Step 1: flight to Lima airport. For us this meant going from PHX to DFW to LIM.
Step 2: from the Lima airport we took a taxi into the city. After customs, baggage claim and then another baggage screening you’ll see airport taxis lined up at desks inside. There is a Mercedes luxury option for 150 sol or you can take Taxi 365 for only 60 sol (approximately $18). The price is agreed on before hand and does not increase due to trip duration. To get to our hotel in Miraflores, Lima it took approximately 1 hour in heavy traffic.
At this point we checked into our hotel and explored the city a bit. The hotel was wonderful and although check in wasn’t until 3pm they did have a room available and allowed us to check in when we arrived around 10am at no extra charge.
Step 3: taxi back to the Lima airport. Our hotel helped us with this option. The hotel has a car service that was 100 sol, however we again opted for the cheaper option. The staff was friendly and flagged us a “street taxi”. They even negotiated a price of 60 sol for us, which was a blessing as the taxi driver didn’t speak much English.
Step 4: flight from Lima to Cusco airport.
Step 5: arrive in Cusco and take a taxi to the hotel. Our hotel did offer an airport shuttle option for 40 sol but after walking outside we found a street taxi for only 20 sol.
Again our hotel allowed us to check into our room early, this time about 12noon.
Step 6: taxi to Ollyantambo. Because we were visiting Machu Picchu in January both PeruRail and Inca Rail detoured their Cusco trains to Ollyantambo due to rain. Our hotel called us a street taxi costing 110 sol. This ride was up through the far end of Cusco then down the valley to Ollyantambo taking every bit of 1 hour and 30min. I’d suggesting planning at least 2 hours to be safe, there are a lot of speed bumps along the way.
If you are traveling during a different time you should be able to take a train directly from Cusco.
Step 7: train to Aguas Calientes aka Machu Picchu city. We took the Peru Rail Expedition train which was about 1 hour and 30min through a great valley, along side a river and through a jungle. On the train they served us a complementary drink and cookie, however no wifi is available. We booked this in advance online for $123 per person round trip.
A note on luggage: on the PeruRail website you’ll see a note about each passenger only getting one carryon bag, the size of a small backpack. They do this as there is not a whole ton of space on the train (the weight is not the problem). I emailed PeruRail and they told me it would be no problem to have our carryon suitcases. I printed the email confirmation just to be safe, but never needed it. We each had a backpack and a grocery bag full of souvenirs that we held at our seats and the then placed our carryon bags on the luggage rack up front.
When the train arrives we were greeted by a staff member from our hotel who helped us walk across the train tracks and drop our bags off at the hotel. It was approximately 10am and this time we could not check into our room early. They hotel did however, hold our luggage for us.
+ Nice hotel
+ Free breakfast
+ English speaking staff at hotel was helpful when translating with tour guides at the train station
– Free wifi in lobby however, it is very slow. Faster wifi is available in rooms for 15 sol per 24 hours
– Hotel is right on the train tracks which tends to be noisy when the train goes by.
Step 8: bus up to Machu Picchu. Aguas Calientes is a very small city swarming with backpackers and tourists going to Machu Picchu. Walk to the bus station near the waterfall or where the two rivers join. From there you can purchase a one-way ticket for $12 or round-trip ticket $24. They accept dollars, sol, master card, amex but not visa. Also you will need your passport for this. The bus takes approximately 20min and is all uphill and switch backs to Machu Picchu.
A note on Machu Picchu: we visited during January which is known to be rainy and less crowded. Even though the government says they limit it to 2,500 people per day, we’ve been told they do not count and this number has exceeded 6,000 on busy days. Also, Sunday’s are free admittance for Peruvian locals. While this is a great option to allow locals to explore the site, we did encounter a lot of families with wild children. I’m honestly not sure which is worse: 6,000 tourists and selfie sticks, or 4 unattended mannerless children. Be advised.
Step 9: arrive at Machu Picchu!
Machu Picchu has one hotel at the very top but room prices are upwards of $500 per night. There is also a snack bar and gift shop available for tourists.
Bathrooms are by the bus stop and available for 1 sol. With your entrance ticket you can enter Machu Picchu up to three times in one day, making it easy to exit for lunch for a quick bathroom break and return to explore after.
Viator Tour – we booked an online tour with Viator for a 2 hour tour of Machu Picchu. Our tour did not include a start time and we were told an English speaking guide would meet us at the hotel. The guide that met us did not speak an ounce of English and couldn’t understand our English accident while we tried to speak Spanish. This part was a mess. The guide was just a transfer guide set to help us get tickets and get on the bus but it made it much more complicated. By the time we arrived in Machu Picchu they had told us our tour had already left because we were “late” despite our lack of start time. They tried to charge us an additional $30 each for a new English speaking guide but we stood our ground and said no. We ended up running through the first Machu Picchu stairs to meet our guide half way. Once we got settled the guided tour was AMAZING. But I would suggest just letting Viator (or another company) know what time you’d like to meet at the entrance of Machu Picchu and just get there yourself. Much less complicated.
Entrance tickets for Machu Picchu are available online at the government website for $43. I highly suggest purchasing in advance. I bought all of our tickets in advance and printed our itineraries and receipts. This was extremely helpful when showing our tour did not have a start time, or when we needed to provide printed tickets for entrance.
What to wear at Machu Picchu: because we visited in the middle of the rainy season we brought waterproof jackets (not water resistant) and we were very thankful we did. It rained for about 3 of the 6 hours we spent there. Most people worse rain ponchos but you could tell they were still miserable with the cheap thing materials of the ponchos leaking water. I also suggest a water proof backpack as ours go some of our paper tickets inside wet. Perhaps a rai jacket wth poncho over to protect your backpack would be best.
Also wear comfortable walking shoes. At the beginning there are some stairs to the left that take you to a spot where you can see Machu Picchu (old mountain) and the Hyanna Picchu (young mountain) the best. This is the picture you see all over. Most people were wearing hiking shoes but I was fine in my Nike running shoes.
I also wore yoga pants and a tank top and was fine temperature wise.
Things to see at Machu Picchu:
I definitely suggest doing some research before hand so you know what you’re looking for. Check it out here.
Rock with 32 angles – the Incas were known for chiseling down stones to create a flat finish and help the stones lock together (they did not use mortar on the upperclassmen buildings). These stones are called key stones. There is one in particular that wraps around and has 32 different angle, pretty impressive when you think how much work went into carving it.
Three windows – you’ll see things of three represented everywhere in this Inca town. The Incas believed that three was a magical number and therefore you’ll see three windows in many buildings. They also believed in three main importances: love, happiness and hard work. On the flip side if someone was caught lying, stealing or being lazy they were punished to work laying stones to build the Inca trail.
The Peruvian key – you’ll find a copy of this key at all the markets. This 12 sided key is representative of many things for the Inca people. 12 corners representing 12 months, and the 2 halfs representing the summer and winter seasons aka harvesting and planting seasons.
The Temple of the Condor – one important part of Machu Picchu is the stone carved to mimic the condor, which believed by the Incas was the fastest transportation method to heaven. This is the area where the tombs of the upper-class were buried.
The Main Temple of Machu Picchu – near three windows, you’ll find a table where the Inca’s sacrificed llamas. This was during the Sun something on June 25th. This location is set just so the sun shines through the Inca trail path and lands on the sacrificing table.
Main square – in the middle of the ruins you’ll see a large grassy area. This is where the Incas held festivals and all gathered. This area is surrounded by buildings and then by mountains, making the acoustics just great. Try yelling to create an echo then imagine over 500 Incas chanting the same thing and how loud it would be. Pretty cool.
Step 10: bus back to Aguas Calientes. Around 2pm the line to get on the bus back down was CRAZY. We opted to spend a few more hours at Machu Picchu, which closed as 5pm, while we let the line die down. Around 4pm there was no line.
PS – don’t forget to get a Machu Picchu passport stamp. As you exit it’s a tiny table on the left. You stamp it yourself. Keep an eye out as it’s easy to miss.
A note on getting from Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu: another option to get up or down the mountain is to walk. I’ve been told this takes approximately 1 hour and 30min and is all stone stairs. This hike will take you from 6,600 feet in Aguas Calientes to 8,000 feet at Machu Picchu entrance gate.
Because we had a big travel day getting all the way from Aguas Calientes to Phoenix, we decided to spend one night in Aguas Calientes. This town is really just here to allow tourists a place to stay while visiting Machu Picchu, however the view from the very bottom of this valley is definitely worth the high hotel prices. The town has two rivers that flow together framing the streets, and the sound of running water is very calming. There are also typical markets and a few tourists shops.
Things to do in Aguas Calientes:
Tonto – this restaraunt is right on the water providing for a fabulous view while having dinner. I suggest trying the alpaca if you’re adventurous. Or if you’re exhausted from the day go for some good comfort food: Hawaiian pizza.
Hot springs – while we did not venture to the hot springs I’ve heard it’s very relaxing after a long days hike. Try trip advisor for more info on this.
Step 11: once back in Aguas Calientes it’s time to do everything over again.
- Train to Ollyantambo
- Taxi to Cusco
- Flight from Cusco airport to Lima
- Flight home DFW to PHX
Cost of Machu Picchu: while things in Lima and Cusco Peru are very affordable, expect the opposite while getting to Machu Picchu.
Taxi from Cusco to Ollyantambo – 110 sol (approximately $34)
Train to Aguas Calientes – $65
Bus to Machu Picchu – $12
Machu Picchu entrance ticket – $43
Machu Tour – $27 per person
Bus to Aguas Calientes – $12
Train to Cusco – $58
Taxi from Ollyantambo to Cusco – 80 sol (approximately $25)