From the Sacred Valley, we headed to the Ollanta Station to board the train to Machu Picchu.  We lucked out when it came to the weather – it was a gorgeous and sunny day!  The sunshine was a relief since the weather was something I had stressed quite a bit about.  The main reason I booked the trip to Peru was to see Machu Picchu… everything else was just the icing on the cake.  With only one day to explore the majestic ruins, I was extremely worried about inclement weather.  Luckily, my worst fears didn’t come to fruition.

We chose to take the “lower end” Expedition Train to Machu Picchu.  In retrospect, I’m glad that we chose not to upgrade our train ride.  It would have cost us an additional $75.00 for the Vistadome Train, and personally, I don’t think it would have been worth the cost.  The train we choose was comfortable, and the large windows allowed us to enjoy the scenery.  Once we arrived to Aguas Calientes, we took a winding bus ride to the entrance of Machu Picchu.  After making our way through the crowds… we finally saw it… MACHU PICCHU!

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I’m not sure how to describe the site of Machu Piccu, itself.  Words just simply can’t do it justice.  I could have spent all day wandering through and exploring the nooks and crannies of the ruins.  

Yes, there were actually llamas!

Yes, there were actually llamas!

Machu Picchu is high on most travelers’ bucket lists, and it’s pretty obvious why.  For me, the Inca site (meaning “Old Peak”) was the sole reason I chose Peru as the first South American country I would explore.  I found myself fascinated by the wondrous historical site that was built in the 1400’s, abandoned in the 1500’s and remained unknown to the majority of the world for over 400 years!

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Karisa’s tips for exploring Machu Picchu:

  • Get to the site as early as possible. There will be throngs of tourists regardless, but if you take the first train in, you will have a bit of a head start over most others.
  • Dress in layers. I visited in May – it was brisk in the morning, but the sweltering heat started in early afternoon. I was glad I that I brought a sweater and a scarf (which I removed once the sun started heating things up).
  • Bring water and eat a hearty breakfast. The sun beat down on us pretty intensely, even for Peru’s Autumn season. Make sure that you stay hydrated so you don’t tire out before you’ve finished exploring.  Additionally, make sure you arrive with a full belly since within the actual site there is no place to purchase water or concessions.
  • Bring sunscreen. The sun sneaks up on you after it burns off the brisk morning air. You’ll want to make sure you reapply your sunscreen and consider wearing a hat and sunglasses.
  • Wear comfortable walking shoes. Although we chose not to hike the Inca Trail due to time constraints, I was shocked how much walking was involved just for a day trip to the site.  We were on our feet and trekking up stairs (LOTS of stairs) for several hours, so comfortable shoes are a must.
  • Get “THE” Machu Picchu picture immediately upon entering the site in the morning. When you enter you’ll see plenty of tour operators giving their history spiels on the initial terrace where you first walk in. Suppress your initial reaction to take out your camera and start snapping photos and instead hike up the stairs to the caretakers hut. This is the most popular (and easiest to get to) spot to take that classic Machu Picchu picture. I expected lines of tourists waiting to stand on the ledge overlooking the Incan ruins, but it was fairly easy to take pictures and not feel rushed because we knocked this out first thing in the morning. If you’re feeling particularly athletic, you can walk up the Inca trail for 20-30 minutes towards the sun gate for another great photo op.
You're going to want to hurry up these stairs to the hut to get "THE" Machu Piccu picture.

You’re going to want to hurry up these stairs to the hut to get “THE” Machu Picchu picture.

Unless you are taking a long guided tour or are truly an Incan enthusiast, I would say that one day (specifically 3 to 5 hours) is enough time to explore, take pictures and soak in some Incan history.

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So did Machu Picchu live up to my bucket list expectations?

In one word – YES!

Have you been to Machu Picchu?  What did you think?

This post is part of a series on Peru.  Click here to read my other Peru posts.

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