The main purpose of my last trip to South America was to spend ten days in the Galapagos Islands.  But hell, why not make a little detour to Cusco and Machu Picchu?  Maybe go hiking up Wayna Picchu while I’m at it?

Morning fog and clouds covering Machu Picchu and Huaynapicchu.

Gallery: Peru

Recommendations for Machu Picchu:

  • Stay in a hotel overnight in Aguascalientes (also known as Machu Picchu Pueblo).  We stayed at the El Mapi Hotel, a very nice contemporary hotel I’d stay at again.
  • Take a train to Aguascalientes that arrives mid-day.  Explore the town, check in to your hotel (or leave your bag there if it’s too early), then head over to the bus stop to take the bus up to Machu Picchu.  You’ll fight the crowds for a couple of hours, but then they’ll all leave to get back on the train back to Ollantaytambo.  You’ll have the site almost to yourself with some nice late-afternoon lighting.
  • Spring for a guide for at least an hour or two.  They don’t let any Joe Schmoe with a guidebook give guided tours, so you’ll be guaranteed to have a knowledgable guide show you around and provide you with some anecdotes that you wouldn’t otherwise have, at least not without walking around with your face buried in a guidebook.  You can ditch the guide after a while then be on your own.  They’re available at the gate without reservations.
  • Wake up early the next morning and take one of the first buses up to the top (around 6am).  The throngs of train passengers won’t have arrived yet and you’ll have some excellent morning light and moody fog, again with the site almost to yourself.  I didn’t Photoshop any visitors out of any of the photos in my gallery.  If you can get a hiking permit for Wayna Picchu ahead of time, do it!
Looking towards the ruins on the top of Huaynapicchu.

The ruins at Wayna Picchu up at the top

  • A must-do is the Wayna Picchu hike.  You’ll have to get tickets weeks in advance since they limit the number of visitors allowed to hike to the top.  Get tickets for the first entry (there are two, at 7am and 10am) and enjoy the morning when you arrive up top.  This hike can be difficult for some.  Is Wayna Picchu dangerous?  No, but it’s steep, has some tall thigh-high steps, and can make the acrophobes anxious.  And I probably wouldn’t want to do it in the rain with slick steps.  The peak is at about 8,920 feet and is a 1,100-foot climb.  Average time up is one hour.  You can get tickets through a handful of online travel vendors.
    If you think going up is tough, wait till you have to come back down!
Looking down at Machu Picchu from atop Huaynapicchu.

View of Machu Picchu through the clouds from Wayna Picchu

Terracing on Huaynapicchu, high above Machu Picchu.

Terraces floating in the clouds at Wayna Picchu

Looking down at Machu Picchu from atop Huaynapicchu.

View from atop Wayna Picchu

  • The crowds will start to arrive mid to late morning, but since you got there so early, you’ll probably be content heading back to Aguascalientes to catch the train back to Ollantaytambo just as they’re filtering in.

Read Hiram Bingham’s own account of “discovering” Machu Picchu.

And for the love of God, spend more than three days in Peru!  I need to go back and make up for that…

Anyone else have anything to add below?

View the gallery (click the photo):

Peruvian girls

 

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