Machu Picchu is truly one of the wonders of the world. This ode to the Inca civilization, built in 1450 will not disappoint. Yes, its now on the well trodden tourist path, and can get crowded, but you’ll forget all about it when you step in the now majestic ruins set in a spectacular high altitude setting. But wait…there’s much more to discovering the ancient civilization— Cusco and the Sacred Valley have much to offer as well, without the jostling to boot. Let’s get started!
You’re likely to start feeling the altitude soon after you land in Cusco. Take appropriate medication, and drink loads of Coca and Munya tea (local cures for altitude sickness). You’ll find them everywhere on the trip, so keep on it.
The Sacred Valley
The trip starts at Cusco on a Sunday, typically with a connection at Lima. Get a seat on the left side of the plane for some amazing views of the Andes. We’ll first explore the Sacred Valley, which lay at the heart at the Inca empire. The best way to get around is by renting a taxi through your hotel, which should cost you less than $100 per day.
Drive first to Chincheros along a scenic road with views of the sacred valley and snow capped peaks to visit the ruins and the Sunday market. The market is lively with choc full of vendors and kids all around. Its hard to miss the Ilamas and alpacas strolling nearby. The ruins are not very grand when compared to the others in the sacred valley but the market is well worth a stop.
Next up, drive to Pisac to catch their Sunday festivities honoring the river and the whole town will be out there in costumes— chanting, singing, dancing around and making their offering to the gods. Spend the afternoon sitting in restaurant overlooking the square sipping coca tea and eating a delicious local fares while enjoying the parade below. Check out the nearby ruins as well.
Las Chullpas is a quiet and lovely place, every guest gets a private cozy cottage with interesting details in the rooms and bathrooms and includes customized breakfast. But the place is quite far away from the center of the Sacred valley and not easy to get to and fro if you have lot of activities planned. Need to arrange for a taxi to get anywhere.
Biking the Sacred Valley
Arrange for a guided mountain biking trip through the hotel. You bike upto the Maras and Moray ruins from an access point in the valley and then get back ro Urubamba via a fairly steeep downhill ride (its a lot of fun!). The views are spectacular but make sure you’re comfortable with the high altitude. You’ll reach Moray by lunch time.
Eat your packed lunches sitting on a ledge atop the ruins. You can skip Moray and take a shorter route back if you choose to do so.
Same as day 1.
Enjoy a slow morning after and make it to Ollantaytambo for a late lunch by taxi. Its a picturesque town and has some of the oldest continuously occupied buildings in South America.
The ruins are amongst the best in the area, sans the crowds of Machu Pichu. Climbing to the top offers great views of the town and the surrounding mountains.
Train to Machu Picchu
You have to buy tickets from Ollantaytambo to Aguas Calientes (the foot of Macchu Picchu) in advance as they fill up pretty fast. The scenic ride runs alongside the Urubamba river and the views of the Andes and the forests are quite good.
Aguas Calientes is a nondescript town with plenty of lackadaisical hotels and restaurants. Its not much more than a stopover to the grand prize of the trip.
Aguas Calientes Hotels
Aguas Calientes is a classic tourist trap, so there are plenty of bad hotels (and bad everything). Be careful before you book, make sure you read recent reviews. Hotel La Cabana Machu Picchu & Tierra Viva Machu Picchu are a couple of reasonably priced options. There is only one Hotel in Machu Picchu itself— The Belmond Sanctuary Lodge. The prices run into 4 figures however, so pick your poison.
Machu Piccu is a 30 minute bus ride from Aguas Calientes. The bus runs about every 15 minutes starting at 5.30am, and fill up rather quickly. Head in early to beat the crowds.
Machu Picchu is one of those places you’ll remember for the rest of your life. Built in the 15th century and later abandoned, it’s renowned for its sophisticated dry-stone walls that fuse huge blocks without the use of mortar, intriguing buildings that play on astronomical alignments, and panoramic views. Its exact former use remains a mystery.
We highly recommend taking a guided tour of the incredible Machu Picchu. There is much to see and understand, and you’ll make the most of your trip with one. After the tour, find a spot by a ledge near the caretaker's hut which has the whole expansive view of Machu Picchu and take in the majesty of the place.
If you have the time (and energy), do the 2 hour round trip hike to the Sun Gate.
Aguas Calientes Hotels
Same as day 4.
On your second day to Machu Picchu, climb up the breathtaking (literally) Huayna Picchu— this is the peak that you see in the back classic Machu Picchu photograph. Only a limited number of people are allowed in 2 batches (7am and 11am) to the top, so make sure to get there in time.
The climb is extremely steep but well worth it. The views of Machu Picchu, the surrounding mountains, and the lush jungle is second to none. Spend some time on the time (you might just have to) to take in the majesty of the place.
Once you reach Aguas Calientes, take the train back to Ollantaytambo and a short cab eide back to Cusco.
The hotel is the perfect place for the last two nights in Cusco. The hotel is attached to a non-profit that supports local childrens education and nutrition. Its in a lovely setting with a beautiful courtyard to lounge in and spacious comfortable rooms with big bathrooms. Its accessible to everything Cusco has to offer.
Spent your last day in artsy Cusco— there’s great shopping, and even better restaurants. After a relaxing morning stroll, join a half day tour of the city in the afternoon. You’ll visit the cathedral which has Incan versiona of famous paintings— like the Last Supper with Jesus having a guinea pig (kui) instead of bread . Koricancha has interesting temple and then you’ll move on to Saqsywaman, Pukapukara and some other ruins. Saqywaman is worth visiting for the massive stone walls but you’re probably ruined out by now.
Have dinner in Plaza De Armas and just walk around the city to wrap up the vacation!
Same as day 6.