Machu Picchu and Sacred Valley: guide and advice

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In this new post, our colleague Javier will tell us about his experience of the Sacred Valley and Machu Picchu Tour with his two friends Daniel and Paco. If you want to know the best tips to visit Machu Picchu pay attention to Javier’s recommendations: 

Daniel and I arrived in Cuzco a day before Paco. During their first afternoon in the city both of them felt a little bad. Although they did not get altitude sickness (soroche, as they call it in Peru), they showed its first symptoms. Luckily the situation was not too serious, although it was a good warning in regards to the importance of arriving a day or two before starting any tour. In fact, some travelers go directly to Ollantaytambo after they arrive in Cuzco, since it is located at a lower altitude, almost 1,000 meters lower than Cuzco which is located at 3400 meters high.

Before traveling, we had reviewed the area well and saw that the most convenient thing is to take advantage of the distance between Cuzco and Machu Picchu to tour the Sacred Valley of the Incas, so we decided to book the Sacred Valley and Machu Picchu Tour. As indicated in the reservation confirmation, we wrote a message from WhatsApp to the phone number they had indicated and in half an hour a very attentive boy approached the place where we were. He gave us an envelope with the entrance to Machu Picchu and the tickets of the train that connects Ollantaytambo, one of the last villages of the Sacred Valley, with Machu Picchu. In addition, for about 20 minutes he explained the entire tour perfectly and we agreed that we would be picked up the next day at 7:30 in the morning.

The next day, I was surprisingly punctual into getting ready, we only carried a backpack with what we needed to spend two days and we left the big suitcase at the hotel. As we had been told, it was important to bring sun cream, a poncho and several warm clothes, as the weather is very changeable. 

We arrived at the minibus, unlike what we normally see, this was a new Mercedes minibus which was very comfortable. A 45 year old guide welcomed us and for the next 10 minutes we made several stops as the vehicle picked up other travelers. After everyone was present, the guide took a microphone and spoke to us through the speakers to welcome us. We were 16 people, I would say that the youngest was 23 and the oldest was a married couple of about 55 years old, I remember that there were Colombians, an Australian, Spaniards … a good mix of people.

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During the trip, the guide began explaining what is the Sacred Valley of the Incas, composed of several towns, of which we would visit Pisac, Urubamba and Ollantaytambo. He told us about life in Cuzco and all kinds of anecdotes, he spoke Spanish very slowly, I think he did it so that the Brazilians could also understand him, and later he accelerated the rhythm when he spoke in English. After a journey of almost an hour, we arrived at the first stop, the archaeological zone of Pisac. Before accessing the site, the guide bought us the tourist ticket of Cusco, in our case we decided to buy the partial, which gives access to the archaeological zones of the Sacred Valley, other travelers bought the integral, which includes the majority of the tourist zones of Cuzco and its surroundings. He gave us an explanation about the place, the caves excavated in the surrounding mountains which were used as a niche, its construction, its use … but I will not spoil you all the fun, you will have to live it to learn deeply about the Inca culture.

After some free time, we met again at the meeting point to get back on the minibus that took us to the Pisac village. We stopped in a street full of craft shops. After asking the guide what else could be seen, he told us that only 100 meters away was the central square of the village, where we could find a market, so after a few minutes visiting some shops we went to the square, with its colorful market. We bought some grenadillas, one of my favorite fruits, walked around, saw several shops, bought two little things and went back to the minibus.

The next stop was a restaurant in Urubamba and I was eager to arrive, the truth is that I was hungry and I could eat everything I wanted since it was a buffet of Peruvian food that I liked quite a lot. Now, with our strength recovered, we set course for Ollantaytambo, I already knew about it but I was sure that the whole group would be impressed by the views of the impressive fortress. The guide, just like in Pisac, made a guided route for us and then left us for some free time until 3:30 p.m. to explore the place on our own and take pictures. 

When the time came, we met with the whole group. A part of it continued to Chinchero while those of us who visited Machu Picchu simply stayed in the town of Ollantaytambo. The guide explained to us that we had to walk 5 minutes by ourselves to the train station. The way to get to the station is very easy, you just have to walk two streets. When you get to the train station in Ollantaytambo you only have to wait a few minutes before getting on the train. The truth is that the train is very elegant with large windows, comfortable seats, air conditioning … We were also served a drink and a snack, but undoubtedly the best of all are the views, as the tracks run through a small valley, without haste, with the calm that inspires a trip on a train so emblematic. The distance traveled between the Sacred Valley and Machu Picchu is 34 kilometers and takes an hour and a half.

 tren a Machu pichu

We arrived at Machu Picchu village, also known as Aguas Calientes, and Mrs. Rosa was waiting for us with a sign with our name on it. She accompanied us to our lodging, Hotel Rio Dorado, since Eco Machu Picchu Hostel was full when we made the reservation. Rosa explained that Jaqueline would pick us up the next day and be our guide in Machu Picchu. As our entrance to Machu Picchu was scheduled at 7 in the morning she would pick us up at 6 o’clock, we would wait a while for the bus between Aguas Calientes and Machu Picchu and at 7 o’clock we would be entering the Inca citadel.

After 20 minutes by bus we arrived to Machu Picchu, there were quite a lot of people at the entrance, but in only 15 minutes we were already inside and the views really surprised us. The clouds were clearing and the sky went from gray to blue in a few minutes. The guide told us to take advantage of the first viewpoints to take pictures, and then he would do all the explanations. I didn’t understand it very well so I asked him and he told me that the upper part of Machu Picchu, which is where the tour begins, can only be visited during the guided tour and you can’t go back, so at the end we wouldn’t have a chance to go back to that area. Said and done, the 7 travelers who did the guided tour took their cameras, we took many photos, it was an incredible landscape that we wanted to see for a long time and we wanted it to be well reflected.

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Construction techniques, transportation, lifestyle, rediscovery… The truth is that we all agreed that Jaqueline was a great guide and had a solid explanation for everything. I still remember the question a Brazilian boy asked her: What does Machu Picchu mean? The explanation, very scientific, as always, is that it simply means Old Mountain in Quechua, but it is not the original name, since it was lost when the Incas left the citadel.

what does Machu Pichu mean

I was surprised that, unlike the previous times when I visited Machu Picchu, this time certain areas were just passed through, like the “sundial”, where you can not stop, but simply have a few seconds to appreciate it. There’s no doubt that each time I visit Machu Picchu, it  becomes more regulated to protect it so that it can last many more years. We finished our tour in the lower part of Machu Picchu and explored it on our own for half an hour, until it started raining and we decided to return to Aguas Calientes. Many travelers did the same, so we had to wait half an hour until we took the bus back to Aguas Calientes, where we ate something before taking the train to Ollantaytambo.

When we arrived in Ollantaytambo we left the station and met David, the driver who would take us to our accommodation in Cuzco with his 9-seater van, perfect for us to be very comfortable. He also had his phone number in case we couldn’t find it, as there are sometimes a lot of people.

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In little more than an hour we were already in Cuzco, we said goodbye to David and finished one of the most famous and complete tours that can be done to visit Machu Picchu and discover the Sacred Valley.

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