Bucket List Travel Basics for Machu Picchu, Peru

On April 17, 2001, I made a list of places I’d like to visit and Peru was on it because of Machu Picchu. I had just celebrated another birthday, and the scene of my personal strategy planning session was a departure gate in Chicago’s bustling O’Hare International airport. Back then, I used to set 5- and 10-year goals for things I hoped to achieve by a certain age. Instagram, the popular photo and video-sharing social networking service we all now turn to for travel inspiration had not yet launched (it did so on October 2010), and it was a little under three years before Facebook burst on the scene in February 2004. That’s clear proof my yen for seeing this historic site was not being influenced by any current travel trends, wouldn’t you agree?

This weekend, as I got ready to document my insights and tips on traveling to Machu Picchu, I glanced at the date on my laptop and realized it was April 29, 2018. Wow, I thought to myself, this trip has been a long time coming. Dreams – even if delayed – do come true! Sign og Machu PIcchu Town_Aguas Calientes_Peru

Below are the answers to everything I thought about and asked about before I went. I’ve also thrown in some on-the-ground insights for you as well. Please read this post and bookmark it if you plan to go.

For the best time of year, most people will tell you to book your trip for April to mid-June, or between September and October, since those months fall in the drier seasons and that time-frame keeps you safe from the avalanche of summer tourists. I’ve heard the last two weeks of June to the end of August are super packed.

Peru’s rainy season peaks between late January and March, so you can expect sporadic, light or heavy showers and fog at any time. I was there during the third week of March, but I got lucky because I got to tour the site and take as many pictures as I could before the skies opened up and rained down liquid sunshine.

For the best time of day, I’d recommend going during mid-morning hours (ideally between 8-10:30 a.m.) or in the afternoon from 3-4p.m. The busiest time is from 11 a.m.-3 p.m. If you are an early riser, you’ll be happy to know the first buses leave at 5:30 a.m. to take you to the site’s entrance. However, visibility isn’t great that early in the morning due to misty weather.

BEST WAYS TO GET THERE Getting to Machu PIcchu

Please note that not all of your travel has to be done in one day. I spent two full days exploring Lima, and stayed one night in Cusco before moving on to the Sacred Valley region to allow my body time to acclimatize to the changes in air pressure.  Breaking up the journey also  gives you time for additional things like wandering through local artisan markets, seeing other sights, and sampling a variety of drinks made from corn and local cacao beans.

After Cusco, I then spent one night in Agua Calientes so I could have a good night’s rest before my excursion to Mapi (that’s the name the locals lovingly use for South America’s most famous ruins).

There are simply not enough words to describe the epic greatness that is Machu Picchu. Expect phenomenal views, enlightening insights into the intricacies of Inca history and culture, and that once-in-a lifetime feeling of “I had better soak all of this in right now” as I may never walk this place again. The majesty of Machu Picchu_Peru

Here are a few other things to be aware of:

Opening hours are from 6 a.m. to 4 p.m. Plan to spend at least two hours there.

The entry fee to the main grounds is 152,00 Peruvian soles (approx. US$47), which you must purchase IN ADVANCE of the day you plan to visit because there is a daily limit to the number of tickets sold. You do not want to get there and be faced with no availability. This ticket price allows you to enter the grounds twice, and it gives you access to the main ruins you see in pictures, as well as to the Inca Bridge and the Sun Gate Trail. It does not allow you to hike the Inca Trails to the top of Machu Picchu Mountain or Huayna Picchu. Tickets can be bought through a tour company, travel agency, in person in Aguas Calientes, or online. I found a useful guide to buying tickets here.

You’ll be asked to show your passport on the train, bus, and at the entrance.

No matter what you do, it will eventually get crowded and several guides will approach you to offer their services. The price varies based on the number of persons in your group.

Be careful about maneuvering several steps, many of which are uneven and steep, and without railings. (Wear comfortable shoes!) Rocky terrain at Machu Picchu

Altitude sickness is a very real possibility. I didn’t have any issues while touring the main grounds which are about 7,970 feet/2,430 meters above sea level. I just kept an even walking pace and took breaks, if needed. (However, I had to walk very slowly at the higher altitudes in Cusco and Ollantaytambo as I often found myself feeling out of breath.) If you plan to hike the Inca Trails, some sections go above 9,200 feet/2,804 meters, so you could experience symptoms like dizziness, headaches, muscle aches or nausea – regardless of age, gender, or level of fitness. I’d advise you to speak with your doctor before your trip in order to see what medications and tips you can use to better prepare for and/or avoid any adverse health effects.

There are no bathrooms or snack areas once you pass the entry point. Food consumption is actually forbidden inside the site. (Walk with your own bottle of water to stay hydrated because anything at Tinkuy Restaurant, which in inside the  luxury Sanctuary Lodge Hotel situated right outside the entrance, is expensive.)

Plan to pay two soles if you need to use the bathroom.

Budget for a charge of three soles to store your bag at the entrance, if you need to. It’s an invigorating walk around the site, so anything over 10 pounds/5 kilos is not encouraged.

There’s a ban on the use of tripods, although selfie-sticks are allowed.

You’ll be bombarded with multiple photo opps, so pack extra batteries and memory cards for your cameras and phones.

Look for the booth with the optional and complimentary, do-it-yourself passport stamp at the exit. Thatch covered structures at Machu PIcchu_Peru

OTHER COSTS (as at March 2018)

Hotels:  This number will vary depending on the type of accommodation selected and personal travel style preferences.  Three-, four- and five-star hotels are available in addition to Airbnb rentals and hostels.

In Lima, I wanted something nice that was infused with local character, so I opted to stay at a cute little Bed & Breakfast called Hotel de Autor in the coastal and tourist-friendly district of Miraflores. The property has four bedrooms that, as one Travel + Leisure article put it, are “individually designed, mixing vintage artifacts with contemporary furnishings.” Its dining room is a converted garage, and it has a small rooftop garden area and terrace where you can relax after a busy day of sightseeing and enjoy the sights and sounds of the city with a glass of your favorite beverage. The best parts about this property were the short walking distances to many shops and restaurants and the attentiveness of the staff. Miguel Payet was my point person and he was amazing. I paid $112.70 per night, plus taxes. _Peru

In Cusco, my pre-Machu Picchu night was part of a package deal with a tour company called Intrepid Travel. I didn’t like that hotel very much, so on my post Machu Picchu night in Cusco, I opted to stay at a place that was basic, clean and comfortable. It was called the Estancia San Blas. For an affordable rate of $49.97 per night, plus taxes, I was only a few blocks from the main square. Complimentary buffet breakfast was also included.

In Aguas Calientes, I stayed at Hostal Inti Punku Tambo, which was also included in my three-day Intrepid package. The current rate on Booking.com is $117 per night, plus taxes. It wasn’t anything fancy, but it was in the center of town and close to everything. For one night, it will do. Rates were expensive there because the town is at the base of the mountain.

Ground Transportation: Costs for the taxis and the train are already outlined in the infographic chart above. A 30-minute bus ride takes you from Aguas Calientes to the entrance of Machu Picchu. The cost is $US 24 dollars for the return trip. Peru Rail


  1. The odd numbers on the train are window seats, so try snagging one of them for amazing views.
  2.  Arrive at the station at least 30 minutes before  your scheduled departure time, because they don’t dally when it’s time to leave. There’s no need to panic if you arrive early and don’t see the numbers on the railway cars.  They are put up close to departure time and staff members lead you by groups to your railcar with raised hand signs.
  3. Also, for greater ease in travel, it’s best to leave your wheeled luggage in storage at your hotel in Cusco and just pack a light overnight bag/backpack for your stay in Aguas Calientes.


Here’s the clincher: you can either arrange all this yourself, or you can take the easy route and book a short, yet comprehensive tour package, inclusive of local guides and lodging. That’s what I did! My three-day Intrepid Machu Picchu Explorer (Original) package included two nights hotel accommodations; two breakfasts and one lunch; ground transportation via bus and train; a Half Tourist Ticket Pass, which gives you access to selected archaeological sites in/around Cusco (like Pisac and the Ollantaytambo fortress); an orientation walk around Cusco; and the entrance fee to Machu Picchu with a guided tour. Rates start at US$683 per adult in a twin share room. The cost goes up if you’d rather not have a roomie.

If you only want help with the Machu Picchu portion, several companies  offer all-inclusive day trips. For example, while doing my research I found one day tour from Viator that departed from Cusco. It included hotel pick up and drop off, the cost of your train and bus ticket, plus the site’s entry fee. The price started at US$347. That seemed like a lot to me for just one day, but it all depends on your schedule and budget.

Whatever you decide to do, I hope you have a memorable time!

NOTE: You can also read some general tips about Peru here.

Stunning views at Machu PIcchu


Dreaming of a life of full-time travel? Appealing, yes, but it’s not for everybody.

Despite my love of travel, and as tempting as the internet makes the jet- setting life of top social media influencers seem, there’s no denying the full-time, always-on-an-airplane hustle is not right for me. Of course, globetrotting is appealing, and the idea of potentially working with rad  travel brands and landing all-expense paid trips to countries on my insanely long bucket list sounds like music to my ears – if I could do it in my spare time. But the ‘travel is your job’ reality that involves rigorous and exhausting flying schedules, intense pressure to always be creating and sharing content, and the 24/7 need to project a camera-perfect self? Nah. I’ll respectfully pass… please.

You see, I fell in love with travel because of what it makes me feel. And I fear I’d lose that emotional place I go to if work responsibilities and deadlines begin to dictate and define my trips. When I boarded my first international flight from Jamaica to New York City all those years ago, it ushered me into a larger-than-life space I had previously only read about, dreamed about, or seen on TV. The wonder of my new surroundings – skyscrapers that seemed to touch the sky,  frenetic and dizzying traffic, cart vendors serving up tasty-looking street food, and the foreign accents – made an indelible impression on this then wide-eyed six year old.  Because of that, I never want to lose the rush that visiting a new destination brings.

However, in deference to the gals and guys slaying it in the game right now, I thought I’d poke some fun at myself by giving some other reasons why I know I wouldn’t make the cut as a full-time traveler. Kayaking at Sunset

I like my sleep, and an unhurried pace.
Do you think all those amazing photos of bloggers standing alone at popular tourist traps like the Pyramids of Giza, Chichen Itza, The Great Wall of China, The Eiffel Tower and more happen organically? Oh, no. They take careful planning and scheduling, which often involves waking up extra early to arrive at a location ahead of the crowds so you can set up, AND hopefully get, a clear shot. I don’t know about you, but when I’m on vacation, I like my zzzs, setting my own sightseeing agenda, and going at my own pace. In an ideal world, I roll out of bed at eight, shower, then head down to the hotel breakfast buffet to secure my bacon and eggs before service ends.

Also, although writing blog posts, editing and uploading photos, and managing multiple online platforms might seem easy. It’s not. The people who do it well and are successful, put in super long hours. I function best with eight solid hours of consecutive sleep. Colorful stall in Cusco market_Lima

I’m a VERY imperfect girl living in a seemingly perfect virtual world.
Camera perfection takes precision, and admittedly, that’s not one of my strong points. Sure, I take pride in my creative output, but the people in today’s travel space have taken things to a whole other level. For every swoon-worthy photo we see on Instagram that features an exquisitely posed ‘candid’ in front of a dramatic landscape, iconic landmark or vivid color block, tons of behind the scenes prep work goes into it – from hair to make up and multiple styling decisions. Me? I’m a dab some lipstick on, grab a hat and go kinda gal. Plus, I love fashion almost as much as the next person, but some of the elaborate outfits I’m seeing in the most unnatural settings makes me go…whoa! Seriously, who wears long, cascading dresses or palazzo-style pants that would totally rock it as resort wear to a local market, or slip into a miniskirt to go romping with wildlife? With the likelihood of messy, greasy and bacteria-prone floors ready to embrace your hemlines (eeek), or the real possibility of wardrobe malfunctions brought on from unrestricted movements and breezy days spent outdoors, that person is definitely not me. [Vivid evidence of that is displayed in the photo shared above.]Jamaican country life

Patience is a virtue, and one I certainly don’t have much of.
Perfection also takes patience. Lots and lots of it. I mean, like taking time to scout ideal photo locations and plan your clothing, wait for the right lighting, and capture dozens of outtakes to get the money shots. I’ll try a couple of snaps to aim for the best angles and light in my photos, even slip an extra shirt into my bag for a quick change, but after a few minutes of concentrated effort, I’ll settle for realism because I prefer to have time to actually see and do fun stuff. The increasingly elaborate setups I’m seeing in some of the mushrooming travel feeds are mind-blowing in terms of the time they must take to execute. That’s crossing the line from vacation to stressful work in my book. Pisac_Peru

I strain at the bit against doing the obvious.
Thankfully, the social media/blogger industry still has a few bold trailblazers out there leading the pack with originality, but more and more I’m finding a sameness to the locations and style of photos being shared. I’ve never been good at group think. Tell me, how many pictures of ornate Bali gates, free-flowing swings and rice paddies can you see without getting a gag reflex? Of course Indonesia looks epic in every photo, and I plan to visit it myself someday, but surely there are other less trafficked destinations out there to explore. I say bring on more Croatia and Japan and New Zealand, or anyplace else on the road less travelled!

Oh, and as cute as the stand on tip toe, clutch your hat, and show the back your head pose can be, when you see it a hundred times a week it gets tired pretty fast, wouldn’t you agree? I’ve got no beef with people who throw it in now and then (in fact, I do it myself with sometimes clumsy results – see above), but I’ll be honest and admit how much more I enjoy seeing pictures that are less obvious or practiced. I prefer variety in everything I do. Florida beach at sunset

I’m old… Gen X kinda old.
More than anything else, I think my ‘advanced age’ may be my biggest hurdle to Insta-fame (not that it’s a real goal of mine as I state in this post). Now don’t get me wrong, you can see from my pictures that I’m not close to the geriatric category (yet), but this industry is primarily led by hotshot millennials. Many appear to be fairy-like creatures with flawless, youthful skin and effortlessly slender body types that slay in almost anything. Hear me good: I’m not hating on them because I too was young once. So if you’ve got it, flaunt it.

These travel influencers also have an inherent propensity for social sharing because they grew up in the Internet age. For someone like me who is closer to envisioning a future retirement party than remembering my college graduation celebration, I don’t have an innate desire to tell the world everything I’m doing and my hand isn’t permanently attached to my phone. What’s more, a good night out for my generation means a nice dinner and a gallery showing, play or cultural performance, not copious chugs of craft beer or shots and then clubbing. Now, who’s gonna sit at home and watch mundane Instagram Stories or Snapchat shares of that? No one. Exactly!

Lemme keep things all the way real. There are other reasons a 365 days a year nomadic lifestyle holds little appeal. I’ve got pension and health care planning to consider first. In addition, my middle-aged, always fighting a sluggish metabolism body isn’t poppin’ like it used to (in my dreams at least, because I can’t say for sure it really ever did), so the sexy swimsuit shots by the infinity pools or palm-fringed beaches of the world aren’t really going to materialize on my channels. And it’s no secret that flirtatious and sensual images help drive the numbers game. On that front, I can’t and simply won’t deliver. C’mon, who wants to deal with issues like belly fat and embarrassing episodes of dark brown hair dye cascading down your back when you step into a public body of water? My friends, those are the things you have to think about when the desired six-pack needs to be painted on and gray hair is beginning to sprout like annoying weeds in your scalp! (Go ahead and laugh, guys. Trust me, you won’t hurt my feelings.) In all honesty, my beach photos are likely to feature a cover up, and chances are you won’t EVER see me fully submerged in water.

And I could go on and on, but that’s it for this week’s installment of my kinda crazy! I hope someone got a chuckle or two out of this post because I sure did.  Girl watching Florida sunset