Machu Picchu
February 14, 2005 6:48 AM   Subscribe

Has anyone ever been Machu Picchu? After seeing countless documentaries and TV specials over the years, I'm thoroughly convinced that I must go and expericence the power of this place. But honestly, I don't know JACK when it comes to planning something like this. Can someone recommend a starting point... and if you've taken this particular vacation before, feel free to toss out some "key points to remember". I've searched the web of course, and found plenty of tours-this, tours-that. But like I said, I wouldn't know what to focus on and what to avoid. Luxury accommodations are far from necessary. I WANT TO SLEEP WITH THE GODS! :)
posted by Witty to Travel & Transportation around La Victoria, Peru (10 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I was there in 2003 and thoroughly recommend the trip. There are different ways to do it, including hiking all or part of the Inca trail. I understand that Peru is trying to restrict the number of permits available to do this to cut down on environmental impact on the trail (you need a guide, the guide needs a permit). The benefit of the trail is arriving at dawn or at least early enough that you're there before the first group of buses arrive from the base.

We were with our 1-year-old daughter and thus needed / used a lot more support. We stayed in Cusco (Libertador) except for the night we spent at the base. We stayed at the Inkaterra Pueblo hotel (excellent, but not cheap).

You get to MP by train (most typically). Peru Rail. Good fun, very touristy, but fantastic views of the Andes. There are different classes of service depending on the departure time. The advantage of being on the early train - you leave Cusco about 6:30 AM - is that you arrive before everyone else. IIRC, the later services are cheaper.

If you use the visitor number as a guide, only about 1000 people per day visit. Even if they were all up there with you, it's still not too crowded. Far fewer take the walking side trips. But watch the season. We were there at the end of the rainy season and landslides were a problem. These can close roads or the rail line, or worse - hit cars, trains or buses. It could also be fogged in.

Visits to MP are well organised. There's a caravan of coaches waiting at the bottom to meet each train, you basically just go and get on, go up, spend the day, come back down (you can do it as a day trip, but I recommend spending a night out there). The road up is twisty and kinda scary, but they know what they're doing. When you get there and see what you're facing, you can decide if you're brave enough to walk up or down.

Apart from hiking the trail (you can do short legs - maybe one night or three), the only way to sleep with the gods is expensive - there's a hotel up there. Probably $250 a night.

Access and food at MP are expensive unless you're Peruvian. I think we paid $20 a head to get in, $22 for lunch and another $12 for the bus. But it's worth the cost and effort to get there. The town at the base is kitschy except for the Inkaterra hotel (IMO).

One thing to remember: don't underestimate the altitude. It would be good to allow a day in Cusco to acclimatise.

There are other Inca sites in Cusco, but they pale in comparison to MP. That said, Cusco is worth a day or two to explore the churches. It's very focused on MP and is a base for low-cost travel.
posted by sagwalla at 7:18 AM on February 14, 2005

Just make sure you think it through.
posted by jmgorman at 7:27 AM on February 14, 2005

I've done it, as have other people I know. It's easy to plan everything yourself - tours are generally overpriced and you don't get half the experience. I flew into Lima, then got the bus (eventually) to Cusco. Even though the 15 hour bus ride on unmade roads from Puno to Cusco was the most severely uncomfortable 15 hours of my whole life thus far, I would heartily recommend it to anyone else. You can mostly just turn up at bus stations and get a ticket for immediate travel, although it might help to buy a day in advance. We stayed in very cheap and very basic accommodation in Cusco - just a concrete walled room with springy beds. From there, as sagwalla says, the train to MP is absolutely wonderful - genuinely one of the world's great train journeys. But as I remember (this was 10 years ago) you had to buy the ticket from Cusco station a day or so in advance, especially if travelling on the early train. I've known people walk the Inca trail, but there are problems with it. From their reports, it's filthy (entirely the tourists' fault) and overused. And therefore not recommended.

MP itself is amazing, incredible, beautiful and awe inspiring.

We missed the last train back from the base at the end of the day, and ended up sleeping on a tressle table under a tarpaulin in one of the produce stalls at the base station. It gets VERY cold at night. A local guy approached us in the early hours and offered us a couple of blankets. It was a truly wonderful experience.
posted by nylon at 8:09 AM on February 14, 2005

Was there this past November. Unless you really want to do a full hike (sleeping in tents, etc.), there is a nice compromise -- one day Inca trail, stay overnight in a hostel, and then get to MP early in the morning before most of the train tourists arrive. Due to the new rules, all Inca trail packages must be purchased well in advance, so keep that in mind.

MP (and the Andes in general) is absolutely breathtaking and well worth the trip. Spend as little time in Lima as possible and go straight to Cusco. By air it's only like an hour. Cusco is quaint, safe, nice people, and cheap, almost the opposite from Lima. Get acclimized to the altitude before going to MP though, as there will be a LOT of walking in MP (it's quite large), and the effects of altitude is significant.

If you want to spend more time at MP, there is a little town right there called Aguas Calientes, which is where the buses originate from. Hostels there can be had for less than $30 night.

Post more of your questions here and we'll try to answer them.
posted by eas98 at 8:22 AM on February 14, 2005

"Aguas Calientes".... a town called Hot Water? cool.
posted by ShawnString at 9:07 AM on February 14, 2005

It has hot sulphur springs.
posted by eas98 at 9:25 AM on February 14, 2005

In the rainy season, the river through Aguas Calientes is absolutely raging. That's where the Inkaterra is - we had the sound of the raging rapids as white noise. If you're going to splurge one night, give that place a shot. You can go back up to MP the next day - I can't remember if going back to MP is discounted, but the return train journeys start to leave in the early afternoon and if you took the side trips you could fill more than one day up there.
posted by sagwalla at 10:35 AM on February 14, 2005

Thanks for the responses guys... and jmgorman, thanks for the link. While it may have taken some of the shine off of my excitement, the reality is certainly worth thinking about and I appreciate the thoughtful offering to the thread.

It's a shame about the trail. I think I would honestly freak out if the jackass in front of me were to toss some trash to the side. "Blood flows red on the Inca Trail". But anyway... the train sounds like an awesome alternative.

So it is possible to do this without committing to a tour package from a travel agency or something of the sort? I'm single (although I will probably go with a friend), "outdoorsy", easy to please, and frugal. So I'm looking forward to being able to fly down there and take things from there. Hostels sound good to me.

So you would consider this an affordable vacation? How much $ could one person pull this off for... flying out of the states? How many days is a comfortable visit? Is there any night life of any kind in Cusco, on any scale? Are there any "don't drink the water" concerns, so to speak? Thanks!
posted by Witty at 2:42 PM on February 14, 2005

I would do all of the Inca Trail if I were you. The hostel was, in my opinion, a shithole. Also, one thing you don't often read about that is kind of disappointing is the hotel that is right at the ruins. Ahhh progress. I'll be in Buenos Aires starting in May, if you get down that far.
posted by punkbitch at 5:23 PM on February 14, 2005

Our trip was organised, but it wasn't an off-the-shelf package tour. That level of support (transfers, tickets) costs extra, although the local support also managed good discounts at the hotels.

I think there's plenty of scope to put this together on the ground as you go. Cusco is a hub for all sorts of adventure travel. I'd suggest booking a long trek in advance, although if you show up and can't get a trek, you should still be able to get out there by train.

Definitely fly to Cusco. It's an hour, there are several airlines that make the hop and it was relatively cheap.

There is nightlife in Cusco, especially on the main square. At one restaurant we had excellent music from Expresión - several cuts above the generic Peruvian guys playing El Condor Pasa. Good food there, too. Watch out for places that are open but waiting for coach tours. And because most of the tours start terribly early, you'll find that the nightlife does too. Some places were closing down by 10PM. Don't forget - the altitude will really sap your energy, too.

Touristic Peru isn't as cheap as some other LA countries. I did it from Brazil, so I can't comment on the 'from the US' bit. If you go expecting to pay US prices for things, you won't be disappointed and might be occasionally surprised. There are good handicrafts in Cusco - far better than the junk you will see at Aguas Calientes, which is like one big t-shirt stall.

I'd also put in a plug for Lima. There's definitely enough to see there to justify a couple of days. The old Spanish/Moorish architecture is spectacular. Stay in the old city, taxi to Miraflores. Have a pisco sour. Try Brujas de Cachiche restaurant. And time permitting consider eating at L'Eau Vive, a restaurant run by nuns. It pays to stay for the Ave Maria.
posted by sagwalla at 4:32 AM on February 15, 2005

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