Machu Picchu has become a very popular destination recent years. May be you know this site had been declared as one of the new 7 wonders of the worl this year. About eight hundred thousands tourists have been visited Machu Picchu this year. And it is expected that around one million travelers will visit this fabulous city on year 2008.
Certainly it is an awesome place to visit. But can you visit on your own? Or do you have to take help of tour operators? Lots of people asked me this question. I will try to answer to this question in this article.
Well, some of you need tour operators, some of you do not. If you are planning to visit Machu Picchu, stay in Aguas Calientes ( I wrote down about Aguas Calientes in detail below) one or two nights, you do not need a tour operators. But if you are planning to hike Inca trail, then you need a tour operator. As per new law, only licensed tour operators can operate in Inca trail. There is exception for those who want to go independently, but they have to carry their own equipment, luggage, food and tents, so it is not practical to go to hike Inca trail without tour operators. Also if you are planning to visit Machu Picchu in one day and want to come back on the same day, and you have kids, then you may need to take help of tour operators.
So if you are not in hurry (and not going to hike Inca trail), then you do not need any tour operators. You can save money and spend it other ways. Also it is like a challenge, know new things and make them work. You will like it. Just get ideas from website, note the important information, and start.
To reach Peru first factor is Visa, but good thing is that you do not need visa if you are a citizen of one of the following countries – EU countries, Australia, Canada, USA and Japan and Andorra, Antigua & Barbuda, Argentina, Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Bolivia, Brazil, Brunei, Chile, Colombia, Cook Islands, Costa Rica, Dominica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Fiji, Grenada, Guatemala, Guyana, Haiti, Honduras, Hong Kong, Iceland, Indonesia, Israel, Jamaica, Kiribati, Korea (Rep. of), Liechtenstein, Malaysia, Malta, Marshall Islands, Mexico, Micronesia (FS), Monaco, Nauru, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Norway, Palau, Panama, Papua New Guinea, Paraguay, Philippines, St Kitts & Nevis, St Lucia, St Vincent & the Grenadines, Samoa, San Marino, Singapore, Solomon Islands, South Africa, Surinam, Switzerland, Taiwan, Thailand, Tonga, Trinidad & Tobago, Tuvalu, Uruguay, Vanuatu, Vatican City and Venezuela.
If you are not from one of the above countries still you can get visa, but you have to apply, and processing time is 24 hours.
Entering Lima city
If you come from outside Peru you will certainly land at Jorge Chavez International Airport at Lima. This airport is very close to the busy city area. You may reach center of the city within half an hour from there. Also you can reach most of the cheap hotels in half an hour from the airport. If you are reaching Peru by road, you will enter Peru via Tumbes in Ecuador, Puno in Bolivia or Tacna in Chile. If you decide to travel by car and you want to drive yourself, then you should know that traffic jam is very common in Lima and also driving is very tough there.
Staying Peru is cheap. With $ 25.00 a day you can easily pass your days in Peru and still you may get good food and comfortable hotels. Check websites for hotel. Stay around either Plaza de Armas or in Miraflores. Plaza de Armas is like Central Square or Central plaza. Miraflores is the downtown of this city, which is at southwest of Lima. Miraflores is the business area of Lima.
Lima to Cusco
You can stay one night at Lima and move to Cusco city. To reach Machu Picchu you have to reach first Cusco by air or road. Then from Cusco you can travel to Machu Picchu by train. You can reach Cusco from Lima by plane, which is less than a hour journey (50 minutes- to be precise). You can reach Cusco by Bus too. But it will take around 24 hours (!).
There are mainly 4 companies operating domestic flights between Lima and Cuzco. They are Lanperu, TACA, Aero Condor and Star Peru. Lanperu and TACA are more reliable. You can buy tickets from website of Lanperu. But remember Lanperu and TACA are expensive. Aero condor is comparatively much cheaper.
There are two companies ( if you like bus journeys)- Cruz del Sur and Ormeno. With first one you may buy tickets online. Ormeno has a website too, but in Spanish only.
Staying at Cusco
In Cusco you may have to stay at least one night, because train to Machu Picchu starts early in the morning and they come back from Machu Picchu at evening. You may check websites for hotel. Stay around Plaza de Armas which is at the center of the city. Buy the train tickets one day before your departure. You can get the help on tickets from your hotel desk too.
Cusco to Machu Picchu
Check the train schedule of Lan Peru in their website, and choose a journey. Peru rail is offering three train services from Cuzco to Machu Picchu. Right now Peru Rail is the only operator. So you have to choose from one of these three. These three train services are -1. Hiram Bingham 2.Vistadome 3. Backpacker
Of these three services Hiram Bingham is very luxurious one. It is very expensive too. Vistadome has windows at both side and at roof. So when the train passes through mountains and through ups and downs, you can enjoy the scenery of surroundings. Backpacker is the cheapest one. Still the service is good.
There is a alternative road service. There is no direct road service between Cuzco and Machu Picchu. But you can take a combination of bus/taxi between Cusco and Ollantaytambo and then train between Ollantaytambo and Machu Picchu.
Train from Cusco stops at a small town, Aguas Calientes. From here you can take bus ride to Machu Picchu, which is only few kilometers away. You need to pay entrance fee to enter the citadel of Machu Picchu. Buy this ticket from Aguas Calientes. Ask anybody and they will show you from where you have to buy the ticket. If you want to stay at Machu Picchu one or more nights, you can stay either in Machu Picchu or in Aguas Calientes. Actually Machu Picchu is not a town, it is just the ruins. There is only one hotels just before the entrance of Machu Picchu, Machu Picchu Sanctuary lodge. This hotel is of very high standard hence very expensive, more than 600.00$ a night. But you can stay at Aguas Calientes (like most of the tourists do). At Aguas Calientes you will get hotels of all standard. You can choose a hotel from 10.00$ to 300.00$ a night. In Aguas Calientes you will find plenty of restaurants to have your lunch or dinner. They have some hot springs at Aguas Calientes, you may visit there. One more thing, do not forget to buy your train ticket from Aguas Calientes to Cusco once you reach Aguas Calientes. Try to buy the ticket as early as possible, or may not come back at your desired time.
So you see it is not difficult to tour Machu Picchu on your own. You may visit some websites and just get enough information and make you plan. I hope you will enjoy.