We allowed 2 days for Machu Picchu, including travel from Cusco, and to the the Urubamba Valley afterwards. We chose not to do the Inca Trail as we didn’t have enough time to spare. I’m sure it is amazing but we didn’t have any regrets in not doing it; the main deal is obviously the Inca citadel itself, and you can do various 2-3 hour hikes from there that really help you appreciate it further.
We travelled from Cusco to Ollantaytambo by car one morning. Ollantaytambo is where the trains depart to Aguas Calientes — the town at the bottom of Machu Picchu and very much the gateway to the citadel. Inca Rail and Peru Rail operate the trains and it is worth booking tickets in advance as it gets really busy — it’s by far the most popular way for most visitors to get to Machu Picchu. The train takes 1.5 hours and is smooth with gorgeous views as it winds through the valley. It’s more expensive (£90 each way versus £50 in Executive Class) but I highly recommend travelling First Class for the experience. As well as a more comfortable seat and a table, you get a complimentary welcome Pisco Sour and a 3-course Peruvian meal complete with wines and coffee. It’s so luxurious! And a really nice way to make the very most of the once-in-a-lifetime-journey. It’s definitely something I look back and smile at, and I won’t go forgetting anytime soon.
When we arrived in Aguas Calientes, we checked into Inkaterra Machu Picchu Pueblo, the hotel we were staying at for 1 night. I do think it’s worth spending at least 1 night in the town — it gives you more flexibility and means you can go up to the citadel twice if you want to. There are loads of accommodation options in Aguas Calientes, ranging from hostels to 5-star hotels to suit everyone’s budget. It is always busy though so book ahead.
At about 2pm, we dropped our bags and took the bus up to the gate of the citadel. You can hike up to the gate (takes a couple of hours) but the bus is cheap, quick and convenient, and come and go very regularly but do get very busy so be prepared to queue for 30 minutes or so.
You need a ticket to get through the gate and it’s definitely worth purchasing one in advance of else be queuing for yonks. Once you’re through the gate, you’re at the citadel and free to roam around and explore. It’s worth having a guidebook with you so you can understand more about the history and the different areas. That, and, try and earwig on guided tours — the best way to learn for free!
We spent probably just under 2 hours at the citadel itself. Don’t forget to get your passport stamped with a Machu Picchu stamp on the way out of the gate! We came back down to Aguas Calientes on the bus, though again, you could walk if you wanted.
In the town, there’s no shortage of dinner and drink places — all very touristy but so be it! There’s also SO many crazy drink offers — Get 6 Pisco Sours for the price of 1? — because I think they know everyone is here to hike not drink…
The following morning, we planned to hike up Machu Picchu Montana — the peak that overlooks the citadel and takes approx 3 hours to get up and down. From the citadel itself, there are few different hikes you can take, varying in time and difficulty but I strongly recommend Montana. It’s really pretty TOUGH due to the heat and the high altitude but it offers the most incredible view. Again, you need to buy your ticket in advance to get through the gate and make sure you buy the right one for the right peak as they are strict! If you’re planning on either hiking or simply visiting the citadel in the morning, be sure to do it early as it gets incredibly busy. I think we set off from our hotel at 5:45am and there was still a HUGE queue for the bus, but we definitely noticed Montana was a lot busier on our way down than way up, so be early to beat the crowds!
After our incredible hike, we were shattered! We took one more stroll around the citadel before getting the bus back down to Aguas Calientes, stopping for a Pisco Sour and some yuca fries in the sunshine, then picked up our bags and got back on the train.
We travelled Executive Class on the way back to Ollantaytambo which was perfectly suitable - you get a seat and a snack and a drink, and we were pretty shattered. So if you are going to go First Class, do it on the way there!
We were picked up from Ollantaytambo by our driver and travelled 30 minutes to our next hotel in the Urubamba Valley – more on that to come!