Explore Machu Picchu: My Experience & Travel Guide

Making it to Machu Picchu is truly one of my greatest travel accomplishments. I mean it when I say the process to get there and the amount you spend is so worth it! Most people take two days to get to Aguas Calientes, Peru, the nearest city to Machu Picchu and explore the ruines. I decided to be special. Doing Machu Picchu in one day is literally an all day process. All together my travel time and excursion took about 14 hours and I don’t regret a minute of it.

This is what my day looked like:

3:00 am

• I woke up

3:50 am

• My car to take me from my housing to the bus station arrives.

4:15 am

• I get to the bus station that will take me from Cusco, Peru to the train station in Ollantaytambo, Peru. This ride at this time of day should take possible just over an hour but plan for this ride to take an hour and a half depending on time of day and traffic.

4:50 am

• I end up getting off the bus and taking a taxi instead in order to make it to the train station in time.

6:07 am

• I arrive at the Inca Rail train station in Ollantaytambo, Peru. Perfect timing because boarding starts at 6:10 for my train.

6:40 am

• And we‘re moving! The train is very modern and comfortable. There are restrooms available on board and the staff bounces from Spanish to English effortlessly. Also, there is beverage and snack service providing coffee, tea or juice and a breakfast cookie.

8:10 am

• I have officially made it to Aguas Calientes, the city closest to Machu Picchu. Follow the signs to exit the train station if you have a tour guide, which pretty much everyone does. I got outside the gates and saw a lot of guides holding up signs, but none of them had my name on it. At this point I’m going in circles trying to find my person and a gentleman, I believe another guide, asked me who I’m looking for. I told him the name of the tour guide and his method was to just start yelling out the name (as if I couldn’t have done that if I thought it’d work.) Finally a women comes up to me ask my name and the name of who I’m looking for a points me in the right direction.

8:30 am

• I get in line to take a bus to the entrance of Machu Picchu. I believe I had the earliest train of the day, but there’s about 8,000 people a day visiting Machu Picchu. The line was not bad when I joined it. When I looked back when I was closer to getting on a bus, I was amazed at how long it had gotten.

9:05 am

• I made it to the entrance of Machu Picchu. I went to the restroom, which I suggest you do. There are no bathrooms inside and you’ll most likely be spending at least 4 hours in there. The restroom cost 2 soles. I stamped my passport and went to a cafe overlooking the mountains right at the entrance. The stamping station is literally one stamp and one pad and can easily be overlooked. It’s near the restaurant, bag check and the exit gate. You can check your bag if you don’t want to carry it with you throughout Machu Picchu. The cafe is decently priced and the scenery is great! I had a garden salad and was able to use my Amex there. It was 15 soles which is a little under $5 USD.

9:40 am

• I entered into Machu Picchu. You will need your physical passport with you to go in. From first glance you can’t see the magnitude of the lost city that is Machu Picchu, but the nature surrounding it is breathtaking.

I planned on exploring by myself for awhile because my tour was not scheduled until 12pm. When you enter you have access to 3 areas with that main entrance ticket: The Sun Gate, The Inca Bridge and Machu Picchu. It’s important to know if you go in without a guide that you can hike up to the Sun Gate and to the Inca Bridge on your own and return to the to your starting location, but once you go down into actual city of Machu Picchu you can not return. You can only move forward toward the exit. I did not have time to hike to the Sun Gate because the hike takes about 2 hours round trip. However, I did make it to the Inca Bridge That took just under an hour round trip.

There are multiple photo stations on the way up that have great view points. The best locations are near the main meeting point. They call it the Guard House and there are signs that lead you to it. If you don’t want a million and one people in your pictures, I suggest exploring and finding ducked off spots that still have a great view! One place is what looks like a rest area on your way to the Inca Bridge. Not a lot of people and a great view of the entire city of Machu Picchu.

* Something to remember: It is much warmer at Machu Picchu than it is in Cusco. I knew this before going so I didn’t do too many layers, just my T-shirt and a warm jacket. I also made sure I had room in my bookbag to put my jacket when I took it off.

12:20 pm

• I started my tour in a group of 8 people and it ended at about 2:10pm. When you’re picking a tour time, keep in mind that there are 3 temples in the city. Two of them close at 1pm and the other opens at 1pm.

2:45 pm

• After my tour was complete I took some time to just enjoy the nature and beauty of where I was. Like I said, making it here was high up on my list of “must do’s” when it comes to travel. After a serene 30 minutes, I left from the ending point of my tour. Being able to have this time to myself and mentally checking this off my bucket list made me so happy that I did this solo. Check out more about the benefits of solo travel in my recent blog The Pros and Cons of Solo Travel.

3:30 pm

• Similar to the line you have to get in to go up the mountain to the entrance of Machu Picchu, you have to once again get in another long line to get back to town. If you are leaving to catch a train give yourself at least 45 minutes to get back but an hour to be safe.

4:20 pm

• I had the opportunity to meet some amazing solo travelers and even had lunch with two of them. I had made plans with one of the travelers in my group to have lunch with them when I got back into town. On the way to lunch I ran into another traveler I had met inside Machu Picchu and invited them to lunch as well. The women from my group was from Japan, quit her job and is literally doing a world tour for the next 6 months. Talk about goals! The gentleman from Switzerland I met by finessing my way into another tour group and he spent his first 2 weeks in Peru in the jungle. We discussed world views, compared our country’s methodologies, had some good laughs and was overall a great vibe.

6:20 pm

• I’ve had an obsession with passion fruit or maracuya in Spanish since being in Peru. Not to mention that their fruit flavored ice creams are to die for. They tasted so amazing because it was so natural. Before I headed back to the train station I grabbed some passion fruit ice cream and waited on my train. It came right on time.

7:00 pm

• I’ll be honest, the train ride isn’t as magical at night but that’s okay. You already experienced it in the day light. It’s great for rest though. They still offer a snack service of tea, coffee or juice and a trail mix snack.

8:50 pm

• I finally got back to the Ollantaytambo bus station and was able to find my bus with ease. But the gag is, after the hour and half ride the bus driver decides to drop us off at a location no one knew. Not the bus station we got on the bus, not Plaza de Armas (a well known, central location) he just dropped us of at a plaza in San Francisco. I talked to some of my house mates and apparently this also happened with them, and they used the same company. The whole bus was confused and didn’t know what was going on. Mind you, it’s about 10 o’clock at night. He tells us that Plaza de Armas is 2 blocks over. It’d make sense for him to just drive us over there then right? Apparently not. There were a few taxi drivers waiting at the drop off spot and I asked how much it would be to take me home. He said 20 soles! He probably would have gotten some other tourist but not me. Spending 20 soles is extremely over priced for a taxi almost anywhere in Cusco. The whole group ended up walking the 2 blocks to Plaza de Armas where I found a taxi to take me home for 7 soles.

10:28 pm

• My taxi ride was very pleasant. We talked for a little bit but the ride from the Plaza to my home really isn’t far. All the more reason why I wouldn’t pay 20 soles to get there.

10:40 pm

• Home! Finally. What an amazing day! The full day process was more than worth it.

My journey there and back may have not been the smoothest but I wouldn’t have traded my experience for the world. I knew doing an excursion this big by myself may be challenging but I was prepared to depend on myself and make it through. Overall, even with bumps, I have to say my experience went well. At the end of my tour I sat on top of some rocks that overlooked a part of Machu Picchu for nearly 30 minutes. Not having to worry about someone else’s agenda or eagerness to leave was a real peace of mind. That falls under my reasons of why solo travel is so great. You can read more about the pros and cons of solo travel is my last blog post - Trust Me It’s Worth It: The Pros and Cons of Solo Travel. Make sure to stop and take pictures with a lama or two!

Until next time, Stay Trippin’!