Part I: Getting There
Part II: Cuzco to Machu Picchu
Part III: Approaching Machu Picchu via Train
Part IV: How to Buy Tickets for Machu Picchu and How I Almost Screwed It All Up
Part V: Machu Picchu in Pictures
Part VI: Wrapping up the trip in Cuzco
The Gateway to Peru’s Sacred Valley. Wow, that’s an incredible claim for a city. Sounds epic, right? Did Cuzco live up to it?
Let’s get you caught up
In my first post of this trip report, my friend Bethany and I went to Machu Picchu last August. We found some cheap airfares and with a combination of paid flights and British Airways Avios flights found ourselves high in the mountains of Peru in one of it’s most famous towns: Cuzco.
We landed very early in the morning on a Sunday, so most things were closed in the town. There were quite a few taxis waiting for us. I normally hate the melee of taxi drivers yelling for your business, but I speak Spanish pretty well and felt more in control of the situation. There was a driver who was very calm and had a pleasant smile who I selected for negotiations. So where would we go?
Plazas de Armas
In Spain, the main squares of the town are usually called Plaza Mayor. In most of South America, they’re called Plaza de Armas. Indeed Cuzco has a very famous Plaza de Armas and I thought that’d be a good place to kill some time, so we negotiated a fare (always negotiate before getting in a Peruvian taxi) and set off.
The Plaza was awash in morning light and we searched for a place to grab some breakfast. There was only one place open we found and it was right on the plaza, which meant we probably overpaid by double. Prices were still very reasonable (about $10/person for a great breakfast of protein and…protein) so that was good.
After breakfast we walked around the Plaza a bit to avoid falling asleep.
This was my first ever trip with my new (at the time) camera, so I was eager to take a bunch of pictures.
There was some sort of ceremony honoring the police, so I was careful not to upset anyone by taking pictures. We escaped off down an alley to find some authentic Peruvian coffee.
You’ll hate me, but this is the “authentic” Peruvian coffee we found.
The entrance to the Starbucks was actually pretty hard to find (that should’ve been our signal to find someplace more local, but I digress). If you’re in Cuzco and you’re facing the Starbucks, it’s down the alley to your right. Take the first left into the courtyard and walk up the stairs to your left and you’ll enter the Starbucks. Look for this awesome door, the stairs go right above it.
But wait, why were we killing time you ask? Well, getting to Machu Picchu is actually a pretty complex endeavor.
Planes, trains, and automobiles
Yes, you usually need all three to get to Machu Picchu. Cuzco is the nearest airport to the citadel and is where just about everyone flies into. The town next to Machu Picchu is called Aguas Calientes (meaning: Caliente Waters). As the crow flies Cuzco and Aguas Calientes are not that far apart, but man it takes a while to get there!
Option #1: You can take a train from Cuzco to Aguas Calientes direct. But as always there’s a stipulation you need to be aware of: this train sells out quickly (tickets are incredibly easy to book at www.perurail.com). Also, the train station from where this train departs is not in Cuzco, it’s in a small town about 10km away called Poroy.
Option #2: There’s a town called Ollantaybambo about halfway between Cuzco and Machu Picchu. You can take a train from Ollantaybambo to Aguas Calientes direct (I called it the “we waited too late to book the Cuzco-Aguas train” town). This town isn’t very big, nor very nice, but there are quite a few Sacred Valley of the Incas sites nearby so some people stay here for a night or two. How do you get to Ollantaybambo? You can either take a taxi (runs $30-35) or a small bus called a colectivo, which is much cheaper but will tend to run on its own schedule.
There is no way to drive to Aguas Calientes, it must be reached by train.
We chose Option 2. We hired a taxi and were driven to Ollantaybambo. It was an enjoyable ride except for the speed bumps every so often. We stopped and purchased some Inka Colas (Coke’s brand down in Peru) for the driver and me while the driver got gas. All in all a relatively pretty drive and we ended up in Ollantaybambo about an hour and a half later no worse for wear.
Up next: the train ride to Aguas Calientes as we prepare to set foot in one of the most incredible places the world has ever seen.