Before you go; make sure you do these 3 things: 1. Book train tickets 2. Book Hotel Accommodations 3. Have Machu Picchu Tickets in Hand
Day 1: Cusco to Aguas Calientes
Day 2: Machu Picchu
Day 3: Machu Picchu; return to Cusco
Day 4: Fly out of Cusco
Make sure you know:
- Altitude Cusco 11,152 feet
- Altitude Ollayntambo 9,160 feet
- Altitude Aguas Calientes 6,693 feet
- Machu Picchu 7,970 feet
Train tickets: make sure you book a late train from Ollanytambo to Aguas Calientes
Flights from Lima into Cusco often get delayed. (mine was delayed 5 hours)
Day to Day Specifics
Day 1: Arrival in Cusco; from here; Plan going straight to Aguas Calientes (below Machu Picchu). When you arrive in Cusco (11,152 feet altitude) and if you are from a lower elevation it can wreck havoc on your body if you stay without acclimating.
Take a taxi from the Cusco Airport to Ollanytambo (get some food in the airport before you leave; the taxi ride is 2.5 hours)
Ollanytambo is in the Sacred Valley so if you flight is on time; you have time to walk around and see the ruins. If not, you will catch it on your way back to Cusco. The cost of a taxi is around 40.00 USD or 100-120 soles; at the airport, taxis will start at 240-440 soles or for a private car 350.00 USD; trust me, negotiate and offer 40 USD or 100 soles.
At the airport, there is a money exchange; the three of us exchanged 200.00 dollars to Soles.
The ride from Cusco to Ollayntambo is winding, on dirt roads, and on bumpy paths with a beautiful landscape the entire drive; with the elevation, fatigue, and car sickness; Coca Cola and Pringles actually made me feel a lot better.
Peru Rail: Ollanyntambo to Aguas Calientes (get some food in the store before leaving). The ride is around 2 hours.
Remember that things in South America do not always go as planned and there is a slower pace; it took over an hour for the bags to get off the plane because there was a festival going on.
I went with Peru Rail and was extremely happy with the experience; booked the Vistadome and on the return, the Expedition. With a 5 hour delay in Lima, we were able to rebook with Peru Rail in the airport with no additional charges. Very thankful that Peru Rail was so awesome.
When arriving in Aguas Calientes, there is no one who carries your bags and most hotels are up the hill. My hotel happened to be at the top of the hill; 15 minute walk and it was challenging with a pack on my back.
Day 2: Get up in the morning (Aguas Calientes) and pick up bus tickets (you will need a passport to purchase a ticket per person) It was around 79 Soles roundtrip or around 20 USD roundtrip. You can buy the tickets at the stand for a couple days so you do not have to visit the bus tickets again. (credit card machines were not working, so make sure you have cash)
Stand in line for the bus to the top. Make sure that while standing in line, someone checks your ticket and stamps it; if you have no stamp, you have to run to the top of the hill and find the person stamping.
You must show your passport and entrance ticket to get in.
Again, take snacks and drinks with you to Machu Picchu.
No tickets for Machu Picchu are sold at the top; so have your tickets with you.
There is a free stamp for Machu Picchu for your passport.
Restrooms are 1 sole per person.
Walking through Machu Picchu and taking pictures on day 1 for us took about 5 hours. We sat and talked and appreciated the amazing views. The weather was spectacular and watching everything was wonderful.
After the visit to Machu Picchu, we had lunch at the Belmond Sanctuary Hotel: lunch was a buffet and 40.00 USD per person. A bit pricey but well worth it. 3 drinks (water and Cokes) about 9 USD.
A few things to remember at the top of Machu Picchu: everyone who came up has to go down, so be strategic with timing. We waited an hour to go down; others were in line over 2 hours. It can be hot while waiting; so stay hydrated.
When returning to Agua Calientes, there are a lot of little shops/ cafes/ market to go shopping and eating.
Day 3: Get up early and see Machu Picchu at 5:30 AM. It is spectacular. On this early morning, we ran into heavy rain, but the structure of Machu Picchu and the architectural design allows for a drainage and no puddled water; within 2 hours, it was clear and beautiful. We went down around 10 AM; went to the hotel and showered; then stopped by a cafe next to the river and then had lunch before leaving; our train from Agua Calientes was to leave around 2 PM arriving in Ollayntambo around 4 PM.
The two hour train ride allowed for a quick nap before the taxi ride back to Cusco. This cost was around 80 soles to Cusco (cheaper than leaving the airport). We walked around the Cusco Plaza del Armas where there are quite a few Catholic Churches, shops, KFC, and McDonalds. Our hotel, the JW Marriott Cusco (top 5 in South American Hotels) was around the corner and worth the money. Oxygen available for altitude sickness, free buffet breakfast, free internet, and walking distance of the shopping.
Day 4: Getting up and heading to the airport. Quick trip!
Vaccinations:(talk with your travel physician or check with the CDC)
-Z Pak in case of Traveler’s Diarrhea
-Diamox (Altitude Sickness)
-Tylenol (Altitude Sickness)
-Pepto Bismol (Just in Case)
Few things to know about the area:
-Do not drink the water (or even the tea)
-Do not shave
-Do not eat fresh salsa or vegetables
What I learned:
-Give yourself extra time in case of issues. Book the train after 6 PM (from Ollanytambo to Aguas Calientes)
-Peru Rail was easy to navigate and book (in English)
-Machu Picchu tickets were not as easy to get online (I will post a tutorial in the next few days; the translation is not particularly helpful).
-The Culture of Ministry can change the Machu Picchu visiting times on a day’s notice; I received information from Peru Rail about this so we entered Machu Picchu earlier on the first day than expected since the entrance was closing at 2 PM.
-Book 2 days at Machu Picchu (if you arrive in the morning, you can stay all day, but make sure you can be there before the morning hours end)
Ways to Save Money:
- Sign up for ebates: use referral code: https://www.ebates.com/r/HEIDIL357?eeid=28187 and you will get some free money as well.
- Go through ebates, now search for hotels.com
- This will allow you a % for going through ebates on your hotel stay & 9 nights=1 free on hotels.com
- Negotiate and Know the Costs (see below)
- Taxi to and from Ollayntambo: 80 USD for 5 hours of driving (2.5 hours each way)
- Train (rt) to Aguas Calientes: 80 USD for the cheapest option
- Hotel: 4 Star = 100.00 USD per night 5 Star: 450.00 USD-1200.00 USD
- Food cost = 8-10.00 USD per person / meal
- Bottled Water =2.50 USD per person
- Machu Picchu 2 days of tickets: $65.00 USD/ day
- Plane tickets run from $400-1550.00 to get to Cusco. (I used flight miles which I will talk about soon)
Questions? Please just ask!