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Machu Picchu Guide - Practicalities

       
WHEN TO GO
 
The high season is from June to August when as many as 3500 people a day visit Machu Picchu. Avoid these months if at all possible and stick to the shoulder months – April/May and September/October are a good time to go and you can expect warm sunny days. The week of the Inti Raymi celebrations in Cusco, around 24 June, is a particularly busy period.
 
Sundays can be quieter than other days as many of the package tours go to the market at Pisac and so tourists are occupied elsewhere. Tuesdays and Thursdays also tend to be less crowded for the same reason. The ruins are at their most empty early in the morning before the first train from Cusco arrives and again late afternoon when the last train has left.
 
OPENING TIMES
 
From 6am to 5pm daily. It’s also possible to arrange to visit at night between 6pm and 1am. Several travel agencies in Aguas Calientes organise “spiritual” nocturnal tours.
 
ENTRANCE TICKETS
 
Admission is 126 soles (around £30/$45) or 63 soles to students carrying an ISIC card. There are usually local guides waiting at or near the entrance.
 
GETTING THERE
 
If you’re short on time, you’ll need to travel the 70-mile journey between Cusco and Machu Picchu by train. Peru Rail operates three different services from Cusco to Machu Picchu’s satellite town Aguas Calientes. The cheapest option is the no-frills Expedition (Backpacker) train which leaves from Poroy station at 7:42am and arrives back at 9:01pm; a round trip costs US $96. The perks of the slightly dearer Vistadome train ($142) include large viewing windows in the ceiling and live Andean music. Daily departures from Poroy at 6:53am, returning to Poroy at 7:42pm. Poroy station is located just outside Cusco. There are regular buses connections taking about 15 minutes and costing 10 Soles.

 
For those on a much bigger budget, the luxurious Hiram Bingham train will transport you to Machu Picchu in sheer style. For $588, you’ll receive brunch, a personalised tour of the ruins, tea at the Machu Picchu Sanctuary Lodge, a pisco sour in the train bar, topped off with a four-course dinner. Daily except Sundays, leaves Cusco at 9:10am and arrives back at around 10pm.
 
Tickets for all services can be purchased online at www.perurail.com
 
The least expensive way of arriving at Aguas Calientes by rail is to take the evening Cerrojo service from Ollantaytambo in the Sacred Valley. It departs at 8pm and a return ticket costs $20 one-way or $40 return but, to qualify for this fare, you have to stay two nights in Aguas Calientes and return to Ollantaytambo on the 5-45am train. The journey lasts a little under two hours. Look out for the snow-capped peak Véronica on the right-hand side just as you leave Ollantaytambo. To get to Ollantaytambo, well worth a visit in its own right, take a local bus from Cusco to Urubamba which takes 90 minutes and then hop onto a shared minibus at the bus station for a bumpy 20-minute ride.
 
It’s worth noting that tourists aren’t allowed to ride on the train that PeruRail operates purely for Peruvians – this is only for local residents who wouldn’t be able to afford any of the other services. You’re liable to get kicked off if you board so don’t even try. For more information on train travel, see www.perurail.com For bookings, call (0051) 084 238722 or email reservas@perurail.com 
 
On arrival in Aguas Calientes, make the short walk to the bus departure point where for the somewhat pricely sum of US $6 each way, you’ll find a bus to take you up to Machu Picchu. The first one of the day leaves half an hour before first light and they go every 20 minutes after that, or when full in high season. Alternatively, it’s a stiff two to three hour ascent on foot.
 
The most memorable way to arrive at Machu Picchu though is via the Inca Trail. This four-day trek is hard going in places and camping obviously isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but all aches and pains are sure to disappear at the first breathtaking view of the site from the Sun Gate. By taking the Inca Trail, you’re following in the hallowed footsteps of priests and other dignitaries who would have used it as a kind of pilgrimage route and you also pass several outstanding ruined temples and outhouses en route. Current restrictions mean that only 500 people can start the Inca Trail each day and this includes porters, guides and cooks. As a result, you now need to book several months in advance to be sure of getting a place. The trail is closed in February during the worst of the rainy season and there is currently talk of extending this to January and March as well. Plenty of travel agencies in Cusco feature the Inca Trail, although some are more reputable than others. As a general rule of thumb, if you pay less than $350 for your trek, it’s unlikely that the porters who carry all the camping and cooking equipment are being well cared for by their agency. See www.andeantravelweb.com/peru  for details of local operators.
 
WHERE TO STAY
 
For hotel information click here
 
WHERE TO EAT
 
At Machu Picchu itself, El Mirador snack bar sells bottled water, sandwiches, burgers and other refreshments. The Machu Picchu Sanctuary Lodge has a gourmet breakfast and lunch buffet for around $15 and $22 respectively. There are no ATM machines at the ruins or in Aguas Calientes so try and bring all the cash that you might need.
 
Restaurants in Aguas Calientes tend to be much of a muchness but one of the best in town is Indio Feliz which serves Peruvian food with French flair. El Manu on Pachacútec offers value for money and Chez Maggy is always reliable for pasta and wood-fired pizza. For reasonable vegetarian food, try Govinda. For a nightcap, head to the lively Blues Bar Café on Pachacútec.
 
THERMAL BATHS
 
Aguas Calientes’ thermal baths aren’t always that clean, particularly later in the day when hordes of people have passed through them, so go early in the morning if you can. They’re open from 5am to 8-30pm, admission costs 10 soles and it’s possible to rent a towel and bathing gear.

 

 

www.machupicchuperu.info  Text Copyright Anne Noon. Photos Copyright Mike Weston. All rights reserved 2007-2010

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