I’ve not really been in for writing a guide type article on here but this was something I spent a lot of time researching and thought I would put together what I found.
We decided to take the train instead of the Inca Trail for 2 reasons, firstly we seem to be under the weather a lot just before a physical activity (Climbing Volcanoes in Nicaragua) and we heard a lot of bad reviews from travellers saying the trail was expensive and overhyped.
This left the train to get to the ancient city (already an expensive day out with the entry ticket). A bit of shopping around on the internet and we’d found 3 companies with the most convenient trip being with the newest company, Machu Picchu Train, at $58 each way.
Visitors to Machu Picchu are limited to 2,500 each day so to be safe we made our way to buy the ticket at the office in Cusco the day before. Once this was reserved we went to the train ticket office in Cusco on Avenida del Sol and found the tickets are cheaper booked there in cash at $50 each. US Dollars can be withdrawn from the cash machine a few doors down the street.
The train leaves from Ollantaytambo station around 11.30am, about 1hr by car or 90 minutes by bus from Cusco so plenty of time to get there. The bus is crowded, local and fun and leaves from a local bus station a couple of blocks behind the train office to Urubamba. It cost 6 soles each. From here you must change to a minibus or colectivo for around 5 soles each to reach Ollantaytambo.
A collectivo from central Cusco all the way to Ollantaytambo will cost around 15 to 20 soles each depending on your negotiation skills.
Our train was virtually empty, just 2 of us, 2 Japanese tourists and 4 staff! We were served a drink and sweet snack while watching the view of the valley. Really rather relaxed and a little bit colonial. The train should get you to Aguas Calientes, the modern town beneath Machu Picchu itself. Here you can buy all sorts of tourist stuff and get a quick but pricey meal.
There are regular buses up the mountain the the park entrance, at a pricey $16 return. However once you see where they go you will not begrudge it. You can walk the route, we heard of people doing it in an hour and some said two. I believe the latter more. If you take the train this will cut you short on time at the ruins.
By now you should have about 4 hours to see the site. It closes around 5.30 or 6pm. I suggest you head for the famous vista for the postcard shot by taking a path to your left soon after entering. At this time it should be quite quiet, especially in lower seasons away from summer holidaymakers. From here you can backtrack to the sun-gate where hikers enter the site or the Inca Bridge, one of the former residents entries and security measures.
As you stroll around you can pick up tit bits from overhearing late running guided tours, though they often seem to tell different and contrasting tales that sound pretty made up to me. We didn’t bother with a guide and chose to enjoy the place with our existing knowledge and imagination. One tip all prospective guides will give you for free however is this – USE THE TOILET BEFORE ENTERING THE CITY! Machu Picchu has no public conveniences and instead nooks and crannies or alcoves (laugh if you’ve seen the movie In Bruges) will substitute. On hot days it can smell quite potent.
We wandered the city till closing time, by which there were just a few llamas and Peruvian school children to share it with. If you’re lucky (or unlucky) you’ll be harassed for photos with them – actually quite fun! On your way out don’t forget stamp your passport if you want a cheap memento of the trip.
We decided to stay in Ollantaytambo for the night and caught the 7.15pm train back, a little busier this time with about 12 passengers. You could stay in one of the many hostels and hotels Aguas Calientes if you wished to revisit the city the next day to climb the mountain Huayna Picchu above it. Or you can catch a late return taxi to Cusco, if one is close to full you can share for a good price.
I recommend stopping in Ollantaytambo however for a chance to see a slightly less touristic town than Cusco. The hotels are clean, comfy and quite cheap. Below the ruins of the same name (access with Boleto Turistico) is an interesting a cheap souvenir market. We both bought a couple of cool ornaments to take home. Further away from the tourists is a fully functioning local town with connections back to the Incas and friendly local people. I didn’t spot many tourists exploring far off the beaten track.
Hopefully if you’ve stumbled on this little account it will be of use to you on your visit. If you’ve found something different, want to correct anything or add your own little account please do comment.
Otherwise, enjoy your trip!