Disclaimer: The JJ family traveled to Peru in March 2014. A lot has likely changed since then. Please perform due diligence with regards to your own trip planning.
Early morning on the fourth day, we woke up early to get ready and eat breakfast on the terrace of the Ecopackers hostel. By 5:15 am, we were done all set to meet with our guide Silu outside the hotel doors. She led us to the bus station where we joined the snaking line to catch the bus going up to Macchu Picchu.
Buses leave as early as 5:30 am but it’s on a first come, first serve basis. There are three ways to reach Macchu Picchu:
- Take the bus from Aguas Calientes, like we did. It takes about 30-40 mins to get there by bus. Bus tickets can be bought from the bus station the night before or on the morning of the trip.
- Hike the mountain to reach Macchu Picchu from Aguas Calientes, this is estimated around an hour and 30 mins
- Walk the Inca Trail from Cusco to Macchu Picchu, takes 3-4 days
As is self-evident, the huge popularity of Macchu Picchu means a significant number of visitors every year. In an effort to conserve and protect the premises, the Peruvian government has limited the number of visitors per day who can access the citadel each day as follows:
- Macchu Picchu alone: 2500 per day (hikes to the Sun gate and Inca bridge are included). I read that recently enforced regulations designate two entrance slots: 6 am to 12 pm or a 12 pm to 5:30 pm one.
- Macchu Picchu and climb Huayna Picchu: 200 people per day at two separate time intervals , 7-8 am and 10-11 am.
- Macchu Picchu and climb the Macchu Picchu mountain: 400 people per day.
Tickets to Macchu Picchu should be bought in advance. We bought our tickets a month before through a travel agency called boletomacchupicchu.com. I originally tried through the government website (macchupicchu.gob.pe) but for some reason it did not work for me. We had to send a scanned copy of our passports, especially for the children to receive a lower rate. They emailed us back copies of the tickets with the word Original written across it. We took printed copies of these tickets with us.
The issue with Macchu Picchu tickets is that they provide access only on the date specified on the ticket. Which means that one could hope for perfect weather and not receive it. Or one could get lucky. The weather is very variable up in the mountains and it can rain as easily as the clouds can clear up. It also means that Perurail planning can only be done after this ticket is obtained so as to coordinate with the dates of Macchu Picchu visit.
As to what can be carried on the trip to the citadel, the regulations are strict in limiting backpacks to a small to medium one. Lockers are available to store a larger backpack. Sunblock, insect repellant, a hat, sunglasses and good walking shoes are a must. Water is allowed in reusable water bottles but not plastic ones. Snacks and food are not allowed. In addition, carry small change, credit cards and don’t forget the passport. Special Machhu Picchu stamps are available to adorn your passports.
Since the weather varies so much, dress in layers. We carried rain gear as well a small umbrella but didn’t have to use them, fortunately. A good camera, extra batteries would be very useful. You have to hire a guide to go around the site. There are several available at the entrance. Bathrooms and a small restaurant are located at the main entrance with no facilities beyond. So go prepared. We didn’t have to take a bathroom break but you are allowed to exit and reenter once.
I suggest arriving as early as possible, our first photo at Macchu Picchu was timed at 6:25 am! We spent nearly five hours there before being satisfied. Being amongst the first to get there meant a couple of hours of peaceful exploration without a crowd around. We chose not to climb Huayna Picchu as it was too vertical a climb and sometimes slippery in the rainy season. Many traveler blogs advised against it with little children (Sonny JJ was about 8 then). Those brave enough to climb are rewarded with an excellent bird’s-eye view of the Inca city and are able to visit the Temple of the Moon.
Macchu Picchu (pronounced Pick-chu), in Quechua, means the old mountain as opposed to Huayna Picchu which means young mountain. It was not as important a city as the capital of Cusco in the Incan days. But being hidden high up in the mountains served to protect the citadel from the invading Spaniards. The engineering skills, the architectural details, the planning of the intricate system of aqueducts and drainage systems, the archeological structures built to presumably mark the solstices, all point to a group of people far ahead of their times in science, math and art. Although there are no written records, the stones at Macchu Picchu speak volumes. I was also amazed by the fact that the entire city was built so in tune with its surroundings that it feels a part of the mountain itself, as if the city were an innate part of the mountain.
For more on the importance of Macchu Picchu, take a peek at this page https://www.nationalgeographic.com/travel/world-heritage/machu-picchu/
The fact that royals, upper class people and poorer folks lived here is evident by the fact that royal apartments boast of smooth stones, perfectly aligned with one another. Whereas the poorer homes were put together with misshapen rocks all sort of jumbled together. The many terraces provided agricultural farmlands and as in Ollantaytambo, the drainage system was so well-built that the terraces didn’t allow for standing water, despite the heavy rains these areas receive.
The highlights of Macchu Picchu are best explained on these two sites:
Here are other photos from our trip:
View from the Caretaker’s Hut:
Temple of the Condor:
Temple of the Sun:
Main Temple and Sacred Plaza:
Royal living quarters:
With Macchu Picchu done, we took the bus down to Aguas Calientes and ate lunch at Restaurant Fortaleza. We then made our way through the local marketplace back to the station to catch the Vistadome to Ollantaytambo. The local women sell Alpaca based clothing at the marketplace, they were very soft to touch and cozy. We had to spend some time bargaining with the women and collecting some souvenirs along the way.
Once in Ollantaytambo, we took a taxi back to the Capilla Lodge and packed for the following day. We were taking a ride back to Cusco the following morning.