It is iconic, on everyone’s bucket list. And it’s mobbed. (Though, you too can visit virtually here.)
It is worth it, however, especially as they have managed to improve crowd control, of late. Waiting 2 hours for an (expensive) bus to the site was normal recently. A new tightly-timed entry system seems to alleviated that quite a bit.
Located just outside the town of Aguas Calientes (or is it Machu Picchu Pueblo? – seems like locals call it the latter but all the internet the former), Machu Picchu’s setting is truly incredible. Nestled in the mountains, it really does conjure up archetypical thoughts of lost civilizations and explorers. You can learn more about what it was.
Aguas Calientes can only be reached by train (or hiking) so it is a funny little town meant for tourists and those that serve them. The streets are pedestrian- (or train!) only expect one where the buses to Machu Picchu itself run.
Most visitors stay for a meal, or maybe 1 night in this town, but we wanted a relaxed, slower pace so reserved 2 nights. For a small, isolated town it turned out to be full of activity (not all of it helpful)! We saw multiple parades and marches AND discovered that they are some seriously late night people. Our hotel was up a hill and on the 5th floor above the town’s soccer field/stadium. On our first night, there was a soccer match until midnight (ish) with full announcements at top volume. We had an early-ish morning to get to the site (it newly has timed tickets by the hour) but we got a reasonable amount of sleep.
After a mediocre breakfast at the hotel we headed to the bus stop. It was signposted to match the entry time to Machu Picchu (again, you buy a timed ticket by the hour, now) and there was staff checking to make sure you had your tickets, passports (needed for entry) etc. We boarded about 30 minutes before our entry time and all went smoothly.
We made the bad decision to initially go up to a “scenic viewpoint” offshoot immediately on the main path. This turned out to be an “instajam” (trademark pending). There were about 20 people ahead of us, most in groups of 3-5. Seems like about 5 minutes right? How long does it take to snap a photo? Turns out a LONG time if you are 20-30 years old as you need 6 poses each and in various group combinations. Also, you need to check to make sure each picture came out (even though you took 100) before getting out of line.
Luckily rest of the place, while busy, was not a traffic jam of people like that was. We spent about 2 hours walking around through the marked paths. It is incredible in terms of size and scale. The terraces and buildings really are spread out in a large area, and the ability to build on such steep slopes is awesome. There are no signs/plaques at the site, so you need to have a guide or guidebook to have any clue what you are looking at!
Upon our return to town, a banner went up about the the 78th anniversary of the town. All of a sudden people in traditional dress were all around and we got to see a parade down the streets. What fun! or so we thought. Once again loudspeakers were blaring from the field, (decent cover band, actually) and we assumed they would end at midnight-ish, again. How wrong we were! We were woken at midnight for a large fireworks display, which we assumed was end of the party. Oh no. Another live band started. I was able to fall asleep until I was awoken at 3, yes 3, and the band and screaming was going strong. At this point I didn’t fall back asleep until 4:15 when the band finally called it a night (morning?). Luckily kids slept through it all except the fireworks, but it was still a long day back to Cusco…