The Real Machu Picchu Today

I have posted about my trip to Machu Picchu. First of all, it was a personal challenge for me, as I wasn´t confident that my knees, and my endurance, were up to the challenge. Second, I have taught a bit about the Incans in my World Civ classes, but regrettably did not really know all I should have about them. This trip has been a good correction for that fault.

But for those of you who actually plan on the trip, here is some on the story not shown in the picture postcard scenarios we see on wordpress and in all the adverts and brochures.

First, to be clear, it is in fact expensive, unless you are already here. Consider flights, hotels and tours. I’m traveling on the super cheap and had already taken the overnight bus to Cusco (overnight buses are exhausting, but they save you airfare and a hotel room). Once you are this far, their  are combis (collective buses)  and other ways to get to Ollantaytambo. From there the cost goes up.

Two travelers absolutely enraptured with the views from one of the world´s seven best train rides.

So, assume you aren´t in the south of Peru already. Then it is expensive. Your airfares will probably be at least $1000 a person. To Lima. Then to Cusco, another $100 t0 $200, depending on persistence and luck. Then factor in whatever you luxury level requirements are for hotels and meals. The train from Cusco, if you choose to travel from there by train, will cost another $200 t0 $300, or more, on the other hand, the 2 hour train trip from Ollantaytamba at the cheapest level of service is still $111. Two hours. Then from Aguas Calientes, the final station, it is a $24 dollar bus ride to the gate. Most people spend at least one night in Aguas Calientes, and even the hostals there are expensive. I paid $35 for a noisy clap-trap of a room. Tours from foreign countries run in the many thousands of dollars, I have seen listing from $5000 to over $10,000 and up, USD.

But, of course, Machu Picchu, one of the wonders of the world. Bucket list essential. Yada Yada. Why do you want to go? Punch card tourism? Bucket list check-off? There is are other considerations for such travel. It is very carbon intensive, it is destructive of the actual monuments we want to see, and, well, you won´t probably be the first on your block, or in your book club, anyway.

So, here is what I saw and experienced in Machu Picchu.

First, it is all a tourist trap. Yes, that is unavoidable, but how do you deal sensitively with all of the touts, and the beautiful old women with their handwoven whatevers? It is difficult. They have a living to make. Once their ancestors were defeated by Pizzaro and his Catholic terrorists, they are part of a cash economy. It is part of the package, folks. At least try to be polite. Buy some trinkets from the street vendors, it gets to the families. But you will be assailed every step of the way. That $200 ticket on Peru Rail? Oh, you will be hyped by them while you are a sitting target.

Second, most people visiting MP are there for the picture that they were there. Oh, I am guilty of that, too. Mine was splashed up on Facebook before midnight. But the photo taking, especially selfies and we-fies and camera-extender tours of oneself touring MP, amount to the majority of the tour, whether you are doing it or not. Every few feet someone is stopping you so they can get their shot. They stop in the middle of a line of people, don´t step aside (and lose their place in line!) and everyone behind has to stop, while a few minutes of posing and posing again takes place. Shockingly rude, but there you go. One man actually fell to his death last month trying to get an extra inch of view from his extender.

And all of these pictures are being uploaded to people the pictures takers are talking to on their iPhones from whatever place in the world the recipients are. ¨See me, I´m at Machu Picchu while you are at your office desk suffering.¨ Now there is an insufferable friend.

And the lines? Well, they start at the bus station especially if you have decided you must see the sun rise over the site. This may be a good idea on a clear day. Everyone in my hostel was up at 4, though it had been cloudy all night and the sun wouldn´t be seen till 10 AM. It was breaking through about the time I arrived. Then you will likewise wait in line in front of the gate. Every direction you go at the site is dictated by signs and polite park officials. Into the lines again. It honestly felt like Labor Day weekend at Disneyworld, except for the bloody authenticity of it. Disney at least has had the sense to ban selfie-extenders.


Is no one interested in Machu Pichu? The marvel of it? You would be forgiven for believing no, it is the punch card destination with the photos to show for it. But despite all of this, it can be awe-inspiring. If you tour the Sacred Valley as well as other archeological sites in Peru, a picture starts to develop of a world of brilliant achievement cut short but not entirely demolished by Spanish ambitions and slaughter. The more I do of it the  more I am convinced of the rectitude of slow travel. I have been in Peru for two and a half months. I have been averaging about $40 a day, with a bit of a Machu Picchu hemorrhage of  the budget. To travel slowly, north, south, east and west, allows you to learn and develop an understanding not only for the Incans but for those who were here thousands of years before them.

In line with a travel victim.
More exhausted travelers.






12 thoughts on “The Real Machu Picchu Today

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