Traveling to Peru or South America for that matter is, as cliché as it sounds, a dream come true for me. I’ve finally set foot in a continent I would just watch, read and daydream about! I knew it’s going to be a feat traveling here so HOORAY for my Machu Picchu stamp on my passport! No ancient site has amazed me by far yet. I’ve watched this from NatGeo and History Channel (anyone here watches Ancient Aliens??) but nothing has prepared me for this astonishing citadel, set high in the Andes Mountains IN ACTUAL. Sophistication is an understatement. How did the Incans do it? Amaaaazing.
Anyway, when Leo and I had fully decided to realize this dream, we knew we had to make a commitment which also included sacrifices we willingly had to make. Since our last travel by the second quarter, we had to do responsible purchases, spent our time researching and resisted every bit of temptation to even make small trips. All of this, I believe, made seeing the Machu Picchu more rewarding and deserving of its glory.
So let me share with you how we planned for our Peruvian Adventure.
Located across the pacific, there is no direct flight from Manila, Philippines. There are numerous ways of getting to Peru but since we had to make a stopover in Los Angeles to make a family visit, our journey began here. We are traveling on a rather low season as November is the start of summer. Summer in Peru could also mean there will be rains and that could, of course, affect the trip. But the sun gods gave us glorious weather all throughout! Their wettest months, as I read, are from late December to January. And their peak season is from the months of June to August (winter) during the trekking season when one is surely assured of a dry and cold weather (but it means more tourists and everything is overpriced!).
Because we are mastering the art of mindful traveling, we have decided to stay 9 days in Peru alone, scheduling nearby countries on a different time. You can make it shorter if Machu Picchu is your only goal because you can actually do the Machu Picchu for one day from Cusco. But we have wanted a local experience so we stayed longer to see Sacred Valley, Cusco and Lima. I’ll share these beautiful places on my next post.
We began our planning by doing a rough itinerary, scheduling Machu Picchu two days after our arrival in Peru allowing time for rest and acclimatization. Once the itinerary was set, we then checked the website to see if our preferred date still had available tickets to the ruins. There are only 2,500 tourists allowed in the ruins per day. The website could tell you that when choosing the ticket type and date. Tickets are not sold in the Machu Picchu itself so this is the most important task you have to make! But since we went on a low season, booking one month before was okay but there were only hundreds left when we booked at this time and the ticket which included a hike to Huayna Picchu (the mountain in all Machu Picchu photos) were already sold out. There are only 400 tourists allowed per day to hike this mountain as opposed to Montana Machu Picchu Mountain (across) which allows 800 tourists per day. If you’re going on a peak season then you must book at least 4-6months in advance. So once the tickets are booked, the rest could follow. Our ticket which included the Montana Mountain is USD45 per person.
Here’s a step by step guide on purchasing Machu Picchu tickets.
The numero uno question I would get from friends is “how much would the trip cost and how?” The one thing that will surely eat up the budget is the flight going to Peru. It is expensive. The fares are seasonal which could shoot up during the trekking season. Budget at least USD1600 for a round-trip fare (from Asia) to Peru’s capital not including the domestic flight from Lima to Cusco (USD153), Train from Ollantaytambo to Aguas Calientes (USD132) and Bus from foot of the mountain to Machu Picchu entrance (USD26). The cost is all round-trip per person.
Our travel itinerary looked like this: We boarded an Avianca Airline from Los Angeles to Lima, Peru with a 2-hour layover in Bogota, Colombia. We then took Latam Airline from our domestic flight from Lima to Cusco, alighted a taxi (USD10) to Pavitos Street where the Mini Vans and Collectivos are (In Manila, they are like “shuttle”) to bring us to Ollantaytambo in the Sacred Valley (USD4). From there we took Peru Rail to Aguas Calientes (you can book this ahead here) and then bus to Machu Picchu entrance (you can buy the tickets in Aguas Calientes only). Then we trace our journey back the same way except from Ollantaytambo to Cusco, we took a cab (USD9). The cost is per person. This was a 4-day travel including a stop in Ollantaytambo and Aguas Calientes.
You may notice a significant difference of airline fares when booking in English and Spanish on the web. Don’t be tempted to book in a Spanish mode even if you understand one. They are implementing a much lower fare for their locals and you might have to purchase a new one upon check in if you use their rate as you may have to prove your Peruvian residency.
The train and bus are all optional. Some travelers opt to walk/trek the railway to reach Aguas Calientes or also known as Machu Picchu Pueblo, check in hotel, get some rest, wake up at 3am and climb the mountain to Machu Picchu — all for free (except the accommodation, of course), that is, if you are up for a challenge, you are in a good condition (or you are a seasoned climber) and have time in your hand.
As for accommodation, we had kept the expense on minimum (thank God for Airbnb). Except for Aguas Calientes, we booked a B&B through Expedia. As for food and other things, you can expect to pay higher than you would normally here in the Philippines. Say a cup of coffee is Php120, in Peru you will have to pay Php140-160. It is more expensive in Aguas Calientes and Lima than the rest of the places.
So because I was scared to get sick (this was a dream trip after all!), I had really prepared for one thing that may take a toll on me: Altitude. Cusco, the region where one will find himself before heading to Machu Picchu sits at 3,399 m or 11,200 ft. above sea water. That means there is less oxygen to breathe as lower air pressure makes it more difficult for oxygen to enter our vascular system. People start to experience symptoms of altitude sickness above 9,000ft so heading to a significant lower altitude is the key to acclimatizing. Upon our arrival to Cusco, we went straight to Ollantaytambo, 2,000ft lower than Cusco. While we prepare for the acclimatization process, we also wanted to visit this village in the Sacred Valley. This place plays an important part of their history as this was the royal estate of the Emperor Pachacuti and served as a stronghold during the Incan resistance against Spain. Another option is heading straight to Aguas Calientes, lower in altitude than Ollantaytambo.
We began our travel to Peru after 3 days being in Los Angeles to get some rest and hydration. Altitude sickness thrives on dehydrated bodies and it can happen to anyone. Whether you’re young, old, more fit or not, it really depends on one’s own body how easy and fast to acclimatize. For me, the symptoms were bearable – waking up with a slight head ache every day and catching my breath during walks especially in inclined steps (worse during climb/trek). I’ve probably spent a lot on bottled water carrying 4 at one time. The key as well is to take it easy that’s why making room for acclimatizing is encouraged. Moreover, there’s coca tea to help ease. This is practically served in all places. It’s close to the taste of chamomile and green tea which I like and it’s served in different forms from leaves, candies to cookies (btw, this numbed my tongue for downing these in one sitting haha). The coca leaves are illegal to bring in the US so do not attempt to bring even the coca tea with you when leaving Peru just to avoid any inconvenience on your part.
So now that you have an idea on how to go to Peru, allow this country to pull you in not because it will give you the best profile picture on your Facebook or will merit over 100 likes on Instagram but because Peru is special and a feat in its own right. Do not reduce it (or travel for that matter) to a series of ticks in boxes. Be drawn and be curious. The Peruvians are wonderful people eager to share their country’s magic to us.
Watch out for my posts on Ollantaytambo, Aguas Calientes (how to go about this crazy place!), Cusco and Lima 🙂