While I did want to do the Inca Trail, I chose to see Machu Picchu by way of Aguas Calientes because of two reasons, time and photography. I only had two weeks for this trip and five days were dedicated to the Easter Island detour. I also read that if you are taking the Inca Trail, no matter how early you start your hike to Machu Picchu, you will be stopped at the Sun Gate. The Sun Gate opens the same time as the entrance right at Machu Picchu, where the bus drops you off via Aguas Calientes. I figured if I could get into the site earlier, I could get photos at sunrise without any people at the site.
I executed the plan well, and on the first day of my visit, I was the very first tourist to enter the site. On the way up to the Guard House, where the classic shot is taken from, I even passed the guards, who were let in just minutes before the tourists. Unfortunately, the weather did not cooperate with me and the site was engulfed in clouds. Some two hours later, the clouds did lift a bit, but by then there were many people among the ruins.
Machu Picchu from Aguas Calientes is pretty straight forward, but there are a few things to consider ahead of time.
If you're not hiking the Inca Trail, the train is your only way in and out of Aguas Calientes. The guide book suggested buying tickets ahead of time, especially your ticket out. The train out of Aguas Calientes sells out faster with the addition of people coming in via Inca Trail.
I bought my ticket in through www.perurail.com
. I bought my ticket out at Aguas Calientes, at a Peru Rail kiosk. I was surprised how expensive the tickets were. The guide book said that the local train is not an option for tourists and that tourists aboard the local train could get fined. I'm sure the local train is a fraction of the price. I had trouble buying tickets online. The system seemed to be malfunctioning and I'm not sure if it ever worked. I used Skype to call the Peru Rail agency and they sent me forms to fill out via email. These also included a request to scan the front and back of your credit card, and passport. This seemed a bit strange. As a safety measure, I used my low limit credit card.
Machu Picchu Tickets
There are five types of tickets for Machu Picchu:
1. Machu Picchu
2. Machu Picchu + Huayna Picchu (Entrance: 7-8 am)
3. Machu Picchu + Huayna Picchu (Entrance: 10-11 am)
4. Machu Picchu + Machu Picchu Mountain
5. Machu Picchu + Museum
The only tickets I've seen sell out are the Huayna Picchu tickets. If you want to visit Huayna Picchu, and I would recommend that you do, you should probably buy your tickets ahead of time. This is tricky because the government ticket site sucks and it will not process your payments. I went through www.ticket-machupicchu.com
. They bought the tickets on my behalf and sent them to me via email. I was printed them before leaving and had no trouble using them. I've heard they also tend to ask for a front and back copy of your credit card, but this was not the case for me.
On the site I used for tickets, there is a page called "Ticket Types." Ignore this page, it is full of errors. It caused a lot of confusion for me. If you'd like to see where Huayna Picchu and Macchu Picchu Mountain are, related to Machu Picchu, look at my map below. Huayna Picchu is the peak you often see in the back of Machu Picchu pictures. Machu Picchu Mountain is not often seen in pictures.
If you do buy a ticket for Huayna Picchu, you'll want to buy the 10-11 am entrance. It is likely that the earlier entrance will present you with little to no views. As I found out, the clouds are quite low in the morning. The entrance time just indicates what time you're allowed to enter. If you enter early, you can still stay up there until the Machu Picchu site closes.
Bus Tickets to Machu Picchu
If you want to be on the first bus up, buy your tickets the day before you go. You'll have to buy the ticket in Aguas Calientes. The bus ticket booth is located near the train tracks and the plaza. The line ups for the bus start early, much earlier than the ticket booth opens. You can buy a two way ticket, or buy a one way and hike down.
You actually don't have to buy a bus ticket at all. You can hike from Aguas Calientes. I hiked down it on my first day. The trail follows the bus route until the switchbacks. From there, the hiking trail heads straight up, while the road switchbacks up the mountain side. The trail was pretty slippery in places and dusty along the road. It's really not pleasant. It is quite humid, you'll consume most of your water by the time you reach the top and there is nothing to see. I would highly recommend just buying a two way ticket.
2012-11-27 Machu Picchu & Machu Picchu Mountain
2012-11-28 Machu Picchu & Huayna Picchu
Map of Area
Bonus Material, deep friend Guinea Pig:
More photos with descriptions can be seen here:
Day 1: http://www.flickr.com/photos/markost...57632646517755
Day 2: http://www.flickr.com/photos/markost...57632685486786