Travel Guide: Making the Most of a Trip to Machu Picchu
Katie Beard is a thrift-store shopping, concert-loving, Manhattan-drinking traveler calling Nashville home. In addition to being a Noonday Ambassador, she is a child life specialist, working with children and families to reduce stress and anxiety in the hospital. Katie recently traveled to Peru on a Noonday Ambassador Trip, and while there had the opportunity to set out on an excursion of her own to majestic Machu Picchu. If this special locale is on your bucket list too, read on for Katie’s tips on getting the most out of your Peruvian adventure.
First Steps to Machu Picchu
Last month I was on top of Huayna Picchu Mountain looking down on Machu Picchu—the ancient Inca citadel and one of the Seven Wonders of the World, located in the Cusco region of Peru. I rested from an exhausting (and sometimes scary) ascent, wondering what it would have been like to carry a king to the top. All the while, I was hoping the limited tickets sold each day would help preserve its grandeur for centuries to come.
When we first decided to travel to Machu Picchu, I had no idea what kind of trekking it would take to get there. I soon found it takes planes, trains, and automobiles to get to Aguas Calientes (the town where Machu Picchu is located) and the view and artistry are unlike anything I have ever seen.
Of course, there were a few travel mishaps along the way. Flights were canceled. Luggage was lost. My Ambassador travel companions and I finally made it to Machu Picchu late Sunday evening and planned to visit the ruins Monday morning. Three of us had tickets for Huayna Picchu, the mountain seen in most photos of Machu Picchu. The third travel mishap hit us at the entrance to Huayna Picchu, when we realized the two beside me had tickets for the other mountain in Machu Picchu Montaña. Suddenly, I was facing down the prospect of making this journey all alone. I remember crying as the guard repeated “remember your number, remember your number,” because those who go up, must come down…hopefully…and these guardians of the mountain needed a way to track who had made it back. Taking a deep breath, I tearfully began to ascend the stairs of death.
While the climb only takes about an hour, the heavy breathing inevitably caused (mostly) by elevation meant that I had to trust myself, focus on my steps, and be ready to take a few breaks. I found myself tying my shoes, taking photos, having snacks, and generally enjoying the ascent to the top. I even made several videos (which you can find on my Instagram) to make myself laugh, to share with you, and to remember the experience for years to come.
There were times when I couldn’t believe how steep the stairs were or how there were no handrails at the top. But most of the time, I found myself smiling at the intricacy of craft that was built into the mountain and the lush greenery surrounding me throughout each twist and turn. I remember feeling grateful and brave and generally proud, not just for climbing the mountain, but for climbing it by myself.
I was tearful a few times as I willed myself through the last awkward, slippery steps. I found they got smaller and more dangerous close to the top, but the simple kindness and encouragement from a retired couple in their 60s and the friendly jokes from a few Irish men behind me helped push my spirits toward the top.
“One step at a time.”
“It will all be worth it.”
“You’re almost there.”
These were all sentiments expressed during my climb (and ones I returned to on my descent). Now, after a difficult few weeks at my day job as a child life specialist, where I work with children and families experiencing challenging medical diagnoses and treatments, those words still remain with me. Kindness is usually one of the easiest ways to make another person’s difficulties and bad days even a teensy bit better. I will not forget the way those strangers’ words of encouragement made me feel as I pushed through my nerves.
Now, I’ll strive to remember the power of my own words as I walk (or climb) through this life.
Now, if you’re looking to visit Machu Picchu, there are some logistics you need to know.
Getting from A to B
It takes planes, trains, and automobiles to get to this ancient Inca citadel. You’ll likely fly into Lima from your home country, then fly to Cusco before taking a van to either the Ollantaytambo or the Poroy train stations, then ride through the valleys to Aguas Calientes.
Keeping a Tight Schedule
It would have been nice to have a few more days to account for the lost luggage and cancelled flights, but alas… vacation days are limited and there’s a whole world to explore. So we did all of this–Machu Picchu and the trip back to Lima–in 72 hours. Here’s how we did it:
Saturday: We flew from the USA to Lima, Peru (and spent the night in Lima) on Saturday
Sunday: We flew from Lima to Cusco, then took a van from Cusco to a train station in Ollantaytambo, and finally took a train from Ollantaytambo to Aguas Calientes.
Monday: I conquered Machu Picchu! Later, I hopped the train back to Ollantaytambo, then took the van back to Cusco where I spent the night.
Tuesday: We all had a little extra time to explore Cusco, then we caught our plane back to Lima.
Here’s a checklist of arrangements you’ll have to make in advance to avoid… unfortunate travel mishaps.
- Flight to Lima
- Hotel in Lima (We stayed at the Holiday Inn)
- Flight to Cusco
- Train ticket to Machu Picchu (Incarail or Perurail)
- Ticket to enter Machu Picchu
- Ticket to climb Huayna Picchu (Wayna Picchu) or Machu Picchu Mountain (Montaña)
- Hotel in Aguas Calientes (We stayed at the Hatun)
- Hotel in Cusco (We stayed at the JW Marriott)
The van from Cusco to the train station in Ollantaytambo is $25 per person (round trip), and it can be purchased at airport.
A bus ticket up the mountain to Machu Picchu is $26 per person (round trip), purchased at the bus station ticket stands.
Don’t leave these behind!
- bug spray
- clothing layers
- small daypack or purse
- rain gear
- printed tickets
- debit card or cash
Bonus: Tunes for your trip!
Here’s a playlist I think is just perfect for visiting Peru (or dreaming about it). Hope you enjoy your journey!