Machu Picchu is a site unlike any other. It’s one of the Seven Wonders of the World and it’s not difficult to see why. When you’re standing above the clouds with the Andes jutting toward the sky at what appears to be a 90-degree angle, you can’t help but wonder HOW in the world the Incans built this intricate little city all the way up here. It was a life-changing moment for me (which I seem to have a lot of during my travels). Looking out at the mist and the mountains something just felt strange but beautiful, like an unspoken mystery. I had the sensation of being on another planet or in another time. Everything seemed so unfamiliar to me, and home seemed so impossibly far away in the most beautiful sense.
I encourage everyone to travel to Machu Picchu – whether you take a Machu Picchu tour package or hike the Inca trail, it is worth every effort to get there. However, don’t be discouraged by online prices or travel agents, there is an affordable way to get to Machu Picchu that won’t cost you tens of thousands of dollars! However, getting to Machu Picchu isn’t as simple as hopping on a bus and arriving; it takes coordination and planning, which is why I am providing my detailed guide of how I got to Machu Picchu (from Miami) and hike Huayna Picchu.
I did a lot of hiking and walking in Peru, and the weather often quickly switched from hot to cold to dry to pouring rain (right at the peak of Huayna Picchu) so you are going to want to pack a variety of clothing. I always recommend to pack light, but some essentials are: hiking shoes, a poncho or rain jacket, leggings or workout pants, tank tops, and a water bottle holder. Having water at all times is KEY here because you will want to stay away from tap or unfiltered water, but also at the high altitudes, it is imperative to stay hydrated. My favorite water bottle to travel with is a Platypus because it is collapsible so it packs so easily!
Fly to Cusco:
You will need to fly into Cusco as this will be the best way to travel to Machu Picchu. I found my round-trip flights to Cusco for $500 from Miami -> Panama -> Lima -> Cusco. It was a long haul, but the price compared to the others we found was worth it to us. You can find some cheap tickets to Peru, but it takes some research and playing around with the dates and airports. I used tools such as Skyscanner.com and Google Flights.
Once you are in Cusco, you will want to stay there for a day or two to acclimate to the altitude. Cusco is actually at a higher altitude than Machu Picchu so it will help you prepare for hiking. For things to do and where to stay in Cusco, read my previous blog post: 5 Days In Cusco Peru
Taxi to Ollantaytambo:
The next stop from Cusco to Machu Picchu is Ollantaytambo. From Cusco, take a cab to the town of Ollantaytambo. Although Ollantaytambo is 1 hour and 40 minutes away from Cusco, the cab ride is surprisingly cheap! Along the way, enjoy one of the most stunning drives of your life. We did clench our seats a couple of times during the winding one-way road over the steep mountains. But the view of the soaring Andes and the feeling of being someplace completely foreign was worth every second.
Ollantaytambo is a village in the Sacred Valley of South Peru. I use the word “village” confidently here, arriving in the small town of Ollantaytambo was nothing short of a culture shock. We were hungover, STARVING and just ready to get to our hotel at this point. We ate pizza in the town “square” and then road a tut-tut to our charming, but nowhere near a 5-star hotel. Waking up in the morning to an adorable Peruvian breakfast and views of the Incan ruins really started to get us excited about what we were heading towards… Machu Picchu! I felt like a 5-year-old packing the car to go to Disney World!
Bonus: If you have more time or energy than us, check out the amazing ruins just outside the city. We had views overlooking the ruins, and we really wanted to hike them, but we were way too exhausted and decided to save our energy for Machu Picchu (we needed it).
Train to Aquas Calientes:
To be sure we got a full day of soaking in the wonder of Machu Picchu we booked our train ticket as early as possible. Fast-walking down the streets at 4:30 a.m. with a sort of giddy excitement kept us bubbly and energetic. As we sat on the train with other excited passengers, we gulped down black coffee and complimentary Peruvian pastries. The train ride itself was unbelievably gorgeous following rivers, chasing mountains and showing us little farming villages. The train ride from Ollantaytambo to Aquas Calientes is almost 2 hours.
I can distinctly remember the emotions flowing through me as I arrived at Aquas Calientes: we are almost there!!! Aquas Clients is the town near Machu Picchu and you immediately see souvenirs, t-shirts, and restaurants. The name Aquas Calientes meaning “Hot Water” comes from the natural hot baths in the town. The town has a river flowing through it and when we visited the river was overflowing and roaring – a fun site to see and it gave us quite the adrenaline rush while crossing a small metal bridge.
Bus Up to Machu Picchu:
Once you depart from the train, you can easily make your way up to the bus station. The bus travels every 15 minutes from Aquas Calientes to Machu Picchu until 3:00 pm. The journey up to Machu Picchu is part of the adventure itself; it’s about a half an hour of winding turns up the mountainside as you climb through the clouds and journey into another world. A bus ticket cost us approximately $25 each, and you can’t buy bus tickets online but they are easy to buy at the Aquas Calientes bus station. The bus back from Machu Picchu to the town of Aquas Calientes runs until about 5:45 pm.
Tickets to Machu Picchu/Huayna Picchu:
Congratulations! You’ve made it. After all of the planning, hiking, cabs, trains, hotels, and buses – this is what you have come here for. The 7th wonder of the world and a site incomparable to any other place on earth. If you arrive early like we did the fog may still be rising and there won’t be many people there – which will give an eerie yet majestic feelings to the place. You will feel like you’re in another world, and hardly even believe your eyes. It’s hard to even put in words but this feeling is life changing! There are several different hiking options depending on your skill level and what you want to see. Make sure you get your entrance ticket to Machu Picchu in advance, here: Ticket Machu Picchu
For the more adventurous and hiking adept there is the option to hike Huayna Picchu, the amazingly tall mountain you always see in the back of Machu Picchu. My boyfriend and I decided to do the hike, and wow was it one of my craziest adventures!
Huayna Picchu has been deemed one of the hardest hikes (if you search on youtube “Stairs of Death!” you will see what I am talking about). Most of the hike consisted of using a rope to pull yourself up on steps that were maybe big enough for the Incans, but not quite us anymore. The hike also takes you through caves and provides you with absolutely stunning lookout views as it is much, much higher than Machu Picchu. The hike is steep and narrow with some pretty intense drop-offs a wall scaling, so if you are afraid of heights or not in the best shape you may want to skip it.
As we reached the peak of the hike mother nature began showing off all her sides and it started to pour and a fog drifted over the mountain. We descended with a slippery track and limited mobility – crawling at some points! Back down at Machu Picchu and just happy to be off of that mountain we were cold wet and desperately needed food. Don’t be like us and think you should travel to Machu Picchu without quality rain gear! We ended up buying dry outfits back at Aquas Calientes as we sipped on hot tea, filled our bellies, and struck up a conversation with fellow Floridians – ah, the joys of traveling.