Machu Picchu is one of the world’s most mysterious man-made wonders. If you ask one hundred people about it, you’ll get one hundred different answers. This glimpse into Incan culture tucked away in the Peruvian mountains was discovered by American archeologist Hiram Bingham, and has been named of the new Wonders of the World. When I decided to check off this bucket list item, I couldn’t help but wonder if it would live up to the hype. I am happy to report this was one instance in which reality was so much better than Instagram.
To get to Machu Picchu you must fly into Cusco, then take the train from Poroy Station (about 20-30 min away by car). As a caution for travelers- Cusco is 11,000 feet above sea level, and Machu Picchu is about 8,000. Altitude sickness can cause many symptoms and is no joke. Give yourself a day to relax and acclimate before doing any hiking.
I highly recommend taking the Belmond Hiram Bingham train. It redefines old world luxury, and was named “One of the 7 Best Train Rides in the World.” It goes up and back once a day, and the fee includes entrance and guided tour of the Machu Picchu citadel, bus ride to and from the town of Aguas Calientes, tea at the Belmond Sanctuary, food and beverage service (my favorite words, open bar) and live music. We chose to go up on the Hiram Bingham, but pause and stay a night at the Belmond Sanctuary Lodge.
The Sanctuary Lodge (also owned by Belmond) is literally 10 steps from the entrance gate to Machu Picchu, it is easy to go at sunrise again the next day before returning to Cusco. The lodge is beautiful, the food is wonderful, and it has a spa.
In a normal year, during high season, travelers would have to brave 7-8,000 people per day, along with dozens of buses hurtling up and down the mountain at a breakneck pace. Everyone must buy timed tickets to enter the citadel. There are only so many tickets for sale at each slot, once you enter, you have two hours to complete the tour. If you miss your time slot, then too bad. DO NOT PLAN ON WALKING UP AND BUYING TICKETS. You must purchase Machu Picchu citadel, Machu Picchu Mountain, and in weeks if not months in advance during the high season, which you can do online. We recently visited, and due to Covid, there was approximately 100 people per day, you could stay as long as you wanted and just enjoy. It was magical. There is lots of souvenir shopping at the train station back to Cusco (Poroy) as well, so be sure to leave time.
I would recommend taking a guide with you (we had a great one I can put you in touch with) who can show you the best spots for pictures. The first viewpoint took my breath away. The regular citadel route is fairly easy with a moderately set of stairs to the top in the beginning. Make sure to bring plenty of water, but there is no restroom inside the citadel. If you have to leave to use the restroom, you cannot return (and its not free).
We were so lucky to be able to spend extra time soaking in the history and the raw beauty of the mountains. It was an incredible, awe-inspiring, and almost religious experience. This is one destination that belongs on everyone’s bucket list.
Interested in South America? I think you’ll love these posts!