Machu Picchu: an in-depth guide for travelers on a time sensitive budget (with video)
I recently spent 3 weeks in Peru, which is a long time to stretch a travel budget. While I was visiting the South American country mainly to get bitten up by mosquitoes and hang with monkeys in the Amazon Rainforest, I knew I couldn’t land on Peruvian territory and not take a few days to see the world famous 15th-century Inca site, Machu Picchu. So here’s how I did it, quickly, and on a budget.
- Spend two nights (or one if you’re really pressed for time) at one of the two Niños Hotel locations in Cusco.
- Dine at Green Point for a casual lunch then at Marcelo Batata or Restaurant Papillon for dinner.
- Spend at least a half day strolling around town, being sure to check out Plaza De Armes, San Pedro Market and San Blás Art District.
To Aguas Calientes –
- Take one of Peru Rail’s early morning trains from Cusco’s Poroy station to arrive at Aquas Calientes before noon.
- After checking into Terrazas del Inca Bed and Breakfast link-up with a local guide (recommended) and conquer the Putucusi hike.
- Explore the small town in the evening and end your day at one of the many traditional restaurants such as El Indio Feliz Restaurant Bistro.
To Machu Picchu –
- On the morning of day two take one of the first buses from Aquas Calientes to Machu Picchu sanctuary. The earlier your arrival the less you’ll fight crowds of tourists.
- Spend the morning exploring the ruins, being sure not to miss the famous Inca Bridge.
- After enjoying a light lunch side-by-side grass grazing llamas, take an afternoon bus back to Aguas Calientes. Get some last minute souvenir shopping in before boarding a late evening train back to Cusco, or wherever your next destination may be.
Below is a short video I put together from some of my GoPro footage featuring the train ride, Putucusi hike, and Machu Picchu legs of my adventure:
Machu Picchu – Via Peru Rail & Putucusi
Starting in Cusco
Before I even get into the details I’ll begin with a warning, and that warning is ALTITUDE. If you’ve never had altitude sickness, you’re lucky. However if you’re upcoming itinerary includes any amount of time in Cusco there’s a good chance you might lose your altitude sickness virginity. Located more than 11,000 feet above sea level, Cusco’s altitude is high enough to put most travelers on their backs. Despite there being no surefire cure for altitude sickness, except to descend to a lower altitude, there are ways to prevent it – such as hydrating and taking supplements. Be sure to do your research ahead of time and consider speaking with a doctor who may be able to prescribe you something. You have been warned.
The majority of travelers start the main-leg of their journey from the southeastern Peruvian city of Cusco (by way of Lima). Notable locations between Cusco and Machu Picchu are the Sacred Valley and the town of Urubamba.
Cusco is a bustling city with a unique mix of Andean culture and European flare, just as you’d expect the former capitol of the Inca Empire to be. Its authentic essence capitalizes on the city’s location near the Umbria Valley of the Andes mountain range, which makes for some beautiful scenery worth taking in. Because it houses the closest airport to the famed Machu Picchu site you will likely find yourself passing through the city during your journey, and I suggest staying a night, or two.
Lodging options in Cucso are plentiful… but can be pricy. While there are a handful of budget hostels, if you’re willing to do your research you can find hostel-like prices (okay maybe tack-on an extra 10 bucks) for a perfectly quaint and authentic Peruvian-style hotel. Between reading reviews on TripAdvisor.com and checking prices on booking sites you should be able to find a place for around $50/night – a real steal when you consider the average $350-550/night you will see all over the city. (Keep reading)