Macchu Picchu was at the top of my travel bucket list for years, yet I was always making excuses as to why it was never the right time to go, often blaming factors such as weather, vacation time, or money. It was only nine months ago that I was able to tick Machu Picchu off my travel bucket list with a big, emphatic check mark. I decided to ditch the excuses and go for it – something that usually comes second nature to me, however I was a bit apprehensive this time around because I had placed the destination up on a pedestal for so many years. Like many, my entire trip to Peru centred around my visit to Machu Picchu. Though I normally love last-minute travel and seeing where the wind takes me, I found myself so uptight and wanting to plan every moment when it came to my trip to Peru, in order to meet my exceedingly high expectations. Through the process of this seemingly frantic planning that I cast upon myself, I tirelessly scoured blogs and travel sites to get a realistic idea of what to expect, and furthermore how I should prepare for things like travelling solo, hiking Machu Picchu Mountain, and the crummy weather that was being forecasted. Considering that Machu Picchu has seen a spike in mainstream tourism over the last few years, I was surprised when I had a hard time finding information for quick and easy ways to prepare. And now, I feel as though it’s my moral obligation to try and provide this information to future Machu Picchu visitors.
Unfortunately, I was tight on time when I went to Machu Picchu and was unable to do the Inca Trail trek, so I can’t provide any information on how to prepare for that. I did, however, hike the Machu Picchu Mountain, so I’ll attempt to paint a very accurate picture of what it’s like and how to prepare – again, something that I found hard to come by prior to my trip. Here’s what you need to know:
The standard messaging to anyone planning a trip to Machu Picchu is to book well in advance because spaces are limited. While this is true, you don’t necessarily need to book too far in advance depending on what you would like to do. Admission to the Machu Picchu Citadel is limited to 2500 persons per day, so there is often plenty of space, especially in low season. For example, I purchased my ticket two weeks in advance of my visit in May, and there were still 500 spots available. To purchase tickets:
- Visit http://www.machupicchu.gob.pe/. You can select English translation, but it won’t translate the entire page, so read carefully.
- From the sidebar on the left, select Machu Picchu
- Select the type of ticket you would like, which is a choice of the Citadel plus either Huayanapicchu or Machu Picchu Montaña. I chose Machu Picchu Montaña (Mountain). Note that admission is only granted to 400 persons per day for the Mountain, so this would be an instance to book in a somewhat timely manner. I would recommend choosing the earlier session, so you can hike up the mountain while it’s foggy, and be able to actually see something when you reach the summit. I chose the later session, and found myself wasting valuable time by walking around the Citadel in the fog until it was time to climb up the mountain. The best sights of the Citadel occur in the early afternoon, which gives plenty of time to make it up and down Machu Picchu Mountain.
Once you have decided on a date, make a reservation by processing the payment online. You will receive a receipt, which will provide a reference number that you need to use to check-in to your reservation in order to print your ticket.
Getting to the Citadel from Aguas Calientes
Unless you plan on hiking the well-marked route to the Citadel, you need to catch the shuttle from the centre of town up to the Citadel entrance. During my visit, I planned to arrive at the shuttle stop at 5am, thinking I was pulling a fast one on all of the other tourists because I was going to be the first one there. When I strolled up to the bus stop, there was a long line – a line so far down the road that I couldn’t even see the end! It turned out that everyone else was doing what I was doing. Tips for the shuttle:
- Arrive before 5:00am
- Purchase your ticket the day before
I’ve never done as much research on the climate of a destination as I did for Machu Picchu. I was constantly comparing weather forecasting websites with the weather app on my iPhone, and could never settle on what the weather was actually like. The dry season is said to be from April to October. I visited in May and the weather was good, but found that the key was to dress in layers. Given that Machu Picchu is about 2400 meters above sea level, it’s inevitably going to be cool, but it’s really easy to warm up with while climbing.
Tips for the weather:
- It will be foggy, so pack your patience. The fog moves very quickly, so have your camera ready, as sometimes the fog can roll back within a matter of seconds. It may seem like the fog will never clear, but it will! For me, it was around 2pm and I was on my way out when the sun made its first appearance of the day – I raced back to one of the viewpoints to get as many photos as I could.
- There’s a very high probability that it will rain, even in the dry season. I would suggest buying a cheap poncho to stay dry, rather than consuming valuable space in your daypack with rain gear. I had worn my rain jacket, but was also thankful that I purchased a $1 poncho while waiting in line for the shuttle because it kept my backpack dry during my hike.
- Wear light layers. Like I said, it’s cool, but as soon as you start to hike, you will get warm. By the time I reached the summit, I was comfortable in a t-shirt.
- Bring something to protect your camera. It can rain at anytime, so make sure you have something to keep your camera dry, because you wouldn’t want to miss a good photo opp!
It goes without saying that a sturdy pair of shoes will come in handy. You certainly don’t need heavy duty hiking boots to climb the mountain because it will only slow you down on the steps – a pair of light trail shoes will do the trick. For some reason, no matter where I go in the world, I always see at least one foolish person trekking in flip flops, and Machu Picchu was no different. I saw at least two people attempting to slip and slide their way up the mountain in flip flops – needless to say they didn’t even make it halfway.
As mentioned above, you don’t need to be a world class climber or even an experienced hiker to climb Machu Picchu Mountain. You do, however, have to have a certain level of conditioning that will allow you to withstand 3+ hours of uneven and steep steps. Machu Picchu Mountain is not hard to climb from a technical perspective, but you need to be able to handle slippery stone steps at a high altitude.
And last but certainly not least……
Take a tour:
I usually frown upon organized tours or the use of a tour guide, but for the Citadel, you need it. Unless you can look at ancient rock formations and be able to tell the associated tale of the Incas that once inhabited said rock formations, you’re going to need a guide. I tried to do it myself using my guidebook, and I found myself walking around aimlessly half the time, trying to latch onto other guided groups so I could eavesdrop. I eventually gave up on my book and grew tired of the cold shoulder that I was getting from other groups, and trudged back to the gates to find a guide of my own. Guides are readily available at the Citadel entrance, and are not only inexpensive, but they also provide a wealth of information and most importantly, help the economy.