Everybody Does Machu Picchu Wrong

Walter Rhein


These days it seems like everyone has been to Machu Picchu. Your friends plaster selfies of themselves at the famous lost city with the same enthusiasm of Hollywood directors showing their latest imagining of some two-bit hoodlum slaughtering Batman's parents.

The good news is, if you're sick of all the "smug world traveler" BS, you have a final card to play. It turns out everybody does Machu Picchu wrong. They spend too much money on the trip and they go to the wrong places. Armed with the info in this article, you'll be able to transform that self-satisfied pride your friends have in their Machu Picchu trip, to a more endurable sense of enduring shame.

If you haven't been to Machu Picchu yet, good news. I'm about to save you a lot of time and money. When the day comes for you to annoyingly fill up your Facebook wall with #machupicchu picks, you can also include the hashtag #Ididitright.

Rule 1: Don't Go With an Annoying Tour Group

Yeah, yeah, I know, you see a discount trip that includes 30 people and you think it's going to be a blast. Maybe I'll meet some interesting folks? Maybe there will be a love connection? Maybe I'll finally get my miserable life on the right track?

Nope, none of that is going to happen. All the people are going to be unattractive and irritating, and the guide will be worst of all.

Hey, the whole point of going on a trip is to have some time to yourself for a change. Don't turn around and hand over a truckload of cash so some idiot can tell you to get up at 5 AM. Heck, maybe you want to go out and dance and drink all night. If that screws up your itinerary, too bad.

Sadly, if you're with some annoying, regimented tour group, you've got a curfew. Oh, did you miss that from childhood? I didn't think so.

Just wing your trip, it will be way better, trust me.

Rule 2: Don't Spend Too Much

The other irritating thing about those annoying tour groups is that they charge an arm and a leg. Folks, man up, jump online, and organize your own trip. You'll find that getting plane, train, and entry tickets to Machu Picchu is no different than getting tickets for anything else.

Actually, Machu Picchu tickets are super easy because once you make the reservation, you can print them out at your computer at home. The same thing is true with Peru Rail tickets.

Entry tickets to Machu Picchu are around $50 for adults, $25 for kids under 18, and free for children under eight. Be wary of goofy tour guides who try to hit you with a $100 fee for getting your entry tickets. They're robbing you, it's no different than what happened to Batman's parents (kind of).

Rule 3: Forget the Rainbow Mountain

Yeah, yeah, I know, you're saying, "But all my friends went to the Rainbow Mountain and they said it was great!"

Truth bomb, of course they said it was great. They didn't want to admit that they spent the whole day in a stinky bus hurtling down sketchy mountain roads for a 30 minute photo opportunity.

Folks, there are a lot of great places to eat, drink, dance, flirt, relax, and generally have a great time in the Sacred Valley. Wasting a whole day on a rickety chicken bus is not the best use of your time.

Do yourself a favor and forget the Rainbow Mountain.

Just Photoshop yourself into this picture, nobody will ever know the difference. Everybody secretly hates that place.

Rule 4: Spend TWO Days at Machu Picchu

If you do one of those lame guided trips, chances are the guides will ship you into Aguas Calientes, have you hike Machu Picchu, then herd you back onto the train to return to Cusco.

Newsflash, you can't see all of Machu Picchu in just one day.

I don't know why the tour guides do this, instead of a nice, casual trip, you're running like a maniac and you spend 20 hours awake trying to squeeze it all in. Who wants to wake up early when you're on vacation?

It's better to plan for two days at Machu Picchu so you can actually see the whole place, and also to give you insurance in case something goes wrong and you can't make it one of the days.

Traveling in Peru can require some flexibility. Train strikes, airplane delays, and road wash outs are common. You don't want to get all the way to Peru and not see Machu Picchu. How are you going to explain that one on Facebook?

Plan for two days, and you double your chances of actually getting to see the place.

Rule 5: Spend a Couple Nights in Aguas Calientes

There is a little town at the base of Machu Picchu that used to be called Aguas Calientes and is now called Machu Picchu Pueblo. It's an unabashed little tourist trap that Machu Picchu guides hate. They want to get you in and out of there like they're doing you a favor.

Except, even though it's easy to see how the place could get irritating after a couple hundred trips, it's actually really fun if you're only there for a night or two. They've got a great market to buy nick-knacks and haggle over price, and superior food if you go to El Indio Feliz or Inca Wasi (all the other restaurants are solid but nothing special).

Spending two nights at Aguas Calientes (or Machu Picchu Pueblo if you must call it that), allows you to leisurely explore Machu Picchu, enjoy the hot springs, take in some great dining, and relax without becoming a slave to a timetable. Also, Aguas Calientes is at much lower elevation than Cusco, so you can actually BREATHE there.

Spend a few days at the tourist trap, it's not going to hurt you and you're going to have a blast. And don't give me any BS about how you want to see the "real" Peru, if you want to see the "real" Peru you aren't going to find it anywhere in the Sacred Valley (there's too many dang tourists).

Rule 6: Buy a Bunch of Dumb Alpaca Sweaters and Blankets

Yeah, nothing screams "tourist" in Cusco like people walking around in poorly fitting Alpaca ponchos that they never wear again after their trip.

But look, it's inevitable, you're going to buy one, so just hunker down and do it. Don't be mad at yourself, it's OK, save that self-loathing for when you get back to your cubicle.

Just don't buy your sweater on the train or in a store. But it from some hardworking artisan and go ahead and pay them a little more than they're asking. Back in the states people go nuts over anything that's genuine Alpaca.

Give your sweater or blanket away at a wedding and include a handwritten note that they can only wash the thing with shampoo. Chicks love that, I don't know why.

Rule 7: Bring a Real Camera

Yeah, I know, you keep listening to advertising from Samsung and Apple that the cameras on their phones are "super, amazing, great, high-quality."

Nope, they're trash.

Sorry, but a good photo requires good optics and your $1,000 camera has a pinhole lens that cannot match what a DSLR can do.

Get a good camera, your phone camera sucks. The only people who say a camera phone doesn't suck are camera phone manufacturers.

Also, if you have a good camera, your phone works as a back-up in case your batteries die or your memory runs out. I've seen it happen.

There you have it folks. This article isn't exactly "everything" you need to know, but it's as much as I'm going to tell you for now. Follow these rules and take your smug BS travel posts up to the next level.

Also, remember to grab the link for this article and put it in the comments whenever you see a Machu Picchu picture shared on Facebook. Ask them "You might have seen Machu Picchu, but did you do it right?"

They might respond with hostility at first, but after a short time they'll probably apologize and admit you were right. Who knows, it might even lead to a love connection and be the first step in getting your life back on track?

Still don't believe me? Well consider this: Batman's parents didn't do Machu Picchu right, and look what happened to them.

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Walter Rhein is an author with Perseid Press. He also does a weekly column for The Writing Cooperative on Medium.

Chippewa Falls, WI

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