Machu Picchu – Peru – And The Sacred Valley

Machu-Picchu-Mountain-12

DECEMBER 2018:


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OVERVIEW:

PLEASE NOTE: The currency in Peru is the Peruvian New SOL (I will refer to them as P$s). At the time of writing, US$1 = P$3.38.

Sacred Valley Map

It is impossible to do Machu Picchu and The Sacred Valley cheaply.

This experience is going to put a big hole in your pocket.


CUSCO:

We were using Cusco as our base.

Cusco - Old House

OUR ACCOMMODATION:

There were 5 of us, so we decided to rent a 3 bedroom apartment: the Departamento Plaza San PedroWe paid US$60 / night for 8 nights (US$480) plus a US$10 ‘Cleaning Fee’.

Cusco - Central Park - Cathedral

It was located where we wanted to be: in a flat area of town close to the San Pedro Mercado …

Cusco - Market - Surrounding Streets

… and the Historical Centre.

Cusco - Central Park

MACHU PICCHU TICKETS:

Machu Picchu (meaning “Old Mountain” in Quechua) was an Inca citadel built in the 15th century and abandoned only 30 years later. Machu Picchu was re-discovered in 1911.Machu-Picchu-Ruins-1

The fact that it was lost for so long means that the ruins are in excellent condition.Machu-Picchu-Ruins-2

You buy your tickets online at the Government Website. You have 3 types of tickets:

TICKET TYPE TIMES LIMIT / DAY NATIONALS FOREIGNERS
Machu Picchu Only

6am to Noon or

Noon to 5:30pm

2,500 People 64 SOL 152 SOL
Machu Picchu & Mountain

7am to 8am or

9am to 10am

400 112 SOL 200 SOL
Machu Picchu & Wayna Picchu

7am to 8am or

10am to 11am

400 112 SOL 200 SOL

In addition, anyone can buy a ticket for entry to the Machu Picchu Museum for an extra 22 SOL.Machu-Picchu-Ruins-3

The ‘Mountain’ option is said to be much easier than the Wayna Picchu option.Machu-Picchu-Ruins-5

Our group wanted to do different things so 2 of us bought just Machu Picchu and added the Museum. The rest of us bought Machu Picchu & Mountain.Machu-Picchu-Ruins-8

We bought and paid for our tickets (using their Visa gateway) on the official Government Website months in advance. We had electronic confirmation but no physical tickets (yet).

PLEASE NOTE: The official site only takes Visa and there are reports of many Foreign Cards being rejected. If you card is rejected, you can take a chance and turn up in Cusco and buy your ticket at the Government office here – you should be OK as long as you don’t arrive in ‘peak season’. Your only alternative is to go through an ‘agent’ and pay a premium price.

We made a mistake with our online booking. On arrival, we discovered that the 2 people doing only Machu Picchu were booked in the afternoon time slot. I went to the Government office and had no trouble changing their tickets to the morning time slot. The office were kind enough to print out our hard-copy tickets for free.

RECOMMENDATION: Book the morning time slot (6am to Noon). Once in Machu Picchu, your tickets are never checked. You can stay as long as you like up to the 5:30pm closing time.

PLEASE NOTE: We discovered that the Museum is not actually at Machu Picchu nor in Aguas Calientes. It is half way between the two. You either have to walk there or ask the Shuttle Bus driver to drop you off. It is a (flat) 40 minute walk from Aguas Calientes … the 2 people in our group never made it to the Museum.


AGUAS CALIENTES:

GETTING THERE:

We decided to go by train – both there and back. There are 2 competing rail companies: Peru Rail and Inca Rail. Both leave from Poroy and take you along the sacred Urubamba river to Aguas Calientes (aka Machu Picchu Town).Aguas-Calientes-Railway-Station

We compared prices and train times and chose:

  • The 8:25am Peru Rail Vistadome Train to Aguas Calientes for US$105 each (we figured that we would be excited and enjoy the 360 degree view); and
  • The 3:20pm Peru Rail Expedition Train back for US$55 each (we assumed that, by then, we would have ‘seen it all’ and that we wouldn’t be looking out of the window much).

The 30 minute taxi from Cusco to Poroy costs P$25.

The Vistadome has slightly better seats and you are served a complimentary sandwich and drink.

PLEASE NOTE: You will need your passport to get on the train. They check that the details on your train ticket match your passport.

RECOMMENDATION: The view from the Expedition is just as good as that from the Vistadome … and is half the price. Choose that one.


ABOUT:

Aguas Calientes is an utter tourist trap: I hated it. Expect to get ripped off for everything, everywhere.Aguas-Calientes-Hot-Springs-1

On the streets around the main square you will run a gauntlet of touts trying to sell you something or attract you into their over-priced restaurants and bars.

Don’t trust the advertised prices. Double check everything. Once inside, the prices can change. What the tout promises you on the street may not be delivered once you get inside.

Almost everywhere, they add a 20% tip to your bill without telling you. Always check your bill.


MACHU PICCHU:

GETTING THERE:

You buy your Shuttle Bus tickets in the official ticketing office next to the river down near the railway lines. Look out for the yellow ‘ticket office’ sign. The price is US$25 for a return ticket. The journey takes about 30 minutes each way.Machu-Picchu-Ruins-9

Buses leave regularly all day. Just join the queue. When the bus is full, it leaves. Expect to wait no more than 15 minutes to depart.

RECOMMENDATION: Plan to be at the bus stop 1 hour before you want to be at Machu Picchu.


THE MOUNTAIN:

To enter Machu Picchu, you will need your passport. They check that your ticket matches your passport details.Machu-Picchu-Ruins-13

Once in, you are ‘on your own’: no-one to help you and no instruction boards. This can be confusing … especially if you have booked to do the Mountain or Wayna Picchu as extras. You end up standing there wondering what to do next …Machu-Picchu-Ruins-14

Just walk along the path and follow the signs. You will, eventually, get to the entry to the Mountain (or Wayna Picchu). At the entrance, you register and show your ticket.

PLEASE NOTE: The Government site is not very informative and the 1 hour time slots are misleading. You get the impression that the Mountain can be done in 1 hour. NOT!!!! It took us 3 hours to do the return trip!Machu-Picchu-Mountain-1

We arrived at the Gate to The Mountain at exactly 9am. You are immediately faced by a steep set of steps.Machu-Picchu-Mountain-

We climbed those to find another steep set of steps.Machu-Picchu-Mountain-3

This repeated about 40 times.Machu-Picchu-Mountain-9

You climb a total of 2,400 steps. There are no breaks. There are no flat spots.Machu-Picchu-Mountain-4

But, there are places where you can stop to catch your breath … and a beautiful view…Machu-Picchu-Mountain-5

Some parts of the trail can get a bit ‘scary’.Machu-Picchu-Mountain-13

But, in the end, you feel a great sense of achievement when you reach the top.Machu-Picchu-Mountain-12

You finish over 600 metres above Machu Picchu.


GUIDES:

We got back to the Machu Picchu ruins at Noon.

You can look around and join a guided tour for US$15 / person. Or, you can get a private guide for US$50. We chose to do the latter.Machu-Picchu-Mountain-15Machu-Picchu-Ruins-11

Our guide was Yessica (Escobar Neyra). She was very good and I can recommend her. You can contact her on 958 227 609 or [email protected]Machu-Picchu-Ruins-20

For our US$50 we got a 2.5 hour tour around the ruins and lots of interesting information.Machu-Picchu-Ruins-23

RECOMMENDATION: You have paid heaps of money to get here … don’t miss out on getting a guided tour.


CONCLUSION:

PRO TIP 1: It is said that the best months to visit are March and November. The weather is good and it is less crowded.

PRO TIP 2: Don’t go on a Sunday. Peruvians get free access on a Sunday and the place can get swamped with people.

PRO TIP 3: Book to go in the morning. You can stay as long as you like. Come noon, the second batch of tourists arrive and the place gets more crowded.

PRO TIP 4: As there are no cafes inside, bring your own food and drink with you.

PRO TIP 5: There are no toilets inside, you can go outside two times presenting your ticket at the entrance.


THE SACRED VALLEY:

The Sacred Valley covers many sites. As we were 5 people, we decided to organise a private tour.Cusco-Inca-Trail-1

The first thing that we did was go to the official office in Cusco to buy our Tourist Ticket (P$130 / US$40). You find it down near the main plaza.Cusco-Central-Park-Building

This gives you access to all of the main sites in the Sacred Valley.Sacred-Valley-1

We, then, went around a few Tour Agents to get quotes on a private taxi for the day. We negotiated an 8-seater private taxi for 11 hours to take us around all of the major sites.Sacred-Valley-3-Pisac

The agreed price was US$105. Total.Sacred-Valley-6-Pisac

Our first stop was the ruins at Pisac.Sacred-Valley-11-Pisac

Our next stop was Ollantaytambo.Sacred-Valley-33-Ollantaytambo

Ollantaytambo is a cute little town.Sacred-Valley-32-Ollantaytamb

It has its own ruins.Sacred-Valley-15-OllantaytamboSacred-Valley-16-Ollantaytambo

From the top of the ruins, you can continue along the Inca Trail.Sacred-Valley-19-Ollantaytambo

Or walk around the cliff path.Sacred-Valley-23-Ollantaytambo

We moved on to the famous Salt Pans of Maras.Sacred-Valley-40-Salt-Pans Sacred-Valley-43-Salt-Pan

These were much bigger than we expected.Sacred-Valley-44-Salt-Pans

We returned home via Moray …Sacred-Valley-47-Moray

… Chichero and more wonderful scenery.Sacred-Valley-48

Excellent value for money at US$21 each.


SAQSAYWAMAN:

Whilst in Cusco, you can visit Saqsaywaman on your Tourist Ticket. A taxi there costs P$10.Cusco-Saqsaywaman Cusco-Saqsaywaman-5

Walk back to town (down hill) through the old streets.Cusco-Saqsaywaman-Back-to-Town-1

A pleasant, cheap outing.


QORIKANCHA:

Your Tourist Ticket gets you into the Cusco Qorikancha museum where you can see some mummies and elongated skulls.Cusco-Qorikancha-1

There are about 3 other Cusco museums on your Tourist Ticket.


FINAL CONCLUSIONS:

Cusco is a good place to base yourself.Cusco-from-White-Christ

It has some nice plazas …Cusco-Park-Fountain

… Historical sites that you can walk to (or get to in a taxi for P$10) …Cusco-Qenqo-1

… Lovely old streets to get lost in …Cusco-Inca-Trail-2

… Some of which follow the old Inca Trail.Cusco-Inca-Trail-1-1Cusco-Inca-Trail-3

It has some interesting markets …Cusco-Market-Eateries

… Where you an buy cheap meals like a Chicken Noodle Soup for only P$6.Cusco-Market-Chicken-Noodle-Soup-SOL6

Or you can find little cafes selling a 3-course Meal of the Day for only P$15.Cusco-Cafe-Starters-SOL15-MealCusco-Cafe-Mains-SOL15-Meal

If you are lucky, you may even get visiting musicians for the cost of a small tip.Cusco-Cafe-Musicians

Alternatively, you can have a large 630ml beer (P$14) and an English Breakfast (P$23) down somewhere like Paddy’s Bar and watch some sports.Cusco-Paddys-Bar

Or, you can find a little local bar in the side streets and have a 1 litre beer for P$10.Cusco-Public-Bar

You can easily spend a week in Cusco.


AVOID AGUAS CALIENTES:

Avoid staying in Aguas Calientes (if you can). Stay in Ollantaytambo instead.

You can catch the train from Ollantaytambo to Aguas Calientes (90 minutes), connect to the Shuttle Bus (30 minutes), and be in Machu Picchu before 9am. This allows you to connect to The Mountain or Wayna Picchu hikes if you have booked them. You can easily get back to Ollantaytambo by sunset.Sacred-Valley-31-Ollantaytamb

Ollantaytambo is much less ‘touristic’, less ‘money grabbing’, and more atmospheric. It even has its own ruins overlooking the town.

TTFN


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