Sacred Grounds – Machu Picchu

After some serious background work to this site, I was finally able to upload and a new photo today. For print purchase information please see here:

The shot was taken at the famous site of Machu Picchu. We went in October 2010 which by coincidence was also the year of Machu Picchu’s 100th birthday or its re-discovery. A place often seen on photos and were almost every photographer wants to go at least once in their lifetime. However, getting there is not as easy as you may think, except you are willing to pay big time for a tour group. We decided to travel on somewhat of a budget to Machu Picchu and not depend on the tour group times that tell us when to come and go. We like to explore and have a bit of an adventure around the trip. For everybody trying to get there but looking for a how-to, I am going to outline some basic steps and give some detail. If you want to know more specifics, please feel free to comment and ask. I am more than happy to help you out.

Before getting to Machu Picchu, you have to get to Peru. Depending on where you are coming from, you will most likely end up in Lima. If you are on a really tight budget and coming up from Chile you can also take the bus to Arequipa and then fly or continue with the bus the Cuzco. However, most international and overseas flights land in the morning, so if you are really desperate to get there you can push on to Cuzco with another flight within one day. However, I do recommend staying in Lima at least one day to catch your breath and enjoy the upcoming trip to Cuzco.

When you land in Lima, make sure, you have a pick-up service arranged with your hotel. Hold on to your bags and I recommend not to let them carry by someone else. We felt uncomfortable in the craziness of Lima airport, maybe simply because we are not used to this. As far as hotels go, I can recommend the Peru Star Hotel. Privately owned and you can find it on Tripadvisor. Great room service, good area, great rooms and very fair prices ($60 / night).

From Lima you somehow have to get to Cuzco. You have two basic options. Flying or busing all the way. If you plan to do more flights within South America, check out the LAN South America pass. Flights within Peru will then only cost you something like $100 round-trip / person. Bus will be slightly cheaper but you will lose one more day getting there. And vacation time is more expensive than a few bucks for a flight. There are several airlines going to Cuzco on any given day. However, try to fly before noon. Afternoon flights may get cancelled due to high winds in Cuzco. The aircraft has to land at about 3,300m, which is not always possible. Same goes for the flight out of Cuzco. Try to catch an earlier flight. I recommend flying LAN, simply because they have the most flights in and out of Cuzco. Do yourself a favor and arrive 3hrs prior to your scheduled flight in Lima. The airport is usually very chaotic, hectic and full. It is not uncommon that people miss their flights here. Once landed in Cuzco, you will find that most people get picked up by a tour agency. Well, we didn’t but did some research before and figured we could do it on our own for less than that. If you have the time, you can also stay in Cuzco to acclimatize to the altitude. We were short on time and pushed on to Aguas Calientes the same day.

In Cuzco, you have basically not other choice but to use one of the over-priced airport taxis, but you can be pretty sure, they are safe and reliable. Just tell the driver you want to go to Paradero Pavitos. That’s the place from where the collectivos leave from Cuzco to Ollantaytambo. It looks like a backyard but it’s actually not too bad and a very inexpensive way to get to Ollanta. I think we paid around 4$ / Person for 1 1/2 hrs taxi ride. Arriving in Ollanta, we bought some food for the next few days, went for an early dinner to one of the restaurants and stored our luggage at the hotel at the train station, where spend a night coming back from Machu Picchu. It is neat little town – much nicer than Aguas Calientes. Later that day, we boarded our train to Aguas Calientes and checked in at the hotel La Cabana. It was late, about 10:30pm but we were picked up at the train station from one of the people at the hotel. After a short nights sleep, we got up again at 4:30am to catch the first shuttle bus up to Machu Picchu. Most hotels start serving breakfast at around 5am. Make sure, to arrive early at the shuttle bus station as people line up early. We got into the third bus and arrived together with the first two buses at the gates of Machu Picchu.

Machu Picchu was beyond my expectations. I have read and heard much about it, but standing there and seeing how huge it actually is, blows your mind. In the early morning hours, you will have the chance to see the mystic fog laying over Machu Picchu. To get into Machu Picchu, you have to buy your tickets online as of August 2011. Also, if you can, buy tickets to hike Huyana Picchu. It is strenuous but well worth it. It takes about an hour to get up there and and hour to hike down. We did the extended tour around the mountain to the lower parts and that was just cruel. Steps after steps, with almost no one around in the jungle. After such a long trip and not much sleep the days before, we were exhausted by the time we got back to Machu Picchu. At noon, the place is flooded with visitors and has lost almost its magic – at least for me.

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