If you are similar to me in any manner than you're probably researching how to properly plan your trip to Machu Picchu. How much time? How much does it cost? What cities to stay in? A day trip?
Machu Picchu is one of the most mystic and breath taking places you'll ever travel to. You will walk among the clouds and will be surrounded by stunning views of mountains. With a little help below you'll have the perfect trip planned:
Step 1: You'll need to fly into the city of Cusco. It's a short flight from Lima and you'll be able to find relatively inexpensive flights. Cusco is approximately 11,000 feet in altitude so be prepared to feel altitude sickness and be sucking for air. If you are traveling with large bags you potentially may not bring these on the train to Machu Picchu. We recommend packing some overnight bags and dropping your luggage pff at the hotel you'll use in Ollantaytambo on the return trip. Or the train stations have overnight bag holds.
Step 2: Exit the airport and take a taxi to the collectivo taxi spot. It should roughly be $10 dollars.
Step 3: Wait for the next collectivo bus heading to Ollantaytambo. They leave quite frequently and should cost around $10 a person. We paid $15 because it was a brand new suv rather than a larger van. (worth it) Tell the driver to drop you off at the train station. *Allow 3+ hours to get from Cusco airport to the train station.
Step 4: Wait for your train to depart to Agua Calientes. We recommend purchasing your tickets in advance from one of the 2 train companies. (Inca Rail, Peru Rail) Train tickets can vary in prices dramatically, from $55 to $400 per person. We used Inca Rail and were pleasantly surprised with the experience, they even allowed us to bring our large backpacks on the train.
Step 5: Arrive in Agua Calientes. We recommend you stay the night in town so you can be one of the first groups to arrive at Machu Picchu the next morning. It gets very crowded! After arriving, head to the hotel or hostel to ditch those bags! There are no taxis to catch so bring a map and have an idea where your hotel is. Just a warning, it could be up a long hill!
Step 6: Buy your bus tickets the night before at one of the 2 main booths. Bring cash or a master card, Visa is not accepted. At the time of our trip bus tickets costs roughly $27 a person for round trip. If you want to save money you can hike up to Machu Picchu but it is 5km+ to do so! *Up a mountain!!!
Step 7: Get a goodnight of rest, pack your day bags (snacks, water, camera, bug spray, sunscreen, money for the bathrooms) and be prepared to wake up early. (Between 3-4 am!) The line to catch the buses gets rather long very quickly in the morning. I'd recommend grabbing breakfast as early as possible at the hotel or a local restaurant. Then straight to get in line! The buses come often and frequently but you'll be in line for awhile. You'll want to be waiting early especially if you are hiking one of the 2 mountains. (Permits are required for these, you can purchase them when you book your MP tickets online) *only limited supply for the mountain hikes so book early
Step 8: Use the restroom before going into the park. There are none inside! Then off to enjoy the hikes and take in the ruins!
Step 9: After a long half day (usually plenty of time to explore) head back to get into the long line for the buses going down the mountain. Grab some lunch or dinner in Agua Calientes, buy any touristy items and head back to the train station. The best 2 meals we had were at Abu Inti Restaurante in Agua (gluten free options**). The meals ranged for the most part $10-$15 a plate but it was a fine dinning experience and was priced very well relative to none fine dinning spots. We recommend a late afternoon or evening train so you are not rushed at all.
Step 10: Arrive back into Ollantaytambo and head to the hotel to sleep off the long day you just had. The next morning we recommend checking out the main square and any other sights that peek your interest.
Step 11: Grab a collectivo back into Cusco at any point, again roughly $10 a person.
Step 12: Stay a day or 2 in Cusco then head to your next destination!Be sure to checkout Mr. Soup for a meal, its cash only but wow is this place great!
Overall we recommend planning 3 days to get to MP and back. This gives you time to explore each of the respective cities and not overwhelm yourself with tight travel windows. Traveling to Machu Picchu isn't the cheapest between airfare, taxis, collectivos, bus ride, entrance tickets, mountain permits, and train rides it will quickly add up. But there is a reason it is a seven wonders of the world.