It isn't the mountains ahead to climb that wear you out, it's the pebble in your shoe. — Melynda Czysz
While I understand that I am exactly 11,745 miles from Aguas Calientes and the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Machu Picchu, sitting here in Chiang Mai, Thailand, but I am still backtracking on travel information from South America that I would like to pass along. I realized from my own personal experience in Peru that these simple tips can be the difference of hundreds of dollars and result in big savings for those backpacking or seeking to stay within a travel budget. The normal rule of thumbs applies even for something as dramatic and well known as the 15th century Inca site of Machu Picchu, by which I mean, travel slow if you have the opportunity. I know that many people will argue skipping the traditional 5-day Inca Trail hike that ends at the entrance to MP, but again if you are on a tight budget or strapped for time and did not plan ahead to book your Inca Trail experience 6 months or more prior, which seems to be the average wait time, these are 3 big ways to save on experiencing one of the New 7 Wonders of the World, as voted in from 2007:
WALK THE TRACKS:
Starting from the small town of Ollantayambo, which is 60km northwest of Cusco and were told it would take only 1-hour by shuttle bus but was closer to 90-minutes or 2-hours, this can be walked or possibly hitchhiked depending on your physical fitness level. While the train is quite slow moving and runs along the Uramaba River or Willkanuta (Quechua for "sacred river"), the scenery is beautiful and later I realized the 82km and almost 2-hour train ride could have been easily walked, saving us $70 one-way or even more for the round trip cost.
There are many packages offered throughout Cusco that include all transportation, tickets, accommodation, etc and etc, but depending on the season (high season, which also coincides with the dry season runs from May to September) book in advance for a cheap hostel or brave the elements and camp out. Checking just now from HostelWorld, even in the midst of high season there is a hostel listed from $14.36 per night.
After a night’s stay in Aguas Calientes be prepared to become an early riser if you aren’t already, because the first shuttles leave at 5:30am from the town for the 20-minute drive up the mountain to the entrance of MP. We were awake at 4:30am and out the door and at the shuttle stop at 5am, and within the next 5-minutes I counted more than 50 people lining up behind us. Since Machu Picchu does not open until 6am, there will be a line of people on the steps to the entrance gate and the other option is to hike (not walking) the hundreds of narrow and steep walkways up the mountain, but this option unless you gauge your fitness level and timing may cost you dearly, because by 7:30am the entire site is full of people causing for an annoyance if you are searching for that pristine photo without hordes of people in every shot. Also be sure to purchase your ticket in advance the cost is 128S ($45.70).
Changing living locations is always a hassle, as I’m sure you’ve heard me complain or write about–imagine every material possession you own can fit into two backpacks weighing close to 75 or 80 pounds–and gathering all of these items up, both clean and dirty clothing as well as the other various items you use on a regular basis, and this is the life of a backpacker. This morning I am moving from MD House, because several of us waited last minute to book an accommodation for the Loi Krathong festival and were paying a premium of 4,950THB ($156.37) for 4-nights or 400THB ($12.63) per person, per night for our 3-bedroom private room. I can sense that many of you are saying that is still dirt cheap, especially considering that our guesthouse had two pools, a frigid Jacuzzi, plus free daily breakfast, but when you consider that there are other guesthouses that were charging 120THB ($3.79) per night this is not being a smart savvy budget traveler. Regardless, after my routine double-check of our room for any left behind items, which somehow I still missed Ashley’s camera charger and feel awful about, but in some of these rooms the electrical outlets are placed in the most random places–this time in the direct corner of the room almost under the bed–it’s a one and done and we are officially checked out. Since our Swiss counterpart is abandoning us on the overnight bus back to Bangkok tonight and already having lost Ashley the night before to catch her flight to Australia, Asia and I are the lone two left behind for the move across town to Deejai’s Backpackers hostel.