The very reason Peru was on my bucketlist was Machu Picchu! Both Anush and I have been wanting to visit Machu Picchu for the longest time and we still can’t believe that we crossed this incredible wonder of the world off our list. Stay tuned for my Peru Travel guide later this month.
Machu Picchu Day Trip with Exploor Peru
While we didnt stay at Machu Picchu town since we were based in the Scared Valley, we made the day trip to visit the place from Urubamba. For our day trip we booked a private tour with Exploor Peru. Right from the start they were so organized and professional in getting together our tickets and plan set up. They set up a whatsapp group with our guide so we could communicate all logistics through that as we had a couple of transfers ( taxi ride, train and bus ) to get to Machu Picchu. I sent them multiple questions via whatsapp and they were always so quick to answer me and keep me posted on plans. Our guide Peter was excellent – so patient, knowledgeable and made sure to customize our trip based on things that we wanted to do and sights we were particular to see. This was handsdown our absolute favorite day and activity of our entire trip and I am so glad we did it with Exploor, I cannot recommend them enough for tours in Peru! We also used them for few other tours and transfers and we were extremely satisfied with our choice. This is the exact tour we booked with them. In this post I will be sharing everything you need to know to plan a day trip to Machu Picchu.
Introduction to Machu Picchu
Machu Picchu – a UNESCO world heritage site, wonder of the world and one of the most magical places I have ever been to! I am sure it needs no introduction or reason to convince you to visit it if you haven’t already. Machu Picchu is a 15th century Incan citadel set high in the Andes mountains in Peru above the Urubamba river valley. Built in the 15th century and later abandoned during the Spanish colonization, its renowned for its sophisticated dry stone walls that fuse huge blocks of stone without the use of mortar, intriguing buildings that play on astronomical alignments and its insane panoramic views.
Exploring Machu Picchu is like stepping back in time to another era and taking a walk through history. Its sheer magnitude and beauty is something so indescribable. It is mystical, magical and just so surreal in every corner. The fact that this entire well thought of city was built in literally the middle of nowhere in the 15th century blows my mind.
Getting to Machu Picchu
Machu Picchu isn’t accessible by car – so in simple words there are 1 of 2 main ways to access it :
1 ) Hiking the Incan Trails ( I wont be covering this since this is not what we did )
2 ) By taking a train to Aguas Calientes and a bus or a 1 hour hike to the citadel entrance. (this is what we did – train + bus)
Note : If you are already staying at Aguas Calientes then you can just take the bus or do the 1 hour short hike to the entrance.
Aguas Calientes has plenty of small stays and hostels to stay at if you prefer to be the first one into the citadel. Taking a train from Cusco or the Sacred Valley does take 1.5-3 hours one way, so keep that in mind.
Since we were staying in Urubamba we took the train + bus route. Normally the trains do run from Urubamba staying but due to COVID restrictions we had to catch the train from the neighboring Ollantaytambo station. So this is what we did to get to Machu Picchu
- taxi ride from our hotel in Urubamba to Ollantaytambo train station ( organized by Exploor )
- train ride from Ollantaytambo train station to Aguas Calientes train station ( with Peru Rail )
- Met up with our Exploor guide Peter at Aguas Calientes
- Ride the bus to Machu Picchu citadel entrance
- repeat the same steps in reverse for our return journey.
Riding with Peru Rail is the best and most scenic way to get to Machu Picchu. We took the Peru Rail Expedition Train on the way and the Peru Rail Vistadome on the return. Both the trains have glass ceilings and wide windows (the Vistadome has bigger windows giving you a much better scenic experience). The 1.5 hour train ride is so so scenic, its an experience by itself. You will be treated to epic panoramas of snow capped Andes mountains, rolling grasslands, gushing rivers and lush landscapes all around. The Vistadome also has cultural entertainment on board so you can also experience a slice of that while you are on your way.
Peru Rail has many trains and a schedule to choose from so that you can choose the trains that fit your schedule. With COVID they also have all the safety measures in place – masks, temperature checks, Hepa filters, distancing etc to ensure all their travelers have a safe journey.
Aquas Caliente town
After exploring Machu Picchu don’t miss out on spending sometime in this picturesque hillside town.
There are tons of shops here for souveniers and other handicrafts.
There are also many restaurants if you want to want to grab a quick bite. We went to Full House Machu Picchu – ice cold Cusquenas (local beer) and wood fired pizzas by the river after we walked for hours at Macchu Picchu felt so rewarding!
Helpful tips to plan your trip :
1 ) You can only visit Machu Picchu with a guide, so booking a tour with an experienced and reputed company like Exploor Peru will make your trip seamless and enjoyable. We learnt so much throughout our visit.
2 ) Your train, bus and entrance tickets ( or Incan trail hiking tickets) have to be booked way in advance. Going with an experienced company like Exploor will help ensure that all these logistics are planned out well.
3 ) When we went there were still many restrictions with COVID. Looking back I honestly think this was like a blessing in disguise ! It was such a pleasure to explore the beautiful Machu Picchu with reduced crowds (it was open only at a 40% capacity when we went). At every hour they only let 100 people in (while pre pandemic days saw 7000 people per day, HOLY!). This is quite honestly the best times to go to Machu Picchu (less crowds despite it being the high season) so if you can swing it before the end of September/early Oct , I highly recommend going this year.
Some of the restrictions are :
- Entrance tickets with a certain time to enter. Also once you enter you can only leave once. You cant use the same ticket to re-enter even if it is on the same day (this used to be the case before.
- Masks wearing at ALL times. The guards inside Machu Picchu were extremely strict! This is why you can see most of my photos are facing away haha, except the very few where I was able to take mine off when there were no one around for a very quick photo.
- Designated trails. Your guide will be able to take you along the trails that are designated to take. There were a few trails and once you choose one you cant retrace your steps and choose the other. So having a guide really helped us navigate all of these rules.
4 ) Dress in Layers! I can’t stress enough on this. We went in July and the variation in temperatures through the day was crazy. It was freezing in the early mornings while got super warm in the late to mid afternoon. So definitely check the weather forecast and dress in layers for the weather.
5 ) Dress comfortably and sensibly! I was THIS close to wearing a beautiful dress or bringing one to change while we were in Machu Pichhu to shoot. But looking back I am SO glad I didn’t do that cos it was so much easier to explore with comfy shoes ( boots/sneakers) and layers. I mean I am a HUGE dress lover and have worn/carried/changed into dresses in every location we have shot at haha, but I am still convinced Machu Picchu is better off explored in comfy clothes. Wear a local Peruvian poncho instead – keeps you warm, gives the perfect local vibe to your outfit and makes for some beautiful movement in your photos. Changing there isn’t an option too – which brings me to the next point..
6 ) There are NO RESTROOMS! No restrooms in all of Machu Pichhu once you enter. There is one at the citadel entrance ( pay to use toilets). And once you enter the citadel, you can only leave when you leave for the day! So Make sure to be aware of this and plan accordingly.
7 ) Carry a reusable water bottle and snacks and a small backpack a large bags aren’t allowed inside. There is a locker at the entrance where you can leave large bags.
8 ) Oh! And don’t bring a drone here. It is strictly forbidden.
Postcards from Machu Pichhu to inspire you :
First sights of Machu Picchu that took our breaths away!
A major bucketlist moment for us!
Picture perfect postcards at every corner!
Here is a link to my Peru Travel guide.