We took a two days-one night tour to visit Machu Picchu. The tour included the bus from Cusco to Hidroeléctrica, lunch, dinner, a nice hostel room with a private bathroom, the guide at Machu Picchu, the tickets to the National Park and the ride back from Hidroeléctrica to Cusco.
The first day we met at the tour office at 7:30 am to head to the bus. It is a 6 hours drive from Cusco to Hidroeléctrica. Once we arrived to Hidroeléctrica we had to walk 11 kilometers to Aguas Calientes, the walk is not too bad, as it is relatively flat, besides the first five minutes which you have to go up some rock stairs. The walk takes two to two and a half hours.
Once we arrived to Aguas Calientes, the closest town to Machu Picchu, we meet up with our tour guide, who gave us the tickets to Machu Picchu and took us to the hostel, as well as explain the drill for the next day. We had all evening to walk around town, eat dinner and prepare for the next day.
The next day we woke up at 4:00 am to start our hike to Machu Picchu. The gate to the National Park opens at 5:00 am. It is a 20 minutes walk from the city to the gate. However, we recommend you to wake up early and to be first in line, the later you arrive the longer the line is to get in. We arrived at 4:30 and there were already 20 people in line. Ahead of us was a one to one and a half hour hike up the mountain. It can be a little tiresome because the whole hike is climbing steep stairs.
At the top of the mountain, the main Machu Picchu entrance gate opens at 6:00am. Our tour included a guide who would meet us at the entrance at 6:30 am. We chose to skip the guided tour part to ensure we had enough time to make it up Montaña.
When you first enter there are many spots that look great to take a photo and they all will be crowded with people taking selfies. However, if you want the classic photo of Machu Picchu head straight to the Guardhouse before anyone has time to enter the city below and get in your picture.
Rather than explore the city ruins, we started with the hike up Montaña. The hike takes around 2 hours each way, but some points are very steep and along the cliff edge. Along the path you get 15 different viewpoints. Obviously, the higher you get the smaller Machu Picchu will be, but the better the panoramic views of the ruins and surrounding valleys will be.
Our favorite viewpoint was number 5, a great combination of Machu Picchu and all surrounding mountains. It is worth going if you like hiking and are up for the challenge, otherwise we just recommend to enjoy Machu Picchu itself.
Heading back down Montaña, we went into the Inca ruins of the city of Machu Picchu. We took a ton of photos and videos around each corner. Do your best to not have other tourists in your photos by finding the right angles or waiting for them to move.
We walked around the Inca ruins for about an hour before we began our descent from Machu Picchu, as we needed to be back in Hidroeléctrica by 2:30 pm to get the bus to Cusco.
Going downhill from Machu Picchu was harder than going uphill. It takes less time but it is harder on the knees because it is all rock stairs. We then walked the relatively flat 11 kilometers back to Hidroeléctrica to catch the bus. If you arrive with enough time, there are a bunch of small restaurants to enjoy lunch. We arrived back in Cusco by 9:30pm and headed straight to bed!
The most important thing is to make sure you get your tickets for Machu Picchu in advance or make sure your has reserved the tickets for you.
You have three different options for tickets you can purchase. You can get a ticket just for Machu Picchu. If you would like to hike another mountain for panoramic views of the city you can get a ticket to Machu Picchu + Huayna Picchu OR to Machu Picchu + Montaña.
The tickets for the two different mountains have specific entrance times, so be aware of the time to not miss your spot!
Each ticket is personal, meaning that it has to have your full name, your passport number, nationality and your age. You will have to show your original ID at the entrance, so make sure you bring more than a photocopy.
If you are a citizen or resident of the Andean community (Colombia, Ecuador, Perú, and Bolivia) you get lower priced ticket for the National Park as long as you show your state ID. If you are a student and have a ISIC student ID, this is the place to use it. It is even cheaper if you have the international student ID than if you are from the Andean Community.
A final note, it is a long walk with a chance of daily rain so bring some sturdy shoes and a lightweight raincoat.