Machu Picchu in Pictures

The classic view of Machu Picchu, with Wayna Picchu in the background
The classic view of Machu Picchu (elev: 2,430 meters), with Wayna Picchu (elev: 2,720 meters) in the background

The streets of Aguas Calientes were dark and empty at 4:20 AM, when I met up with the others from the Salkantay Trek.

Together, we began the 20-minute walk down the road to the main entrance of Machu Picchu.

We arrived at 4:45 AM, just as the entrance was opened.

This is the same entrance used by the buses that shuttle people up and down the mountain, but we didn’t just trek 4 days to hop on a bus at the last minute.

No, we banded together, and through the power of peer pressure, walked up the approximately 1,600 stone steps that lead to South America’s most popular tourist attraction.

The walk took me 50 minutes, and I was sweating like a stuck pig by the time I’d reached the top.

The final gate doesn’t open until 6 AM, so the early risers were all sitting around, catching their breath.

Kathy, the Australian from my group who’d visited Machu Picchu 3 times before, suggested I take a seat at the top of the stairs, right near the 4 turnstiles through which visitors pass.

Even though I wasn’t the first person to reach the top, it didn’t seem at all inappropriate for me to sit on the top stair.

While I was up there, two American girls spoke of how they’d been waiting up there for an hour.

Warning: If you’re a cute foreign girl thinking of trying to sneak into Machu Picchu early, you can only get so far.

At 6 AM, I aligned myself with one of turnstiles, as the line behind me began to take shape. I was one of the first four people inside that day.

Once Kathy got in, she started running. I followed, and she led me to a lookout point where we had a few short minutes to enjoy Machu Picchu at sunrise, before the rest of the day’s 2,500 visitors showed up.

Visitors must bring their original passport to enter Machu Picchu
Visitors must bring their original passport to enter Machu Picchu. A commemorative stamp is available immediately inside the gate, on the left, but you have to ask for it.
My first view of Machu Picchu, without a single other person in the photo
My first view of Machu Picchu, without a single other person in the photo
Terraces used for farming
Terraces were constructed for farming
Can you imagine the amount of manual labor required to move all those rocks? Me either!
Can you imagine the amount of manual labor required to move all those rocks?
The rock quarry at Machu Picchu
Here you can see the quarry, the pile of large uncut rocks, which seems to be falling down the right side of the complex. Machu Picchu was never finished. It was abandoned by the Incas when the Spanish arrived.
The Incas were masterful stoneworkers
The Incas were masterful stoneworkers. They were so good at carving the rocks, and fitting them together, they didn’t need to use mortar.
The Incas even took into account earthquakes when they were designing and building Machu Picchu
The Incas even took into account earthquakes when they were designing and building Machu Picchu
Meet Wayna Picchu. Only 400 visitors are allowed to climb it every day, so you need to arrange your $10 ticket at least 5 days in advance (from Cusco)
Meet Wayna Picchu. Only 400 visitors are allowed to climb it every day, so you need to arrange your $10 ticket at least 5 days in advance (from Cusco)

After the initial rush of seeing Machu Picchu wore off, and we’d gotten some photos, it was time for the tour.

Lead by Daniel, our guide from the Salkantay Trek, we walked around the complex for about 2 hours.

While I appreciated the information he was relaying, it was a huge buzzkill, as I wanted to explore on my own.

But you can’t have it both ways, at least not on a group tour.

At 10:30 AM, after refueling on some snacks outside the main gate, it was time to climb Wayna Picchu for a birdseye view of Machu Picchu.

When I first lay eyes on Wayna Picchu, I had no idea how I’d get up it. I’d heard there were ropes on the steep sections (actually they are steel cables), but from below, it looked impossibly steep.

But believe it or not, there is a trail that winds up the mountain face, and it only took me about 40 minutes to get up it.

As usual, it was walking down the steep trail that caused the most pain.

I took it extra slow, heartened by a grandmother who was also hobbled by knee pain, but kept on trucking.

If it was 40 minutes to get up, and I spent 20 minutes at the top taking pictures, then it took me 60 minutes to get down, as I checked out 2 hours after I entered.

For safety reasons, there are two timed entrances to Wanya Picchu per day, 8:30 AM and 10:30 AM. Only 200 tickets are sold for each time (400 daily).

View of Machu Picchu from atop Wanya Picchu
View of Machu Picchu from atop Wayna Picchu
A wider view of Machu Picchu from atop Wayna Picchu. The road used by the buses to take visitors up and down (the easy way) can be seen on the left
A wider view of Machu Picchu from atop Wayna Picchu. The road used by the buses to take visitors up and down (the easy way) can be seen on the left. Trekkers who take the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu arrive along the trail which can be seen cutting across the upper left side of the mountain.

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Comments

  1. says

    Great photos Dave! They bring back memories of my trip to Machu Picchu.
    I find it interesting that they now charge for tickets to Wayna Picchu as they were given away for free at the gate when I visited in 2009. Am I safe to assume that you bought the WP tickets from the MP Cusco ticket office?

    • says

      Thanks Mike. Yea, my Wayna Picchu tickets were arranged by the company I used for the Salkantay trek before I left Cusco. You have to arrange them 5 days in advance, so you can no longer decide at the last minute once you’re at Machu Picchu.

      I’m not surprised they’re selling tickets, given there’s no shortage of demand for people wanting to climb WP. Cost is $10.

    • says

      Yes, I think it’s mostly a mental thing, especially once you see the WP mountain in person. Going up isn’t too bad because you’re facing the mountain. The scariest part for me was the first 10-15 minutes going down from the very top, where there is a very narrow, steep stone staircase you have to walk down.

      As long as you go slow, you should be fine. I saw one woman freak out a bit on that steep staircase, but her friend (or boyfriend) eventually got her down.

  2. says

    Hi Mike,

    I guess it depends on how fearful you are?

    Coming back down proved to be a bit more difficult for me as the steps are really small at times so I had to walk down sideways to make sure I didn’t slip on the stairs. Lots of people had to hang on to the sides of walls on the way down as shown in one of the photos on my blog. Looking down might be scary for some.

  3. Juliet says

    Your review is exactly how I remember it. Thank you. And I’m so glad there’s a picture of the entrance area. I never took a picture of something as seemingly unimportant as that, but I’m glad someone did! Great blog.

  4. Ian [EagerExistence] says

    Aren’t commemorative stamps in your passport illegal? I remember we could buy them at Checkpoint Charlie in Berlin, but not sure if they are “ok”.

  5. says

    Hi — I was wondering if you could share information on the guides you hired, especially if they have a website. My husband and are a planning a Machu Picchu trek (not sure which trail, it was nice to see your post on the Salkantay trek) either towards the end of this year or the beginning of 2013, and appreciate personal recommendations for guides. Great shots!

    • says

      The name of the tour company was Promoturs, and they were just one of dozens of similar budget offices where you can book treks, tickets to Machu Picchu, and other activities in the area. They are located in Plaza de Armas (the main square).

      I had a perfectly fine experience with them. The food on the trek wasn’t the best I’ve ever had, but there was always plenty of it, the equipment (tents) was fine, and the guide (Daniel) spoke good English.

      If you want to do the Inca Trail, that will cost about $500 (even through the budget companies) and requires advanced booking. If you want to save some money, you can do the Salkantay trek. The Inca Jungle trek is very popular, which involves less walking (the first day is a downhill mountain bike ride) and you sleep in guest houses vs. camping.

    • says

      Cusco is at 3,300 meters in elevation. If you’re going to do a trek to Machu Picchu (which is only about 2,400 meters), then it’s best to spend at least 3-4 nights acclimatizing in Cusco first. The Salkantay Trek which I did gets up to a high point of 4,650 meters. The Inca Trail gets up around 4,100 meters. If you just take the train to Aguas Calientes, you’ll be fine as Machu Picchu is lower than Cusco.

      Wherever you are, it’s a good idea to drink lots of water, avoid caffeine and alcohol, and get plenty of rest. Everyone adapts differently to the altitude.

  6. Oleh says

    Hi Dave,

    If you can share this info – how much did the tour cost? We are planning a trip for this April, and Salkantay tours cost ~500 usd if booking via sastravel or similar.

    • says

      I booked a few days in advance after I’d already arrived in Cusco. The price of the Salkantay trek from one of the budget travel offices was $180 + $10 for access to Wayna Picchu. This included everything except sleeping bag rental, tips for the guide/cooks/horseman, and incidentals (like bottled water and snacks).

      The food was always plentiful, and I found the quality to be good enough, but I’m sure if you’re paying more for the tour, you’re also getting better food. I also found the tents to be fine, but the sleeping mats were super thin. I made sure to rent a warm enough sleeping bag (costed a few dollars a day).

      Our guide was excellent — supportive, patient, and spoke good English too.

  7. Cecilie Kiel says

    Hey. I have been rechearching a lot about this trip, and can see that first of all you have paid a lot less for it, than what I have found. Do you think it still will be possible to book the trip upon arrival when I am not there until around the 5 of june this year.. Know the Inca is sold out untill oktober.
    And on a totally different note; are you in Medelin this july??

    Cecilie

    • says

      Hi Cecilie. I’m confident you can book the Salkantay trek (or Inca Jungle Trail trek) within a few days of arrival in Cusco, any time of year.

      If it’s an especially busy time, like the North American / European Summer, than you may have to wait a little longer to join a group, but I can’t imagine it being more than a few extra days. They have more staff during the high season to meet demand.

      Realize that if you’re paying the price I did, you won’t be going with the top tour companies. But, I was completely satisfied with my guide (his level of English), our cooks and other support staff, and my overall experience.

      I’m planning to be in Lima this July, though I still hope to visit Medellin in August.

      • Camille says

        Hi Dave,

        Can you give me information on the company you booked with upon arrival for the tour? Also what is the best way to get from Lima to Cusco upon arrival at the airport?

        You can send me a message as well through my website.

        Thanks!

  8. Caz says

    I’m 65, female, and have recently walked Snowdon…..I know it’s not quite the same…but I have wanted to do Machu Picchu for many, many years and feel I’ve got to get on with it now!!! Could you suggest which trek, or should I stick to train and bus??? Thanks…Enjoyed reading your comments…..there’s nothing like travel!!

    • says

      Hi Caz, I’m not familiar with Snowdon, but from what I saw, Machu Picchu is very accessible to people of all ages. There are tons of different ways to get there, the easiest being the bus/train combo.

      The Inca Trail is the most popular, followed by the Salkantay Trek. Both get up to altitudes of about 4500-4600 meters. Neither are technical, but they are tiring, and the altitude can make it harder.

      Cuzco is actually at a higher altitude than Machu Picchu, so visiting the ruins is actually the easier part of adapting, than when you first arrive in Cuzco.

    • says

      Hi Raul,

      Yes, I read about those events on their blog soon after it happened. Scary stuff, but it truly is the exception. I spent 7 months traveling and living in Peru, and never felt threatened.

  9. says

    I’m planning a trip to MP in 2015 and I would like to thank you for the tips on how to at least attempt to get a picture without a flock of tourists involved… I do love those “whispers of history”, but they are so often tuined by the inevitable chatter of tourists… Can’t be helped, and of course everyone else has as much right to see things as me, but sometimes… Sometimes I wish I was at places like this all alone :-)

    • says

      You’re welcome Annie. I wasn’t even the first person to arrive at the gate during the walk up before sunrise. I just made sure I was one of the first people lined up in front of the gate right before they began letting people in.

      There were even people arriving by the shuttle bus before the gates opened, so it’s not like you have to walk up on your own to have a shot at being the first inside.

      Just remember, once they scan your ticket, RUN for it!!!

  10. Alison says

    Wonderful insight.. I’m an “older” American woman and totally look forward to doing this trek solo in July 2014. You rocked the blog not to mention the trip and thanks so much for sharing. Water and chocolate, what’s a gal not to like?
    Cheers… Keep Calm and Travel On…

  11. Ericka says

    Hi Dave,

    We are going to be in Cusco in about 3 weeks and loved your review of trekking to Machu Picchu. We now want to do the same! Just wondering, was the $180 + $10 for the 5D4N trek? I have looked at so many websites and all of them start at nearly $300 for the same sort of experience. Do you think it is safe enough to wait until we are in Cusco to book for the trek? Was it safe? It will be my husband and I, but still, just wondering if you have any tips? What about if we are just in Cusco for one day before the trek? Did some experience altitude sickness and are there any tips of handling this?

    Thank you!

    • says

      Yes, I think you can wait until you get to Cusco to book the trip, as long as you have at least a few days buffer (which are recommended anyways, as you’ll want to acclimatize to the altitude before the trek).

      Yes, the $180 was for the 5 day, 4 night trek, but that last night is actually spent in the town of Aguas Calientes in a hostel or inexpensive hotel. We had a few people per room, but it was only for a night. You could probably pay a bit extra to get a private room.

      The trek is quite safe, the main concern for anyone would be altitude sickness, which is why I recommend taking at least 3 nights to acclimatize in Cusco if not 4 or 5. It’ll probably depend on your overall travel schedule. Also, try to drink a liter of water for each 1,000 meters in altitude, and eat a lot at every meal of the trek. The first two days are the hardest.

      As I wrote in the post, a woman who previously climbed Mt Kilimanjaro was suffering from altitude sickness on our first day because she only spent one night acclimatizing in Cusco before embarking on the trek. I can’t stress enough how important it is to give your body time to adapt to the lower oxygen levels. It doesn’t matter how fit you are, high altitudes (especially over 3,000 meters) affect everyone’s body differently.

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