Having been constructed around 1450 AD, but not rediscovered until 1911, Machu Picchu remained hidden to the invading Spaniards, preserving its authenticity for the modern world.
Still, many questions surrounding the Lost City of the Incas remain unanswered.
In Quechua, the language of the Incas, Machu Picchu means “Old Mountain“. On the contrary, Huayna Picchu (the mountain peak forming the nose of the face looking up to the sky) means “Young Mountain“.
Located at 2430m, Machu Picchu was designated world heritage site of UNESCO in 1983.
The famous way of building the Incas used in the construction of Machu Picchu is called Ashlar. The stones are cut in such a way that they fit perfectly with the other stones without having to stick them with some kind of glue.
Machu Picchu also served as an astronomical observatory. The sacred Intihuatana Stone indicates the two equinoxes and twice a year the sun is perfectly aligned with the stone without creating any shadow.
Professional cameras are not allowed in Machu Picchu. Permissions for professional cameras are sold for more than $300, so it’s best not to bring an SLR camera with a big lens. I only had a Samsung Galaxy S5 cell phone and a GoPro Hero 4.
At Machu Picchu, the rainy season lasts from November to March. For this reason, in order to avoid getting soggy while exploring the Lost City of the Incas, and the cloud cover obstructing the view of the iconic “face looking into the sky” mountain (Huayna Picchu), the best time to visit Machu Picchu is from April to October. Regardless, even if you time your trip for within those months, you could still get rained on. That’s exactly what happened to me.
I visited Machu Picchu exactly on September 24, 2018. So even though I was well within the so called “dry season“, it rained quite a bit on that day and the clouds kept getting in the way of scoring good pictures. Either way, the entire experience of getting to Machu Picchu was disappointing enough to make it clear that there is no way in hell I would be visiting the place ever again, and after shelling out the heavy 152 Soles (about $46 US) for half the day entry to the Inca citadel, that notion was further strongly enforced.
So in my case, even though the weather remained nice and sunny throughout the entire unplanned “Inca Trail” hike, when I got to visit the actual Machu Picchu, the day got cloudy and during a hefty part of it, it also rained. But what do you do if you visit Machu Picchu on a cloudy day? You make the best of it nevertheless. You can’t choose or command the weather.
Unfortunately, even though the entrance to the citadel is mighty steep, you are rather restricted in how you get to enjoy it. In my case, it was cloudy and it rained for the best part of the afternoon, but at around 4:30, or about an hour before the allocated time to see Machu Picchu for which I paid a hefty fee ran out, the rain stopped and the sky started to clear up, but when I started retracing my steps back through the citadel in order to use the remaining hour on snapping a new set of pics of this time nicely illuminated mountain peaks and ancient architecture, I got yelled at by the guards who demanded that I continue on out of the complex, barring me from utilizing the remaining hour of my visit.
Obviously, because while it rained, I wasn’t able to be very active with the camera, so I lost a lot of time for picture taking, and had to keep moving along because for one I was getting rained on, and secondly, the mass of people within the complex was being yelled at to keep moving forward through the alleys of the man made sections of Machu Picchu.
So to reiterate what I have been congruent about throughout moment I started writing about Machu Picchu – no matter how you look at it, if you take into the account the cost as well as the overall headache of visiting the citadel, and put it against what you get if you go through the cost and the headache of getting there, it’s simply not worth it.
There are places that are far more interesting, incomparably less expensive to visit, and which are not deliberately kept inaccessible in order to force the would be visitor to get absolutely screwed on the means to arrive, that would give the visitor more in terms of visual and spiritual experience.
I started questioning the worth of Machu Picchu as soon as I got dropped off at the road block, and wish the whole time I had listened to my got and turned around instead of toiling my way toward the citadel. But as I kept on going, and fooling myself that perhaps in the end it turns out being worth it, each new experience proved that I was wrong and should have absolutely listened to my gut telling me to turn around as soon as we did not arrive at Hidroelectrica with the van.
Even in Peru itself there are far more interesting places than Machu Picchu, and unlike Machu Picchu, they will not burn a hole in your wallet. There’s no other way to put it – Machu Picchu does not live up to the hype and with the involvement of the high cost to see it, I have no option but to recommend the readers to avoid it as not worth your time, effort and money.
Even though the super costly ticket to Machu Picchu permits the visitor to enter the Lost City of the Incas for only half a day, you lose part of the half-day to standing in line at the office selling tickets in Aguas Calientes, because even when they’re open, they refuse to sell the tickets any sooner than 2 hours before the permitted visit begins.
If you factor in the fact that you will spend at least 2 hours in line because thousands of people will show up to get the ticket, and unless you shell out an additional $12 US for the bus ride up there, you will also need another hour of ultra strenuous hike up a steep hill to reach the gate of the ancient citadel, despite shelling out $46 US for the half-day entry, you will have lost one-fourth or one-third of that limited time allowance trying to get the paperwork for the entry in order.
That was certainly the case with me, but whereas I already stood in line and shelled out 152 Soles for the entry ticket, once I had it, I hit the road to get up there. And let me tell you, ascending that hill is no walk in the park.
It involved about 15 minutes of backtracking through Aguas Calientes back toward Hidroelectrica, until one reaches the metal bridgeS over the Vilcanota River shortly after which a sign will direct you off the windy road used by the buses and onto the trail for hikers with an apparent wish to spit out their lungs on the super steep hill.
Let me say that again – that hike is steep. The stone steps laid on the slope to make the hike possible will force you to raise your feet up high to make each step, and it will squeeze every bit of energy out of your thigh muscles so you better have some if you decide to undertake the hike instead of taking the bus. Your heart will be pounding along the way too, as from the moment you take the first step up, all the way to the last, you will be going through some serious cardio exercise with high demand for oxygen.
And as you go up, you realize that once you go down, the strain will be moved from your heart onto your knees. Because the hill is really steep, there is a significant height difference between individual steps so going down will force you to land really hard on your feet, putting high strain on your knees right from the start. And that will last all the way down. I think in my personal case, the way down wore me out more, because my knees really took the beating there. My thighs were trembling by the time I got up, but the muscle exhaustion wore out after a while. The wear to my knees however accompanied me for months after descending Machu Picchu.
Also, you better wear a pair of quality hiking boots with strong soles, because going down those steep stone steps will put their durability to the test. And without strong soles on your shoes, it will be the soles of your feet that will take the beating.
As with any challenging hike, make sure you hydrate well before the start and tag along a bottle of extra water to keep yourself hydrated along the way. Some light snack could also be helpful, even though I didn’t bother with one myself.
Whereas the hiking trail follows the right side of the road made for the buses, it intersects with the road on a few occasions, so the option to avoid the steep trail and follow the switchbacks on less steep, but longer road exists. I considered that option a few times, especially while going down because the steep steps were really making it hard on my knees, but whereas it rained on the day of my visit to Machu Picchu, the frequent buses turned the road to muddy hell so continuing along the incomparably cleaner stone trail was much sounder at the time. Moreover, the Peruvian drivers are not particularly known for being respectful of pedestrians so sharing the narrow road with multiple buses squeezing in from both direction could be potentially hazardous to one’s life.
There is one intersection of the hiking trail with the bus road that will force you to walk up the road a bit anyway, and look for the spot where the trail continues. It’s somewhat marked, but not immediately obvious after initially getting on the road.
Along the upper sections of the trail you will encounter a few local women selling refreshments and whereas the majority of the people take the bus up and down the mountain, they are rather aggressive with the few who take the mountain on foot.
Overall, if you like to challenge yourself, I’d recommend that you take the hike. Though fact of a matter is that this hike would be done for the challenge, not for the views, as there are hardly any due to the vistas being blocked by trees, but you’ll get the views once you get up to the citadel. If however you’re not somewhat physically fit, or you have sensitive knees, you’re probably better off taking the bus. Although it will likely have been the most expensive bus ride of your life. But then again, everything about Machu Picchu is expensive and it’s purposefully maintained that way.
The Aguas Calientes office that sells entrance tickets to Machu Picchu is located at the foot of Avenida Pachacutec, next to Centro Cultural where there is the iPeru office (iPeru is a helpful government tourist information service with offices in many cities around the country). It is on the north side of Plaza de Armas.
After I arrived in Aguas Calientes, I went to buy the ticket for the afternoon (segundo turno) of the following day, but even though the office was open, the clerks told me the tickets for the afternoon can only be purchased in the morning of the same day.
That seemed a bit strange, as there are many tourists who have had their entrance tickets bought days in advance, plus because only a limited number of tourists is allowed entry each day, there often are stories of people not being able to buy tickets for the desired day, it got me a bit concerned. However whereas none of the two clerks was willing to give me any answer but to come back at 10am the following morning if I wanted to buy a ticket for that afternoon, I had no option but to let it go and intend to come back in the morning.
At that time, I was already pretty on the edge about the whole Machu Picchu, having had to endure an extensive walk through one village to another, because the locals set up roadblocks with the sole goal to make the lives of economy supporting foreigners difficult, so as the reasons to give Machu Picchu a pass kept piling up, my doubt about the worth of the place kept rising.
With each passing minute I kept wishing I had turned around the moment the van dropped me off in the middle of nowhere and said “screw it” to Machu Picchu. Sadly, the well sold idea that the Inca Citadel is worth it has been itched deeply enough into my mind to keep me on the path. In hindsight, I can securely attest that Machu Picchu is not worth it at all.
Still, whereas I already got as far as Aguas Calientes, meaning I was literally at the foot of Machu Picchu, and I already had a room in a hotel paid for, doing anything other than getting some rest after a lot of walking to wake up in the morning and buy that damned ticket as the clerks selling them instructed me to seemed like the only viable option given the circumstances. So that’s what I did.
When I woke up in the following morning, I went to get breakfast and intended to combine it with a trip to the ticket office to buy my entrance to Machu Picchu for the same day’s afternoon. Even though they told me to come at 10am, I assumed it was an approximate time and whereas come 8am the office was already open, I popped in and asked for the ticket for the afternoon.
As before, I got a cold shoulder and was told to come back at 10am. None of it made sense, and to this moment it doesn’t, so the only explanation for why they do it is to literally spite the tourists some more. I mean – the office is open, they could be using the time they are there for sale of the tickets, but no – they put everyone off until 10am, so if you factor in the more than an hour long hike up the hill to get to the gate of Machu Picchu, you will barely make it there by 12pm, which is when the beginning of your overpriced visit begins.
Still, whereas the clerks were refusing to sell me the ticket before 10am, I went to grab a breakfast and returned back to hotel to wait until 10am comes. Shortly before it came, I walked back down to the office only to find a major line of people waiting there. It became clear that everyone who wanted to visit Machu Picchu in the afternoon was told to buy their ticket at 10am, so when that hour came, everyone – hundreds of them – turned up.
At this stage, the frustration with the whole Machu Picchu deal was reaching its peaks.
The Peruvian government keeps Machu Picchu purposefully isolated so that the only convenient way to get there is by way of a train, which is priced at up to $485 US each way – absolutely ridiculous and a major rip off, especially if you consider that the locals are charged an equivalent of $3 (10 Soles) for the ride. As such, in order to get to Machu Picchu, a visitor needs to permit the Peruvians to rip him the hell off, or undertake an arduous, a likewise expensive Inca Trail trek through the mountains.
If you are not willing to spend a fortune on either of the excessively expensive options, you need to go through the complicated process of combining multiple rides with a 10 km hike from Hidroelectrica to Aguas Calientes to eventually get to the foot of the hill housing Machu Picchu, but if like me you encounter road blocks on the way, you will be forced into an arduous Inca Trail against your will anyway.
Then if you go through it all, like the foolish me did, you get to Aguas Calientes, where you will be expected to shell out 152 Soles (about $46 US) for a half day access to Machu Picchu, which would entitle you to enter, as in my case, at 12pm and stay until 5:30pm, but whereas they won’t start selling the tickets until 10am, and refuse anyone the sale until 10am, by the time 10am comes there is a major line up, so you’ll end up shelling out the high entrance cost, but by the time you get the ticket, it will already be 12pm, but you will still have more than an hour before you get to the gate of Machu Picchu, or use an option to pay $12 US for a one way bus ride to take you up there (which itself lasts about 20 minutes).
In other words – the Peruvians make visiting Machu Picchu a major pain in the butt, and milk you hard core along the way like you were just born yesterday, but will not sell you the ticket early enough to get to the place on time, and when you finally get there, you realize it’s really not as mindblowing as they make it out to be.
Yes, I did eventually go to Machu Picchu, but I still keep asking myself why have I not followed my inner voice and given up on this place while there was time. Instead, I spent all this time, energy and money on visiting what is a well promoted, but over-hyped and truly unworthy place. There are many much more interesting, rewarding and uplifting places one can visit around the world, and they cost a fraction of Machu Picchu, or even are free to visit.
All things considered, given the high cost of entry and arrival, Machu Picchu does not deliver.
At last I got through the hoards of tireless hustlers who will do and say anything and everything just to get you open your wallet and spend money, and there I was stepping up the stone steps leading to a causeway that follows across the entire Angkor Wat. There was however one more local I thought was also a tout I had to go through at the beginning of the causeway. Armed to ignore all locals who approach me asking for something, I ignored this guy too but soon came to realize that he’s one and only exception to the crowds of peddlers who are solely after my money. This was an entrance guard stationed at Angkor Wat to ensure everyone who enters the temple itself has a valid pass.
I thought buying a ticket at the ticketing booth and showing it to the guards at the beginning of the road leading to Angkor was good enough but Sokimex Group Cambodia, company that makes millions of dollars collecting entrance fees from foreigners also stations their inspectors at entrances to all main temples as a secondary line of ticket inspection just in case a foreigner somehow snuck into the Angkor Archaeological Park.
To avoid scam Angkor area was riddled with before, all authorised guards wear light blue shirts on which they have a badge with their inspector number and around their neck a lanyard with Sokimex ID bearing their name and photograph that identifies them as rightful entrance guards. They are also armed with wireless radios and frequently communicate with each other.
From what I was told, scam that consisted of anyone and everyone pretending to be an authorised guard to collect entrance fees from foreigners was virtually entirely eliminated using this approach. At least now when you pay your entrance fee, it does help the temples, not some scammer pretending to collect fees on behalf of Apsara Authority, right? Wrong!
Sokimex Group Co. LTD is a company with close ties to the CPP – Cambodian People’s Party, the ruling party of Cambodia. The CPP is well known for being one of the most corrupt governments in the world and has a very bad human rights record. Prime Minister Hun Sen, leader of the CPP has no problem threatening those who oppose him with use of force or military action. Ordinary Cambodians who are not part of the Cambodian elite approved by Hun Sen have no chance of real freedom.
In April 1999, Cambodian People’s Party gave Sokimex Group full control over the Angkor Archaeological Park entrance ticket concession sales. This was done without any input from the public or Cambodian opposition. Angkor, which is the cultural heritage of all Cambodians was taken away from them by their corrupt government and given to the private company to financially benefit from its worldwide popularity while ordinary people get nothing. The deal required Sokimex Group (Owners of Sokha Hotels chain) to pay the government One Million Dollars per year with all excess kept by the company.
Due to strong opposition, the agreement between the CPP and Sokimex was amended a bit, but Sokimex Group still remains in full control over ticket concessions at Angkor and keeps a large part of the profits. To further benefit the company that supports the government, the CPP also commissions Sokimex Group to supply uniforms, food and medicine for Cambodian military, as well as the gasoline for the governmental agencies which is run through well performing voucher scam.
Apsara Authority, governmental body responsible for preservation, maintenance and protection of Angkor Archaeological Park gets small part of the profits, however being CPP controlled, Apsara Authority is also a dubious organization with shady practices violating the poor. There have been many cases of large groups of Apsara enforcers coming to villages with guns to threaten the villagers who “dared” to modernize their “traditional homes”. Many people have been evicted and had their property repossessed by Apsara Authority with all rights removed and no voice to stand by them (all voices that oppose the practices of Cambodian People’s Party get silenced).
Welcome to real Cambodia, one of the most corrupt countries in the world.