Peru is a beautiful country, with lush green mountains and winding streams. I only saw a small part of the country, but have every intention of going back to explore more. If I were to go back, I would spend more time in the sacred valley which is beautiful and has a lot to offer, as opposed to many tourist itineraries that rush directly to the grand pinnacle Machu Picchu.
Last Visit: May 2015
Cost: $183/day
Stayed: 5 days
Suggest Staying: 1-2 weeks
English: 2/5
Safety: 3/5
Currency: Sol
Transport: Taxi, collectivo, train

My Favorites

1. Machu Picchu

Machu Picchu

Highlights: Mountains, ruins, rivers, hot springs
Suggest Staying: 2-3 days
Stay Around: Aguas Calientes
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One of the great wonders of the world (at least in my book), Machu Picchu is as good as it gets if you want a combination of nature, history, engineering, and hiking. There are many options to visit this enchanting place, but don’t rush! Take your time, enjoy the experience, drink your coca tea, and prevent altitude sickness. The ruins themselves are larger than one might expect and the weather varies depending on the time of day and time of year. No one really knows that much about Machu Picchu, including the guides, so pay them at your own risk, as some of them just make stuff up. We did overhear some informative guides that talked about some of the rock structures, rituals, and engineering masterpieces which is incredibly impressive considering the times. If you find a reputable, knowledgable guide it is worth it. If I were to do it again, I would spend two full days at the ruins. There is a lot of ground to cover and some obscure sites off the beaten path a bit like some of the gates, bridges, or surrounding mountains like Huayna Picchu or Machu Picchu Mountain.

See & Do

  • Machu Picchu Ruins. The ruins are pretty vast and contain many rooms and areas to visit. There are sections for eating, sleeping, celebrating, sacrificing, and even an observatory for astrology.
  • Huayna Picchu / Wayna Picchu. One of the two major mountains at opposite ends of the ruins. Takes about 2 hours roundtrip plus time spent at the top. The trail is accessed from inside Machu Picchu and is a 4,000 step climb to the summit. The entrance is at the opposite end of the gates next to Sacred Rock. Only 400 people are allowed per day and costs an extra $10. Tickets must be purchased in advance. The first two waves of people go at 7am and 10am. This climb is not recommended for those with fear of heights and there are no views if clouds don’t dissipate which is common in the morning. I strongly encourage you to watch YouTube videos to get a sense of the climb. It is extremely scary and dangerous, although people do it all the time. It’s incredibly steep with shallow, narrow steps having to navigate between people going up and coming down with sharp, deep drop-offs on each side. Conquering it is a rewarding feat, just be prepared mentally, physically, and with enough time.
  • Machu Picchu Mountain. Opposite Huayna Picchu. Takes about 2.5-3.5 hours roundtrip plus time spent at the top. Costs an extra $10, only 400 people allowed per day, is somewhat less steep, offers a better view, and is less crowded. This is a great alternative to Huayna Picchu if you have the time and want something still challenging, but slightly less intense.
  • Intipunku. Gate of the Sun. Trail takes about 1-1.5 hours each way. Free, but must enter by 3pm. It’s an hour walk down the Inca Trail. Recommend doing after 9am when the Inca Trail trekkers arrive.
  • Inca Bridge. Near the rear of the guardhouse. Takes about 15 minutes to walk and is not recommended if you have vertigo.
  • Aguas Calientes. Most come here simply for accommodations, as it is the closest place to stay to see the ruins, but the town is fun to explore and there are supposedly hot springs nearby (hence the town’s name).


  • Getting There. There are several options to get to Machu Picchu (or Aguas Calientes). Hiking the Inca Trail is very popular and you must have a guide. I decided I wasn’t in adequate shape and didn’t have the time for the 3-4 day trek and thus opted to fly from Lima to Cuzco then travel by collectivo to Ollantaytambo. There is a small area at Paradero Pavitos in Cuzco where you can find a collectivo van for very cheap, you will just need to wait until it fills up before leaving or pay extra. From Ollantaytambo I took the Peru Rail to Aguas Calientes. It is of course possible to go directly from Cuzco to Aguas Calientes by collectivo or train if you want to skip other parts of the sacred valley. To actually get to the ruins from Aguas Calientes, you can either hike (1 hour) or take the bus (20 minutes). It’s steep and in the interest of time, I took the bus both ways, which runs often. There is a line of them waiting and a crowd of tourists waiting also. Tickets are sold in shops along the way, so just ask around. Sol (cash) only if I remember correctly. If you want to experiment a mix of both, I would take the bus up and hike back down.
  • When To Go. April/May is a great time to go just before peak/rainy season. It will be cold at night and possibly even during the day. The official site’s hours are 6am-5pm. The best time to go is before 10am when there are the least amount of people and you can get the best pictures with no one in them as well as wander about more freely. However, mornings can be very misty so the site itself and surrounding views of the mountains may be overcast, but it will likely clear up in the afternoon. I recommend staying at least an entire day, there is much to explore, plus with all the steps and climbing at altitude, it’s pretty tiring if you’re not used to it and will want to take breaks. If it is overcast in the morning, you can go towards the Sun Gate where the Inca Trial ends and sit up there with spectacular views while the mist rises up towards the heavens. I had never been up so high in the mountains where clouds are rising UP.
  • Purchasing Tickets. It is recommended to book 4-5 months in advance. Tickets are limited to a certain number of people each day to avoid overcrowding and to help preserve the ruins. Tickets can be purchased 1) online, 2) at Cusco’s Direccion Regional de Cultura, or 3) at the Machu Picchu Cultural Centre (Soles only, no credit cards, at least when I researched). The online option is incredibly difficult if you don’t speak Spanish (at least when I purchased tickets). See below after General Tips for more information. You’ll need your passport for both purchase and entrance.
  • What To Bring. There are no amenities at all inside the site, so be sure to pack a bag with essentials. Some things to include: water (2-3 bottles), sunblock, mosquito repellent, hiking shoes, long pants, long sleeve shirt, jacket, rain gear, hat, sunglasses, power bank, extra camera battery, toilet paper & plastic bag (in case of an emergency; just remember to bring it back out with you to throw away). There is a bathroom at the entrance that requires coins and possibly even your own toilet paper. There are food options at the entrance. There is technically no food allowed inside, but if you do bring snacks, don’t be a douche and take your trash back out with you! You can exit and re-enter if you get hungry or need to go to the bathroom. Pack light as there are many steps to climb and you will already tire quickly from the altitude.
  • Watch Out For Mosquitoes. There is a running joke that you can always tell who has been to Machu Picchu by looking for giant red welts on people’s legs. The mosquitoes there are nasty and will leave bites that are painful, itchy, look awful, and can last several weeks or longer. Use mosquito repellent with DEET (I prefer natural, but you want something strong) or wear long sleeves and pants. Don’t forget to protect your neck as well.
  • Passport Stamp. At the entrance on your way out, be sure to stamp your passport with the Machu Picchu stamp. It’s not required of course but a fun reminder of your visit.
  • Preservation. The ruins are ancient and on top of a fragile ecosystem where there is an abundance of incredible life that does not need to be disrupted and ruined from tourists leaving excrement, food, trash, cigarettes, etc. so please take anything you bring in back out with you so that others may enjoy this magnificent place for years to come!
  • Altitude Sickness. See below General Tips.

2. Lima


Highlights: Beach, restaurants, nightlife
Suggest Staying: 1-2 days
Stay Around: Miraflores (House Project Backpackers)
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Lima is the capital of Peru and is the largest city in the country. Right near the beach, you can sit out in Miraflores at a restaurant or shop. There are many neighborhoods in Lima, but when I was researching, only Miraflores seemed to be a reliably safe option unfortunately. The beach is very pretty. I only spent a day wandering around Miraflores and otherwise spent time meeting other travelers at the hostel which was absolutely fantastic. One of my favorites so far. It was clean, comfortable, had an amazing inner patio and lounge furniture to relax or chat with other interesting travelers. Breakfast was great too. There are both dorms and private rooms with en suite (private) bathroom. Supposedly Lima is known for nightlife, so that is something to keep in mind if you’re looking for it.


  • Safety. At least according to my research, Lima has a reputation as a pretty impoverished city (like pretty much the entire country) and is therefore somewhat unsafe in non-touristy areas. Be careful if you venture out, especially at night. I encourage you to do your own research and ask around when you visit. Also beware of dogs, they are everywhere and are constantly eating out of dumpsters. They look pretty unwell and not sure if they have rabies or not, but in general it’s been my experience to keep your distance from unwell, starving looking dogs, especially if you have food on you.

3. Cuzco

Main Square

Highlights: Town, mountains
Suggest Staying: 1-2 days
Stay Around: Main Square
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Cuzco is a small, beautiful town primarily the main hub for travelers on their way to Machu Picchu. It can be a great place to relax for a couple days while acclimating to the altitude or simply a jumping off point to Machu Picchu, Lima, other places in Peru, or out of the country. If you’re planning off the cuff, you can also make your Machu Picchu arrangements in Cuzco. A good place for lunch is Morena Peruvian Kitchen in the main square. You can also get some fantastic coca tea there.


  • Getting There. Fastest, most common way is to fly from Lima. Pretty short flight. Cuzco is about 14,000 ft. in elevation atop the mountains, and it’s very windy. Expect a bumpy descent/landing. If you’re coming from Machu Picchu, you can take a collectivo or train back.
  • Altitude Sickness. Most people who get altitude sickness on their Machu Picchu journey experience it because of spending time in Cuzco first and not relaxing on the first day or two to acclimate. I decided to bypass Cuzco into the lower altitude regions of the sacred valley and do Cuzco at the end of the trip. See more on Altitude Sickness tips under General Tips below.

4. Ollantaytambo


Highlights: Mountains, rivers, ruins
Suggest Staying: 1-3 days
Stay Around: Town Center
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One of several popular towns in the sacred valley that offer an alternative or supplement to seeing the area, Ollantaytambo is surrounded by gorgeous mountains and rivers. The drive itself is gorgeous, the town is very “local” and not super touristy, perfect place to relax and acclimate, and there are ruins right there which you can see/visit. A couple other major towns in the sacred valley to visit, stay, and easily get to Machu Picchu are Urumbamba and Pisac.

I stayed at Hotel Tierra Inka Sacred Valley which was very nice, but was an adventure finding. My friend and I were walking down these stone roads, luggage in hand, passing kids playing, goats wandering about, and lots of stray dogs. I always have snacks on me and the dogs could smell it. Spent a good 10 minutes trying to get the dogs to stop sniffing my luggage and my person. Eventually we come up to an area that looks kind of like a junkyard next to a football (soccer) field. At least having fended off the dogs, we were now thoroughly confused as to where we were because the map showed the place was on the other side of the tracks (literally there was a railway). I don’t even remember how it worked out, but after wandering about we finally found the entrance which was guarded by a large gate with a doorbell. After ringing the doorbell several times with no answer, I tried calling. Eventually someone came out to let us in and revealed a lovely garden with several small cottage style garden apartments. The guy was very nice. We had laundry and all the amenities, plus super warm alpaca blankets since it was very cold in the evenings. It was certainly an adventure to arrive, but worked out in the end. And yes on the way out to the train we got to fight off the dogs one last time.

Cost Breakdown

  • Flights: $223 (Lima => Cuzco)
  • Lodging: $209 (guesthouse, hostel)
  • Transportation: $264 (taxi, collectivo, train, bus)
  • Activities: $70 (Machu Picchu)
  • Food: $150 (estimated $30/day)

Total: $916

General Tips

  • Food. Peruvian food is a wonderful cuisine, especially ceviche, roasted chicken, and pisco sours. Depending on where you are, be mindful of uncooked foods that may be rinsed with unpurified water. If you look around the country, the livestock, chickens, etc. don't look the greatest and vegetables/salads rinsed in regular water may contain bacteria that could make you sick. I stuck to cooked foods and was ok. Two "delicacies" unique to Peru are guinea pig and alpaca. If you decide to try guinea pig, order with the head ON because I heard stories of being served rat and you can't tell if there is no head. I wasn't daring enough to try either since I didn't want to risk eating something foreign before an amazing adventure.
  • Water. I wouldn't recommend drinking from the tap or anything that is not purified or in a sealed bottle. I usually don't brush my teeth from the tap either, but that's just me being extra cautious.
  • Altitude Sickness. Most people who visit Machu Picchu start in Cuzco which is actually higher in elevation at 11,000 ft. than Machu Picchu at 8,000 ft. According to the Internet, people begin to feel the effects of altitude sickness at around 8,000 ft. Therefore, if you want to avoid it, which could very well ruin your trip, you can either take a day or two in Cuzco to just relax and acclimate or you can pass right through into the sacred valley and stay or continue right on to Machu Picchu. From what I read, most people experience altitude sickness on their Machu Picchu journey because they started and stayed in Cuzco. If you're not aware of the effects, it's common for pounding headaches and diarrhea usually brought on by moderate to strenuous activity, so be mindful to take it easy and let your body adjust when you arrive. Coca tea helps and can be consumed as tea, candy, or chewing the leaves. It tastes great and seemed to help. I flew into Cuzco, had lunch, and went straight on to Ollantaytambo where we stayed for the day to avoid any chance of altitude sickness since the sacred valley is around 9,000 ft. in elevation. Worked out great, didn't have to rush since we planned ahead, got to see some of the sacred valley, and experienced no signs of altitude sickness.
  • Coca Products. Cocaine is made from the coca leaf and is therefore not allowed into the U.S. so be sure to finish any tea or candy you purchased while still in Peru.

Purchasing Machu Picchu Tickets Online:

Entrance tickets cannot be purchased at the ruins. Instead you must purchase in advance. To purchase online, visit and follow these steps. Hopefully there are better third party ticketing agencies at this point, but this site is the official government site.


  1. Although viewing the site in English is an option, the entire website is not translated. So, you have to go to the left part and at “lugar a visitar” and select your route, in this case, MachuPicchu.
  2. Just below, at “Seleccione la Ruta”, select what you want to purchase:
    • “Ciudad Inka MAPI” = Machu Picchu itself
    • “MachuPicchu y Museo” = Machu Picchu+ the museum
    • “MAPI-Huayna 1G 7:00” = Machu Picchu + Wayna Picchu at the first group which is 7:00 a.m. or “MAPI-Huayna 2G 10:00” = Machu Picchu + Wayna Picchu at the second group which is 10:00 a.m.
  3. Select the date you want and, in the central part, how many tickets you want
  4. Click on the “step 2” button (located in the bottom of the central part)
  5. Fill out the form
  6. Click on step 3. Note: the English version of this step probably will not work and the third page may not display. If this happens, change the site to Spanish and go through the entire process from the beginning and then continue.
  7. Fill out your address although this is not mandatory
  8. Accept the conditions
  9. Click in “reserve generating” which will provide a reservation number which you must write down!
  1. Click on payment tab
  2. Enter your reservation code
  3. Click “pay” (they use “verified by visa”)
Check in:
  1. Click on “check – in” tab
  2. Enter your reservation code. Note: If you get an error, wait about half an hour as the payment may not have gone through. Try again within an hour.
  3. Print.
Note:  Tickets are not sent to an email address but need to be printed from the screen as a PDF format so you need to be connected to a printer when you do this transaction.

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