Machu Picchu is on a lot of people’s bucket lists for different reasons and if you visit, you will be rewarded for your efforts. Our planning process to go to Machu Picchu started 1 year prior to our visit.
When you tell people you’re going to Machu Picchu, anyone who has been will have all kinds of ideas and opinions about how one should make the pilgrimage to “one of the most important archaeological sites in the world.”. Is there a way of visiting Machu Picchu that is superior to other ways? I would say that yes, one that fits your travel style and budget.
As we were researching how to plan a trip to Machu Picchu, we didn’t find a lot of information about the day trip option to help us assess whether or not this was the way to go as most posts focus on incorporating hikes and stays in Aguas Calientes to the itinerary. The purpose of this post if to help you figure out if a one day trip to Machu Picchu will meet your expectations and how to do so.
Travel Style: What’s Yours?
When it comes to travel, we prefer to follow in Anthony Bourdain’s footsteps than to book organized tours and long excursions. Since we’re usually short on time (limited vacation leave) and cram a lot of places into short itineraries, comfort is also at the top of our list.
While I’m sure the scenery is nice, the idea of hiking with strangers (who might become friends or foes) with different fitness levels for days and the idea of sleeping in a tent is not appealing to me, it sounds downright dreadful. Friends of mine who have hiked have either loved it or hated it. If they hated, it’s because they got sick and/or arrived exhausted and less the fresh to Machu Picchu.
Our trip to Machu Picchu on Peru Rail from Urubamba to Aguas Calientes was very pleasant, comfortable, and we got to make friends along the way while enjoying stunning scenery. We boarded the train at 07:00 and arrived to Aguas Calientes around 09:30 feeling relaxed and excited about our excursion.
We booked a 3 night stay at Tambo Del Inka in Urubamba as the home base for our trip to Machu Picchu and to relax in the Sacred Valley. The hotel is very comfortable and is right beside the Urubamba train station which makes its way through Ollataytambo and other stations to reach Aguas Calientes on Peru Rail.
The Reason Why You’re Visiting Machu Picchu: What’s Yours?
Is it seeing the sun rise? Is it being at the site when it opens at 06:00 to get the most photos without others in them? Are you planning on hiking Huayna Picchu Hike aka The Stairs of Death? Or are you just happy to be there and walk around for a few hours?
- 06:30 – Walked to the Urubamba train station from Tambo Del Inka
- 06:50 – Train departed
- 09:15 – Arrived in Aguas Calientes
- 09:30 – Took bus up to the Machu Picchu gates
- 10:00 – 13:00 – Explored Machu Picchu
- 13:30 – Arrived back in Aguas Calientes
- 13:30 – Lunch at Chullpi
- 14:30 – Walked around Aguas Calientes town
- 15:30 – Arrived back to Aguas Calientes train station
- 15:48 – Train departs for Urubamba
- 19:15 – Arrived back at Urubamba station (train was slightly delayed to traffic, i.e other trains and cars parked on the tracks).
- 20:00 – Dinner at Tambo Del Inka
Our Itinerary: How to Book It
It’s not easy to get to Machu Picchu from Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. As we started our journey from Vancouver, it was pretty much a planes, trains, automobiles and buses ordeal. We’ll provide details about all factors that fit into the puzzle to make a visit to MP happen.
1) Air: We booked our airfare for to Lima Peru in May 2016 for an April 2017 trip:
We flew from YVR – Vancouver to LAX – Los Angeles on United Airlined (we were initially booked on Alaska Airlines with a stop in Seattle but on the day of departure, weather related delays would have caused us to miss our connection to Lima in Los Angeles so we switched flights), then to LIM – Lima on LATAM using Mileage Plan miles. We then had to hop on a flight to CUZ – Cusco on LATAM using AVIOS points (booked January 2017). Once in Cusco, we booked the transportation through Tambo Del Inka and we arrived in Urubamba 1.5 hours later. Door-to-door, it was a 26 hour journey.
Cost: points + fees
2) Machu Picchu Admission Tickets:
Tickets go on sale about 6 month in advance as there are only 2,500 hundred tickets per day. You can buy them online but the website is all in Spanish and it crashes a lot. Since it was not high season, we purchased the tickets in January 2017 at the same time we booked the train tickets.
Cost: $70US per person
We booked the Vistadome train operated by Peru Rail from Urubamba to Aguas Calientes (Aguas Calientes is only accessible by train). We booked our tickets in January 2017 for our trip on April 7, 2017. Do not book the train without checking the availability for the entrance tickets to Machu Picchu.
TO MP: Vistadome 601 leaves Urubamba station at 06:50 and is scheduled to arrive in Aguas Calientes by 09:24.
BACK TO URUBAMBA: Vistadome 304 leaves Aguas Calientes at 15:48 and is scheduled to arrive in Urubamba at 18:43.
Onboard, there is a clean bathroom and they serve you non-alcoholic beverages with a small snack. On the way back, they play music and dance, and also do a fashion show for beautifully made alpaca clothing.
Cost: about $200US for the return journey
You can buy the bus tickets to go to the top of Machu Picchu online or in person when you arrive in Aguas Calientes. If you pay with credit card, they charge you 2% extra. The buses leave every 5 minutes and it takes about 20-30 minutes to reach the gate.
Cost: about $20US for the return ticket.
While there are Airbnb options in Ollataytambo, we chose to stay at Tambo Del Inka, a Luxury Collection Resort and Spa part of the Starwood (soon to be Marriott) brand. We chose the hotel due to its reviews, proximity to Urubamba station, amenities/rooms, and close proximity to Urubamba town. We enjoyed our stay here and can safely say that it is one of the nicer Luxury Collection hotels we have stayed at; a true 5 star luxury experience in every aspect. The hotel rooms were very comfortable, the hotel had a nice pool, and it was easy to walk into town.
Cost: 12,000SPG points per night, or about $300USD per night.
5) Lessons Learned: What We Would Do Different:
- Schedule more time in between your arrival to Urubamba and travels to Machu Picchu: We almost missed our connection out of LAX which would have caused us to miss the Vistadome train and forfeit our train tickets. We should have booked our stopover in Lima on arrival instead of departure to give us more time in case of a massive flight delay/cancellation.
- Unless you want to wing it, make a reservation for lunch at a nicer place like Chullpi: While they accommodated us, it is one of the nicer and better places to eat in Aguas Calientes and they get very busy.
- Don’t underestimate the need for sun protection; bring hats for additional sun protection: While it was sunny for short periods of time and we wore sunscreen, we did end up burning more than we expected.
- Don’t stay in Urubamba too long: We would have booked 2 nights in Urubamba at Tambo Del Inka. While we enjoyed the 3rd night, unless you have excursions planned, there isn’t lots of stuff to do in Urubamba and since we were there on a Sunday and Monday, lots of things were closed.
This was our experience and we enjoyed our day and have no regrets. Please note that the process to visit Machu Picchu changes frequently so make sure to check other websites for accuracy, i.e we just heard that all visits to Machu Picchu will need to be guided now, no more self-guided visits will be allowed.
Do you have any tips for anyone planning a trip to Machu Picchu?