Extra time at the temple?
April 7, 2010 3:03 PM   Subscribe

We're planning a two week trip to Peru, including a hike on the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu. Is it worth spending an overnight at Machu Picchu to have extra time onsite? Any other must-see recommendations for Peru would be greatly appreciated.
posted by graventy to Travel & Transportation around Peru (20 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
There's a lot to see at Machu Picchu. You can easily spend 8 hours hiking around there looking at things, and if you're already a bit worn out from the Inca Trail hike, you might want even more time. You're unlikely to regret more time spent at this awesome place. Do it.

Hanging out in Cuzco is also a lot of fun, but I assume you're already planning to spend a few nights there. Lima is pretty awesome too, you can do a lot of archaeological tourism just within the city's boundaries.
posted by doteatop at 3:12 PM on April 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

We took a two week trip to Peru a few months ago, including a hike on the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu (4-day). We got to Machu Picchu early on the 4th day (long before anyone else in our tour group), and had to leave after only a few hours to catch our train back down to Cusco. Spending an extra night up there (with a shower!) so we could have had a full day would definitely have been a great idea.

That said, if I could do it over again I definitely wouldn't hike the Inca Trail, unless you can afford a very deluxe private tour. It was crowded, dirty, crowded, unpleasant, and crowded. Did I mention it was crowded? Going with budget tour operators is a terrible idea, even if you've traveled to other parts of the world for many years on a tight budget with no problems. From what I heard while I was there, there are several other less crowded treks to more recently discovered, less pristinely manicured ruins that would have been a better bet.
posted by booknerd at 3:13 PM on April 7, 2010

Personally, I found Machu Picchu to be the least interesting of all the "wonders of the world" type places I've been. The ruins you come across along the way are way more interesting.

Of course it depends on the kind of things you like, but I'd rather spend an extra night in Cusco than Aguas Calientes...
posted by Jon44 at 3:14 PM on April 7, 2010

If you're talking about a multi-day hike, check out the effects of altitude and the recommendations to spending time before the hike to acclimate. The hike is pretty awesome but the famous ruins at the end can be visited in a single day (even without a hike).
Here's a few pages I put together after our hike:

As for other things to do in Peru, we had considered visiting Lake Titikaka as well the rain forests. However, we didn't so I can't say much about those.
posted by maulik at 3:15 PM on April 7, 2010

You might also consider taking an extra day to explore ruins near Cusco. I spent a day on horseback exploring a number of Incan ruins: Rumiwasi, Ccallachaca, Saqsayhuaman, Qenqo, Puca Pucara, Tambomachay with a stop at a family's mud-bricked home for Cuy (guinea pig) soup. It was an amazing day - highly recommended.
posted by prinado at 3:19 PM on April 7, 2010

I did a 4 day package involving walking and biking on the first 3 days, getting to Aguas Calientes at the end of day 3 with an early start to get the bus up to MP at 530am. For me, getting there early was the highlight as not only do you see the sun rise over the mountains you do feel like you have the place to yourself for an hour or two. If you arrived at midday you certainly wouldn't have the same feeling.

Aguas Caliented itself is nothing special although a soak in the hot baths (up the hill, they rent towels) is well worth it if you have
a spare couple of hours.

As for the rest of Peru, you can get an overnight bus from Cusco to Nazca, take a flight over the lines, have lunch, catch another bus and be in Lima for dinner. Mancora is a nice relaxing beach/surf town. If you have a few days, head to Iquitos and spend some time exploring the rainforest.
posted by jontyjago at 3:26 PM on April 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

You might even consider something a little more "local", more info here. Site is a friends blog, she's a travel writer living in South America.
posted by jontyjago at 3:32 PM on April 7, 2010

Best answer: Yes, go the second day. We did the Inca Trail in November, at the cusp of rainy season. Every waterproof article of hiking gear we brought was used. I highly, highly recommend hiking the Inca Trail - I wish it was the only means to see Machu Picchu. It makes it a jouney, and arriving at the ruins feel all the more special. You arrive in M.P. on day 4 and most groups have you meeting at a restuarant around 2:00, which really isn't enough time to take it all in.

Note: BRING CASH! There are two ATM's in Aguas Calientes and both, -yes both- were out of order. You buy tickets to M.P. for additional days in Aguas Calients and they only take soles. It used to be like the equivalent of $8, but now it's like $60. The bus to the site from A.C. takes US money though ($15 r/t I believe). We spent our very last centimo to buy tickets to M.P. a second day. The second day was worth it.

We used Peru Treks and they were absolutely wonderful. So inexpensive for everything you get and they even served vegetarian meals. The porters are so fast and so awesome.

We didn't feel the trail was crowded at all. I mean, you aren't hiking alone - so as long as you know what to expect. The campsite locations are to die for - the latrines not so much.

Getting sick: plan on it. Altitude will mess you up (oh the headaches!), and almost everyone gets the Inca two-step from water-born bacteria. Ciprol certainly helped me, and that can be had over-the-counter in Peru. If you have any other questions about the trail or Peru, feel free to ask here or MeMail me.

The Inca trail is one experience I wish I could do all over again for the first time.
posted by yeti at 3:39 PM on April 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

Like booknerd, I found the Inca Trail underwhelming--the ruins you can only see by doing the Trail are mostly not that striking compared even to what you can see around Cusco. Machu Picchu is amazing, yes, but you can actually get there _earlier_ by taking the train than you can by hiking, which is slightly annoying. If I had it to do over again I'd do one of the less popular trails that go to sites you otherwise can't access and that are still overgrown by jungle.

Anyway, to address your question, do stay overnight at Machu Picchu, and above all do climb the mountain that overlooks the ruin. It will be incredibly hard to make yourself do it, and you have to get there early to sign up (do not overlook this), but the view of the city from the top and the amazing temple there are well worth the effort.

My favorite part of the Peru trip by far was going to Manu National Park, which is probably the most amazing thing I've ever done on vacation. Most of it is completely off-limits to both tourists and residents, but tourists can access a small strip bordering the pristine region, although to do so requires a 2-3 day boat trip. I can't recommend this more highly if you have the slightest interest in observing nature first-hand. ...and if you're okay with being surrounded by enormous insects.
posted by IjonTichy at 4:00 PM on April 7, 2010

Hmm. After day-tripping to MP (by train, FWIW) I didn't think we needed a 2nd day.

I was really glad we did have a day in Ollantaytambo, a smallish town of Incan construction with terraced ruins above. Maybe you'll go through there on the hike though.

I was blown away by Moray, "the agricultural lab of the Incas" and the nearby Salineras de Maras.
posted by turbodog at 4:42 PM on April 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'd say stay the extra night. When I visited Macchu Picchu (quite a few years ago) my GF and I took a rickety non-tourist train from Cuzco that avoided many of the crowds. We stayed overnight at a hotel on site and the next morning was one of the most transcendent moments of my life -- sitting on a nearly deserted mountainside, watching the clouds form in the river valley below and float up to the peaks opposite. Truly a magical experience. Of course the memory is enhanced by the fact that next month the GF visiting Peru with me will have been Mrs. Rain Man for 35 years.
posted by Rain Man at 4:43 PM on April 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

I spent 2 weeks in Peru over Christmas and hiked the Inca Trail with Llama Path. MeMail me if you are thinking of going with them. The trail was the highlight of my trip and although I didn't stay overnight at Machu Picchu, it's a worthwhile idea.

Other than the trail, I could have spent much less time in Cuzco, it was a bit of tourist hell. I was also glad to have only spent 1 hour in Aguas Calientes. If you are into textiles I took a backstrap weaving class at the Centre for Traditional Textiles in Cuzco, which was a cool experience. There were also some excellent textiles and prices at the Pisac market.
posted by gillianr at 4:45 PM on April 7, 2010

Best answer: Personally, I wouldn't spend an extra day at MP just for the sake of seeing more of the ruins. If you're doing it to have a good sleep after the trek, or to be up nice & early to get the (strictly limited!) tickets for the taller peak behind the main site, or to mitigate against the risk of bad weather or poor views, or for any other kind of logistical reason, then OK.

Like Jon44 above, I found MP itself to be quite underwhelming, compared with other great-wonder sites I've visited. Here's why:

- The site is a lot smaller than you'd expect. At normal walking pace you could probably effectively cover the lot in an hour or less (not including climbing the far peak). There are walks to a bridge & a sunrise point that can eat up another hour if you like.

- You are forced to stick to designated paths & routes, so freelance exploration is ruled out.

- This involves ambling along like a sheep with many other tourists a lot of the time. And there are a LOT of other tourists (except very early in the morning or late in the afternoon). I don't have a great level of tolerance for thousands of people pointing cameras at everything that moves (or doesn't move) so after a couple of hours I just want to get away from them. Your mileage may vary.

- The setting is great & the architectural composition is pretty, but the buildings up close are almost all very spartan, drab & functional. Nothing much of interest to see up close.

- There's quite a bit of recent renovation. This might or might not be your cup of tea, but I tend to find that it turns a site into a bit of a theme park experience.

I enjoyed Pisac much more, for the above reasons. Ollantaytambo was pretty good, too, along with Salinas & Moray, and Chincheros (spelling?).

Further afield, I liked the old centre of Arequipa, Lake Titicaca & its islands, Huascaran National Park & some hair-raising minibus rides at very high altitude, Canon del Pato (also not for the faint hearted) and the Ballestas Islands (aka the poor man's Galapagos).
posted by UbuRoivas at 7:24 PM on April 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

If hiking is your thing, I can't recommend highly enough hiking into the Colca Canyon. Deeper than the grand canyon and home of Andean Condor, it's completely spectacular.

You can go without a heavy pack by hiking between very small trail-access-only villages in the canyon (some without electricity) which give you a room, dinner and breakfast for 10-20 soles (about $3-$7). If you speak Spanish, the villagers will love to talk with you as well. This was definitely the highlight of our 2-month trip to Peru last summer.

We took an 8-hour bus from Arequipa to the small town of Cabanaconde on the edge of the canyon. You can hire a guide if you want, but if you feel confident following a pretty clear trail you can just go on your own as we did. You can hike comfortably anywhere from a day to a week in that section of the canyon. We did a 3 day loop. If you want more practical details or to see photos from our travel blog, just memail me.

Have a fun trip!
posted by mathtime! at 7:33 PM on April 7, 2010

Best answer: my two cents:
- if you stay overnight, you can get up to the ruins at sunrise, long before the train arrives and unloads tons of people. You'll also have time to go up Huyana Picchu, which is amazing. (if you're just there for a day, it's tough to squeeze that in with time in the ruins.)

- Definitely see the ruins around Cusco, and get out into Sacred Valley. There's tons of great ruins there as well, and it's definitely less touristy than Cusco or Aguas Calientes.

- I'm not a huge fan of Lima; I find it big and crowded and smelly. you'll wind up spending a day or two there coming in and out, though.

- I liked Arequipa a lot - if you go to Colca Canyon, spend a day there as well.
posted by chbrooks at 7:55 PM on April 7, 2010

Get to Machu Picchu as early in the morning as you can. Watch the sunrise over the terraced steps. Do not linger.
There is a mountain that rises directly over the site called Huayna Picchu. It's an amazing hike, with ruins and tremendous views. (It's not the easiest hike, though - definitely not for the infirm.) Thing is, they only let a few hundred people in a day, first come, first serve - entrance is from within the main Machu Picchu site. I got into line maybe 45 minutes after sunrise, and my friend and I were the 3rd and 4th last people allowed in that day. Definitely definitely worth it.
posted by kickingtheground at 9:26 PM on April 7, 2010

Yes, I'd vote for getting there as early as possible, being among the first in the park, getting a ticket to Huayna Picchu, going on a tour, climbing Huayna Picchu, taking some time to walk around, and taking the last train back. Machu Picchu is amazing, and second day would be enjoyable, but valuable time in Peru is better spent on the many other things to do in and around cuzco.

Must see: go to Ica and ride a dune buggy and go sandboarding. Climb up a giant sand dune to watch sunset, and then jump down. If I could relive one experience from my trip, it is this.
posted by milestogo at 9:54 PM on April 7, 2010

However you do it, see if you can spend some time in Machu Picchu when there are less people. It can get busy to crowded, and for me that changed the experience. But when it emptied out, it was amazing. If you hike the trail, try to make it through the Sun Gate at sunrise, or earlier.

When I went to Peru with my family, we stayed in Cuzco for a few days, then went by bus and boat to some huts in or near Manu National Park for a few days, which was fantastic - we saw giant river otters, a big cat swimming (exact type forgotten at the moment), plenty of amazing birds, and lots of mosquitoes. Then we went back to Cuzco and on to Machu Picchu. We stayed at the Sanctuary Lodge Hotel, which is pretty posh, but it's right at the entrance to Machu Picchu. During the day, the area was pretty busy, but once the last bus left to get back to Aguas Calientes, there were very few people around, and I got a different feeling from the space. Then the next morning, I was able to hike Huyana Picchu before there was anyone counting heads at the gate, and I was one of the first people up there, almost in time to watch the sun rise over Machu Picchu.

Also, Cuzco is fantastic, and is surrounded by a good number of interesting sites, with very few people visiting (compared to Machu Picchu). We had a local tour guide, who provided history and personal anecdotes, which was really interesting. I can tell you more on the costs if you'd like, but it was a few years ago and may not be useful information any more.
posted by filthy light thief at 10:48 AM on April 8, 2010

I've been to Machu Picchu twice, most recently last summer. I've done it as a day trip and as an overnight from Aquas Calientes. Doing it as a day trip is a waste of time. Doing it from AC was sublime.

We skipped Inca Trail and don't regret it - we did enough hiking around MP (Huyana Picchu was worth getting up at 4.30 AM) and spent the time exploring Sacred Valley. If you really, really want to do a long hike, Choquequirao sounds amazing and far less crowded.

We were in place for the winter solstice sunrise before the Inca Trail hikers. We watched them come in - it was a sudden flood of dozens and dozens of people, all in herds, all sort of... out of it? They did watch the sun come up over the hills (it does something special at solstice) but before it was completely up, they tromped off and did the city tour. They didn't seem to have any chance to soak it in, or to stop talking to their fellow hikers to make their own impressions. That can be fun, if you're into that, or you might prefer to have some silence and time to think.

Arequipa is beautiful and has many things to do. There's a nunnery which must not be missed, and an excellent museum about the ice children. Colca Canyon has been disneyfied but if that doesn't bother you, you can still have a grand time there. A homestay on the islands on Lake Titicaca, especially if your Spanish is good enough to talk politics, is worth it. Supposedly Amantini gets fewer homestays than Taquile. The floating islands are fun if you realize they're commuting in from the mainland. If you can find someone to take you fossil hunting and camping in the Ica desert, it's a life changing event. Lima can be fun if you stick to Miraflores and avoid the old town. Don't go to Lima for the history, go to it to see it as a modern city. Spending more than a day or two in Lima or Cuzco would be a waste of time.

Eat the cuy. Sin cabeza. Eat the llama. Don't miss the pisco.
posted by arabelladragon at 7:59 AM on April 9, 2010

When I say it's a waste of time as a day trip, I should be more clear. Doing Machu Picchu in a matter of hours is a waste of time. We were there for about 12 hours straight, and although it was a long, hard day, and although we didn't see absolutely everything, we never felt bored, and a second day would have been too much.
posted by arabelladragon at 8:18 AM on April 9, 2010

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