Machupicchu…so famous, so necessary to visit, such a pain in the ass!
I feel a bit negative and super sheepish writing that, but I want to be brutally honest. Despite it being obviously amazing, it wasn’t exactly the experience I had hoped for. Perhaps I was at the start of my travels and not quite “in the groove” yet, I am not sure. Perhaps it just didn’t fit with my personal type of travel: spontaneous, winging it and value for moolah. Or perhaps I am just a Debbie Downer lol.
But, why? What went wrong?
One thing I wasn’t thrilled about was that I had to plan everything around the famous Inca ruins, and I wasn’t even doing the Inca Trail, which you have to book six months in advance. In fact, I didn’t even know I was going to South America six months beforehand – who are these organised freaks?!
Even without the trek, it’s SO touristy that you can’t just “rock up” to the ruins, which is my preferred way of travelling, or doing anything really. They cap it at 2,500 people A DAY, so the sooner you book an entry ticket the better. I thought I had left plenty of buffer for me to miss buses, take llama selfies and whatever other nonsense it is I do, but I was still cutting it fine. I got sick in La Paz (altitude, dirty market cheese, or both) and was stuck there four days living off water and cheap crackers. I tried to change my train booking, but PeruRail were unsurprisingly hopeless (I think I was emailing a monkey), so I couldnt do anything. This was despite making me fork out US$215 to listen to bloody pipe music non-stop for four hours. And then EIGHT hours on the way back when the train broke down.
Thank goodness there were llamas in there.
It’s an epic tourist trap
I knew it would be touristy, but I have never experienced anything like it. Bus after bus after bus shipping hoards of people up the mountain, being asked by 50 different people every day if I want to eat at their restaurant and constantly paying 10 times more than anywhere else in Peru. And on the topic of money, all up it was about US$300 – the train tickets, the entry ticket, the bus ticket, the accommodation, the food, the tour guide. It’s all naturally way more expensive than the rest of Peru, but it just feels like such a tourist trap that you can’t even enjoy it. Did I mention there are literally THOUSANDS of people there each day? Makes it a bit hard to soak up the spiritual vibes when it’s all one way to avoid human traffic jams.
There are other magical places
For me, Machupicchu is this weird thing where you HAVE to go, and it IS still special when you’re there, perhaps a bit surreal after seeing it on every man and his dog’s profile pic, but it’s hard for me to say “it’s worth” that kind of money for a half day in the sun. I got way more out of Kuelap in northern Peru, which are spectacular ruins left behind by the Chachapoyas, waaaaay before Machupicchu was built and resembling something out of Indiana Jones. And it costs about US$30. And that includes lunch! I actually can’t recommend Kuelap enough to be honest.
If I can offer some advice (assuming anyone has survived my rant!), this is what I will share. And, of course, you can take it or leave it:
1. Do NOT go at 4am
Why on Earth everyone thinks they need to get up at the ungodly hour of 4am (some at 3am!) to go line up for at least an hour in the cold is beyond me. I actually think it’s just some kind of widespread misunderstanding, nobody actually questions why. With my abhorrence for early rising, I questioned it. Turns out there isn’t much to gain except fewer tourists and maybe a sunrise. You can avoid the crowds by going after 1pm and enjoy the afternoon light. So why not get an early train (actually, don’t do that – see point #2), start around midday, stay until 5pm and then spend the might in Machupicchu pueblo. You can then go to the thermal baths in the morning – win-a-ding-ding!
Apparently half the time it is misty in the morning and you don’t even see the sunrise. Plus how are you meant to enjoy it if your eyes are on fire from 4 hours’ sleep? So not worth it.
2. Do NOT get the tourist train
I mistakenly believed that the train was the only way to get there if you’re not trekking and that it was the train that costs fricken US$215 (big deep breaths). And they make you PAY for a Snickers. For real? At least they had a decent toilet, otherwise I may have blown a gasket. Let’s not talk about the pipe music though.
Turns out you can get a cheaper train, go by car, or even mini-bus it to the hydroelectric and then walk for a couple of hours. The latter option costs US$25 altogether. Funnily, I knew it would be a pain in the ass so I put a long-suffering friend onto it, but she didn’t have much success with the guide books either. So, despite needing to plan my visit it would’ve been better not to sort out the actual transport component until I got there.
3. Take a “sandwish”
I only took two bananas and then scabbed a muesli bar off a Mexican, but you can totally get away with taking more substantial food in – they don’t check your bag. It’s not a nightclub.
4. Get a tour guide
Preferably one who speaks English. It is worth the extra cash to get the most out of your visit. Plus, what’s another US$10 at this point?
5. Do one of the walks
If you’re up for it, the one that is practically vertical (Waynapicchu) has incredible views. But, again, you need to book in advance. A few weeks should be enough. If you’re lazy like me, the Inca Bridge walk is really lovely. Just be aware that if you’re scared of heights, the part before the bridge is a bit dodgy. You have to register your name before going in if that’s any indication.
6. Eat dinner at Indio Feliz
Recommended by Lonely Planet and Tripadvisor, this place is ridic. Sure, it’s US$22 which seems a joke in Peru, but on my first night I ate for US$11 and it was rubbish. For only double that I had the most beautiful 3-course meal from a super lovely multi-award winning French restaurant. You could never have that in Australia – take advantage!
7. Enjoy it
Once I got through all the drama (self-inflicted or otherwise), I did have to get my shit together and remember I was AT MACHUPICCHU. Try not to let the priciness, swarms of tourists and being hassled get you down. It is one of the world wonders after all.