Machu Picchu Peru
One of my top “bucket list” items is a visit to Machu Picchu, the ancient Inca ruins near Cusco Peru. On February 2nd of 2016, I was finally able to check this off my list.
Stay in Aguas Calientes
About 20 minutes down the mountainside is a small town called Aguas Calientes (meaning hot waters or hot springs). Because it is best to arrive early morning at Machu Picchu, most visitors stay the night before in Aguas Calientes so they can arrive at the ruins around 6:30 or 7:00am (Cusco is about three hours away). I decided to spend the night before and night after here just to make things easier.
No Electricity for Two Days
Thats right, power was out in Aguas Calientes for three days, two of which when I was there. We used candles and flashlights. I found one restaurant with a generator and working wifi to check email and work on client projects.
In February the Inca Trail is closed due to massive mud and 15 hours of rain each day. I wasn’t able to do the Inca Trail hike, and was lucky to get a break in the rain and clouds enough to enjoy Machu Picchu for a few hours mid-morning from around 9:30am to noon. However, it rained almost constantly all other times than the three hour window of clear weather.
Machu Picchu Visit
I woke at about 5:30am in my hostel to a dark quite room (I was in a dormitory of eight beds, but somehow no one else had showed, so I had the big room to myself). I gathered my things into a small day pack, then headed to the dining room for a quick breakfast. By 6:20 I was headed out the door and down to the bus station. In the middle of the town near the bridge are a series of medium sized busses loading lines of people. Apparently I had picked both a good time and good day, because I had only two people in front of me and boarded immediately. After about 10 minutes we were on our way up the winding switchbacks to the gates of the park. We unloaded from the bus and I made my way past dozens of guides begging to show me the best parts of the ruins. I gave my ticket to the guy at the gate and entered. Oh, I should mention that it was a mist of drizzling rain coming down and the entire area was covered in thick, foggy clouds. I had my umbrellas, but somehow I left my rain poncho back in my room (darnit!). I hiked a short distance, maybe a hundred yards, until I reached the main area where the path split. I followed others and took a left going uphill toward the sun gate and the montaña. I had paid an extra $10 for a pass to hike the smaller of the two mountains adjoining the ruins and headed that way. I arrived exactly at 7am as they were opening the gates to the train to the montaña (listed as two hours up and two hours down). I began hiking up, up and up. After about 1.5 hours I was exhausted and my knees were killing me. I was surrounded by thick clouds which just kept getting thicker. Finally I decided to turn back. Later I talked to others and they said they had hiked to the top and saw nothing but clouds and it was a wasted hike; they said I was smart for turning back when I did. Finally after another hour, I arrived back at the top of the ruins around 9:20 or so. As I approached everything was still covered in clouds, but around 9.40 things suddenly changed. Holes started appearing in the clouds and you could see the ruins of Machu Picchu below. Wow! Amazing! Stunning! Surreal! Adjectives simply can’t describe how incredible the sight was of the ruins peaking through the clouds. I started snapping photos of clouds and the ruins. Finally a big hole opened for a few moments and I asked another visitor to take a picture of me. By 10am most of the clouds had cleared and visibility drastically increased. I spent two hours exploring the ruins and listening to various guides with other groups as they explained features. Overall it was an excellent experience!
Cost of Machu Picchu
The single biggest cost of Machu Picchu for most visitors is hiking the “Inca Trail” which costs $400 to $700 dollars depending on how many days of trekking you do. The Inca Trail treks usually include camping equipment, meals, and a team of young guys with horses to carry your gear. I didn’t do the Inca Trail (it is closed in February due to massive mud and rain). So, that said, my cost here at Machu Picchu is less than half of what most folks pay. Below is a break down:
Hostel: $17/night (includes breakfast). I stayed 2 nights
Food: $5 meal for lunch & dinner
Van (colectivo) from Cusco to train station: $3
Train to Aguas Calientes: $110 roundtrip
Bus from town to Machu Picchu: $12 roundtrip
Machu Picchu park entrance: $44
I met other travelers who walked instead of taking trains and busses which saved them most of these costs so they only paid for park entrance and a bed in hostel.