Machu Picchu is just one of those places that lives on many people's bucket list. How could it not? It's been voted as one of the New Seven Wonders of the World and is even more breathtaking in real life than in the pictures. There's a lot of information out there about what to bring with you, but much of it is geared towards those choosing to hike the Inca Trail all the way up which includes a lot of camping and hiking gear. While we didn't hike the full trail, we did do the last section which was about 5 miles round trip. We learned some very valuable lessons during our visit which I am sharing with you here.
1. Acclimate in Cusco First
You'll find this tip on many websites, but I'm including it here because it's important. If you Google the altitude of Machu Picchu vs. Cusco, you'll find that MP is actually a few thousand feet lower in altitude than Cusco (this was a surprise to me!). There is a lot of walking and a lot of stairs once in the site and having spent a few days at a higher elevation really helped me to acclimate to doing physical activity in that thin air. The first few days in Cusco you will constantly find yourself out of breath. After about two days, the feeling will dissipate a bit and you're ready to tackle Machu Picchu!
2. Book a Guide
This was one of the best things we did when we visited and our hotel could not have made it easier for us to do this, allowing it as an option when making the reservation online. Our guide was so passionate about the site that it really piqued our interest in the history of the place. He knew how we could beat the crowds (by going early) and which hikes once up there were the best that would really give us the full experience (check out the trek to the Sun Gate). Our experience would have been completely different if not for him! Pricing on most everything in Peru for us Americans is incredibly reasonable, so we had him for the day all to ourselves for something like $200.
3. Wear Shoes with Ankle Support
While many people will choose to wear their hiking boots to MP, those of us who don't own a pair will be wondering what to wear. While, yes, sneakers are the obvious choice, make sure they are sneakers that have some sort of ankle support. What does this mean? This means those super cool Fly Knit Nike sneakers that slip on like a sock will not be good. The uneven rocky paths and stairs will leave your ankles twisting and turning unless you have the right support. Trust me on this one!
4. Bring Bug Spray & Sunscreen
Who would have thought that Machu Picchu would be swarming with mosquitos? It does make sense, though, considering that it is located in the very beginnings of the Amazon jungle. There is a lot of walking aka sweating that you'll do once up there and once you begin to perspire, the mosquitos will follow you. Their bites are different than in the US - they don't swell up and itch right away. Give it a day or so and you'll be going bonkers with itchiness. My ankle was still swollen three days later! What was also surprising was how warm it was up there. One would think that it's in the mountains, so the air must be cool. While that's true, once the sun comes out there is no escape. You'll find yourself putting on and taking layers off constantly and when your skin is exposed, you will burn unless you protect yourself.
5. Bring Dramamine
This tip is for those who suffer from motion sickness both regularly and once in a while. The bus ride up from Machu Picchu Town (also called Aguas Calientes) is generally crowded and includes many many hairpin turns up the steep mountain (see above photo - that tan zig zag is the road!). You'll have to ride this road on the way up and the way down as there is only one road that leads to MP. The buses can be crowded and are smaller than the large motorcoaches that we are sometimes accustomed to.