The trip to Machu Picchu begins from Cusco and everyone recommends staying there for at least a couple of days to adapt to the altitude as the city is located 3400 meters above the sea level. However, it is interesting enough to visit for a week or a month. By the way, for some reason, it is thought that the famous terraces are exclusively in Machu Picchu, but they are actually everywhere in this part of the country: as historical monuments and people still use the ancient Incas gardening techniques until today.
Cusco is the second largest city in Peru and the former capital of the Incas, which Spaniards conquered in the 16th century. They were convinced that the local population was completely killed. The military commanders were very angry, because there was no one to show where the gold was, for which it all began. However, as it turned out later, the Incas, unable to resist, actually went to the jungle and, as legends say, all the gold was taken with them. There are still rumors of the impassable jungle Golden city (or the city of gold), whose searches continue to this day.
The history of this part of the world is difficult to study. The first textual descriptions belong to the Spaniards, and what was before is mostly guesswork built on archaeological research. For transferring the information, Incas used putty (rope plexus and nodules). Few of those are left now, and no one can decipher them.
Not need for almost everyone
Sol, the rate to the dollar is 1 to 3.25. In addition to banks, there is a plenty of exchange kiosks.
How to get there
The city is located high in the mountains. The most popular way to get there is a plane, mainly with a transfer in Lima. The small airport receives flights from only 6 cities: mostly from Lima, a few more domestic flights, as well as Bogota and La Paz. From Lima, the ticket costs around $200 both ways.
Now, there is a construction of the second huge international airport near the neighboring Cusco town, which will take direct flights from Europe and the US. Authorities hope that it will increase the tourism.
There is also a train for only $20 and a long road from Lima. These are great options for students and those who want to save money but have time.
The city has recently developed due to the influx of tourists, so you can find accommodation for any taste from hostels to good hotels. More or less, decent housing can be found at $80 per night. The town is relatively small, so most of the locations will be close to the historic center, the most popular place to stay.
In the city, there is a terrible bus packed with locals, but there is almost nowhere for tourists to go because everything is either a walk-distance or includes transport as part of the tour.
Taxis are quite cheap – the ride from the airport to the hotel is $3.
What to do
Cusco has an incredible number of tours lasting from half to couple of days. It will be difficult to name all of them, so when you plan your trip, you should leave an extra time for something interesting.
There are two kinds of city tours – each includes an overview of the historic part and of 4 more sights close to the city (Sacsayhuman, Qenqo, Pucapucara, Tambomachay – these are all Incas buildings with terraces for various purposes). Every tour includes walking and riding on the bus. The main difference between them is that in one you can go inside the buildings, and in another you just walking around them. The cost is about $10. Duration 2 hours.
Maras Moray are terraces in the form of a circle. Thanks to this design, each level of the terraces has a different climate. This was the experimental base of the Incas, the center of selection. They breaded new sorts of vegetables to then spread them out throughout the country. For example, that’s why there is still an unreal number of different types of potatoes.
The tour also includes the visit of Marasal, 300 salt pools in the mountains. The salt water from the mountain river flows in the pools, then the sun evaporates the water leaving just salt. Nowadays, it is still a method for extraction of salt. It looks incredible. The cost is $30. This is a day tour.
The Sacred Valley are two incredibly interesting cities of the Incas: Pisac and Ollantaytambo. Pisac is an ancient fortress of the Incas, which consists of two parts – the fortification and a temple.
Ollantaytambo is a fairly large city, which the Incas did not have time to finish. It consists of several parts: typical terraces for growing gardens, a production zone, upper military fortifications and a temple. On the opposite mountain, there are remnants of food stores. In order to provide enough food for the population during the rainy season, produce was raised up the mountain to special storage buildings (how they later split that food is unknown). Also, there are fascinating treated stone slabs. No one knows how they were treated and transported because Incas didn’t have iron. Archaeologists found tools made from extraterrestrial material, probably meteorites. The city is very well preserved. It is a one-day excursion. The cost of $65 includes tickets to Pisac and Ollantaytambo and lunch.
Chinchero is a small town in the sacred valley of the Incas, with remaining of the King Inka Tupac palace, and a local fair. Nowadays, people come out on the fair with unique and authentic products not only on Sunday, but every day. There is a fairly large number of “bazaars” near each workshop. They are famous for weaving and developing an ancient craft. Ware is quite expensive because it is handmade and uses natural dyes. You shouldn’t make a trip out of going there, because one of the tours will include a stop here.
South Valley tour includes two townships Tipon and Piquillacta. Tipon is another town interesting for the Incas water terraces. Piquillacta are the ruins of the Incas Uriah city. The cost is $30, and the duration is half a day.
If you are adventurous person you can order rafting, cycling, horse tours, and many more.
Finally, the main attraction is Machu Picchu – a city over the clouds found by accident only 100 years ago. The real name of the city is unknown, so the city got its name for the mountain where it is located. The construction of the city is in the shape of a condor bird. The story behind this shape is that Inca empire had a religious crisis because people who believed they would go to heaven after death suddenly realized that there was no way to cross the Celestial River (our Milky Way). They fell in despair, stopped respecting the laws, working well, and the mess began. For some time, the high priests have found a solution – the condor was carrying souls. Machu Picchu should have become the embodiment of this symbol, the physical combination of the real world and the heavenly. It’s impossible to convey the feeling from a visit: that you are truly on the verge of worlds.
There are several ways to get to Machu Picchu.
Inca trail is a popular tour – the Inca trail from Cusco to Machu Picchu. In 4 days, the group walks 82 km (51 miles). With backpacks and tents, it’s interesting that you can hire someone who will carry your baggage which girls often do. Back to Cusco you can take a train. This tour can be only accompanied by a guide and have a limited number of people. People say it’s hard, but interesting. The cost is $450. The road is closed during the rainy season.
The most common way to get to Machu Picchu is the train. The trains are different – ordinary, panoramic, luxurious. Of course, all have different prices. A panoramic train (with a roof window) of a business class will cost a $150 round trip. Usually train depart from Cusco, but in the rainy season in January, February and March the train runs from Ollantaytambo which is two hours by bus from Cusco. Machu Picchu is high on the hill, so the train arrives in the town of Aguas Calientes, because of the early excursions which start at 5 am. In most cases, people either spend the night in Aguas Calientes, or stay here for a day or two. You can also order a day excursion from Cusco, but you are going to see less.
From Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu, you can take a bus or walk. The bus in both ways costs $20, running from 5 AM to 2 PM when nobody is hiking up anymore.
The tour consists of several parts: walking around the city can be only accompanied by a guide. Independent walks are the finale of the Inca trail to the Gates of the Sun with beautiful view and the Inca bridge on the other side of the city which also has an incredible view.
Also, Machu Picchu has two more parts for an extra charge: Huayna Picchu and the Mountain. Huayna Picchu is the mountain where the high priests lived. There is a separate entrance from the city and tickets must be ordered a couple of months in advance. Mountain is has an unbelievable view on the Andes and the valley. Each of them is additional $16.
You can’t visit everything because the area is too big.
You can order it here: http://www.machupicchu.gob.pe/
I ordered a two-day tour of Sacred Valley + Machu Picchu, and it looks like one of the best agencies at www.machupicchuviaje.com. The cost was $395, including tickets, a guide, train round trip tickets, bus tickets to Machu Pichu, 1 night in the hotel, lunch and transport from Cusco to Ollantaytambo and way back. Given that only a ticket to Machu Picchu would cost $70 without a tour, it was a great deal.
A little bit about the service
Peruvians are real hustlers. They try to sell you something for at least some money and everywhere looks like Turkish bazar. You can bargain with them but also keep in mind that they have their own standart of service and comfort.
There are many travel agencies in Cusco. They offer tours at every corner so there is no need to book anything in advance as it will be much cheaper locally. For example, my two-day tour could have cost $340 instead of $395. When visiting Machu Picchu there is a limit on how many people can visit a day, but locals say there has never been a time when tourist who wanted to visit couldn’t make it.
The service, however, is quite strange. The tour around the city looks like catching people in different areas and agencies to then search a gathering place, while changing the location and figuring out who is the guide. It is a complete mess.
My two-day tour turned out to be a real quest. In two days, I probably had ten people from the agency who were responsible for the various stages of my trip who from time to time left me alone somewhere in Andes. One person was solely responsible for taking me from the train station to the hotel, a different person unexpectedly appeared only to provide me with information about the next day’s plan, different people met, escorted, carried, accompanied, and just showed using hands directions to the railway station, drew using hand the map of how to get to the next place … Peruvians tour cycle … Nothing bad happened to me, of course, but it would be good to know before the tour about this schedule to understand what is going on.
First of all, there is Coca, which is here officially allowed to grow. People drink so much of coca tea which really helps to adapt to altitude.
From local cuisine, it is worth trying a guinea pig. Other tasty dish is ceviche, and I would also recommend trying lama and alpaca’s meat cooked in one of the many ways. Corn beer is unique, but it is tough to find, because secrets of the production are kept by a fairly small number of people.
The average meal can cost within $10, while a luxury place with authentic cuisine will be around $50 per person for dinner.
You can also try out street food, I wasn’t brave enough for that.
First of all, it’s jewelry which is both unique and relatively inexpensive. The most popular is silver, because there are many factories around which extract silver and make jewelry. In shops, you can bargain and, at times, you can significantly reduce the price.
There are also popular rugs, scarfs, sweaters from alpaca. There are plenty of artists who sell very interesting works at a good price.
Of course, there is also Coca tea, chocolate, candy which you can buy not just locally but also at the airport.
The place is so unique and worth to visit. It definitely will leave impressions for the whole life.