It’s one of those places that gets a reaction every time you say it…..Machu Picchu. “It’s on my bucket list.” People say. I was indeed one of those people. Sooooo….I did a ton of research, planned our adventure, and off we went!
Some things to consider if you want to visit Machu Picchu and plan it on your own. The Sacred Valley has two seasons, wet and dry. We went in April at the very end of the rain season/beginning of dry. According to the locals, during the rainy season when it rains, it pours (literally). But there are less tourists and better deals during this time.
The other thing to remember is the altitude. If you fly there, you will land in Cusco at an altitude of over 11,000 feet.. I was out of breath just planning the trip. Some people we met on our trip were taking prescriptions to deal with the altitude. I chose to drink the coca tea that is available everywhere, stay hydrated and hope to survive. We also headed right for the Sacred Valley after landing in Cusco. The Sacred Valley is at an elevation of around 9,000 feet. It made a world of difference.
Where to Stay in The Sacred Valley
We stayed at a great hotel in the town of Ollantaytambo. The El Albergue is in a unique location (the train to Machu Picchu stops right outside the door of the hotel!!) The room was clean and cozy and they had amazing gardens on the property, not to mention the bunny rabbits. Rooms come with breakfast and they offer free bike rentals as well.
We stayed in a room behind the main hotel in the gardens. The only train noise we heard was the faint sound of the bell when a train was departing. The trains don’t run after a certain time anyway.
Things To Do In Ollantaytambo
I think that Ollantaytambo deserves a good few days. There are a lot of things to explore either around town or a short drive away.
Take one of the horseback riding tours offered at Hacienda Del Chalan . We took a 4 hour ride that took us along the Urubamba River and up to the Salinas Salt Pans. This was such a cool thing to do…but the ride itself was challenging. They also offered shorter rides for beginners. I could not find a way to contact the ranch online, so I had the hotel reserve it in advance.
Visit the town of Pisac. There are ruins to climb and a really colorful market to visit.
Explore the Ollantaytambo ruins. They are a 10 min walk from El Albergue. You can buy a combo ticket (cash only) at the entrance that will also get you into Pisac, Chincherro and a few other sites. We hired a guide after entering. He charged about 90 soles (about 24 USD) for an hour and he was worth it! We went off and explored for another hour on our own after. I was starting to feel like Indiana Jones.
Climb Pinkuylluna. If you are up for a daring adventure and your will is already made out, go for it! Well….It’s not THAT bad, but it is challenging to say the least. Did I mention that it is free??? The entrance is on a side road off the main square right across from the Kamma Guest House. Supposedly there is a “gatekeeper” who comes and unlocks the gate at 7 am and locks it at 430 pm. My son is convinced that it’s left open 24/7. Reviews on tripadvisor warn that you will surely die if you attempt this climb, but I survived and the views of town from the granaries were unbeatable!!
There’s also a Cocoa Museum in town where you can take a chocolate-making class or simply shop for goodies and treats. They even sell chocolate covered coca leaves!!
Finally…..the main reason you are probably planning a trip to the Sacred Valley….Machu Picchu!!! There are only two ways to get there…hike the inka trail or take the train. We took the train . As I mentioned earlier, it was right outside of our hotel (so even I could not get lost). I bought my train tickets online before we went to Peru, but there was a ticket office right in town. The ride takes an hour and a half and it’s pretty slow. I did not care. I was too excited to care!! The train goes to Aguas Calientes ( a tourist town and the “gateway” to Machu Picchu).
Where to Stay
There is such a variety of accommodations in Aguas Calientes. We stayed at Casa Del Sol. Really nice hotel with a great breakfast . The river runs right behind the hotel so the rooms on that side have a fantastic view. There were a lot of hostels, guest houses and a super fancy hotel called the Inkaterra in town as well.
What to do
Really?? There’s basically only one reason to be in Aguas Caliente. The buses start running at 530 am to head up to Machu Picchu and you can buy your ticket right in town. We woke up at 430 am and were on line at 510. I can’t even remember if I brushed my hair that morning. I’m sure my socks did not match. By the way, the line was already up the block at this time. You can either get the 6 am time slot for Machu Picchu, or the 12 pm and they limit the amount of people who enter each day, so buy them in advance!!! We bought ours online through the government website so we did not pay a 3rd party. It’s a little tricky to navigate and the website crashed a few times, but I figured it out. No I didn’t. My son did. If you buy them online, print out the ticket with barcode and bring it with you.
There are several options to consider when visiting Machu Picchu. We opted for a combo package which included climbing Huayna Picchu. Hmmmm…What can I say about this climb??? I will not lie, I was on my hands and knees for part of it…clinging to rocks, trying to catch my breath and imagining myself losing my balance and falling into the abyss …but once again, I survived. Amazing. It was oh so worth it. We had to wait an hour for the skies to clear when we reached the summit… and then there it was!!! The ancient city! I WAS Indiana Jones.
After descending Huayna Picchu, we spent several hours exploring Macchu Picchu.
I will not attempt to describe the entire experience, I will only quote the late , great Anthony Bordain when referencing Machu Picchu……” It’s an irritating reality that many places and events defy description. Angor Wat and Machu Picchu, for instance, seem to demand silence, like a love affair you can never talk about. In the end, you’re just happy you were there-with your eyes open-and lived to see it.” well said, Anthony!
Helpful Tips For Your Trip
You need to bring your passport to Machu Picchu with your ticket
They say no food, but they do not check. As long as you leave no trace, you should be fine sneaking a sandwich in (we did).
This is obvious… bring water, sunscreen and bugspray.
Bring change for the bathrooms . They charged a few soles to enter and the bathrooms are only outside of the entrance.
You can buy a one way bus ticket and walk part of the Inca Trail back down to town…we planned to do this (it’s about an hr) . However, My legs were about to fall off at that point, so we bought a return ticket at the top.
A little extra time in Agues Caliente?? Don’t miss the Museo Manuel Chavez Ballon. It’s about a 30 minute walk from town and a great way to spend an hour or so. The museum has a lot of great information about the history of Machu Picchu and even has an original copy of the National Geographic issue announcing the discovery of the ruins in 1911 by Hiram Bingham…
Restaraunts we loved in Agues Caliente
Incontri del Pueblo Viejo
Restaraunts we loved in Ollantaytambo
The Sunshine Cafe
So I hope that this information helps you in some way if you are planning on making the trip to the Sacred Valley!!! As always, safe travels.