Even prior to its inception to the ‘New 7 Wonders of the World’, Machu Picchu has attracted tourists and archaeologists alike due to its beautiful landscape and magnificent history. For something that has been around since the 15th century, I am always amazed every time I see it on TV by how well-preserved the area is, and have made it one of my priority destinations to visit. One November, the chance finally came and I booked the following trip:
Lima → Ollantaytambo → Aguas Calientes/Machu Picchu → Cusco → Lima
Now, no one said it was going to be a quick trip. From my flat in New York, it took me 10+ hours in the air, 2+ hours on the road, 2+ hours on the rail and a little bit of hiking before I could reach my destination. Was it worth it? Absolutely! Being one of the first groups to enter the site, we had thick morning fog welcoming us but once it cleared, we were surrounded by breathtaking views everywhere we look. How they even built this great city in such a high and secluded place is beyond my comprehension.
Note that the government of Peru limit the number of visitor who can enter Machu Picchu national park each day (advance purchase of entrance ticket is required) so unlike some other tourist spots, the place does not feel too crowded. In addition, I guess we chose the right time to come as November is not a peak season nor a rainy season.
One big hurdle that I had to overcome in this trip was the altitude sickness. Machu Picchu is located 2,430 m above sea level and I did the unwise thing by not allocating more travel time to get used to the height. Most travelers will use Cusco International Airport as their entry point and if you do, I suggest spending 2 or more nights in Cusco before going to the ruins. This city itself is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site and offers plenty of options to see and explore.
Or, if your time is rather limited like me, why not follow the local custom and sip a cup (or two) of mate de coca to relieve your pain. It worked like a charm for me at my first try to I made it a habit to drink it with every meal I had in the Andes. Just make sure you don’t accidentally have some leftovers in your luggage when you leave the country as you may get in trouble with your local authority.
Last, if you are going to spend that many hours just to visit the region, don’t forget to include Lima in your itinerary. The Peruvian capital is a bustling metropolis that is a stark contrast from Cusco and Machu Picchu. I didn’t really enjoy the traffic and the cab ride (for some reason the cab drivers like to open their window despite the smoke from other cars) but the city has a perfect balance of history – walk around Plaza de Armas and the Cathedral – and modern world – visit the affluent Miraflores area with its endless Pacific Ocean coastline – so I think everyone should be able to find something they are interested in.
Peru is a country that has the potential to be a major global tourist destination. While I’m not fan of their infrastructure (reminds me of my home country, and this is not a compliment) and their food, the locals I interacted with were nice and prices were cheap. I would definitely recommend you to visit this part of the world to at least experience Machu Picchu in person.