Having neither the time nor the money to do a trek to Machu Picchu, we opted for the cheapest available train to Aguas Calientes from Ollantaytambo. Unfortunately, this meant leaving at 6 AM to get to the train station. The train itself was nice and provided a basic breakfast. We arrived in Aguas Calientes around 8:30 AM and were at Machu Picchu an hour later. This was my second visit to the site, but it was still just as amazing as the first time. We began by hiking toward the Sun Gate, but turned around about half way as Kirsten wasn’t feeling well. We hiked around the normal tourist route for a few hours, checking out all the old buildings and terraces along the sides. We encountered a llama in one of the paths on the way out, which was posing for the cameras for a while before running up a narrow set of stairs toward a group of people. A few other llamas held up the sidewalk by standing in the middle and eating a nearby bush. We left soon after the llama incidents and went back to the town to check into our hostel.
We checked into Ecopackers Hostel (highly recommended) and grabbed a far too expensive lunch before heading out of town to the Machu Picchu museum, interestingly enough named after my archaeology advisor’s father, who was a Peruvian archaeologist. The museum holds interesting artifacts from the excavations and describes how much of the site was built and used. It’s definitely useful for more context as to what the purpose of the site was. It’s not a very large museum, and visiting shouldn’t take more than an hour. The walk to and from the museum is very pleasant, and there are a few other things available to do along the way, including a butterfly garden. We ate dinner at a French bakery in town before heading to bed early, as our train back to Ollantaytambo was again at dawn. Thankfully the hostel was quiet and comfortable after a long day of hiking. We headed back to Cuzco from Ollantaytambo for a couple days before continuing south to Bolivia.
Tips for Machu Picchu:
- If you are a student, get an ISIC card before coming, it will save you 50% on the entry fee for this and many other attractions in Cuzco
- Take the train from Ollantaytambo instead of Cuzco, it’s substantially less money and the ride to Ollantaytambo is only a few dollars and takes just 1.5 hours
- Aguas Calientes is an awful and expensive town, don’t stay if you can help it.
- Restaurants in Aguas Calientes add a service charge to the bill, unlike the rest of Peru where it’s included – be aware so you aren’t surprised like we were
- Visit the museum located at the bottom of the mountain, as well as Casa Concha in Cuzco to get a better history of the site
- NOTE: There is a cheap way to get to Machu Picchu without taking the train, I did it on my first visit. HOWEVER, it is not a pleasant experience for those who get carsick, and this route takes substantially longer each way than the train. So, its up to you whether time > money and comfort. I personally prefer the latter, and that’s from a guy who’ll take a 27 hour bus ride because its $20 less than a flight.