Train between Cusco-Aguas Calientes = $48USD each way
Bus between Aguas Calientes-Machu Picchu site = $7USD each way
Entry fee to Machu Picchu = $23 USD
1L bottle of water = $5USD
Now multiply that by 1000 visitors per day. And those are the 2009 prices.
Yes, it is outrageously overpriced relative to the Peruvian economy. Yes, they shamelessly fleece tourists. Yes, everyone has been there now.
But can you go to Peru and NOT go to Machu Picchu?
This UNESCO world heritage site is possibly the most famous Lost City. Once a part of the Inca Empire (which ran South America before Europe came along), this place was remote enough to stay hidden from the outside world for centuries until about 1911. And who doesn’t love a good mystery?
After all, we still know little about the Inca civilization. The Incas did not develop a system of writing; they used some sort of elabourate knot-tying instead, which we still do not know how to decipher. So we have limited information about Machu Picchu. What was it used for? Why did it escape the conquistadors’ attention? And why didn’t they build any railings on the death-defying staircases atop a mountain?
I went to Machu Picchu in the wet season, so hiking the Inca Trail, or any trail for that matter was not an option. I took a 7am bus up the mountain from Aguas Calientes, the town below, and am honestly inclined to think it was the better choice. This was my first experience with serious altitude above sea level and I found myself huffing and puffing from staircases while 70-year British folks with walkers and canes passed me by. There was also far more walking than I expected, since the photos do not show how Machu Picchu is massive, sprawling over three mountain tops, not just the one village summit as seen above.
Two pieces of advice if you go:
1) If you want to hike Huayna Picchu, the Sleeping Giant mountain behind the village, they only allow 400 people per day on the trail. By 9:00 am, the trail is usually already closed. Learned from experience.
2) Buy your souvenirs in Cusco, not Aguas Calientes. They charge triple the price in the markets in A.C.