Machu Picchu, Peru: preparation for the journey

STAFF, TRAVEL PREP, SOUTH AMERICA, Scenic Wonders — By on May 29, 2014 at 23:11

Feature photo ‘Machu Picchu with llama’ courtesy Marrovi.

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First in a series about her travels in Peru by staff writer Lisa A. White
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Is Machu Picchu on everyone’s bucket list? We are getting one of two reactions to our plans to travel to Machu Picchu: “That’s at the top of my bucket list!” or simply a blank stare (i.e. “where???”).

Dan and I travel a lot, generally on our daughter’s flight benefits as an airline employee. That said, we simply could not imagine trying to fly on standby to Machu Picchu. First, it will take us four flights to get there. Second, you must prearrange tickets to actually go to the Machu Picchu ruins—on a certain day for a certain person with a certain passport in hand. We are still in the planning phase as I write this post—soon, I plan to write a post on the trip itself.

The most common route from the U.S. to Machu Picchu is to fly to Lima, then fly to Cuzco, then travel by train to Aguas Calientes, then trek or take a bus to the ruins. Virtually every guidebook and website cautions against driving from Lima to Cuzco. The distance by air is 364 miles. By bus the trip is about 21 hours, over 13,000 foot high mountain ranges. For the sake of time and patience, we’ll fly (although the buses look pretty fancy).

In searching for flights, we discovered that Google Flights has a bar chart of airline fares based upon the length of time that you plan to stay. Although this chart only works well for about a 6-month future timespan, recently we began checking the dates daily. The flight rates change frequently and we finally found the convergence of an acceptable price with dates we can manage.

We also discovered that booking flights from the U.S. all the way to Cuzco is significantly less expensive than finding a great flight to Lima, then having to buy a separate ticket to and from Cuzco.

We scheduled our flights on weekdays one month in advance for a lower rate. We will be taking a “redeye” flight and arrive in Cuzco early in the morning. We may be noodles by the time we arrive, but as the saying goes, “We’ll sleep when we die!”

Enjoying the research | photo courtesy Lisa White

Enjoying the research | photo courtesy Lisa White

Immediately prior to booking the flights, we verified on www.machupicchu.gob.pe that we could still get tickets into Machu Picchu. (The website shows how many tickets remain for a particular day. There seems to be no logic on which days are more popular.) Local tour companies will arrange these tickets, but we are notorious do-it-yourselfers. We logged onto www.machupicchu.gob.pe for our tickets. The website is somewhat screwy on the best of days, and does not work with an iPad or a Mac computer. After extreme frustration, I discovered that I could only book and pay for the tickets on a PC.

Going to Machu Picchu itself requires two sets of tickets. The first is the entrance fee; the second is the cost of the bus from Aguas Calientes (once you get that far) to Machu Picchu. It is also possible to trek up from Aguas Calientes (about 2 hours uphill) without a fee but we decided to save our energy and time for a hike once we reach the top.

There are also two options for the entrance fee. The first is to only go to Machu Picchu, where they allow up to 2,500 people per day. If you want to climb from there to see the views of the ruins from above, you will need to make a reservation for Machu Picchu + Huayna Picchu.

Only 400 people are allowed to hike to Huayna Picchu per day, at either 7:00 a.m. or 10:00 a.m. The warnings say you must be in good shape, but my favorite comment from Tripadvisor.com is, “I think the gringo name for this hike should be ‘The Wheezing and Out of Breath.’ Having said that, I have never been on a more beautiful hike in my life.” Our tickets: 7:00 a.m. all the way to Huayna Picchu. Hopefully, the past 10 weeks of T-25 Total Body Workout and all of those blessed squats will help on this adventure. Peace out!

After booking the flights, we began making plans for our accommodations. We decided to stay at bed and breakfast, Casa de Wow in Ollantaytambo, which is in the Sacred Valley near Machu Picchu. We found this accommodation through AirBnB.com, one of my favorites because of their two-way reviews (i.e., we review hosts and hosts review us).

We have learned through a lot of traveling that repacking and moving from place to place is exhausting, takes time away from our fun, and forces you to constantly reinvent the wheel, so we will stay in just one place. Do we see everything? No. Do we enjoy our trips? Yes!

Now that the nuts and bolts of the trip have been accomplished, we have begun planning side adventures and packing. On the “possible side adventure” list: a cooking class through Awamaki, hikes/bikes/horses/or cars to Pumamarca, Salineras de Maras (The Salt Mines of Maras), and a market day at Chinchero.

We are open to suggestions and we’re madly reading, researching, and dreaming of the Andes right now.

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360-degree view of Machu Picchu, ancient city of the Inca Empire

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Beer in Brussels

Lisa drinking beer in Brussels


Lisa White has wandered through world like she has wandered through professions. In both pursuits, she always has more to explore, more to learn, and more to do. Currently she practices law in the area of dependency and neglect as well as other cases that address the well-being of children. Often this is an area of law that feels exceptionally “heavy.” When it becomes too emotionally burdensome, she catches a flight somewhere—anywhere—to remember the good, positive, beautiful, tasty, and fun of the world.

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