Words and Photos by Linnea Covington
Tap into your inner explorer and put this Wonder of the World on top of your travel list. The time to go to Machu Picchu is now; well actually, it was 10 years ago before this 15th-century Inca site in the Cusco region of Peru became one of the hottest destinations. This area became known after 1911, when American historian Hiram Bingham stumbled upon it, and after cleaning up the foliage that had taken over, visitors could see how these peoples in this immaculate village lived, worshiped, and cultivated the land before the Spanish invasion. Now many tourists clamor to climb around the 2,430 meters-high ancient and beautiful ruins, and soon, I predict it won’t take too long for them to put an even stronger cap on the visitors. Heck, already you can only have 2,500 a day, so make sure to get tickets in advance.
While visiting Machu Picchu, stay in the nearby town of Aguas Calientes (also called Machu Picchu Pueblo), a quaint spot filled with tourists and locals alike, and soak in this truly wondrous place.
When to go: Peru has two seasons, wet and dry. Though both work for visiting Machu Picchu, and I was assured it gets tons of tourists all year long despite the weather. However, the dry season in July and August is the best for walking around and hiking up the precipitous stairs of Wayna Picchu, that large mountain you can see in the background of many photos. The wettest months take place in January and February, so unless you like mud and water, try and avoid this time of year.
What to do: Of course, the main reason to go to this area is to explore Machu Picchu (get tickets from machupicchu.gob.pe, about $40 or 128 sol), and honestly it’s the best thing to do. This is not a late-night town, so get up early, explore this Wonder of the World, and then take a dip in one of the hot springs Aguas Calientes was named after, like the Santa Teresa’s Cocalmayo, where, for about $4 or 10 sol, you can relax your muscles after climbing all those steep steps. Also make sure to check out the large handicraft market by the train station for all your Peruvian textiles, alpaca, and clay figurine needs.
How to get around: Unless you are the adventurous type who wants to wander the Inca Trail for days, the only way to get to Machu Picchu is by taking a train from Ollantaytambo to Aguas Calientes, the town closest to this magnificent monument. From there, you can hop a bus at the Puente Ruinas Train Station, which will drive you up the steep, winding side of the mountain to Machu Picchu. Tickets cost around $6 or 17 sol, and the last bus leaves the site for the town at 5:30pm. As far as Aguas Calientes go, it’s a small place and you can easily walk it.
Where to eat and drink: One of the best meals can be found at Inkaterra Café, located right across the train tracks overlooking the hills. Order the quinoa pancakes for breakfast, and for lunch, quinoa-crusted chicken, and Soltero salad, a traditional dish made with chopped cheese, buttery Andean corn, fresh fava beans, chilies, and egg. You can also find causa rellena, a classic yellow potato dish often stuffed with chicken and olives, and plenty of bright ceviche. This café also serves cuy, aka guinea pig, and if you want to try alpaca, head to El Antojito for their take on this meat. Get a jar of cuba libre, pisco sour, or the traditional purple corn drink chicha at just about any bar around, just make sure to drink early, there are laws about consuming liquor past 11pm.
Where to stay: If you have extra money, splurge and stay at Inkaterra Machu Picchu Pueblo Hotel, a gorgeous luxury property built to evoke an Andean Village. Stone paths run the length of this quite, lush, 12-acre property, which is only a five-minute walk to the train. They offer private tour guides, a gourmet buffet breakfast, and on-property excursions like bird watching and an orchid walk. Rates start at $274. For a more economical choice, book a room in the center of town at El MaPi Hotel. The breakfast is just as good, but the rooms smaller and more modern. Rates start at $200.