You know when you are planning to go to a famous landmark or site while traveling, you’re totally amped up and excited, but then it’s kind of a let down? There are a million people there, or it’s smaller than you thought, or it just wasn’t what you dreamed? It was just kind of… underwhelming?
Machu Picchu is not this.
Machu Picchu 100% lives up to its hype.
A friend and I traveled through Peru in 2018 – you can check out my itinerary here. It was an amazing trip, and we saw so much! Machu Picchu was just one of many highlights.
We started our trip in Cusco, and spent a few days exploring this city and acclimatizing to the altitude. Cusco is the gateway to Machu Picchu, and many people will start their multi-day hikes from there, or even just do a day trip from there.
We decided on a 2-day, 1 night tour of the Sacred Valley. Booking a tour was a good option, as it took out a lot of the planning for us. Since we were just on a two-week trip, we didn’t want to spend a ton of time planning logistics.
We honestly were not sure if our tour company was legit or not, because we had tried to find the office one day in Cusco to pay a deposit… and, well, we couldn’t find it. Google Maps led us to a sketchy area of the city and we couldn’t find the office. So, we asked someone at our hostel to call the company and see if they were legit. He called and had a 2-minute conversation in Spanish and then told us, “It’s good.” So, we went with it. Turns out, totally legit, and actually did an amazing job with all the logistics and communications. The company was Viva Peru Tours, if you want to check them out!
On the first day, we traveled to two lesser-known Incan heritage sites, Pisac and Ollantaytabo. It was so cool to look through these massive ancient ruins and get to know more history of the area. These sites are totally worth a visit and offer a unique contrast to Machu Picchu!
Late that evening we arrived in Aguas Calientes, the town at the base of Machu Picchu. We were prepped for our wake up call the next morning – 3am – to get up to the entrance when it first opens. Yep, pretty early. We were assured it’s worth it, though, to get in before the crowds on a day-trip from Cusco arrive.
Because of our limited time farm in Peru, we did not plan any hiking excursion in Machu Picchu. It should be noted that there are a thousand hiking options, from the famous Inca Trail, to many others. There are tons of groups offering tours and guided hikes, so cheek out your options. But us? We took the bus up that hill. It’s steep. Think 30 minutes of switchbacks kind of steep. The bus was just fine with me.
We arrived at the entrance at 6am (along with the entire population of the continent, it seemed) and found our guide. Excitedly, we walked through the gates and entered into Machu Picchu. It was… well, kind of disappointing, to be honest. At least right at the beginning. There were SO many people. It was cloudy. Every single person stopped to take selfies right in the exact same spot. It was sort of underwhelming.
But that was just the start. It went uphill from there… literally.
We actually needed up ditching our tour group pretty quickly. The guide was pointing out a short hike up to a viewpoint and told us how cool it was, but then told us we wouldn’t be going there. And since it was only one-way through the site, we had to leave the group to access it. So, we did.
Best. Choice. Ever. The hike up to the Sun Gate was so worth it.
It took about 45 minutes to hike up, during which time, all the clouds left and the sun came out. We were rewarded by absolutely stunning views of Machu Picchu and very few people around us. Since the only people up there were those who were arriving from their multi-day hikes, and those like us who ditched the official tours, there just wasn’t a big crowd. It was perfect. We got some great photos, ate a snack, and just took in the breathtaking 360-degree views.
We ventured back down to meet the crowds in Machu Picchu, and walked through the ruins. It’s a wonder of the world for a reason, people. What they managed to do back in the mid-15th century, without modern technology on the top of a mountain in the middle of nowhere – amazing. There was no end of amazing photo ops, including the lamas that roamed the grounds.
Machu Picchu is 100% worth the hype. Here are my top tips for enjoying it:
- Prepare yourself for lots and lots of people. There are a lot of tourists here – they will be in the background of your photos, and you may have to wait your turn to get a good pic somewhere. Prepare for it and expect it.
- There are no bathrooms in the site… so just know that and plan accordingly.
- Research your options – I highly recommend hiking up to the Sun Gate. Just know that you may not be able to stay with a tour group to do that, though. So do a bit of research and figure out what is important for you during that day.
- Stay overnight in Aguas Calientes so you can get there first thing in the morning and beat the crowds coming from Cusco for the day.
- Prepare yourself for any weather! It can go from super cloudy and overcast to hot and sunny in a minute.
- Bring water and a snack! You’ll want to just chill for a bit and take a rest.
- ENJOY. This is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Soak it all in.
We finished up by heading back to Aguas Calientes for the afternoon, got some lunch and went shopping, and then took the train back to Cusco. I’m so grateful for this experience and the memories that will last a lifetime.
Thanks for reading! Let me know if you’ve been to Machu Picchu and Peru – I’d love to hear your story!