If Machu Picchu isn’t already on your bucket list then you should reconsider, since it truly lives up to the hype and is as just as mystical in real life as the photographs we have all seen. And contrary to popular belief, it doesn’t need to be wildly expensive, at all really!
Money and time aside, one thing that deters visitors is the unknown, and during a 10 day trip throughout Peru we learned quite a few interesting tips and tricks that will – with any hope – help make your trip smooth sailing from the planning phase to the hotel bar!
Book your Machu Picchu ticket ASAP!
Only 2,500 people per day are allowed to visit Machu Picchu, and you can’t buy tickets on-site at Machu Picchu. Rules got even tighter this year with the introduction of timed entry, so if you do buy tickets, choose your time slot wisely. If you miss it, you may be out of luck…
The Peruvian government sells the official tickets to Machu Picchu online via this website, and it’s typical for tickets to sell out especially during high season (June to September). Make sure to use the above specific link, because if you Google “Macchu Picchu tickets” this official website isn’t even on the first page of results, and only a bunch of online re-seller websites pop up, and they will charge you more money than the tickets costs on the official Peruvian government website.
Side tip: Since you need to choose an entrance time for your ticket to Machu Picchu, make sure you choose a time that gives enough cushion to get from Aguas Calientes up to the top of mountain to the entrance to Machu Picchu.
FYI — I personally did not end up purchasing my Macchu Picchu tickets through the government website, since we decided to do a fully guided tour of MP — which I highly recommend if you’re a history buff — and we worked with Venturia Travel, which was recommended to us by the concierge of our hotel Tambo del Inka.
You don’t need to stay in Aguas Calientes in order to seamlessly visit Machu Picchu
On a lot of other blogs you’ll see people strongly recommend that you stay in the nearby town of Aguas Calientes in order to “beat the crowds” and make sure you have an easy time of getting to Machu Picchu.
Well when I looked at the prices and reviews of hotels in Aguas Calientes I was shocked by not only how expensive accommodations are, but also at how many mediocre and bad reviews they all have considering how much they cost.
Because of this, I decided to book at the glowingly reviewed and points and miles nerds favorite Tambo del Inka, which is part of The Luxury Collection and now part of Marriott Bonvoy. Tambo is not only a beautiful property with wonderful service, but it’s also bookable with points!
When I stayed there back in August 2018, Tambo was still part of SPG, so I only had to use 25k SPG points per night for a room that was $500+ per night if I had wanted to pay cash. Per a quick check on the Bonvoy app for a random Friday night stay in August 2020, Tambo is a tier 5 property and costs 35k points per night.
Located in lovely Urubamba, Tambo del Inka is in the heart of the Sacred Valley, and staying in this gorgeous part of Peru was the other highlight of our trip to Peru! There were countless things that I loved about Tambo, but one of my favorites was that Tambo is the only hotel with its own stop on PeruRail, which is the main transportation method for people to get from Cusco to Machu Picchu.
Through the tour agency Venturia, they arranged for us to do a day trip of Machu Picchu from Tambo via PeruRail. They organized tickets for us on the VistaDome train, and we simply hopped on around daybreak at the hotel’s private train station, which then dropped us off at Aguas Calientes. Outside of the train station at Aguas Calientes we rendezvoused with our tour guide, who then whisked us to the front of the line to the buses that go up to Machu Picchu — it was super easy, and we still had a full day to explore Machu Picchu at our leisure!
On top of that, staying in the Sacred Valley had some major perks, which meant that incredible sights like the Maras salt flats, the ruins of Pisac and Ollantaytambo, and the mesmerizing terraces of Moray were all nearby and were easy half day tours to take from the hotel and left the rest of the day for relaxing poolside at Tambo.
Go to Machu Picchu/Sacred Valley first before you stay in Cusco
Machu Picchu and the Sacred Valley are at a lower elevation than Cusco, so it is SO much easier to acclimate to the altitude if you fly into Cusco and go straight to the Sacred Valley or Aguas Calientes.
We did this and it was a life saver!
We stayed 4 nights at Tambo in the Sacred Valley before heading to Cusco, and we still got altitude sickness when we stayed in Cusco.
The elevation in Peru can be tough to power through, but the good thing about all of the fancy hotels we booked (Tambo in Urubamba and Palacio del Inka in Cusco, which is also Bonvoy/Luxury Collection) was that they offered complimentary oxygen tanks to guests to use if they were feeling ill.
We had to use the tanks a few times even though we were taking altitude pills that I bought off of Amazon, so giving yourself time to acclimate to the elevation is def one of the best tips I can share with you all!
Hot tip — drinking lots of water and Peruvian coca tea will help alleviate any of the effects of altitude sickness that you may experience.
When booking internal flights in Peru take the extra time to search for the deals + consider using points and miles + don’t be afraid to check upgrade prices…
After a quick initial search, it seemed like the only way to get from Lima to Cusco was on LATAM airlines and they were charging a pretty penny ($300+ roundtrip) for the ~2 hour flight to Cusco.
What I kept noticing what that the price for foreigners were in the $300-$400 range, but that for Peruvians the prices were much lower. I figured there had to be a workaround, so I decided to do some digging.
After some more Googling, I found that Avianca also flies Lima to Cusco and their prices are much less expensive than LATAM’s. I ended up getting roundtrip flights with Avianca for ~$200, and every little bit helps.
When we checked in at the airport with Avianca in both Lima and Cusco, I simply asked if they had any upgrades to business available, and for only $40 extra per person, we got to move up. While Avianca business on the Lima to Cusco route isn’t all lief-flats and caviar, the extra room, free alcohol, nicer food, attentive service, etc. was well worth it!
If you find cash prices are still high, then don’t forget to look into OneWorld partners (ex: Avios) for booking award flights on LATAM, or also check out Star Alliance partners (ex: United) or the Avianca LifeMiles program to book Avianca award flights.
Take time to connect with the locals
Our time staying in the Sacred Valley was so magical and one of our favorite experiences was taking an afternoon to go on a guided hike through the valley with local Andean villagers and llamas through The Llama Pack Project.
Not only did we get to learn more about the villagers way of life and get to hang out with the adorable llamas that they care for, but we also got to explore the local area, which is so pristine and picturesque!
Not only was it lots of fun, but you also get to feel good about giving back, since the hike up the mountain is an exercise in helping to train the llamas
Don’t only spend time in Machu Picchu and Cusco, but explore Lima and consider Huacachina and Rainbow Mountain
We really enjoyed our time staying at an Airbnb in Miraflores, and I feel like most people jet right off to Cusco and Machu Picchu and don’t explore and appreciate how wonderful Lima is!
Not only does Lima have an amazing food scene, but it’s also has a great art, shopping and cultural scene, along with gorgeous coastal vistas that serve up impressive sunsets.
I’ve also heard great things about Huacachina — an incredible desert oasis located roughly 5 hours by car from Lima — and Rainbow Mountain are phenomenal and if we had had the time, I definitely would have headed down to check those out as well!
You can use Uber in Peru, but beware!
We had no problem using Uber to get to an from Lima airport, but when we landed in Cusco and ordered an Uber to go to Tambo del Inka in the Sacred Valley, our driver stopped in the middle of downtown Cusco and demanded we pay him in cash instead of via the app.
On top of that, he also told us to pay him more money than what the app has quoted us, and it became a bit of a nightmare after a long flight from Atlanta, long layover in Lima and then the flight into Cusco to deal with this guy’s meltdown.
After 20 minutes of arguing and refusing to do either, he got back in the car and drive us to our destination, but it’s obviously something to keep in mind if you decide to rely on Uber in Peru that you may run into a driver who wants to scam and take advantage of tourists.
If it has ever even crossed your mind to go to Peru then go ahead and make the leap the next time you find a great cash deal or points and miles redemption!
The history, incredible hospitality, delicious food and awe-inspiring sights will ensure you’ll enjoy this once-in-a-lifetime vacay that will leave your family and friends green with envy!
Who did you use for your rainbow mountain excursion?
Visited Peru for the first time this past July – stayed in Aguas for two nights and did noyt find the hotels to be too costly. We used Gate1 and were extremely pleased.
This is very helpful! Thanks for the tips 🙂
Hours waiting in line for the bus to take you to an overpopulated tourist attraction? Did that and don’t recommend unless you are a history fanatic.
But if you want to truly mix with locals and have an unforgettable Peru experience, fly to Iquitos and go to the Amazon boat are. Negotiate with a boatsman to take you up the Amazon to stay with a local tribe for a few days. Not great accommodations but can’t beat catching Piranha then frying them for dinner. Rainforest walks during the day and tarantula watching at night.
Go with the crowds or have a real Peruvian adventure!
Sure hope you reported the UBER driver!
I’ve been told that coca tea is more effective than the medicine used for altitude sickness, but I can envision that it might cause someone to fail a drug test.
Having been to Machu Picchu twice, I agree that you should spend your first nights down in the Sacred Valley, not up in Cuzco. As soon as you arrive in Cuzco, hop a cab down into the SV. The Cuzco end of the SV is actually at about the same elevation as MP, roughly 8000 ft. When you are comfortable there, then you can return to the ~11,000 ft. altitude of Cuzco.
And don’t miss the ‘World’s Highest Irish Bar’ while you are there 🙂
Check out Olyamtumbo in your planning. It is an ancient Inca town with the original street gutters still flowing from Inca engineering. Lots of local restaurants and hotels (and Chica bars!). Best of all you are close to Machu so a beautiful train ride makes for an easy day. The scenery in town is beautiful including an Inca fortress where the Spanish were defeated.
At the risk of blasphemy, I would skip MP. It’s really quite busy and tricky/costly to get to and there are other amazing sites that you can visit that are more enjoyable.
Also, don’t forget the beautiful volcano landscape around Arequipa and the stunning Colca Canyon!
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