How to spend a day in Machu Picchu

How to spend a day in Machu Picchu

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Machu Picchu – “The Lost City of the Incas”. This UNESCO World Heritage site is located at 2,430m (8,000 ft), is a site of an ancient Inca city hidden in the Andes of Peru. The whole site became one of the most famous symbols of the Incan Empire and spectacular set of ruins in the world.  It was re-discovered by Hiram Bingham and brought to world attention in 1911.

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In this post, I will only share how you can spend ONE only day in this site from Cusco to Machu Picchu.   

Things you shouldn’t miss:

  • Take the train journey which departs from Cusco (Poroy) to Machu Picchu (Agua Caliente)
  • A quick stroll in Agua Caliente at the end of the day before you catch your return train,
  • A quick massage session in Agua Caliente while strolling,
  • Use of the only facility at the gate of Machu Picchu park before getting in,
  • The “famous” Inca Bridge in the park
  • And last, my personal suggestion is to stay a night in Ollantaytambo and I will explain why if you keep reading.

Due to the reputation of Machu Picchu this is a must-see site to visit when you come to Peru and as such it can be quite expensive to see.  It is absolutely well worth the cost and time, you will not see anything like this place anywhere in the world.

Like the majority of people, we spent our nights in the city of Cusco (or Cuzco), located south east of Machu Picchu. The city itself is a UNESCO World Heritage site, and is probably one of the most visited cities in Peru after Lima.

Here is our route overview and cost:

  • Cusco to Poroy train station by taxi (15 mins), 2 dollars
  • Poroy to Agua Caliente by train (3 hours), 130 dollars
  • Agua Caliente to the main entrance of Machu Picchu park by bus (30 mins), 18.50 dollars
  • The park entrance fee 40 dollars

Tips: you should buy the train and entrance tickets a few days or even a month prior to your trip depending on which month you are going. The authority will only allow a certain number of visitors to get in each day, so when you are going in peak season you may not be able to buy the tickets on the day. You can get both tickets online:

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We took the train from Cusco (the station is called Poroy) to Agua Caliente (the nearest town to access the national park of Machu Picchu). For train information you can visit: http://www.perurail.com/ to see the time tables and the ticket prices. I would recommend that you to take as early train as possible. We went with the 6.10am train and returning on the 6.30pm train, just about enough time to do and see everything we wanted in Machu Picchu. Oh, wait, before I move on, I highly recommend that you to bring your packed lunch box or snack and water. I am not sure if there is a restaurant in Machu Picchu park, at least I didn’t see any anywhere.

The train journey is very comfortable, it will also come with a breakfast (fee included in your ticket price). After 40 mins or so from departure, the train staff will start serving breakfast. Don’t expect too much but the food is pretty healthy, you will get some fruits, a piece of sweet pancake and a hot drink (tea or coffee as usual). After breakfast you will just sit back and chill, the train will rock you for another 2 hours until arrive in Agua Caliente. You may want to have a nap but the view of both sides of the train is stunning. Occasionally the train will have a quick announcement of the places the train is passing through.

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Machu Picchu is located on a mountain ledge, a couple of hundred meters above the valley and river. Therefore after arriving in Agua Caliente, don’t get too excited as you will need to take the local bus that is just located outside of the train station and it will be a 30 mins bus ride to take you right outside of the park entrance.

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A few people we saw took the healthy option to hike up the winding valley road from Agua Caliente to the entrance, this hike would take approximately 2 hours and remember you will probably need another 4 hours to walk through the park itself so save your energy!

Before you get in the park you should make a use of the ONLY facility of the entire park which is just located outside the main gate.  

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The site is large, so we spent a good 5 hours wandering the site and walked through every corner of this ancient city. It’s a very fascinating place.

Here is the list of places to visit in the park:

  • Sun Gate
  • Temple of the Sun
  • Intihuatana
  • Temple of the Three Windows
  • Temple of the Condor
  • And finally, t’s will take you another 20 mins to hike through the mountain to get to see is the Inca Bridge.

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You could go with a guide, but our feeling was that this is not necessary and you will end up being rushed from place to place without having enough time to just enjoy the surroundings and (if you want) take pictures.  While there isn’t many signs or any information displays you can get a lot of this from your guidebook and there are markers around to point you on a particular route.

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When we finished visiting the park it was around 4pm and we had a good 2 hours to kill before our train back to Cuzco. We strolled through the town Agua Caliente and had our lunch/dinner in one of the many restaurants. Agua Caliente has a lot of souvenir shops but they are usually a little more expensive than what you can expect in Cusco. If you have another 30 mins or 1 hour to use up, you should enjoy a massage in the town after hiking 4 to 5 hours. It will help your feet for the next morning!

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Ok, the last thing I am sharing here is my personal recommendation. All late afternoon trains back to Cusco from Machu Picchu will only stop in Ollantaytambo.  If you are staying in Cusco for a few days, I would recommend to spend a night in Ollantaytambo and next day join a local tour to ‘The Sacred Valley of the Incas’. Our mistake was that when the train ended in Ollantaytambo after dark, we had to share a taxi, which although not expensive at all considering the distance we travelled (10 dollar per person for 2 hours journey), by the time we arrived back in Cusco it was almost midnight. Then the next day we joined The Sacred Valley of the Incas tour departed from Cusco and took us all the way back to Ollantaytambo. If you stay overnight in Ollantaytambo you can join The Sacred Valley of the Incas tour directly from the town of Ollantaytambo then back to Cusco and save you almost 5 hours journey time for nothing.

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P.S. I have written my travel to Peru and Bolivia in Spanish and Chinese, just never got around to writing up this trip in English as my post will become extremely long since I talk a lot. LoL…

P.P.S. I hope this post will help you to plan your journey a little bit better.

4 Responses

  1. maximevoisin

    Amazing, thanks for sharing this!

  2. Good writeup – and recommendations! We missed the Inca bridge, but did stay take the trip to Ollantaytambo and stayed 3 nights. That was well worth it!

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