.