Aguas Calientes & Machu Picchu

If you’re keen to see Machu Picchu, and you’re a seasoned camper and trekker, then maybe the Inca Trail is for you. If that’s the case, find a travel company and book significantly ahead of time.

The other way to see Machu Picchu is to get a train from Cusco, from Poroy station in particular. If you want to see Machu Picchu early, then it is recommended to travel by train the day before and stay in the town of Aguas Calientes overnight.

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There’s two companies to travel by rail to Aguas Calientes with; Peru Rail and Inca Rail. For no reason other than ease of access when purchasing online, we selected Peru rail.

Peru rail

We purchased our tickets fairly easily online to travel to Aguas Calientes. We chose the Vista Dome. The pictures show it as a glass carriage where you can view the sites on the way. Although not quite like the pictures, you do get a lovely view of the countryside. We picked the more expensive tickets which have a comfortable seat (many facing other passengers), a provided snack (sandwich or brownie), tea or coffee and entertainment. The train has clean bathrooms too.

On the way we could purchase Pisco Sours and on the return journey, there was a fashion parade of clothing made from llamas Wool, as well as traditional dancing. The train also provided commentary on the sites as we passed them.

Staff were absolutely delightful and excellent at their job. When we wanted to get an earlier train, they were able to accomodate. Wi fi was available at the station.

Where to stay

Aguas Calientes is a town entirely to accomodate visitors to Machu Picchu. For this reason, there are hundreds of places to stay. We’d recommend as close to the bus stop as you can, so that you can be there early in the morning for your trip up to Machu Picchu. But that said, everything is pretty close anyway. There’s some upper class accomodation, including some right at the entrance to Machu Picchu, but we personally don’t think it’s necessary when your there for one night, and not going to hang in your resort.

Andino Hotel

Not far from the train station, Andino is in a quiet street. Our room was of decent size with a double bed and a single bed, as well as a table and chairs. The room has spare pillows and blankets, as well as charging ports and a safety deposit box. A bathroom with fluffy towels and shampoo/conditioner provided. The man on the front desk spoke little English but was super eager to try and help. He provided excellent service. Wi Fi In the rooms is poor, but good in the lobby. They were happy to store our bags whilst we went to Machu Picchu. They provide a breakfast and whilst I don’t recall paying for it in my room fee, they provided us with a huge takeaway breakfast/lunch box with bread rolls, fruit, juice, chocolate and it was excellent especially when you are on your way to the bus stop at 4am.

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Where to eat

There’s plenty of places to eat, from cheap bakeries to restaurants. They pretty much all serve the same thing, at inflated prices. So inflated, a water will set you back 8 Soles (approx 4 dollars).

If you’re heading out early for Machu Picchu, get your hotel or one of the cafes to make a take away box (fruit, cake, bread roll, drink, choc etc) to have on your way up. Given that Machu Picchu allows entrance til noon for the early group, you can easily be back to town for lunch.

La Boulangerie de Paris

We were impressed they opened at 4 am with baked goods and coffee. I got a Leek and ham quiche which was delicious. They also do breakfast/lunch boxes to go.

What to do? 

I’m not sure that this should really be a question. You are here to visit one of the new wonders of the world – Machu Picchu. It is amazing! An archaeological site and history of the Incas to behold!

The town also has some hot springs and a few walks to do, but you’re mainly here for the site.

How to get from Agua Calientes to Machu Picchu?

Bus is the easiest method and how we got up to Machu Picchu. Purchase a bus ticket from the Ticket office. Make sure you have your passport with you as ID, We’d hate to think what would happen if you didn’t. Be sure to have it on you to enter Machu Picchu too.

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The alternate is what looked like a gruelling hike up to Machu Picchu, sure to take a few hours and a lot of energy.

Machu Picchu

Machu Picchu is an incredible archaeological site, the remains of the the lost city of the Incas. It was discovered in 1911 by Hiram Bingham, an explorer from North America. It is now one of the busiest sites for tourists to visit across South America. There’s two sessions daily to visit Machu Picchu, from 6am – 12 noon and then 12 noon onwards.

We were climbing Wayna Picchu with a 7am start time so we booked the early session. The first bus leaves Aguas Calientes at 5:30 am and we were told to arrive early. We arrived at 4:30am and there were already approx 200 people in front of us. We secured one of the first buses (about 6 or so arrived) and took the 30 minute windy bus route upto Machu Picchu. This meant some sunrise photos. Once you get to the entrance it’s all a bit of a shamozzle and people in a disorderly line to get in. Don’t fret, it moves quickly. Make sure you have your tickets and passport to enter.

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Once you enter, you will see two routes 1 and 2. Basically everyone goes up route 1 for the Classic Machu Picchu postcard shot. But if you’re doing Wayna Picchu, you’ll get much better photos there and we recommend taking route 2 which is practically empty at 6 am in the morning. This makes for uninterrupted viewing and photos.

The site is certainly an impressive architectural and archaeological feat.

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The Inca civilisation occupied this site at the height of their empire and it became an economic, religious, military, political, social and cultural hub. It was strategically built to watch over any potential invaders and many aspects of the site are evidence of this.

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Today, you can still see a huge amount of archaeological remains including high defensive walls, houses, granaries, an aqueduct, temples and steeped levels for cultivation of their crops. Many aspects also show their astronomical knowledge.

  • Watchmans House
  • Terraces / agricultural crops
  • Funerary rock
  • Main building and entry door
  • Quarry
  • Sacred square: here is the temple of three windows (creatively named), the main temple and the priests chamber
  • Chamber of ornaments
  • Intihuatana
  • Main square
  • Sacred stone
  • House of the virgins of the sun
  • Industrial zone
  • Temple of the condor
  • Sacred ceremonial spring
  • Temple of the sun tower
  • Princess House
  • Streets of the sanctuary
  • Royal Mausoleum
  • Royal palace

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Huayna / Wayna Picchu trek 

Towering above Machu Picchu, the peak of Huayna Picchu is 2,693 metres (8,835 ft) and you can climb it. Don’t be intimidated though, it’s not as hard as it looks.

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Having read the reviews and spoken to fellow travelers, we were not so confident that it was a good idea to climb Huanya Picchu. With the nickname of ‘stairway to death’ we were apprehensive, despite no one ever succumbing to accidents there. However, we were keen to complete the challenge and get some amazing photographs. If you plan to to do this, you must book ahead as there are only two time slots per day, 7am and 10am with 200 people permitted for climbing each session. Be sure to remember your ticket and passport to climb.

For the bus ride up Machu Picchu we gained our first view of the peak was a very intimidating and daunting sight, especially for people who haven’t really done much mountain hiking. However before arriving in Peru, we had already dealt with altitude in Mexico City and Quito in Ecuador.

They recommend it as a 2 hour round trip. It took us about 45 min to reach the top of Waynapicchu, with it’s steep slopes providing a great vantage point to view the ruins of the great Inca City. This mountain is a sacred site used by the high priest and local virgins for the Incas to conduct daily rituals. Due to this, there are plenty of archaeological remains along the walk and at the top of the peak.

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The climb itself is pretty steep and it gets narrow in some parts, but some steel cables and ropes provide support.

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There are also plenty of great vantage points along the way to take in the spectacular views whist having a rest. It is very scenic, there is not only Machu Picchu to view, but other mountains and rivers way down in the valley below. There are also many pretty flowers such as orchids along the track to admire.

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How hard was the climb? It is pretty steep so you do need to be relatively fit, coming down is also hard on your knees and quads. There is a little up section at the end which is the hardest part especially after tracking down the mountain. Was it dangerous? Not really, maybe if it had been raining, if you have a heart condition or are susceptible to altitude. Take water with you and a small back pack. You can’t snack up there and there are no bathrooms. Hiking poles aren’t necessary or practical here.

We totally recommend doing this hike, you will not regret it.

This site is testament to their architectural skills and strength of the empire.The fact that it still remains today is evidence of this, and of the subsequent archaeological excavations and conservation work conducted.

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