Originally Posted by Pajaro
DW and I just did Machu Picchu and the Sacred Valley in late July. The railway is now fully operational. You donít need a tour to do this well. The new Lonely Planet Peru is very well written and has lots of details. Here are my tips and notes:
- Sleep in Aguas Calientes for 2 nights. That will give you a full day (including sunrise and sunset) at Machu Picchu. The 1st train of the day arrives at 10:30, so that gives you 4 hours before the majority of tourists show up. They leave around 4 or so, which gives you another couple of tourist-free hours at the end of the day.
- Keep in mind that Machu Picchu is just one of many Inca ruins in the area. I think some of the other ruins are more impressive, but the setting of MP is more spectacular. We spent 5 days in the Sacred Valley before going to MP.
- Agree on a price for everything before doing or eating it. This includes taxis and taking pictures with the locals. We ended up paying for items in a restaurant that we thought were free (Oh, try this corn, you will love it!). My Spanish is very good, so it wasnít a simple miscommunication.
- DW and I spent $2000 for 9 nights including everything except airfare. We ate and drank what we wanted and bought lots of wool gifts. We stayed at La Piccola Locanda in Cusco and loved it. They were very helpful for figuring out how to get to various ruins. I used Lonely Planet almost exclusively for planning and feel like we did everything on the major to do lists.
- The 1st bus from Aguas Calientes to MP is at 5:30. We got up at 4:00 each day to get in line. Buy your bus tickets the night before you need them. Otherwise, you have to wait in line for tickets and then go wait in line for the bus. Even at this hour, we were usually on bus 12 or 15 (hundreds of people in line). If you canít buy the tix the night before, one of you should wait in line for tix while the other waits in line for the bus. If the one waiting for the bus gets to the front without tix, it is not a problem. They will just have to wait at the side until the ticket holder arrives.
- Only the 1st 400 people get to climb Wayna Picchu. I spoke to several people who went up on the 1st bus and werenít in the 1st 400. The 1st 400 got in line at the park entrance at 2AM by either 1) climbing up in the dark or 2) paying $800 per night to stay at the hotel at the park entrance.
- I am not an archeologist, so I felt like the Lonely Planet guide was good enough (when coupled with the free entrance map) for my 1.5 days in the park.
- We traveled almost exclusively by combis (a type of shared minivan). The price was very cheap and you get to ride with locals and experience some real culture.
- The taxi and combi drivers donít speak English.
- A taxi within Cusco should cost around 5 soles (about $2). We got scammed right out of the airport and paid 10 times the going rate to get to our hotel (yea, $10, but I donít like to pay more than market price). Avoid the touts outside the airport and find the guys quietly waiting in line for new arrivals.
Excellent information! Sounds like you had a fabulous trip. When I hiked Huayna Picchu, I went in the afternoon. I didn't know about the 400-person limit. Maybe there was no limit when I went, or maybe it depends on the time of the year.
If you speak Spanish and generally know the cost of things, you can save a bundle and have a very enjoyable, self-guided tour. I have visited MP that way and it works out great.
For those who don't speak Spanish, I recommend a travel agency. Reputable agencies have English speakers, can pick you up at the airport, can get you where you want to go, and can help you avoid getting scammed. It will cost you a little more than traveling on your own, but for most people it's worth it.