Peru is a destination we can go back to again and again. Like most people, Machu Picchu was the very first place we visited in the country and it will always remain a highlight.
During our first visit to Peru, we only had two weeks in the country. We didn't book anything in advance and it was the middle of high season. But there was no way we were going to miss seeing Machu Picchu.
The moment we landed at the airport in Cusco, we booked the next flight out to Cusco.
There are several flights daily from Lima to Cusco, so we were on the next one and on our way to Machu Pichhu, without a plan
Machu Picchu, the Land of the Incas
Arriving at Cusco
We landed in Cusco at 3300 meters. (10,000 feet)
We immediately felt the altitude and with our heads aching and a feeling of nausea
Lucky Peru's natural remedy, the coca plant took care of our symptoms. As we sipped coca tea while overlooking the Plaza we started to make a plan.
The first thing we had to do was find a place to stay.
Once the sun goes down, it is going to be cold, so we had to get moving to find a hotel and to book our trip to Machu Picchu.
Lesson 1 – Plan Early
We wanted to trek the Inca Trail but unfortunately, everything was booked.
It was August, and August is the busiest time of the year for tourism in Peru. We looked into a few places, but there were no treks available for months.
So we settled on a very rustic guest house – It was all that was available and we paid dearly for our lack of planning.
We ended up paying a higher price than we expected and the hotel was very basic for what we got.
Don't make the same mistake we did, boook a hotel in Cusco Ahead of Your Trip. Check out TripAdvisor for hotel reviews and prices.
Booking the Train Machu Picchu During High Season
Even booking the train to Machu Picchu was proving to be difficult at this last-minute trip in high season..
We walked to the train station thinking it would be easy to book tickets. But we were wrong.
All trains were sold out for the next couple of days and the only one that had any spot in the near future was the First Class Vistadome.
We ended up splurging on the first-class Vista Dome train, it was painful to our pocketbooks, but how often do you get to see one of the New Wonders of the World?
You can book tickets on the Vistadome Peru Rail in Advance
Book a Tour to Machu Picchu
If you want to book a day tour to Machu Picchu, Get Your Guide offers several options that you can purchase ahead of time hassle-free.
We have used this tour company around the world.
Explore the Sacred Valley
Since we couldn't get to Machu Picchu anytime soon, we had time to explore Cusco and the surrounding area.
While we waited for days to pass until our departure, we explored the magnificent ruins of the Sacred Valley.
Trek the Sacred Valley if you Can't Trek to Machu Picchu
Since we couldn't make a trek on the Inca Trail work out, we did have the chance to trek along the Sacred Valley.
We explored the ancient city of Ollantaytambo which is a popular starting point for the four-day trek to Machu Picchu.
It was two days later after exploring the Sacred Valley, meeting the locals and getting to know our way around Cusco that we finally started our journey to Machu Picchu.
Machu Picchu By Train
The train trip turned out to be worth the money.
The Vistadome's glass windows on the ceiling allowed us to witness the surrounding panorama of the Andes Mountains.
It was a slow ride but relaxing and we were fed a hot meal.
Once we arrived in Aguas Calientes, we had the task of finding yet another hotel.
As per usual during our Peruvian adventure, we didn't have any plans.
We lugged our packs up and down the steep streets searching for a place to lay our heads. Everything was sold out and once again we were forced to splurge on a room.
The lesson here is to book in advance before travelling to Peru anytime between June-August.
Agua Calientes (Hot Water) is a picturesque town that is the jumping-off point for visiting Machu Picchu.
It is here where you spend the night before catching a bus up switchbacks to the ruins.
We may not have been able to hike the Inca Trail. But we certainly enjoyed our time on the train and at Aguas Calientes.
We shopped a lot at the market. We took advantage of happy hour with pitchers of Sangria, we loved our room since we were paying so much for it.
It was nice to relax and know that we wouldn't have to get up to cycle or trek up some mountain. We did Machu Picchu in style.
Purchase Entry Tickets to Machu Picchu
Once we were settled in we went directly to the cultural centre in Aguas Calientes to buy our entry tickets to Machu Picchu.
We highly recommend buying a ticket in advance. You can purchase tickets online and in Cusco as well. We took a chance
The Morning Arrived!
We caught our bus at 4:30 am on a rainy morning.
It was dark and it was cold and we were worried that our day at the ruins was going to be ruined itself!
We went up the mountain in complete darkness wondering what lay ahead.
Entering Machu Picchu
Arriving at Machu Picchu so early has its pros because we beat the crowd and we had plenty of time to explore in peace and quiet.
Plus they restrict how many people can visit Machu Picchu each day, so I wouldn't want to chance to go later and be denied access.
We entered a foggy trail littered with a few alpacas waiting to greet their latest guests.
Several alpacas have free run of the place and are just about the cutest guardians of any monument we have ever visited.
Dave was disheartened due to the weather thinking that he'd never be able to capture his dream shot.
As the morning progressed, the clouds never lifted and we could barely see in front of us, let alone view the spectacular display that awaited us beneath the shroud of grey.
We sulked as we walked through the lost city feeling lost ourselves when suddenly the most miraculous thing happened.
The skies decided to open up and let the warm rays of sun shine through.
To understand how the Incan Empire built this city clinging to the side of a mountain, with terraces falling into the valley is incomprehensible.
The back drop is absolutely stunning. It is even a bit of a thrill to be there.
From high on a hill, we were introduced to the spectacle that is known as Machu Picchu and it was an incredible sight.
The terraced steps of the complex plunge into the deep valley below.
It's hard to believe that something like this could be built in the 1400's.
How on earth did the Incas build a complex so high in altitude clinging to the side of the steep mountains?
There are many places where you feel that you could step over the edge and plunge into the deep valley below, never to be seen again.
The authorities allow 2500 people on Machu Picchu each day, but we didn't feel like it was crowded at all.
We even managed to snap quite a few “people free” shots.
I think it was due to arriving early.
As more people arrived in the afternoon, we took that as our cue to head on out.
After exploring for a few hours and making sure to witness it from all angles and elevations, we felt satisfied that yes indeed we had explored it to the fullest.
We checked off item after item on the old life list and came away with memories to last a lifetime.
Traveling Peru at high season
- It took a while to find a place since we were traveling at high season.
- We didn't book our Inca Trail hike or accommodation in advance and we paid for it.
- We couldn't get on a trek and found out that many were booked out a year in advance!
- And because we didn't book a hotel, we ended up paying premium rates.
- If you want to hike the Inca Trail, be sure to book it ahead of time.
- If you are travelling during high season, book your hotels and trains in advance.