11 Things I Wish I Knew Before Visiting Machu Picchu
In case you didn't know or were not following a couple months ago, I finally made it to Machu Picchu this past May! Woo! After Santorini, Greece (which I visited in March 2016), visiting Machu Picchu was the next biggest item on my bucket list. For so long, I had seen so many pictures of this beautiful Wonder of the World and had wanted so badly to visit it—one day. Peru was so far away and in a continent I had not intended on visiting for a long time, but this year I finally decided to just do it.
No matter how much I travel and how much I prepare for my trips, there is always something I learn or something that comes up that I wish I had known or wish that someone had told me. So since I love sharing what I learn, here are
11 Things I Wish I Knew Before Visiting Machu Picchu
1. Aguascalientes is a very small town, but it is very hilly
In case you are wondering why I am talking about a place called “Aguascalientes” when this is a post about Machu Picchu, this is because Aguascalientes is the town at the base of Machupicchu—it is the closest town to the site itself and is where most people stay during their visit to this famed Wonder of the World.
As the heading says, it is a very tiny town. In fact, you can get everywhere by foot and there are actually no cars on the road (because the roads are so small). However, do note that it is quite hilly and keep that in mind while booking where you will be staying (especially if you have a roller board luggage).
2. Ask restaurants if they charge a “servicio local” before eating there
This is perhaps one of the biggest things that threw me off while I was staying in Aguascalientes The first few times my friend Cat and I were eating out at restaurants, we kept seeing a random extra charge tacked onto our bill when it came time to pay for our meal. The first time we ate, we didn’t even notice, until we realized that we kept getting a bill back that was way costlier than we had intended to spend.
There are restaurants in Aguascalientes that do not charge this “servicio local” (which essentially is just what they charge you for being a tourist). In order to avoid it just ask the restaurant host/hostess outside the restaurant if they charge it before agreeing to eat at their establishment.
3. Buy your bus ticket the day before you go
If you are not doing the 4 day Inca Trail or planning to hike up to the entrance from Aguascalientes, you have the option of taking a bus to the entrance. You must buy the bus ticket a day in advance if you want to get on the first bus up to the mountain. In general, not buying your bus ticket in advance just runs you the risk of not being able to get to the top by bus in case the tickets run out the following day.
Tickets should be $24 (they don’t accept Visa—American Express and MasterCard is)
*I personally did not do the Inca Trail because I was not physically prepared and did not train at all before this trip, nor did I have the budget to afford it as the Inca Trail is a lot costlier. I originally had intended to hike up to the entrance from Aguascalientes, but I wanted to get there right when it opened and I had just finished hiking the intense Apu Winicunca (Rainbow Mountain), so I was still recovering.
4. Get to the bus station early!
Entrance to Machupicchu opens at 6 am, first bus leaves at 5:30 am. If you want to be first in line, get to the station at 3 am. (Got there at 4 am and we had to wait 45 mins in line)
It also helps to stay as close as possible to the bus station (which should be pretty much most accommodations). *My hostel specifically was an easy 3-minute walk to the station.
5. It is extremely foggy if you go when it first opens at 6 am.
I am a person that consistently wakes up before the sun so that I can get to my photoshoot location at the crack of dawn as the sun is rising (so I can get beautiful pictures without any humans in them). Usually, I am rewarded for these efforts. Machu Picchu was the exception.
If you want those infamous pictures with Waynapicchu in the background, you honestly won’t be able to get it with good, not foggy lighting till around noon. This is because Machu Picchu is so high up, it takes longer for the sun to show up. *I was able to capture my photo around 1pm.
6. Most of the Machu Picchu site is ONE WAY
This means you CANNOT go back on your tracks once you’ve reached a certain point.
If I have ever told you about the story of how I almost got banned from Machu Picchu, this would essentially be part of why. Long story short, my friend Cat and I hiked Waynapicchu first and didn’t take those infamous Machu Picchu pictures. Before we knew it, we were on the exit route out of Machu Picchu and we hadn’t even explored half the site! We both traveled so far out of our way to another continent and waited so long to get here so we were not going to leave without those photos. That being said, we tried to sneak back in—which obviously did not work out well because there are guards everywhere. So yes we got in trouble a couple times. Yikes.
Moral of the Story: You are allowed to re enter once before your time limit window is up and if you do mess up (like we did), but keep in mind the entire site is ONE WAY!
7. Book your Waynapicchu tickets way in advance.
This is important to note because a lot of people miss this step and miss out on being able to hike the highest peak in Machu Picchu. They only let a few people up the mountain every day—so get your spots fast! You can get them here. The site is in Spanish, so if you do not speak or understand, just place the link onto a Google Chrome browser and use the translate feature.
8. Aguascalientes is an expensive town. Don’t buy any souvenirs here!
If the fact that they charge you a fee simply for being a tourist already didn’t tip you off that this is an expensive town, the first sight of the overpriced souvenirs will. I nearly bought some souvenirs from the market there when I realized that I had seen the exact same things at the markets in Cusco for significantly less.
Just wait till you get back to Cusco and get some souvenirs at the local markets or buy before heading to Machu Picchu!
9. This infamous picture you see everywhere is at the Guardhouse.
It took me FOREVER to find this—so I figured I should share the knowledge to shorten your search.
To find it, you can either do one of two things:
Ask one of the security guards where the “Casa de la Guardia” is – show him a picture of this hut because sometimes they will guide you to the wrong place (this kept happening to us)
Follow the path from the entrance. Climb up the stairs toward the “pueblo” and don’t go to the direction of the sun gate. Continue on the path and you should see a first clearing that looks like the shot you want, but you will notice that the ground is ugly and has black railings that ruin your picture. Continue up the path and climb another set of stairs—the path will tell you to keep continuing, but if you go slightly to your right you will see a little hut with a straw roof . The clearing with this view is just around the corner!
10. BRING SNACKS!!!
This was honestly the biggest mistake I made. I normally do not ever snack, but hiking mountains definitely makes you hungry. There is no food at Machu Picchu except for a tiny overpriced café outside and the only other place you can get something to snack on is at a sidewalk stall in line while waiting to hop on the bus.
11. There are NO BATHROOMS within the Machu Picchu site
If you have a small bladder, make sure you use the bathroom before you enter the site! There are only bathrooms outside at the entrance—once you enter, you have to exit and enter again if you are not fully done exploring. (Remember you are only allowed to re-enter once)
Bonus: You can stamp your passport with a Machu Picchu stamp!
*There is a little stall right outside the exit gate by the bathrooms where they will have the stamp and stamp pad—you can stamp it yourself.
Well there it is! All the things I wish I knew before visiting item #2 on my bucket list. Hope this helps!
Til’ Next Time,