Machu Picchu has been at the top of my travel bucket list for years, but ironically, a long list of trips have preceded my recent visit to Peru. The idea behind my procrastination was actually a very poor attempt at convincing myself that I was saving Peru for a “better time” when I could be aptly prepared. Truthfully, there never was a better time because I’m a last minute traveller in nature. And for that very reason, the task of booking the infamous trek to Machu Picchu seemed so daunting. The problem was that treks from Cusco to Aguas Calientes (Machu Picchu Town) get booked up months in advance because admittance to both the ancient trails and Machu Picchu itself is limited in order to preserve precious Incan infrastructure. I wanted to do the trek to Machu Picchu so badly, but the thought of booking any sort of travel more than two weeks in advance gave me serious anxiety – it was just not my style. To boot, tour companies recommend that trekkers arrive in Cusco approximately two days prior to the trek in order to acclimatize to the altitude. Unfortunately, I did not have the luxury of time, and simply couldn’t afford to spend seven days in one place, so I had no choice but to find another way to get to Machu Picchu. After going on a whim and booking everything myself, I realized that it is possible to experience quite a bit of adventure in Machu Picchu doing the trek.
Here’s how you can see Machu Picchu if you are tight on time:
- Take the train to Machu Picchu. Everyone thinks that the train is for non-adventurists, but it’s really not! It’s educational and scenic with grand windows and running commentary as the train twists and turns through the Sacred Valley, not to mention the impeccable service.
- Do not spend more than one full day in Aguas Calientes. In fact, you don’t even need to spend more than half a day. Maximize your time in Cusco by arriving in Aguas Calientes at night. However, if you do arrive a full day before your journey to Machu Picchu, then there are a few things to do to keep yourself occupied for the day: visit the Butterfly Conservatory, climb Putucusi Mountain, do some shopping, or relax at one of the many spas.
- On the day of your visit to the Machu Picchu Citadel, hike up to the entrance rather than taking the shuttle bus. The shuttle runs between Aguas Calientes and the Citadel site entrance. Hikers can use a very well-marked trail, which begins at the edge of town and cuts across the winding road directly into forested area, finally ending at the Citadel entrance. Beware, as this hike is packed with steep steps – something you will see quite a bit of during your visit to the Citadel.
- Once inside the Citadel, climb Machu Picchu Mountain before or after your tour. It is higher than the popular Wayna Picchu, and offers views from the highest peak of Machu Picchu. Entrance to the mountain is from 7:00 – 11:00 hrs. I would suggest going closer to 11:00 hrs to give the morning fog a chance to clear. It’s not a technically difficult mountain to climb, but the Incan stone steps are nevertheless challenging! Allow extra time if you have difficulty with stairs or if it’s raining – the steps become very slippery.
- Take a dip in the Hot Springs in Aguas Calientes. If you have time after your visit to the Citadel, indulge in this traditional tourist experience.
Machu Picchu was so much more than what I expected, and the route that I chose couldn’t have been better. I still catch myself wondering about what the trek would have been like, so as I always say – I guess I’ll just have to go back!
Interested? Take the Trip Yourself!