If you’re reading this, I don’t need to tell you that Machu Picchu (“MP”) is one of the seven wonders of the world, and represents an item on many travelers’ bucket list. The trek to the Incan ruin generally begins in Cusco – a quaint, mountain town, but the actual trek to the site can vary depending on your desired palate for adventure. We took the fastest, most efficient path, which took just one day to see MP once in the late afternoon, and once more in the morning after we stayed overnight at Aguas Calientes (small village at the base of MP). Our excuse was that our time in Peru was quite short (roughly 5 days in total), and allocating 3-4 days just camping to MP would be excessive. But if you find yourself so inclined, you can absolutely take the Inca or Salkantay trail to MP, varying from 2D1N versions to 4D3N (arriving at the peak of MP at the Sun Gate – more on this later). *Pro Tip* – there is a limit on the number of tickets the government sells to Machu Picchu, and even stricter limit on the “additional hikes” to Machu Picchu Mountain and Huayna Picchu Mountain, so do book these in advance (E-Ticket Link)!
Our journey began with a custom journey (we went with Evolution Treks Peru) out to the Maras (salt mines) and Moray (ancient agricultural farm). The Maras is a fully functioning salt mine developed by the Incas. The square plots of land act as encatchment for the irrigated seawater, and as the water sits in the pools, simple evaporation leaves behind high quality, purified salt. The ingenuity of the ancient Incas was certainly evident in these clever mechanisms, and the Moray further highlighted the Incas’ penchant for innovation. As shown in the pictures, each level of the cascading farmland enabled the Inca to test out different strains of crops for efficiency, as well as acclimating any new seeds to the higher elevation.
Before our train ride to Aguas Calientes, we stopped by Ollantaytambo, a historic Incan town that previously served as a scouting outfit / battleground. Though the ruins here were special in their own way, we were quickly rained out and headed to the trains.
A quick word on the train ride – there are two operators (Peru Rail and Inca Rail) and each with varying tiers of service (details on their websites). Both train operators will depart and arrive at the same place, so your choice will really depend on your itinerary needs. The train ride from Ollantaytambo is no more than an hour and a half, so it’s really up to you on how much to splurge for the train ride. We chose the 360 on Inca Rail, which more than fit our needs with panoramic windows, outdoor observatory deck, some snacks en route, and decent seats (*Pro Tip* – on the way to MP, try to book the left side of the train as the views will be on your left side, and the right side on the return trip).
Once we got to Aguas Calientes, we quickly dropped off our bags at our hotel for the evening and headed for the bus that would take us to MP. After a 30-min bus ride up a windy mountain, we finally arrived at the entrance (*Pro Tip* – bring your passport as they WILL check accuracy with the printed tickets). And after a short hike, we were finally greeted with the sight of Machu Picchu. It was glorious.
I ‘ll leave you with just one more thought on visiting MP. Most people will wake up at ungodly hours to get to MP, in the hopes of taking pictures without any tourists in the background. Let me tell you now that is impossible to achieve in the mornings, because everyone else and most tours have the same thought and by the time MP opens its doors at 6am, there’s a mob rushing to get in. In the two trips we took to MP (late afternoon and morning), our best pictures were honestly in the late afternoon. Around 4pm, we had great lighting as the sun was at its “golden hour,” and due to the train schedules (last train back to Cusco is ~5pm), almost everyone was on their way out. The caveat is that if you wanted to do the additional hikes, you would have no choice but to visit in the morning (the other peaks are closed in the late afternoons). I know, tough decisions – but regardless you’ll get to tick off one of the seven wonders of the world!