This enchanted city sits on its mysterous mountain throne near the ancient heart of the Incan empire: Cuzco. We want to pass on tips we learned from our trip to help you, should you finally choose to check this off your bucket list.

  • Quick Facts about Peru: Currency = Soles; exchange rate = 2.7S:$1; no tourist visa required; Lima has awesome food; Cuzco is high altitude (10,000+ ft), so be prepared to drink té de coca de maté and take it easy the first day; and, finally, Machu Picchu is a UNESCO World Heritage site that limits visits to 2,500 persons per day…so book well in advance!
  • Airfare: Lima is one of the cheapest cities in South America to fly to from the States. From Lima, you can take a 1 hour, 15 minute flight to Cuzco. We recommend using Star Peru – a nice, cheap, domestic carrier. Round trip flights from Lima are anywhere from $100-$180/person when booked in advance.
  • Trains: There are 3 different train companies currently operating trips to Machu Picchu. We recommend Peru Rail, which is clean and provides snacks. Though you may be tempted to pay extra for the “Vistadome” or some form of panoramic train cars, we don’t think it’s worthwhile. You will likely want to book your train times early in the mornings and late in the evenings, in order to maximize your time exploring the park. At these times, it will be dark outside and you won’t have much of a view. You can book your train tickets online at: www.perurail.com. Expect roundtrip prices to range from $70-$150 per person.
  • Where to Stay: This is a very tough call. Aguas Calientes (Machu Picchu Pueblo) has potential to be adorable – due to its proximity to Machu Picchu and the warm, volcanic waters nearby – but it is an overpriced dump. The hotels lack cleanliness, character, and service. We chose to stay here because we wanted to be the first tourists to enter the park when it opened at 6:00 am (this allows you to have untainted photos, without random tourists in bright colors looking nice and goofy in the background). Most of these tourist arrive on the first morning train from Cuzco, which arrives at 10 am. Cuzco is 3 hours away by train (or 1.5 hour-taxi to Ollanytambu followed by a 1.5 hour train ride to Aguas Calientes). It is a precious, historic town worth at least a day of exploring. We loved our hotel, Encantada Casa Botique (http://www.tripadvisor.com/Hotel_Review-g294314-d1547560-Reviews-Encantada_Casa_Botique_Spa-Cusco.html, $100/night). It has beautiful views of the city, is a 10-minute walk from the city center, and has a fabulous continental breakfast. Cuzco appears to be saturated with cute hotels of all styles and price ranges. Therefore, you must prioritize: semi-private exploration of these ancient ruins versus a more memorable hotel experience.
  • Fees (per person): Entrance fee = $50 (http://www.machupicchu.gob.pe/, visa only); Obligatory bus from Aguas Calientes to the park = $15.50 (book and pay in Aguas Calientes).
  • Tour Guide: We did not book a tour guide in advance and were able to bargain for a private, English-speaking tour for the 2 of us for $17. We think this was totally worth it. We learned about the history of the city, Incan culture, and the symbolism behind many structures. The Incas were well beyond their time, which is easily seen in their precise craftmanship, creative architecture, applied mathematics, and their knowledge of astronomy. We felt enlightened by our 2-hour tour and were delighted not to be five rows back in a huge, guided group. If you take our recommendation, though, be prepared to bargain.
  • Sites in the park: If you are up for a challenge, we recommend hiking up Waynapicchu (you must pre-select this option when booking your entrance fee). It’s a grueling, vertical hike, but totally worth the views. See Machu Picchu from a birds-eye-view, with its condor-shape after this 30-45 minute trek. For a longer, but less challenging hike, we recommend visiting the Sun Gate. From here you still have wonderful views of the city and can capture some unique shots. The quickest hike (about 30 minutes round trip) is to the Incan bridge. This is where the Incans purposely left approximately 20-feet of uncarved path in their mountain road, with a vertical plummet to a sure death below. Permitted persons were allowed to cross via a retractable, wooden bridge. Be prepared to be sore for a few days!
  • Food: ***IMPORTANT***Machu Picchu (the park) has price gouging at its best. A 20-oz bottled water is ~$7. Pack treats, drinks, and a few spare Soles to use the restroom. The food in Cuzco is much better than Aguas Calientes. 15 Soles is about right for the “tourist menu” – a 3-course affair, in which you should order quinoa soup.
  • Weather: There are 2 distinct seasons: a dry season (April-October) and a wet season (November-March). Please plan accordingly (aka don’t expect to get a good deal on a poncho in the park). The temperature ranges from 43-84 degrees F. Though it’s in the mountains, the park is actually lower elevation than Cuzco and was a bit warmer during the day (both times I was there). That said, we recommend bringing a light jacket.
  • Total Cost: approximately $500/person
  • Other options: Incan trail (5 day, 4 night hike) – there are plenty of companies to choose from, but unfortunately we don’t have any first-hand experience.
  • Key links: www.perurail.com, http://www.machupicchu.gob.pe/, Machu Picchu
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