Cusco & Machu Picchu

Mai 5th – 9th, 2013

After a comfortable 22h on the bus, Max and I reached Cusco during late afternoon and followed the advice of a friend to stay at the hostel Ecopackers. The place was very clean and we met some awesome people, who we went to dinner with in the evening.

The following day started off with a free walking tour. Apart from the sights of the city, this also seemed to be some sort of sales event for local businesses. Especially towards the end we got dragged into several stores where we got offered all kinds of things. Nevertheless the tour was interesting and worth it.

 

In the evening we went to a small restaurant where we had pre-ordered Cuy, a local delicacy. Our guinea pig unfortunately didn’t offer very much meat, but the little amount we got, did in fact taste quite good. You often hear that it tastes a bit like chicken and honestly, I agree. If I did not know what it was, I would’ve thought it was chicken, too. Other than that, in the future I would probably go for the “real” chicken. Not only because it is cheaper, but also because there is simply more meat on a chicken than on a guinea pig, which by the way looks like a fried rat once it has been prepared.

 

Cusco is not only a nice city, but also the point of origin for all tours to Machu Picchu. At the bottom of the Inca ruins lies a little town called Aguas Calientes (the name comes from the hot springs which can be found here) which is only accessible by train or foot (e.g. via the Inca-trail). Basically there are two options to get from Cusco to Aguas Calientes. The more comfortable one is definitely the tourist train, which goes directly from Cusco to Aguas Calientes. Unfortunately, tickets are expensive and will set you back about 120€ (440 Sol) for a return trip. The second option is somewhat more complicated, not even remotely as luxurious and takes about one day. In order to get to Aguas Calientes, take a Colectivo (small minivan-taxis with about 12 seats) from Cusco to Santa Maria (4h; 9€/30 Sol) and a normal taxi from Santa Maria to Hydroelectrica via Santa Theresa (1,5h; 4,50€/15 Sol). Hydroelectrica is, as the name already suggests, a hydroelectric power station from which train tracks lead all the way to Aguas Calientes. The walk will take you about two hours and offers amazing views as you get closer to Aguas Calientes. Just so you know, the train from Hydroelectrica to Aguas Calientes is a different one, than the one from Cusco. Of course we chose the Colectivo-option leaving Cusco at 9 in the morning and reaching Aguas Calientes at 5 in the afternoon, perfect timing to finish the day with a nice bath in the hot springs.

 

The following morning with headed out for Machu Picchu at 6 am. Apart from visiting just the ruins themselves, it is also possible to climb the mountain Machu Picchu and/or the mountain Huayna Picchu (often also referred to as Wayna Picchu). The amount of daily visitors to Huayna Picchu is limited to 400, 200 at 7 am and another 200 at 10 am. At the moment students pay 27,50€ (76 Sol), regular admission is double that price. In order to proove that you actually are a student, you will need to provide student-ID. The climb offers, given that the weather plays along, stunning views over the ruins and the surrounding mountains.

 

Personally I think that my Machu Picchu experience would only have been half as great if Max and I had not climbed Huayna Picchu. If you get the chance to go to Machu Picchu, climbing Huayna Picchu should DEFINITELY be on your list of things to do. Keep in mind though, that the tickets are very popular and supply is scarce, book as early as you can. If you are not able to do that (like in our case, we simply didn’t know what day exactly we were going to be on Machu Picchu), you can try to get tickets through a “travel-agency” in Cusco. It will require some luck because most agencies won’t be able to help. Try Friends of Nature in the tiny alley called Procuradores which leads towards Plaza de Armas from a north-westerly direction. That is where we finally managed to get ours. In addition to the ticket price itself, you will most likely have to pay a little “surcharge” (9-13,50€/30-45 Sol). If you feel really lucky, you can try to get tickets directly in Aguas Calientes the night before. Sometimes they have left over tickets which haven’t been paid for in time. If you just want to visit the ruins without climbing Huayna Picchu, just buy your ticket the night before directly in Aguas Calientes. During low season this won’t be a problem and you will most likely avoid additional fees which most agencies in Cusco charge.

If you have managed to obtain a tickets you have to options to either just go to the viewpoint (about 2h return-trip) or do a circular hike around the mountain (about 4h). Because the weather had been bad that morning, we chose to do the circular hike clockwise (the map shows it counter clockwise but if you do that, you come to the viewpoint first). This gave us the chance to first see all the other nice thinks on the hike, which don’t necessarily require clear skies. When we reached the viewpoint 3-4h later towards the end of the hike, most of the clouds had cleared and we were able to enjoy the incredible view over Machu Picchu.

 

During the entire walk, we didn’t meet one other person. All other 198 people headed straight for the viewpoint and stayed there for 3,5h until the sky was clear. So Max and I got to enjoy the Escalinatas (extremely steep stairs that drop several hundred meters on one side) as well as the Cavernas (more Inca ruins next to and in a cave) all by ourselves.

 

After extensively enjoying the view over the ruins, Max and I headed back down to explore them. It is unbelievable how the Inca city way laid out. Some of the stones have been processed in a way which makes it hard to believe, that that is even possible with the technology available at the time. Machu Picchu never stops to amaze with stunning insights such as these seven cool facts about Machu Picchu.

 

On the way back we chose the same mode of transport, just in an reverse manner. If you chose to do the same thing, make sure to head down towards Hydroelectrica no later than 2 pm. Otherwise you risk not getting a Colectivo in Santa Maria. One option to be on time is to catch the train from Aguas Calientes to Hydroelectrica at 1:30 pm. That way you are about 1,5h quicker and you’ll reach Hydroelectrica at the same time as many other travelers which makes it easier to catch a taxi from there. Taxis and Colectivos generally only leave once every seat is occupied. If you come too late, you might end up having to wait for quite some time until the next taxi or Colectivo is full.

 

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10 Comments

  1. Katharina

     /  14. May 2013

    Das mit den Meerschweinchen ist wohl nicht dein Ernst!:( Ansonsten sehr informativ! Enjoy!

    Reply
  2. Markus

     /  14. May 2013

    Ich hoffe doch schwer, dass du die Reiseberichte so beibehältst! Freu mich schon auf die nächsten Updates!

    Reply
    • Das ist zumindest der Plan. Bisher geht es eigentlich recht easy. Bei Gelegenheit wollte ich auch mal noch anfangen alles auf Englisch zu übersetzen, mal schauen ob das auch wirklich klappt 😉

      Reply
  3. Mi piace mucho! 🙂
    Viel Spaß!

    Reply
  4. Hi Sebastian, great article on Cuzco and Machu Pichu. I am going there in a couple of months and have around 4 days in the area. I am thinking of staying in Cuzco 19/5, Ollantaytambo 20/5, 21/5 Machu Pichu, 22/5 Cuzco. From your experience in the area, do you think that this is realistic itinerary to follow or do I need to re-consider?

    Reply
    • Hello Sanela,

      Thank you very much for the compliment! I can’t really tell you about Ollantaytambo because I didn’t go there. If you do Macchu Picchu with the tourist train I think it is possible to do it on one day. Staying in Aguas Calientes for one night isn’t the worst choice either though since the hotsprings are nice.
      Four days for the entire area is definitely pushing it in my opinion. Cusco for example has a nice city tour and there is a lot more things to do in the area that I missed out on, too. So maybe, if you can, I would add a couple more days to your stay in Cusco?

      I hoped that helped. If you have any further questions, let me know and I am happy to help if I can.

      Have fun and safe travels! 🙂

      Sebastian

      Reply
  5. Hi there, you did the walking experience, but the full trek takes a few days doesn’t it?
    Do you know if it’s possible to book with more than one tour operator, whether or not there authentic ones vs unofficial ones…I’ve read a bit into it but can’t seem to find one definitive answer! Any help appreciated! Great posts btw, myself and a friend will be following your very clearly laid plans!
    G

    Reply
    • Hello once again 🙂

      If you go to Cusco you will find plenty of tour operators offering hikes. As far as I know there are two main hikes, the official “Inka Trail” and the so called “Jungle Trek”. The Inka Trail is a lot more expensive and often booked out weeks in advance which is why a lot of backpackers resort to the Jungle Trek (which also ends at Macchu Picchu) because you basically see the same/similar things and it is a lot cheaper. I have only heard positive things from people who have done the Jungle Trek so if I went again today, I would probably choose that over the official Inka Trail for the reasons mentioned above.

      That being said: I haven’t actually done either one of them. All the information provided above is info that I got from other travellers that I met along the way in South America. But I am sure that you’ll be able to find more detailed information if you google “Inka Trail” and “Jungle Trek”.

      Good luck and enjoy your trip, you’re going to love it! 🙂

      Reply
      • Thanks for that! Yes I’ve heard about the jungle trek experience, and that is can be much better.

        I will be sure to do some research!

        Thanks for all your help with Colombia as well.

        Be sure to give me a follow and keep up to date with my move!

        All the best and take care,

        Georgina

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