5 things I wish I’d known about Machu Picchu

After a trip to dream destination Machu Picchu, Wanderlust’s Simon Chubb shares his top tips on things he wished he’d known before going

5 mins

Be careful of your pronunciation!

If pronounced correctly, Machu Picchu means “old mountain”; if it’s not, you might inadvertently be providing the locals with much entertainment. If you’ve been calling it mah-choo peeK-choo all these years, you’re safe. However, if you’ve been slightly lazy and pronounced it mah-choo pee-choo (as I suspect I have), you’ve been calling it “old penis”!

I must get the first bus in the morning to see the sunrise

The easiest way to get from Aguas Calientes (or Machu Picchu town) to the site of Machu Picchu is by bus. Some people will insist on getting up at 3am to join the bus queue for the first bus in the morning. However, as our guide advised,  99% of the time the site is covered in cloud and it’s not until about 9am that the sun will burn through the mists. Obviously, this changes throughout the year but as a rule of thumb a 7:30am bus will get you there in plenty of time.

Yes, it’s entirely possible to visit Machu Picchu independently. However, there are no information boards to explain what you’re looking at, what the buildings were for or any other background information. If you want someone to help bring the site alive for you, it’s worth investing on a good guide. One disadvantage of a guided tour is that you’re required to follow the one-way system through the site – enforced by very polite and friendly, yet firm guardians. However, there’s nothing stopping you going round once with your guide and then going round a second time on your own to experience more of the site at your own pace. New regulations being drafted will make having a guide compulsory anyway.

Watch what you wear

Apparently, a little known rule states you are not allowed in wearing the traditional dress of another country. We didn't find any proof of that (but I didn't wear my sporran either). Despite the much publicised recent rash of streaking, neither are you allowed to go naked, or to change your clothes within the site. Walking poles are banned - unless you are disabled - as are large backpacks. New rules will also crack down on inappropriate footwear (to stop damage to the paths) and large umbrellas.

Stay longer in Aguas Calientes

Most people only stay one night between finishing the Inca Trek and before visiting Machu Picchu, or having arrived by train. However, staying longer gives you a lot more options. The town at the foot of Machu Picchu has a few of its own attractions and activities including the hot springs the town was named after and nearby activities such as white water rafting and cloudforest hikes. However, the main advantage is that you can visit Machu Picchu at different times of the days. Some people prefer to be at the site in the afternoon when the larger morning crowds have gone and you get golden afternoon sunlight. Alternatively on day one, you could visit the main site before climbing the very steep steps up Wayna Picchu (you need a ticket) for a view down to the site. On day two, hike the longer but steadier climb to Machu Picchu Mountain – additional ticket also applies – for views down towards Wayna Picchu.


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