Tomorrow is the 100th anniversary of when the world learned of the rediscovery of Machu Picchu by Hiram Bingham. Few discoveries have set alight the travel imaginations of the world like this one.
In 2007, I set off to discover Machu Picchu on my own. I had a bit of guilt about not hiking the Inca Trail. There were few travelers I met that hadn’t hiked it, planned on hiking it, or biding their time so they could hike it. I felt like a schlub of a traveler for planning to take the train from Cuzco. But, after a tough time in Cuzco recovering from a stupid foot injury suffered in the Galapagos and almost not going, the shame melted away.
A train took me to Aguascalientes, the town at the base of Machu Picchu. And, a bus took me right to the National Park Entrance. My saving grace was that I hiked Wayna Picchu, the tall mountain behind Machu Picchu (it’s the one visible in the background of every iconic shot of Machu Picchu). It was challenging so I felt like aI got my hike in.
Problem is that by the time I got down, I was exhausted and the mobs of tourist buses arrived. So, I went back down to grab a shower before catching the train to go back to Cuzco.
So, in short, I did a fly-by of Machu Picchu which left me wanting more. So, if I get the chance to return, here’s how I will do it. Some of these are things I did right the first time and others are changes to avoid the same mistakes from the last time.
And no, I still don’t feel like I need to hike the trail.
My Tips and Advice for How to See Machu Picchu
- Plan to spend 2 days visiting Machu Picchu. There’s quite a bit to do and see inside Machu Picchu. But, the main reason I want to spend two days is I want more time to soak it all up. I want one day to hike Wayna Picchu and another to explore the main grounds. Plus the sunrises…
- Don’t miss the sunrise. The first buses leave around 5-5:30AM. On my first go-round, I was on bus number 5. Once I got up, the entire area was covered in a thick, ethereal fog. Watching it burn off letting Machu Picchu slowly reveal itself to me was one of my lingering memories from my entire trip. I’m not sure if there is fog every morning like when I went, but even if there isn’t, it’s a magical place to start the day.
3. Hike Wayna Picchu the first day. Only 400 people are allowed on Waynu Picchu each day. So, you need to be there early to make sure you are one of the lucky few. The second part of the hike gets interesting, but once you’re up, the birds-eye view is spectacular. And, if there’s fog, you have a great seat for watching it burn off. Afterwards you may be a bit tired…another reason to stay for another day.
4. Just sit and take it all in, maybe take a book. I was too rushed my first time around. So the next time, I’m going to soak it in. I just want to find a spot, hang out and enjoy the day. I might take a book and read, then take a nap, then read some more.
5. Consider hiring a guide, or download an audio guide. I missed a lot of the history of the place and the detailed stories that a seasoned guide can give you. Frankly, the price to hire a guide was shockingly expensive. I don’t remember anymore how much. But, I didn’t want to spend the money. I’ve noticed there are quite a few audio guides that you can download and play while you’re there. So, if I don’t have anyone to share the cost with, I might have my iPod loaded up so I can learn more about the site as I walk around.
Check out more posts on travel to Peru.