Finding your way to Machu Picchu is like reading through one of those choose-your-own-adventure books: there are so many options!
You can take a step back into history and do a 1 to 4 night hiking/camping of the Inca trail, or feed your inner adrenaline junkie by doing a 4 day adventure trek, where you cycle, white-water raft, and hike all before you make it to the majestic Inca citadel.
Or, if like me, you want to spend more time exploring Cusco and the Sacred Valley, you can opt for a Machu Picchu self-guided tour in a day. Here’s how I made that happen.
The day started bright and early with a taxi from my homestay in Cusco to the Poroy train station.
The three-and-a-half hour train ride (I took Peru Rail, but Inca Rail is another possibility) went by surprisingly quickly with beautiful scenery to watch and FSFTs (fellow solo female travelers) to talk to. (And the free snacks didn’t hurt, either!)
Soon enough, the train pulled into the town of Aguas Calientes. Here I was faced by a decision: Buy a ticket for around $20 USD to take a 15-minute bus ride up to the ruins, or save my money and do the hour and a half hike myself. After chatting with a girl I’d met on the train, we found out that it would be at least an hour’s wait in line for the bus. So why not take a hike instead?
The way up was grueling at times, especially because we didn’t know how much longer it would take to reach the top. But the optimistic attitudes of everybody we met on the trail made it all the easier. Even though we were often huffing and puffing too hard to exchange more than a few words, there was always room for looks of encouragement.
And soon enough, we made it to the top.
After a quick breather and a deliberation on whether or not we should hire a tour guide (we ended up not), we lined up to show our tickets and passports (a necessity–you can’t get in without that identification!) and stepped into the ruins!
Maria reminded me to not put away my passport as soon as I got through the gates–there’s a station to the right, just past the entrance where you can add a stamp of Machu Picchu to its pages (just don’t stamp it upside down like I did, haha)!
A good thing about doing a day trip to MP is that it easily fits a tight schedule, the bad thing is that it does the same for a lot of other tourists as well. I realized this as we merged into the ongoing stream of visitors. But eventually the sea of selfie sticks and sun hats parted to reveal the view I’d only thought I’d see in pictures.
There were plenty of angles to take the view in from, and we found that the higher up we went in the plains overlooking to ruins, the less crowded it was (there were even some alpacas up there!). We just had to be careful not to step on any of the people sunbathing on the lawns.
We spent about two hours or so walking around the ruins before we thought we should start making our way back down. And for me, that had been enough! Even though our muscles were aching by then, we were far too excited from what we had just seen (and still encouraged from having made the climb ourselves) to consider taking the bus back down.
After we made it back down the trail, we were equal parts exhausted and exhilarated–good thing there were plenty of places to sit down and enjoy a pisco sour (a classic Peruvian drink!) while we waited for our train back to Cusco.
When I first booked the day trip, I was concerned that seven hours on a train would be too uncomfortable. But I was so tired from the hike that I napped through the whole journey back! By the time I flopped onto my bed back at my homestay, I was tired in the best kind of way. And now I had images of mighty Machu Picchu to play behind my eyelids as I dreamed.