Quick Tip: You need your passport to enter Machu Pichu and after 10 o’clock you can get it stamped with an entry ink!
Booking: You can book Machu Pichu on their website, these sell out and you MUST buy them ahead of time. Tickets for Machu Pichu and tickets for the train (from Sacred Valley) or the bus (from Aguas Calientes) are completely separate. Once you get your e-mail confirmation be sure you also get your tickets and make sure you print everything. We had a confirmation number and then found out this wasn’t a ticket and we had to completely re-book because our payment never went through. When we got to Machu Pichu we had printed the ticket confirmation and not the ticket. If you oppsy and get to Peru with no entry to Machu Pichu ask your hotel to hire you a guide for 300 soles and that will include entry.
Getting there the morning of: We stayed in the Sacred Valley and there was really no point. There are three ways to do this.
First (recommended) stay in Aguas Calientes, take the first bus up to Machu Pichu. This is easiest and due to the whole natural phenomena (to me not to science), mountain mist, sunrise amazingness this is the best. People also say it is nice since the site is almost empty. Staying in Aguas is best because once you’re done with Machu Pichu you want to go to sleep and train times are non-negotiable and most people buy late so they are not rushed.
Second – Stay in Sacred Valley and take the train. This is what we did and while the town was cute and quiet the train was a waste of time and money (it was dark that early and either way the landscape isn’t THAT amazing once you’ve been driving around Peru).
Third – Stay in Cusco. This requires a 2am taxi, a 5am train, and a 7am bus to get up to the site. We met people who did it and they were exhausted and wishing they had stayed in the Sacred Valley but the perk in hotel continuity and remaining in the city. I think this is a good time saver option if you’re low on days.
Get the bus. Tickets can be bought before hand or at boarding. Buy some packaged goodies at a newsstand.
Get up to Machu Pichu immediately and go straight in (ignore the tour guides we’ll get to that later).
Take some pictures and wander a bit without getting to far from the exit. Go back out, use the loo, and pick up a tour guide for about 20 soles. (this is a good time to get your passport stamped). The tour will be about 2 hours and will take you into the midday sun.
Once the tour is over pop out of the site again and get something for lunch. Options are pretty slim (think greasy sandwich and Inca Colas) but there is a bit of shade. Look out over the mountains and regain your strength. (Buses run all day so you could conceivably go back to town for lunch or a nap in your hotel and then go back up. If I coulda, I woulda.) Use the loo again before trek 2. (If you’ve signed up for Huyan Pichu you’ll have a slated time.) There are two main treks leaving from Machu Pichu, to the sun gate and the garden walk. Both are billed as easy/moderate hikes and the lines get pretty long (break out the hat and sweater and make a tent). I would bring an iPod to help deal with the waiting in intense heat. I didn’t get to either of these hikes thanks to the food poisoning (this seems to be a frequent occurrence. I’m not sure if it was the food in the Sacred Valley or the amount of time I’d been (eating) in Peru.) These hikes will take the rest of your afternoon.
Don’t Miss: The back side of Machu Pichu, near the sundial, offers great tele-photo-ops of the snow-capped Andes.
Sleep-bound: So you want to go back to your hotel? HAHAHA! If you are in need of a train forget changing your time. When you get to the station there will be 20 people in front of you trying to do the same thing. My sister asked in perfect Spanish, I pleaded in sad faced American Girl, and the family next to us screamed in Italian/Spanish profanities. We all boarded our original trains. Aguas Calientes has little to offer but they do have a decent market. If you skip Pisac do your shopping here (it is all the same stuff/same price).
Head back to Cusco in the morning via taxi/train combo.