Machu Picchu has been on my bucket list for years and since I never have been to South America, I just don’t know where to start with planning…all I know was Machu Picchu has a limit on number of visitors per day so need to book way in advanced….thus the trip has been delayed for years until NOW! It was a last minute trip for us, I booked just one month prior; for those of you who have been following my blog, you know that I plan like a year in advanced for the greatest deals and locations so a month before definitely a last minute thing. Actually, I was looking for some place to go for the 4 days off during Thanksgiving since the beginning of summer, how can I possibly be using my precious holiday times sitting at home and not traveling? Originally, I wanted a long weekend trip to explore more National Parks; I was amazed by Grand Canyon and the Antelope Canyons from last year’s Labor’s Day weekend trip! I had my eyes on Bryce Canyon, Zion National Park, and Arches National Park but the airfare remained outrageously high at more than $550 per person from Boston to Las Vegas! I asked myself, is it really worth $550? I could’ve flown to Iceland again! I was feeling out of hope until I saw a deal from Copa Airlines: Boston to Lima for $445 roundtrip! The moment I got home from work, I booked immediately to seal the deal knowing that I have 24 hours to decide (you can cancel for free within 24 hours). The average price is usually around $700-$800 and sometimes it go on sale or the low season at around $500ish. $445 is my first time seeing this low and over the Thanksgiving holiday too! After I clicked the purchase button, I thought I was crazy, how can I put together a trip to Machu Picchu in less than a month while I had read it takes a year of advanced planning for others to take the trip?
Here’s how I did it, not recommended for you to make a last minute trip like me because entrance ticket and train ticket could sold out way in advanced during peak travel months! Fortunately for me, November is not a busy month as it’s considered to be the start of the “wet” season in the southern hemisphere!
Before you book the flight ticket or like me to have 24 hours to think about it, make sure you are able to get two tickets: entrance to Machu Picchu and round-trip trip train to Machu Picchu (unless you are doing the Inca Trail or other hiking trail, see wiki: http://wikitravel.org/en/Machu_Picchu). Without either one of them, you probably not be able to visit Machu Picchu!
- Machu Picchu Entrance Ticket
There’s only ONE official site: http://www.machupicchu.gob.pe/ There are other vendors/websites selling or claiming to sell Machu Picchu tickets but don’t take chances! Better be safe than sorry, so book with the official site! The site could look daunting at first so take a deep breathe and follow the steps. Select on the first drop down menu “MACHU PICCHU”, then you have few options: Machu Picchu only (limit of 2500 people per day), Machu Picchu and Huayna Picchu (limit of 400 per day), and Machu Picchu and Montaña (limit of 400 per day). We are definitely not physically fit to hike either of the mountains and I am extremely acrophobia so not happening! Select the date on the little calendar and then it’ll display number of available slots for that day and price. It was 128 Sols per person around $38 USD. Once you selected the date, click on “Step 2” to enter your name and passport number, the country for United States is “Estados Unidos”. Remember you need to bring your passport with you along with the ticket to enter Machu Picchu! Then, click “Step 3” to confirm the info and click “Reserve Generating” to generate a reservation code.
You are not done yet, once you get the reservation code click on the top tab “payments”. Paste in your reservation code and click “pay” to make the payment. I used my Visa credit card to make the payment and the transaction went through fine! I have read people had difficulty making the payment. Once payment is successfully made, you can click on the “Check-In” tab. Put in your reservation code click search and then click PDF to save the PDF of your ticket. You’ll need to print, bring the ticket and your passport with you.
2. Train Ticket to Machu Picchu
Two companies operating trains to Machu Picchu, actually Aguas Calientes, the town on the bottom of Machu Picchu: Peru Rail (http://www.perurail.com/) and Inca Rail (http://incarail.com/). I booked the once a day train from Urubamba, the train station is located inside the Tambo del Inka Hotel, a SPG property where we stayed at 6:50 am and arriving Machu Picchu at 9:24 am. However, the return train back to the hotel leaves at 3:48 pm so it barely gives 6 hours in Machu Picchu excluding transportation time. From Machu Picchu train station at Aguas Calientes, you’ll need to take a bus up to the mountain to the entrance of Machu Picchu site. The bus trip takes less than 30 minutes but take into account of queuing for bus ticket and then get on the bus. The bus ticket is $24 USD per person, they only take cash in USD!!! On the way down, you’ll need to line up for bus as well (it’s a much longer line) and you need to be at the train station 30 minutes before the departure time. I have read that it could take up to 90 minutes or more to get down. So I did the math and figured we will not have enough time to enjoy Machu Picchu – the whole purpose of this trip. Thus, I booked a later train at 6:20 pm arriving Ollantaytambo at 8:05 pm (the train was delayed by 1.5 hours, I’ll get into details of that later in my trip report). From Ollantaytambo, a taxi ride back to the hotel. There are 3 class of trains, prices in one way: HIRAM BINGHAM ($285 yikes), Vistadome (range from upper $60s to upper $80s) and Expedition (range from $50 to $70). It’s expensive for the short distance it travels (and slow) but no other choices! IMPORTANT NOTE: you need to bring the exact credit card on which you made the purchase! You’ll only get a confirmation email that you’ll need to bring with you along with that credit card to any of their office location to pick up your tickets in person. My Visa credit card didn’t work this time LOL but it worked with my Mastercard!
Tips: when picking up the ticket and if possible ask for seat on the left side of the train; the views are better on the left going to Machu Picchu!
3. Flights from Lima to Cusco
Most likely you’ll fly into Lima, the country’s only international airport and then connect a flight to Cusco. The short flight from Lima to Cusco could be expensive. There are a few airlines to choose from but when doing google flight search don’t be fooled by the prices with LAN Airlines or Avianca, the low prices are for Peru residents only! Once you click into their websites, you’ll see that for tourists like us, the fares are at least 2x more! I was shocked to see a round trip ticket cost over $350 whereas my Boston to Lima flight only $445! I did more research and found other cheaper domestic airlines: Star Peru and Peruvian. From reviews, the cheaper airlines fly older aircraft so in bad weather situation their flights could be delayed or cancelled! LAN and Avianca has more flights per day as well. So you’ll have to take those into considerations and make your choice. I booked Star Peru and luckily both flights were no issue and on time 🙂 for $110 round trip per person….for 1/3 of the price, I could take chances, worst is reschedule to next day which I have time since our flight from Lima to Cusco is on Monday and the trip to Machu Picchu is on Thursday.
4. Transportation Airports to Hotels
With limited Spanish (I am not joking all I can say are hola, gracias, la cuenta por favor, and 1-10) and I read that taxi has no meter in Peru, you’ll need to negotiate a price before entering! Luckily, I found a reliable taxi booking website: http://taxidatum.com/. Prices are listed and very prompt response from them! I booked Lima Airport to hotel in Miraflores (55 Sol), hotel to Lima Airport, Cusco Airport to hotel (20 Sol), Urubamba to Cusco Airport (95 Sol), again round trip from Lima Airport to hotel in Miraflores, total of 6 trips all with taxidatum and all 6 times, the drivers arrived on time and holding my name at the airports! They take both USD or Sol too!
5. Half Day Tour of Sacred Valley
I decided to split 2 nights in Cusco and then 2 nights in Urubamba (in Sacred Valley) to experience as much as Peru as we could in the short stay. I have half a day free to get from Cusco to Urubamba (around an hour ride). As I was researching for interesting places near-by, I discovered Moray and Maras Salt Mines. I contacted taxidatum if it’s possible to make two stops along the way and was quotes $65 USD or 195 Sol…not bad at all. Since I barely speak any Spanish, I asked if the driver would speak any English at all. Leonardo replied that their drivers speak basic English. I would like to know more about those two places so I searched TripAdvisor for a private tour guide and found Percy (email@example.com). He quoted $100 USD for the half day tour including a driver and an English speaking tour guide, pick us up at our Cusco hotel and drop us off at our Urubamba hotel, very convenient! Our tour guide was Duska Gutierre, she speaks fluent English and very informative and Percy personally came to meet us at our hotel in Urubamba! It was well worth the $100 USD! Moray and Maras Salt Mines were very unique and beautiful; they made me realize that Peru not only has Machu Picchu but many more places worth a visit!
Most transportation services and tour guide services accept USD but you get a better rate by paying Peruvian Sol (PEN, they call it Sol) since the strong dollar. The exception is the bus up to Machu Picchu, they only take cash in USD so bring some USD for that. Important to note if you bring USD, the bill must be in almost brand new condition especially for large bills because vendors are very cautious about counterfeit bill. I recommend bring smaller bills like $20 USD. Most restaurants take credit card (make sure you notified the credit card of your travel plan in advanced) so you don’t need to carry a lot of Sol. I read that there are ATMs but most have daily limit of some small amount like 400 Sol (less than $120 USD). I have Bank of America and they charge ridiculously fee for foreign ATM withdrawal, $5 per transaction and then some % conversion fee. Although ATM exchange rate is way better than the rate at the bank at home or at the airport, but it doesn’t make much difference in this case where I only take a small amount. So I ordered $488 USD of Peruvian Sol, that was 1,500 Sol, before the trip. The taxi rides added up to be 335 Sol or around $100 so I really have around $300 USD worth of Sol to spend for souvenirs, for tips, etc. I also select to have small bills only so I got 10 Sol, 20 Sol, and 50 Sol bills.
7. What To Pack
- Insect repellent with high percent of DEET! There are sand flies and bugs at Machu Picchu! I bought the wipes kind since we only have carry-on luggage this time and those were much more convenient to carry around than the bottle of spray; no need to worry about leaking. Those worked well, we wiped our hands and legs (wearing long jeans) before we enter Machu Picchu and was bite-free for the whole time up there….until we got down to the village which we didn’t reapply. We got a few bites on our arms and oh boy they were extremely itchy and long lasting! I was scratching for 3 days after we got back!!!
- Pack layers as the weather could change fast and Cusco at night was chilly (at 10,000 feet above sea level). Also, pack an umbrella or buy disposable rain pancho there as passing shower is very common. We were very lucky that it didn’t rain while the 4 hours we spent in Machu Picchu and the weather forecast was 70% rain so don’t be too nervous when you see a high chance of rain haha!
- Hand sanitizer, I got the small purse-size bottle, it came in handy.
- Toilet paper, you can take some from the hotel before you leave for a day trip. Remember Peru is a developing country so don’t always expect clean restrooms with toilet paper, some even have charge of 1 Sol like the one at Marchu Picchu (carry loose changes with you). I didn’t find it an issue as we always use the toilets in the restaurants and they are very clean and have toilet paper. Also, do not discard toilet paper into the toilet; their toilet paper doesn’t dissolve well unlike ours at home so they could clog the toilet. You’ll see warning sign of it even in the restrooms inside the airport!
- Power plug/adapter – Peru uses 220V and the same power plug as in Europe. But many hotels have both Europe and US outlets. All the hotels we stayed in have US outlets although I brought some Europe plug adapter with us just in case.
- Pack some zip lock bags for small items that might leak like hand sanitizer and insect repellent spray; I put the wipe kinds in the zip lock bag too. I brought some crackers along to Machu Picchu, in case I get hungry 🙂
8. Altitude Sickness
Cusco is located up at more than 10,000 feet so there’s a risk of altitude sickness, you can read about it here: http://www.tripadvisor.com/Travel-g294311-c15318/Peru:Altitude.Sickness.html Usually people recommend when arriving Cusco go immediately to a lower altitude like the Sacred Valley to stay for the first few nights to acclimatize. But due my limited schedule, I can’t do the other way around so we started at Cusco and go down in altitude. We can definitely feel the high altitude once landed in Cusco, out of breathe after a flight of stairs! I didn’t have time to see my doctor before the trip to get prescription for altitude sickness medicine – Diamox. I read in Trip Advisor that you can get the over-the-counter generic version of it called acetazolamida. I wrote it down and went to Inkafarma across the street from the Courtyard Marriot in Miraflores Lima to purchase it. There are plenty of pharmacies; they are at least one in every block! I started taking it the day before we go to Cusco and I didn’t have any major issue of altitude sickness so I guess it helped! The medicine packaging was in all Spanish so I asked in Trip Advisor to help with translation, they are so helpful! The ones I got was in dosage of 250 mg each tablet (someone in Trip Advisor replied that the recommended dosage is 125 mg twice daily if under 100 kilos weight). I took once per day, started the day before, and then the 2 days in Cusco.
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