El Rastro: The Most Popular Sunday Flea Market in Madrid

Born in the fifteenth century, El Rastro has been evolving and growing, while its existence has been regulated by the local government.

Today there is no travel guide about Madrid which doesn’t mention El Rastro, and its international reputation is comparable to other popular markets in several European cities like Waterlooplein in Amsterdam, the Portobello market in London or the Porta Portese in Rome. It’s most definitely the most popular Sunday flea market in Madrid.

So, if you spend a few days in the city, a visit to the El Rastro flea market in Madrid really is a must.

El Rastro: The Most Popular Sunday Flea Market in Madrid
El Rastro: The Most Popular Sunday Flea Market in Madrid

When & where is El Rastra held?

El Rastro takes place every Sunday and public holiday of the year, from 9 am to 3 pm, in the Embajadores neighbourhood.

A maximum of 3500 stalls cover the area from the Plaza de Cascorro, in the north, along the main thoroughfare of Ribera de Curtidores and adjoining streets to Calle Embajadores in the east and the Ronda de Toledo and Plaza del Campillo del Mundo Nuevo in the south.

Due to its size it can be reached from different metro stations: Line 3 (Embajadores, Lavapiés or Sol), Line 5 (La Latina, Puerta de Toledo or Acacias), Line 1 (Tirso de Molina or Sol) and Line 2 (Sol or Opera).

Why is El Rastra the most popular Sunday flea market in Madrid?

A different and heterogenic group of people meet here to have a look and find that bargain they can’t find anywhere else, it doesn’t matter if they’re hippie, punk, posh, old or young. In its stalls people can find a great variety of products, from second-hand clothing, antiques, crafts, books, records, furniture or even plugs. I think there’s nothing you can’t find at El Rastro.

In fact you will probably see things at this flea market in Madrid that you could have never imagined.

Navigating the different areas in El Rastra

Certain streets or areas within El Rastro are associated, either by tradition or by the gathering of specialist stalls, with particular wares.

– Calle Fray Ceferino Gonzales is known as “calle de los Pájaros” (‘street of the birds’) as it was where pedlars and travelling sellers used to sell domestic animals and birds. Since the municipal regulation of 2000 animals can only be sold in stores.

– Calle San Cayetano is also known as “calle de los Pintores” (‘street of the Painters’), as its permanent stalls sell paintings, drawings and art supplies.

– Calle Rodas, Plaza de General Vara del Rey and Plaza de Campillo del Mundo Nuevo specialise in buying and selling magazines, trading cards and stamps. Young children usually meet here to swap and trade cards with each other.

– Plaza del General Vara del Rey also offers a number of stalls selling clothes.

– Calle Carnero and calle Carlos Arniches are where you will find stalls selling old, rare and collectible books.

– Plaza de Cascorro specialises in selling funky clothing and accessories.

– Calle Mira el Sol sells films and related items from Andrei Tarkovsky to Almodobar.

– La Ronda de Toledo usually sells music and related items.

Food at the El Rastro flea market in Madrid

But one day in El Rastro is not complete without a stop to have some tapas.

In many of the bars and taverns in the neighbouring streets to El Rastro is possible to taste some of the specialties of Madrid’s gastronomy, accompanied by a glass of wine or a beer.

There are also very popular bars where you can have cheap bocadillos (sandwiches) such as the squid one (a Madrid’s specialty), but also others such chorizo, Spanish omelette, cheese, etc.

After this exhausting and popular day in the city you better be staying in one of the apartments in Madrid near El Rastro, because you’ll probably be loaded down with shopping!

Visiting Madrid? Check out these posts:


TTOT = Travel Talk on Twitter – Travel Dudes

#TTOT – Travel Talk on Twitter is the travel community’s biggest Twitter chat, taking place every Tuesday at 9:30 AM/PM GMT.

(Use the #TTOT hashtag during the week for your travel tweets!)

#TTOT – The Chat: It occurs *twice* every Tuesday: 9:30 AM and 9:30 PM Greenwich Mean Time

Check a World Clock and Meeting Planner to find where that time is in your part of the world.

timeanddate.com/worldclock/meeting.html

Just copy, paste and tweet each question at the right time. Then join the discussion and have fun!

Around 9:15 am & pm GMT (or similar tweets):

Get ready for #TTOT (Travel Talk on Twitter: bitly.com/TTOT-info)! Today’s topic: ‘April Travel Fools’

Join the fun on Travel Talk on Twitter by searching for #TTOT on Twitter, then clicking on the option “latest”.

Join the fun on TRAVEL TALK ON TWITTER. Search for #TTOT then click on the option “latest”. Find today’s 5 travel questions to discuss here:  traveldudes.com/ttot-travel-talk-on-twitter/

Travel Talk on Twitter

Travel Talk on Twitter Questions

9:30 am&pm GMT:
Q1 via @hendrikmorkel: COVID19 Restrictions are all lifted, BUT only for today! Where would you travel today? #TTOT

9:40 am&pm GMT:
Q2 via @TravelDudes:  Have you seen/read any travel related April fools today already? Which one? #TTOT 

9:50 am&pm GMT:
Q3 via @TravelDudes:  Let’s create our own “April Travel Fools” together. Let’s start, then we choose the best & share those! #TTOT 

10:00 am&pm GMT:
Q4 via @charlesmccool: What is the best or worst prank you have been a part of? #TTOT

10:10 am&pm GMT:
Q5 via @hendrikmorkel: Worst April weather you have ever encountered on a trip? #TTOT 

Topic next week to tweet about:

Be the FIRST to propose your #TTOT #travel #chat questions & see yourself featured on the next #TTOT chat: https://www.facebook.com/TravelTalkOnTwitter  
Next #TTOT topic: ‘Traveling with Kids’

Please help to promote next week’s topic a couple of times!

Next Topics:

30th March: 1st of April – April Travel Fools
6th April: Traveling with Kids
13th April: Customs & Migration
20th April: Coronavirus
27th April: Tech-free travel
4th May: Emergencies Abroad

Further info about the Travel Talk on Twitter:

Travel Talk on Twitter is a social media travel event and a social travel hashtag on Twitter. Look out for the hashtag #TTOT

#TTOT Basics for the event:

* There are 2 #TTOT sessions. Like that, all the travel tweeters in every time zone can join the fun! (And the fun doesn’t end just because #TTOT does. Feel free to keep responding throughout the day.)

* The hosts will send out 5 questions. Every 10 minutes there will be a new question.

Facebook page: facebook.com/TravelTalkOnTwitter On this page you will be able to see which topic will be next, but even better… You can submit your questions and with a bit of luck, your question might get chosen for #TTOT! So, be creative! (And don’t forget to include your Twitter handle so we can credit you during the event.)

#TTOT – The Hashtag:

Whenever you need any travel related help…
Whenever you have a question for your travels…
Whenever you tweet about travel… Just add it to your tweet! It’s short & a very well known hashtag!

Travelers worldwide will look out for it and will use it as well to tweet about their passion…

Travel!

It’s not a hashtag of a single company… It’s YOURS… It’s OUR Social Travel Hashtag!

You can use #TTOT throughout the week to tag your travel-related tweets to get the attention of others in the #TTOT community. Twitter is about being social and it starts with a simple #TTOT.

#TTOT’s promises to you:

1) We pledge to be as open as possible.
2) We promise to take all criticism and ideas with the utmost seriousness and respect. Let us know if there’s anything you think needs to change for us to better serve the travel Twitter community.
3) We won’t use your tweets for any outside publication without your knowledge and consent.

That being said, don’t be surprised if you end up in a #TTOT recap. If you are surprised, we hope it’s in a happy way. Please don’t assume that #TTOT runs the recaps, though, as we don’t. If you don’t want to be included in a recap, contact that person directly.


Climbing Chimborazo: A Non-Mountain Climber’s Tale and The HARDEST Eleven Hours of my Life

This story begins on a train.

Sitting on the train on the way back from Machu Picchu, I got to chatting with the guy next to me about Ecuador tips. He said he & his girlfriend climbed Cotopaxi and it was the most miserable thing ever.

Then, on one of the Travel Talk on Twitter (#ttot) discussions, another traveler mentioned Cotopaxi as the hardest, most miserable trek. Perversely, I was kinda keen on climbing Cotopaxi now.

In some ways, I guess I just wanted to see for myself. Plus, there are some pretty pictures to be taken. Then, in Mancora, Peru, I met Dan and Josh who had just come from Ecuador. Since I was on this twisted Cotopaxi kick, I asked if they climbed it. They replied, no that they climbed Chimborazo, an even higher mountain. BUT, the highest point from the center of the earth because of the equatorial bulge. 2.1km higher than the summit of Everest!

I was hooked immediately, but it took the next week of hanging out and talking to them more about it to really seal the deal.

I must point out now, that I am in no way, shape or form, a mountain climber. I’m not even all that huge a fan of trekking.

I was going to climb a mountain for four reasons: achievement, the badge of honor – highest terrestrial human from the center of the Earth, the term ‘equatorial bulge,’ and the photos.

Climbing Chimborazo, Ecuador
Climbing Chimborazo, Ecuador

About Mount Chimborazo

Chimborazo, with a peak of 6,300m, is the highest mountain in Ecuador and like I noted before, due to the Earth’s equatorial bulge, it is the furthest terrestrial point from the center of the Earth. Located one degree south of the equator, it is a currently an inactive volcano (last eruption in 550AD) located in the Cordillera Occidental range of the Andes. She is considered one of the most difficult mountains to climb in Ecuador.

Climbing Chimborazo as a first-time climber

I booked my tour to Chimborazo with Marcelo at Happy Gringo, since I had been so pleased with my Galapagos trip through them. It was slightly pricey, as I was climbing by myself, but they included everything, all the gear and even winter clothes, which I don’t have with me. I still needed to get socks, gloves and a hat, so I ventured to The North Face store down the street from Happy Gringo.

This was the first case of me being laughed at for wanting to climb Chimborazo with zero experience.

I did however get a 30% discount on my stuff, so all in all…WIN! Next Marcelo and I headed to the gear shop to try on my things for the climb. They too laughed at me and stared in disbelief when I said I was climbing Chimborazo as my first mountain. They called my guide to make sure he knew he had a first timer.

Lastly, I was laughed at by a ‘fellow’ mountaineer (he had just climbed Cotopaxi and was climbing Chimborazo later in the week) who suggested I  train by hiking up Teleferico in Quito on Friday. I told him I was taking altitude medication and my training would consist of a massage, sauna, movies and rest. To each his own, right?!

Climbing Chimborazo: How it went

On Saturday, I met my guide, Hugo at Condor Trekk to pick up my gear. From there, we drove the four-ish hours from Quito to Chimborazo, stopping along the way for lunch and stocking up on groceries for dinner and climbing snacks.

On the drive, my nerves had been replaced with excitement.

The kind of nervous, exciting energy you get right before a competition. Not that I’ve been in any serious competition since high school, unless of course we count college intramurals, flag football, or my six-season WAKA kickball stint (and in that case, us Tacos were more competitive at the flip cup table than we were on the field). The only nerves that remained were the ones concerning altitude…the unknown factor of if my body can handle 6300 meters.

Oh, and that 10-12 hours of hiking that laid ahead of me. We passed Cotopaxi on our drive and my first words were shiiiiiiiiit. That is a giant! And it’s smaller (400m) and ‘easier’ than Chimborazo. I began to question what I’d gotten myself into.

I knew climbing Chimborazo would be hard, I’m just not sure I actually fully grasped how hard it would be. We reached the first refuge, which is 4,800m, late in the afternoon. We partially changed into our climbing gear and repacked our bags and set off for the second refuge at 5,000m, where we’d be eating and ‘sleeping’ before the hike. From the first base camp to the second was a bit tough. It was uphill and my pack was heavy.

I think I said just one foot in front of the other a million times.

Oh, and “Let’s go! You can do this!”

Really being my own cheerleader. At this point, Chimborazo was still hiding behind a layer of clouds and fog. We did get up to the refuge in time to watch a very unique sunset with clouds rolling over it, almost like they were eating the sun.

After Hugo fixed us a delicious pasta, squash, and chicken dinner, we began getting ready for bed, which would last from 7:30-10:30pm. I had just finished brushing my teeth when Hugo called for me to come outside and look at something.

The frozen landscape on Mount Chimborazo
The frozen landscape on Mount Chimborazo

Viewing Mount Chimborazo

The night was completely clear and Chimborazo stood in front of me looking magical, surrounded in all her glory by a clear sky filled with hundreds of stars.

It was a breathtakingly beautiful sight. The first words out of my mouth were, oh my gosh, crap (thinking…THAT’S what I have to climb?!). The picture I tried to take doesn’t do it justice, as it was a wondrous sight to view.

I tried to sleep for a few hours, but made the rookie mistake of having green tea with dinner because I was cold, which in turn caused me to have to get up and go to the bathroom three times during my sleep period. As tired as I was, sleep just wasn’t coming. Then, at 10:30pm, my alarm went off.

Here goes nothing, sleep or no sleep.

We got ready, leaving non-essential items at the refuge, and had breakfast.

Go time!

The first 30 minutes or so of the hike is relatively easy, especially when compared to the rest. We got lucky and had a perfect night for climbing, clear weather, cold, but not absurdly cold and not a whole lot of wind (at least not yet…). It started to get steeper and was filled with big and loose rocks and after around an hour, maybe hour and a half, we entered the glacier.

Upon entering the glacier, we stopped to put on our crampons (which lightened my load considerably) and continued climbing through the glacier for a few hours. There’s ice, it’s steep, tons of rocks and I’m tied to my guide Hugo with a rope making my best effort to put one foot in front of another.

Our group from the refuge started out as four climbers and three guides. All of the other climbers outside of me had previously climbed Cotopaxi, along with a lot of other mountains.

While in the glacier, one of the guys turned back.

Towards the end of the rocky glacier section, we had to officially use our ice picks to dig into a tower (it sure felt like a tower) of ice and hoist myself over. On flat land, maybe simple, but after hours of climbing uphill, it destroyed every shred of energy I had built up from our last rest.

Next was the “easy” flat-ish, but still horribly, uphill section that we traversed across sideways. After hours (I’m not sure what time it was) of climbing, we made it to the ridge. About 5,600m. But that is a shear guess. My body, and brain, felt like mush at this point. We rested on the ridge and put on additional clothing (an extra glove layer, another jacket and my facemask for under my hat), ate some chocolate and hydrated.

Sitting at this moment, I was able to take in the beautiful night sky around me, with a crystal clear shot of the Southern Cross.

Perhaps, my favorite constellation, if I were to have a favorite.

Okay, now it was time to tackle the uphill, snowy beast.

On the ridge (which seemed disturbingly narrow), the wind started (hence, the extra layers) and was pretty miserable. There was huge lightening in the distance, but my guide said we were above it and were protected from the storm. We kept trudging along up a VERY steep mountain (I’d venture to guess about a 75% incline), trying to keep one foot in front of the other.

I was listening to playlist on my iPod from music a friend sent me and I think that might be the only thing that was keeping me calm. Otherwise, it was a lot of four-letter words,

“what am I doing’s,” “STOP, wait a minute, I need to rest” and more four-letter words.

My guide Hugo and I were on about the same level of English to Spanish, and sometimes he didn’t think I had confidence that he was telling me the truth from experience, and sometimes I didn’t think he understood that I was moving as fast as I could, but my legs were jello and that I wanted a piggyback ride. Ha! No, seriously, I asked. We scaled another rock wall, which I didn’t fully realize how steep it was until the way back down, and more steep, snow climbing.

When we reached 5,800m (19,000ft), I asked to rest (again…I rested A LOT), and when we sat down, Hugo said, he didn’t think we’d reach the summit for another three-four hours and he thought we should go back.

It was already 6:30am and once we got to the summit, the conditions for getting back down wouldn’t be good and he was afraid I wouldn’t make it.

At this point, I cried.

I cried because we weren’t going to make it to the summit and my goal of being the furthest terrestrial human from the center of the Earth wouldn’t be reached. I cried because I wouldn’t get the amazing landscape photo from the summit I had been dreaming about. But mostly, I cried because I knew Hugo was correct. I was dead at that point. My hands were frozen. I’d been awake for 24-hours straight and my body ached.

It was weird, because I never felt like I was gasping for breath and when we would rest, I’d get up and feel like I could CHARGE the mountain. Ten steps later, however, I’d be back to panting and feeling like I needed another rest. We took a bunch of pictures at 5,800m and then started our climb back down.

I think that’s the real son of a bitch about mountain climbing, once you get up, you have to climb back down.

There’s no elevator or helicopter (I did ask if we could call one to come get us) that can bring you down. And while I told Hugo that going down would be so much easier for me and that I’d have tons more energy, it turns out I lied. I slid down two patches of untracked snow like a kid, while Hugo was behind me with the rope. That part was lots of fun. The rest wasn’t. Once we got back into the rocky glacier area, it was incredibly hard to walk with the crampons, my ankles were killing me and I wanted to rest, but Hugo kept yelling at me to keep going because it was dangerous.

Rockslides were possible or a loose rock could hit me in the head. One actually did fly by my ear. I rolled my ankle on a rock and did a somersault down, but thankfully, Hugo caught me after one flip, and I was fine, save for some large bruises on my right side. Most importantly, the camera in my bag was fine (I didn’t want to have to make a THIRD trip to a Nikon store on this RTW adventure).

After ten and a half SOLID hours of mountain climbing, we made it back to the upper refuge. I collapsed on the floor and was then moved to the caretaker’s bed for a cup of tea. We rested, gathered energy and started off for the lower refuge. The fog had rolled in, so I couldn’t get a clear daytime shot of Chimborazo in all her splendor.

On the way down, some day visitors to the refuges asked me about my climb and asked to take a picture with me. Made me feel pretty special.

Finally, I made it back to the first refuge and died again.

The HARDEST eleven hours of my life.

I’m sure it didn’t help that I was running on fumes from no sleep. There were three guys training for Everest (they camped at the summit the night I hiked), climbing back down Chimborazo the same day as me and we chatted a bit. When I told them Chimborazo was my ‘primera montaña’ they all stared and asked why I’d picked such a hard mountain for my first try and not just climbed Cotopaxi. I just smiled and replied, “because everyone climbs Cotopaxi and I wanted to be the highest terrestrial human from the center of the Earth.”

Go big, or go home, right?! As it turns out, that logic doesn’t apply to mountain climbing.

With zero experience and zero training, I’m pretty freaking proud that I made it to 5,800m, despite not reaching the summit. It was the most physically and mentally challenging thing I’ve ever done.

Proud of myself and my one shot at climbing Chimborazo!

Now, perhaps, I should try Cotopaxi and compare the two?!

Okay, I think I’ve officially gone crazy.


Street Photography Gear (Including Best Street Photography Camera)

“Which camera should I buy?”

I get asked that a lot.

I’m a street photographer. I’d like to share some of the key technical factors of street photography gear with you.

What is the best street photography camera?

In recent times there have been some cool micro four third cameras doing the rounds.

Micro four third cameras are mirrorless cameras having interchangeable lenses. The compact design and lightweight construction make them ideal travel companions. The top online stock photo agencies accept photos made using micro four third cameras. So that’s a big plus for those of you who have such ambitions.

Point-and-shoot cameras simply don’t qualify.

They’re not designed or built for professional photographers, are they? The most significant drawbacks are the focus areas instead of focus points (which makes it impossible to focus on small sections of the frame for example only the eyes of a person or a drop of water on a petal). There’s only so much light that a tiny lens can take in making lowlight photography almost pointless.

Well, DSLR cameras rule!

So which DSLR camera should you buy? Well, you must figure that out yourself! But let me suggest a little exercise to that will aid the decision-making process.

Make a list of the things that you want to photograph over the next two years. For example, butterflies, the Eiffel tower, breakfast, sparrows, the canals of Amsterdam, your friend’s baby, portraits of your friends, aerial views of your hometown etc.

Now let us analyze this list.

You’d need a wide-angle lens (16mm/28mm/35mm) to make the best travel photos of the Eiffel tower, the canals of Amsterdam & aerial views of your hometown, a macro lens to photograph butterflies (180mm macro) & breakfast (50mm macro), a normal lens (50mm) to make photos of your friend’s baby & portraits of your friends in general and a telephoto lens (upwards of 300mm) to photograph sparrows.

DSLR cameras for street photography
DSLR cameras for street photography

In my humble opinion, the most important piece of street photography gear is not the camera but the lens!

I insist on fast lenses having apertures of at least f/2.8. I also insist that lenses having a focal length of 300mm or more must be prime lenses. And those lenses don’t come cheap!

So I recommend that you revisit your list. Think about the things that you’re actually going to be photographing over the next two years; take your time.

When it comes to travel/street photography, I’d imagine that a fixed wide-angle (prime) lens say 35mm f/1.4 or a 16mm-35mm f/2.8 zoom lens would most often suffice.

A decade ago, I would use a telephoto lens (90mm-300mm f/3.5-5.6) almost exclusively. I was obsessed with making tightly framed portraits. Since 2008, I have not used a lens having a focal length more that 50mm.

I have come to believe that taking photos on the street/outdoors using a telephoto lens (especially anything beyond 50mm) is being disrespectful to the people being photographed. When doing street photography portraits, you really want to be using the right lens.

Now, let’s talk about street photography cameras.

I would purchase a mid-range DSLR camera and a strong lens(es) rather lousy lenses mounted to a high-end DSLR.

Also, professionals/serious amateurs do not have a right to complain about bulky/heavy cameras and lenses. Remember, you’re going for quality.

Mid-range DSLR cameras have a magnification factor of about 1.5x, so a 50mm lens mounted to one of them will not be the best choice whilst photographing the canals of Amsterdam but will help you make some cool portraits of your friends. This is where something like a 16mm-35mm f/2.8 helps.

I’m a big fan of medium format photography. I cannot afford medium format digital cameras. But time and again, I play around with my Yashica Mat 6×6 and Fuji GS645S Professional film cameras.

The size of a 35mm camera (not lens, but camera) frame is 1 inch x 1.5 inches (the most common SLR/point and shoot cameras that take in rolls of film and DSLR cameras fall in this category). Medium format films have one side fixed at 6 cm and the other can vary (for example 4.6 cm, 6 cm, 17 cm etc.) depending on the format of the camera body.

I reckon that the 6×6 format make the best portraits.

AI servo or “continuous focus”

Look for the AI servo or “continuous focus” setting in your camera; different manufactures have termed it differently. The role of AI servo or “continuous focus” is to continuously refocus the subject whilst the shutter button is half-pressed.

This setting can make all the difference when it comes to the making of photos where your primary subject is in constant motion such as your dog running towards you/a moving car/bicycle etc. But this can drain down your battery. So ensure to turn in back to “One shot” when you’re done with photographing moving subjects.

To tripod or not to tripod. That is the question.

Do you need to include a tripod in your list of street photography gear?

Let’s be honest, it’s not always possible to mount a tripod on the street; especially busy streets. Also, one can miss plenty of candid street photography moments whilst trying to get the tripod in place. But as far as possible, use a tripod for architectural photos/landscapes where the moment/the role of people is not significantly important.

Purchase a professional carry bag that’s lightweight weather resistant. Again, not expensive but think of it as a one-time investment. We love this camera bag from BAGSMART – it’s water resistant, can fit a laptop, and has a tripod holder. It also looks really stylish and doesn’t look like an obvious camera bag, which is great for walking the city streets with.

Street photography gear: Tripod
Street photography gear: Tripod

Check out out guide on How to Create and Edit Travel Videos.


How to Take a Day Trip to Yosemite Valley

After a family trip to Lake Tahoe, I had an open weekend and managed to convince my family that we needed to take a day trip to Yosemite Valley.

I knew I wanted to have a full day in Yosemite and not just plan to drive through.  This was smart.  You really do need to plan to spend a full day to take advantage of what is there.  

Imagine Yellowstone or the Grand Canyon… it’s one of those type of places. You’re essentially 3-4 hours from civilization in any direction. The good news is, there are options. 

We stayed at the West Entrance to the park at Yosemite Riverside Inn. It met our needs, and even included breakfast.  We were most happy with the distance to the park and being able to wake up and begin our journey into the park. The first sight of Yosemite valley was incredible. 

Day Trip to Yosemite Valley
Day Trip to Yosemite Valley

A day trip to Yosemite Valley 

We started off with seeing Half Dome Yosemite Valley in the distance… My first view of it. Inspiring! 

Personally it only took this one view, to know that I had found what I was looking for. Yosemite was a natural wonder. This was an ancient canyon with God’s fingerprints on it. This place has serious earth history and a magical valley that would attract earths inhabitants all over it.

This special valley would awe and inspire and enchant anyone who sets their eyes on it. In many ways simply traveling through this valley can bring one closer to God, because it makes man feel small. In so many ways the pride of man can be stilled by standing on one of these rocks. 

El Capitan – What a Serious Megalith.  

While I didn’t really take the opportunity to climb these mega stones carved out of the valley, I did spend hours driving around them and went on a couple of easy hikes up to the falls, and one to a lake (read about more hikes in Yosemite National Park). I spent most of the day in the valley with a bunch of other people I was trying to ignore.

Ignore the crowds, it’s still worth it. There are times of the day when you can get there ahead of the crowds, but still you have to do it anyway… It’s amazing and it does bring one closer to ones creator. 

El Capitan in Yosemite Valley National Park, USA
El Capitan in Yosemite Valley National Park

Yosemite Falls

Yosemite Falls is 2,425 ft.  

The highest waterfall in North America and in the top 10 in the world.

Had I known how amazing this was and how many of the top waterfalls in the world are in this park I would have given it more priority.  When I think of falls in the US, I think of Niagara Falls, but that’s a volume thing. Here you can plan to go when the run off is at it’s highest in the spring and get a real show.

Remember this park reminds man, that he is insignificant. Some people get hurt or worse, trying to prove they can conquer these things.  With over a dozen falls, and hikes to nearly all of them, there are tons of things that people will do.

Things to do on a day trip to Yosemite Valley

While I got a couple of hikes in, I would have liked to have tubed the river, or rode horses… lots of great activities in the park.

  • Horseback riding
  • Rafting
  • Hiking (Falls, Trails, Loops)
  • Rock Climbing
  • Biking
  • Tours
  • Loops Drive
  • Walking 

Check out the organised hikes in Yosemite valley below:

If anything Yosemite reminds us that there are things bigger than us in life. Anytime you want to feel small. Visit the Yosemite Valley and it’s 1000 square miles of National park. While you may feel like you weren’t alone while you were there. You won’t regret it.


2 Days in Yellowstone National Park

The main sights of America’s first national park, are best visited by car and can be easily explored in two days by following a rough figure of eight pattern, when approached from the northern tip of the park, heading in from Montana.

I stayed overnight in Livingstone and drove the 50 miles south to the North Entrance of the park early the first morning to start my 2 days in Yellowstone National Park.

Safari in Yellowstone National Park, USA
Safari in Yellowstone National Park, USA

2 Days in Yellowstone National Park: Day 1

The first day of my Yellowstone itinerary includes checking out some of the sights along the northern tip of the national park.

Mammoth Hot Springs

A short 5 mile drive from the entrance and you arrive at the surreal Mammoth Hot Springs Terraces. Heat, Water, Limestone and Rock combine to create the most amazing landscape of off-white glistening terraces, bubbling water and steam rising to the surface. It is hard to describe just how spectacular the area is, but the descriptions of some of the Hot Springs may give you some idea – Opal Terrace, Jupiter Terrace and White Elephant Back Terrace are just a few of the areas open to discovery. 

Tower Junction

Next head back on the road and journey 18 miles East to Tower Junction. A great spot to admire vast views of the park and definitely spot some wildlife, maybe some Elk or Bison. The main attraction here is Tower Waterfall, a 132 foot waterfall, but also visit Roosevelt Lodge, named because President Roosevelt used to love visiting the area and often went hunting here. More hot springs are located around Calsite Springs, and definitely don’t miss the surreal Petrified Trees of the Fossil Forrest. 

Canyon 

Continue on the road south about 19 miles to the Canyon Area. Its no surprise that this is where the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone is located, stretching some 20 miles long. There is also a great visitors centre here, where transient exhibitions can be found. There are places to rest and eat too and all manner of hiking trails start here, from a quick 20 minute walk to much more strenuous hikes. 

2 days in Yellowstone National Park
Grand Canyon of Yellowstone National Park

Norris 

Loop West on the road about 12 miles, till you arrive at the Norris Geyser Basin. It is the hottest and most changeable area in the whole of the Yellowstone National Park and most cannot be missed. There is a 3.6 km trail, but you can walk a shortened route too, as you pass through pungent smells, hot steam and strange, almost magical colours. Highlights include Whales Mouth, Crackling Lake, Emerald Spring and the Porcelain Terrace Overlook. 

Madison 

Depending on time, you can always stop off here for some more hiking trails and stay overnight in one of the campgrounds, but I drove west out of the park, and straight into West Yellowstone town. There are plenty of cheap motels, shops, and restaurants here and it is a great place to rest overnight.

2 Days in Yellowstone National Park: Day 2

Two days in Yellowstone National Park won’t be complete without visiting Old Faithful, which is what we got up to on day two.

Head back into Yellowstone from the West Yellowstone entrance, but this time head South when you arrive back at Madison. 

Old Faithful 

You may of heard of this place? Located in the Upper Geyser Basin, it is the largest concentration of Geysers in the world. The main attraction here is of course the famous cone geyser Old Faithful, so named, not because it is the most spectacular or largest geyser in the park, but the most reliable. With plenty of places to sit, wait and watch, check the clock for estimated eruption times, and have your camera ready! 

Old Faithful in Yellowstone National Park
Old Faithful in Yellowstone National Park

West Thumb 

Continue heading South on the main road about 16 miles to one of the smallest concentrations of geysers in the park, but by no means less spectacular. Also located here are mud pools, fumaroles and hot springs. There is also the amazing Abyss Pool, the deepest pool in the whole park. 

Yellowstone Lake 

Now start to head East again, and follow the edge of the Yellowstone Lake. You can stop off along the way to enjoy the scenary or take a rest and gets something to eat at the Bay Bridge Campground. There is a marina here, and places to fish, boat and raft, if you plan to stay longer than 2 days of course. 

Fishing Bridge 

When you reach the top end of the Lake, take a quick detour to the Fishing Bridge Museum. As well as being a popular place for visitors to fish, there is a landmark museum here made of rock and stone which reflects the beauty of the surrounding area and provides more information about the park. With all the main sights done, its a picturesque 37 mile drive back up the West side of the park up to the North Entrance.

Again, with plenty of stop-off points to admire and soak up the remaining scenery. You will no doubt have to stop at least once to let bison pass you by, and that alone is worth making the trip for.

I have travelled extensively in the USA, but Yellowstone National Park, is by far one of the highlights and should be on everyone’s list to go experience for themselves.

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How to Visit Cusco & Machu Picchu on a Budget

If you ever got astonished while watching a picture of Machu Picchu, I have something to tell you: Reality is 10 times better! 

No picture captures the spirit, energy and breath-taking natural surroundings of the ruins. That is why even if it wasn’t one of the top destinations for backpacking it would still be worth every dollar you spend on that trip. But the whole “adventure” point is to push some limits, for that reason I want to share with you the recommendations from my personal experience and my Peruvian friends so you can make the most of it.

Peru is perfect for travelers on a shoestring budget, and not just the backpacker hordes. Visiting Machu Picchu on a budget is totally possible!

Machu Picchu on a budget
Machu Picchu on a budget

How to Visit Cusco & Machu Picchu on a Budget

Peru’s currency is the nuevo sol (S/) and compared to other South American countries, traveling costs are low – it’s easy to survive on $30-40 USD a day. However, if your budget is slightly tighter, then here are a few tips on how to visit Cusco and Machu Picchu on a budget.

1. Bargain

Bargaining is almost a rule in every small community and town, and Cusco is not the exception. 

a. Hotel: 

If you arrive to Cusco by bus, on the terminal you’ll be approached by several “hotel representatives” that will harass you until you go to their hotel. This is good news for you, because if you play your cards right, they’ll fight against each other with the only competitive advantage they have: Rate. I managed to get a room with private bathroom 3 blocks away from the Main Square for U$D 4 per night (this was in 2007).

Bonus track: Most of them will pay for your taxi to make sure you go to their hotel. 

b. Tours: 

Regardless if you chose to go hiking the Inca Trail or going on a regular tour, you’ll have to go to one of the many travel agencies around the main square. All of them offer the same product, with that in mind walk around, asking and bargaining till you find the best deal. 

c. Handicrafts and regional products: 

I don’t need to explain how this works. Test your negotiating skills and you’ll get an average of 50 to 60% off. You’ll find the best product quality, variety and prices in the small towns along the Sacred Valley of the Incas.

2. Nightlife in Cusco on a budget

All the nightlife in Cusco happens around the main square, where you’ll find several pubs and night clubs. Just choose any random point and start walking around the square (clockwise or counterclockwise works!). Every bar will try to make you go in, that’s why they’ll offer you free admission and a free drink.

All you have to do is go inside, have your drink, spend some time if you like the place and move on to the next bar, where the same thing will happen again. When I and my friends got back to the starting point we thought “OK, that’s it”, so imagine our surprise when all the bars started offering the free drinks again! In our case, we just went back to our favorite, but in theory you can get drunk without spending a dime.

3. Eating in Cusco

Every wise traveler will tell you this “Stay away from the touristic places”. On this case, walking just 3 blocks away from the square will be enough. Find a “picanteria”, that’s where the locals eat. We had a (simple) 3 courses meal for U$D 2,50 (corn snack, soup and ceviche).

4. Churches

An important part of this trip, is visiting Cusco’s stunning baroque churches like the Cathedral, La Merced and Jesuit church to name a few. They boast an artistic patrimony of sculptures and paintings from the Cusco School (XVII century) and earthquake-proof architecture with fascinating shapes. You need to buy the “tourist pass” (U$D 10) to enter the Cathedral, and pay a small admission fee for the other churches, but if you go during the mass, you can enter for free. *

5. Sacsayhuaman

In the times of the Incas, the city of Cusco used to be shaped as a Puma. Sacsayhuaman, which are now beautiful ruins overlooking the city, used to be the Puma’s head. You can enter for free before the opening time (7am)… Of course my choice was to sleep an extra couple of hours!

Depending on how much time you have and which are your interests it may be worth to buy the tourist pass. A one-day partial Cusco ticket is $25 and includes entrance to Sacsayhuaman, Qenko, Puka Pukara, and Tambomachay.

Sacsayhuaman in Cuzco, Peru
Sacsayhuaman in Cuzco, Peru

6. Train to Machu Picchu

At some point, you’ll have to take the train (even if you walk the Inca Trail, you’ll need it to go back). They’ll tempt you to buy the Deluxe Train instead of the backpackers’ one. It certainly is beautiful with those panoramic windows and first class service. But all the fun happens in the backpackers’ train… We found ourselves into a party (literally) with adventurers from all around the world. Don’t miss that experience!

7. Time is money! 

You want to arrive early to Machu Picchu; the deluxe train arrives about 10 AM, which means that that’s the time when everything will be crowded. I’d recommend spending the night in the close town of Aguas Calientes and waking up early in the morning. If you didn’t walk the Inca Trail, resist the temptation of walking up to the ruins just to prove yourself how adventurous you are. That’s a waste of time and energy. Go straight to the ruins by bus, and finish early enough to climb the Huayna Picchu for the most amazing panoramic view of the citadel. You can start your way up until 1PM and they have a limited space for the first 200 people.

8. Free souvenir

Take your passport with you when you visit Machu Picchu and go to the visitor’s center, where they’ll enrich it with a fancy rubber stamp of the ruins.

More posts on Machu Picchu & Cusco


Things to do in Cusco, Peru

Cuzco (also “Cusco”, or “Qosqo” in Quechua), located in the Southern Sierras is a fascinating city that was the capital of the Incan Empire.

Cusco is a Unesco World Heritage Site and is one of Peru’s most visited cities as it is the largest and most comfortable city from which tourists can begin visits to Machu Picchu, the Sacred Valley of the Incas, and other Incan sites in the region. There are so many incredible things to do in Cusco.

Cusco is a beautiful city with well preserved colonial architecture, evidence of a rich and complex history. The city itself represents the center of indigenous Quechua culture in the Andes, and by merely walking the streets one sees the layers of history. Spanish colonial buildings erected directly atop Inca walls line the square, while the modern tourist nightlife flourishes in their midst.

The city is surrounded by a number of ruins, the most impressive being Sacsayhuaman, the site of the 1536 battle in which dozens of Pizarro’s men charged uphill to battle the forces of the Inca. Nowadays, Cusco is known for its indigenous population, often seen on the streets in traditional clothing, and its substantial tourist-fueled night life. 

Related Read: Where to go in Peru Besides Machu Picchu

Sacsayhuaman in Cuzco, Peru
Sacsayhuaman in Cuzco, Peru

Things to do in Cusco, Peru

Don’t rush through Cusco! 

It is an amazing city and you need more than two days to see the city alone. This is not even mentioning side full day trips to Machu Picchu or to the Sacred Valley.

Things to do in Cusco, Peru
Cusco, Peru

Here are some travel tips for things you might like to see or do.

  • Walk around the Plaza de Armas; the square has churches, shops, restaurants and bars backing on to it and is a great place to spend an afternoon. The historical center of Cusco is beautiful, but you will have to deal with all the street vendors and hawkers of cheap paintings and other souvenirs. They are everywhere in and around the Plaza de Armas. They spoil somewhat the experience.
  • Check out the Plaza de San Francisco, which is a few blocks north of the center, and is a great place to visit one of Cusco’s many great coffee shops.
  • Play Sapo, a traditional bar game played in chicharias all over Peru. The game involves throwing small coins, called fichas, at a table with a bronze sapo (toad) attached. You get points for making it into holes on the table and a ton of points for making it into the sapo’s mouth. Best played while drinking chicha (corn beer, traditionally fermented with saliva) at a local dive. Ask old men to show you the correct throwing form, as it’s difficult to master.
  • Talk to local store owners, curators, waitresses and bartenders. They typically know a little English if your Spanish is not good and are generally happy to share interesting information about the city not found in guidebooks. This is also a great way to find the best places to try cuyalpaca, and chicha.
  • Once you are accustomed to the altitude, go for a jog! This is a very humbling experience, as the hills and thin air prove a challenge to even those in great shape. It’s also a good way to explore. Head east or south of the plaza for the safest places. If you’re a woman out exercising, you may get a few cat calls, as this is common in much of Latin America.
  • Go Whitewater rafting but not in the Sacred Valley of the Incas where the water is very polluted and the rapids are relatively tame. Instead head upstream to Chuqicahuana or Cusipata sections of the Rio Urubamba / Vilcanota where the water is much cleaner and the rapids are excellent fun up to class 5 depending on what time of year you are traveling.
  • Try inflatable canoeing on the Piñi Pampa section of the Rio Urubamba where you get to paddle your own canoe down, fun but not frantic, class 1 and 2 rapids.
  • If you have more time, try and raft the 3 or 4 day Rio Apurimac – the true Source of the Amazon and one of the Top Ten Rafting Rivers in the World. Class 3 – 5 all in the most amazing 3000m deep canyon. Go with the experts as accidents have occurred and in Peru you pay for what you get so saving a few $$$ can seriously reduce the quality and the safety of your trip.
  • Have a Downhill Mountain Bike trip either across the Chincheros plains, past Inca ruins and down through the spectacular Maras Saltpans or the 75km downhill from Abra Malaga to Santa Maria and onto the totally awesome hotsprings of Santa Teresa (easy and cheap access to Machu Picchu from here, too) Again go with the experts – there are a lot of cheap bikes out there, totally not up to the job.

Buying at markets in and around Cusco, Peru

If you want cheap cheap touristy stuff, go to one of the two Saturday and Sunday morning markets in Juliaca (about 5 hours away by bus), Puno (about 6 hours away by bus). They are about 1/3 the price of Cusco.

If you don’t want to go so far away, but still want touristy stuff, go to the Artisan Market at the intersection of la Avenida del Sol and Tullumayo. It’s the big red building near the fountain. The further away you get from the main square, the cheaper things become.

There is a mini-mart next to the big church in the main square. It is the San-Pedro market where bread costs around s/0.10 and a glass of combination juices around s/1.50 and they give you 2-4 refills. Don´t go too far from the main square at night though, it can be dangerous.

There is another market called Centro Comercial El Molino, Urbanizacion Ttio, you have to take a taxi and it costs s/2 to get there. In this market you can buy heaps of illegal merchandise, DVDs, CDs etc. A good quality copy DVD is s/4, or you can by 5 VCDs for s/10.

The indigenous women at El Centro Bartolome de Las Casas have a store in which they sell homemade handicrafts and weavings. You can often watch them work, though they often don’t speak Spanish, and rarely speak a word of English. It’s located a few blocks from the plaza on Avenida Tullumayu.

Also Pisac, a town outside Cusco, has a very big market. It is about 30 minutes from Cusco by bus. The bus station is on Tullumayo street a couple blocks from Limacpampas. The fare is very cheap, and you can see the Incan ruins at Pisac. In Aguas Calientes and Machu Picchu prices can be the double of what they are in Cusco.

If you travel to the “Sacred Valley” (Valle Sagrado, including the towns/ruins of Chinchero, Ollantaytambo and Pisac), there is lots of touristy stuff to buy, you can barter, but the prices won´t go down much. Alpaca sweaters are not like they used to be. The only good ones are in upmarket shops.

Shopping in markets in Cusco, Peru
Shopping in markets in Cusco, Peru

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Where to go in Peru Besides Machu Picchu

Wondering about where to go in Peru besides Machu Picchu?

Those of us lucky enough to live in Peru know that Machu Picchu is but one of dozens of destinations that Peru offers those who venture outside our workplace in the capital city of Lima.

Lima has its charms – colonial architecture, archaeological museums and a cuisine that has rightfully taken its place among the world’s finest – but the most enticing attractions in Peru are in the provinces.

where to go in peru besides machu picchu
Lima in Peru

Where to go in Peru besides Machu Picchu

The combination of the long Pacific coastline, the Andes mountains and the Amazon jungle make Peru’s geography among the most dramatic and awe-inspiring on earth. And the archaeology! Machu Picchu is one of thousands of fascinating archeological sites left by the Incas and a wide variety of cultures that preceded them. And native cultures continue to abound throughout the country, making Peru a virtual rainbow of rich living traditions that will be the delight to any visitor.

Let’s take a quick look at some of the best of these attractions in Peru, first to the south, then to the north of Lima. After reading this, you’ll know that Peru is much more than Machu Picchu.

The south of Peru

The city of Cusco, the ancient capital of the Inca Empire, is still open and offers the visitor a wide variety of attractions, including spectacular Incan and Spanish colonial structures, amazing textiles and other handcrafts, museums, fine dining and, on the outskirts, numerous impressive Incan ruins, including the stone fortress of Sacsayhuaman that is now home of the Inti Raymi festival held each year in June.

Things to do in Cusco, Peru
Cusco, Peru

An hour’s drive from Cusco is the beautiful Sacred Valley of the Incas, once the breadbasket of the empire where today people continue to live much as they did before the conquest. The Sacred Valley is a rural paradise containing some of Peru’s most important Incan ruins and some of the country’s newest and most modern hotels.

Further to the south, straddling the border with Bolivia, is the spectacular Lake Titicaca that, at 12,500 feet, is the highest navigable lake in the world. Its shores and numerous islands are populated by Aymara people who welcome sharing their ancient customs and folkways with visitors.

Another delightful attraction in the southern sierra region is Arequipa, called the “white city” for the white volcanic rock that continues to be widely used for construction. Arequipa is a picturesque colonial city and a short drive away from the majestic Colca Canyon, which offers some of the most beautiful scenery in this beautiful country.

Where to go in Peru Besides Machu Picchu
Colca, Peru

The southern coastal region features ParacasIca and Nazca. The best known attraction in the zone is the Nazca line drawings, etched in over 1,000 square kilometers of the sandy plains north of Nazca. Constructed from about 400 BC to 600 AD, the Nazca line drawings are geoglyphs that characterize several species of birds, a fish, a spider, a monkey, and plants within a labyrinth of straight lines, spirals, triangles, and other shapes.

The Nazca line drawings are best appreciated from the air, though they may also be viewed on-site from specially constructed towers. Ica – famous for its warm, dry and sunny climate – is the center of Peru’s wine industry. Other attractions include the Huacachina oasis, with its palm-lined lagoon having medicinal sulfurous waters, and the world-class Las Dunas resort.

The nearby Paracas Bay and adjoining Paracas National Reserve are both teeming with marine and bird life. Be sure to take the boat ride out to the Ballestas Islands, where seals, sea lions, and countless bird species can be viewed in their natural habitat.

The three luxurious bayside Hotels: Libertador Paracas, Doubletree and La Hacienda are now the talk of Lima, so be sure to make reservations early.

Paracas, Ica and Nazca are sunny and warm year-round. Don’t forget to come with your bathing suit and plenty of sun block!

The north of Peru

A short drive north of Lima is Caral, a fascinating archeological site believed to be 5,000 years old and so, is commonly called the oldest city in the Western Hemisphere. A couple of hours to the north, near the prosperous and attractive city of Trujillo, are the ruins of Chan Chan, the largest adobe city in the hemisphere.

Another couple of hours up the coast is Chiclayo, is where the Lord of Sipan was discovered. With the help of the National Geographic Society, a museum – possibly the finest in Peru – was built in the nearby city of Lambayeque to house the impressive golden and jeweled archeological remains.

Perhaps the most impressive archeological site in the north of Peru is the mountaintop fortress of Kuelap in the high jungle region near the picturesque city of Chachapoyas. The countryside around Chachapoyas feature numerous cliffside burial sites, many of which were found with mummies, and two of the world’s tallest waterfalls.

Higher into the northern Andes, the city of Cajamarca holds the so-called Incan baths, still-functioning thermal baths where the Incan king Atahualpa was bathing when he was taken prisoner and eventually killed by the Spanish conquerors lead by Francisco Pizarro. Cajamarca is also home to the Yanacocha gold mine, one of the world’s largest, and a variety of pre-Colombian ruins set in the beautiful mountain scenery of northern Peru.

The tallest mountains in northern Peru surround the Callejón de Hualylas. The snow-peaked Cordillera Blanca that defines the eastern side of this lovely mountain valley is a haven for mountain climbers and anyone seeking unsurpassed scenery of mountain peaks and glacier-fed mountain lakes.

The northern coast also features Peru’s finest beaches. Perhaps the best known is Mancora, a party town that has become a haven for Peru’s budding surfing scene. The rich Pacific fishing waters, once famous as a favorite fishing haunt of Ernest Hemmingway, today provide the raw ingredients for some of the finest cuisine on the planet.

Manorca beach in Southern Peru
Manorca beach in Southern Peru

The Jungle of Peru

The rainy season in the jungle extends through April, but the mornings and early afternoons are normally dry. 

Peru’s jungle is formed by the Amazon River, the longest river in the world, which starts in the mountains of southern Peru, then rambles through Peru’s vast jungle region en route to Brazil. Visitors can begin a tour of the Peruvian Amazon in the jungle cities of Puerto Maldonado or Iquitos.

Peru’s Amazon region features unequalled nature reserves, including the Manu National Park, and the Tambopata Candamo and Pacaya Samiria Nature Reserves.

The Jungle of Peru
The Jungle of Peru

So now you know that Peru is much more than Machu Picchu. Whether you seek a mountain or jungle adventure, unparalleled archaeological riches, or simply want to relax on the beach or at poolside while enjoying a pisco sour along with some of the finest and freshest food you’ve ever tasted, Peru is the place to be. Believe me, I know because I live there. Machu Picchu can wait.

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The Complete Guide to Visiting Machu Picchu in Peru

Any trip to Peru isn’t complete without visiting Machu Picchu. It attracts archaeologists, photographers and adventurers, as well as travellers who are eager to tick it off their bucket list. 

The altitude of Machu Picchu is 2 430 m (7,972 feet) – making it pretty impressive (acute mountain altitude sickness can occur).

If you’re planning on visiting Machu Picchu in Peru – here’s everything that you’ll need to know.

Hiking the Inca Jungle Trail To Machu Picchu
Hiking the Inca Jungle Trail To Machu Picchu

How to get to Machu Picchu in Peru

Visiting Machu Picchu isn’t cheap (though you can do Machu Picchu on a budget). As of 2021,

With the train ticket to Machu Picchu Pueblo, also formerly known as Aguas Calientes at US$98 return and a night’s accommodation it easily adds up to over US$200. Visitors to Machu Picchu typically leave from Cusco.

From there, a visitor has the following options to reach Machu Picchu:

On foot

Hiking the Inca Trail is an alternative to get in and a great way to arrive as you first see the city through the Sun Gate (instead of arriving from beneath on the bus). Both the four-day and two-day hikes are controlled by the government. Travelers should be fit enough to walk for days and sleep in tents.

A hiker can also follow the train tracks all the way to Machu Picchu. There is only one track leading out of the Machu Picchu train station in Cusco, so it’s quite simple. It takes about four days, and you only have to pay the entrance fee. Recent regulations require reservations and the hiring of a professional tour guide to accompany you on the hike.

You can also take the less popular Inca Jungle Trail.

Walking Along the Railroad Tracks

While this route is technically illegal, the law is not enforced except at the Inca Trail checkpoint of Kilometer 82. If you wish to get to Machu Picchu by this route, leave from Ollantaytambo early in the morning, at about 5 – 5:30 AM. You will likely have to make arrangements beforehand for a taxi to bring you to Km. 82, as there are not many taxis in service at this time. Once you get to Kilometer 82, begin walking on the tracks away from Ollantaytambo.

The trip is approximately 30 kilometers, but because the ground is flat it goes fairly quickly. You can count on getting into Aguas Calientes sometime after lunch and before dinner. It is then recommended to get a hostel and see the ruins the following day. This method of travel, it should be stressed, is technically illegal, but for a budget traveller looking for an adventure, this is the best choice.

Train to Machu Picchu

The most common way is to take the PeruRail train to Machu Picchu in the morning, explore the ruins for a few hours and return to Cusco in the afternoon, though it can be a bit rushed. The train terminates at Puente Ruinas station, where buses take tourists up the mountain to Machu Picchu. The Machu Picchu station is located at Aguas Calientes; this is not the station used by tourists on a day trip.

You can book Vistadome Train round-trip ticket here.

Note: PeruRail’s Backpacker train is segregationist in the literal sense. Tourists ride in a posh car, and Peruvians ride in another car farther back, often standing room only.

Bus to Machu Picchu

From Machu Picchu pueblo Aguas Calientes a traveler can take one of the frequent buses to the ruins (US$12 each way). The bus operates from Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu and the ride takes about 35 – 40 minutes.

It is also possible to walk the distance, about 2 hours (8 km). This route is mainly stairs, and follows the bus route up. It is a strenuous and long hike but is very rewarding, recommended to start around 4 a.m. to make it to the top before sunrise.

You can also travel the “back way” independently from Cusco by taking a bus to Santa Maria, colectivo to Santa Teresa, and proceeding to the hydroelectric train station by foot or van and on to Aguas Calientes by foot or train. Note that hiking the tracks is technically prohibited. Do your research before choosing this route.

An experience of visiting Machu Picchu by train

Many will take the challenging Inca Trail to reach this New 7 Wonder of the World, but Lisa Rollinson discovered that even those who take the easier route will still be overwhelmed by this legendary site…  

“I had dreamed of visiting the ancient ruins since I could remember. I had heard tales, seen pictures and read books, but finally it was my time to visit this man-made wonder. 

We arrived in Aguas Calientes by train in the early afternoon. This little town is Machu Picchu’s jumping on or off point, for people who have completed their Inca Trail trek or those who are sightseeing by train. A river runs though the village and there are restaurants and souvenir shops lining the main street. You could immediately sense the excitement amongst people who were returning from the sacred ruins, and I couldn’t wait to enjoy the moment myself! 

We joined the queue of locals and visitors who were waiting to board the buses, that 25 minutes later would have us disembarking at one of the most fascinating places on our planet. 

The road snaked its way through the mountains and, as the bus rounded a corner, I had my first glimpse of the ancient Inca ruins. I realised I was holding my breath, taken aback by the size of the site.  

The most astonishing thing is the mountain-side location of the ruins. The amount of work that must have gone into clearing the land is inspiring, but the gradient they are built on is simply unfathomable. 

Our guide explained how the stones used in the construction were both local and brought in from elsewhere. It took around 90 years for the Incas to build the sanctuary and some even say that parts were never finished.  

We had plenty of time to wander at our leisure, take it all in and imagine what it must have been like when the Spanish invaded the region. It was during this time that the Incas were thought to have burned Machu Picchu and hidden themselves deeper in the mountains. 

Machu Picchu was a small community, a place of refuge, built in the most improbable landscape. ‘Incredible’ just doesn’t describe it. Even when you see it for yourself it’s hard to comprehend the scale of Machu Picchu. It will keep you wondering why the Incas decided to build on a mountainside, in the middle of nowhere. There is simply nothing that compares in our modern world!”

Hiking to Machu Picchu in Peru
Hiking to Machu Picchu in Peru

Highlights and things to see at the Machu Picchu, Peru

Take the time to walk around the site; there are many places to see and explore when visiting Machu Picchu. Although it is not necessary, taking a guided tour does provide a deeper insight into the ancient city, its uses, and information on the geography of it.

Also, be sure to wake up early to miss the thousands of people that visit the site each day, or stay till closing time. The first buses start running at 5:40AM, which will give you an hour or two in the pleasant light of dawn but before the full force of the sun begins hammering the mountainside. (If you plan to stay past 10AM, sunblock is requisite.)

Temple of the Sun

Near the summit of the main city, the stonework on the temple is incredible. Look closely and you will see that there are a variety of stone walls throughout the city. Most are rough stones held together with mud, the common stone walls found throughout the world. But many buildings or parts of buildings are done with the more distinctive and impressive closely-fit stonework. The temple is the absolute pinnacle of this technology. Observe it from the side, descending the stone staircase in the main plaza.

Intihuatana – Temple of the Three Windows – Main Temple – Condor

The tour guides will try to tell you that this was a temple, but look closely: between the wings of the condor is a chamber with grooves cut in the stone to secure manacles, a walkway behind where a torturer may walk to whip the prisoner’s backs, and a scary looking pit to let the blood of prisoners drain. Clearly the condor was a symbol of cruel justice, but a santized version is told for the benefit of middle-aged tourists and their children.

The following sights involve some legwork:

Sun Gate

Walk back up the Inca trail away from the site and up the hill to the Sun Gate (or Inti Punku); from here you can see back down each valley offering excellent views. It’s a gentle walk (probably 45 mins tops round trip) and well worth it. If you stay in Aguas Callientes, it is possible to get here early enough to catch the sunrise from here. 

Waynapicchu (Huayna Picchu)

Walk up Waynapicchu (in Spanish Huayna Picchu); this is the “second” hill seen in the many photos. Its a steep but short walk offering very impressive views over the site. Well worth the effort!

Waynapicchu also has ruins atop its peak. As of November 2006, visitors are no longer accepted after 1 p.m. to start the trail, and all visitors must be out by 4:00p.m.

Only 400 visitors are allowed to enter this trail each day. Buses begin leaving for Machu Picchu at 5:30. A line forms early at the checkpoint to the trail. At 7:00 A.M. 400 ticket numbers are issued and the first of batch of 200 hikers is slowly released. The second group of 200 can start any time between 10:00 and 11:00 A.M.. On busy tourist days, the limit will be reached by 7 or 8 A.M..

It is recommended that you go straight here first thing. You will be required to sign in; remember your number (or the time you signed in) so that you can find yourself in the book to sign out again. The climb is steep and at times exposed, and takes about 1 hour each way. Some portions are slippery and steel cables (a via ferrata) provide some support. Decent footwear is important. There is an extremely narrow passage near the summit (a cave).

The view of the city is fantastic as it rises out of the clouds. You can even see all the way to the sun gate. 

At the top is a mini Machu Pichu, with houses, terraces, and some HUGE drop offs where you can get some amazing photos. 

This really is the last epic moment of the Inca Trail and the bit that fewest people get to see. So get past the crowds and hurry towards the mountain, sign the book, pass through the gate and get up to the top.

Take some time to lie on your back and take in the fact that you are on the very top of the Incas world. 

Two cautionary notes: The hike is somewhat strenuous and not advised for visitors who are elderly, pregnant or have heart/lung conditions. Also, the steep stairs and cliffs you must walk along at the summit can be terrifying for those who are afraid of heights.

Waynapicchu (Huayna Picchu)
Waynapicchu (Huayna Picchu)

Moon Temple and Great Cave

If you have some time at hand, or long for a sparkle of solitude, you can also walk to the Moon Temple (Templo de la Luna) and the Great Cave (Gran Caverne). It’s a long walk and adventurous hike involving several ladders. Some may find that the sites aren’t really rewarding, but unexpected wildlife can be seen (wild spectacled bears have been reported).

This hike is also quite interesting because partway through you leave behind the mountain terrain and enter a more conventional forest. The caves can be reached either by hiking down the trail from the peak of Waynapicchu (which includes some semi-harrowing but fun near-vertical descents) or by the split from the main Waynapicchu trail (look for the sign that says Gran Carvern).

Remember that it is much easier to descend from Waynapicchu than to ascend from these temples. Be sure to bring plenty of water and snacks for this long hike. The hike from the summit to the caves and back to the checkpoint takes about two more hours.

Food at Machu Picchu

It’s officially not allowed to bring food into the archeological site. But if you’re planning to stay the whole day, bring some snacks or sandwiches and plenty of water (just be sure not to litter). Your ticket will tell you that you cannot bring food or water bottles into the site, although many people do take them anyway.

Buying them at the site is expensive, and plastic bottles are not offered (glass only). Purchase food and plenty of water and bring it with you. The concession stand near the entrance of the site is pitiful in its offerings and gets very busy at lunchtime. Once in the site, it’s not possible to buy food or drinks. There is a cafeteria near the site, where the locals who work there eat. Ask one of them and if you’re lucky, you’ll be rewarded with a cheap, filling, and unique alternative to the expensive tourist snack-stand.

  • Tinkuy Buffet Restaurant, Machu Picchu Sanctuary Lodge, +51 84 21 1039/38. 11:30AM-3:00PM. Casual lunch buffet with nice picture windows. Expensive: About $33 for buffet lunch, approximately four times that of area restaurants.
  • Tampu Restaurant Bar (Machu Picchu Sanctuary Lodge guests only). 5:30AM-9:00AM, Noon-3:00PM, 6:30PM-9:30PM. Expensive, but it’s at the ruins site.

Better food choices can be found by taking one of the regular buses to Aguas Calientes (the small town on the train stop to Cuzco) where there are numerous restaurants. These restaurants are not up to the standards of those in Cuzco or Lima, but are generally satisfactory. They tend to be moderately high priced. Some guidebooks report an unusually high incidence of food poisoning in the area, possibly attributable to the fairly common power outages (with loss of refrigeration). Cooked pizza and bottled beer or soft drinks are safe bets, salads and Pisco sours (made with raw egg whites) are best avoided here. 

Accommodation at Machu Picchu

Rather than returning from the ruins the same day, a traveller can stay overnight near the ruins. There are many hotels at nearby Aguas Calientes, but only one hotel at Machu Picchu itself.

Machu Picchu is not a regular town, but a protected sanctuary where new construction is not allowed. That is why all of the places to sleep, with a single exception, are in nearby Aguas Calientes. This lively town offers a wide assortment of lodging options with choices that range from no-frills hostels for backpackers, to very sophisticated hotels. It is recommended to do a thorough hotel research before committing.

The only hotel in Machu Picchu is the Machu Picchu Sanctuary Lodge. Guests of this hotel can visit the ruins with the same schedule of travellers who spend a night in Aguas Calientes, but can enjoy the magnificent isolation of the sanctuary. The hotel also allows guests to cut out all transfer times from the citadel to their accommodation, allowing for a longer, more relaxing time at Machu Picchu.

How much does visiting Machu Picchu cost?

There are three types of tickets for visiting Machu Picchu. All include admission to the famous Inca archaeological site. However, they also offer access to huge mountains as well as interesting museums to learn more about the Inca City.

  • Machu Picchu Solo (includes access to Inca city of Machu Picchu): $45 USD (152 Soles) for adults and $21 USD (70 Soles) for children (<18 years)
  • Machu Picchu + Huayna Picchu (includes access to Inca city of Machu Picchu and Huayna Picchu Mountain): $62 USD (200 Soles) for adults and $35 USD (118 Soles) for children (<18 years)
  • Machu Picchu + Mountain (includes access to Inca city of Machu Picchu and Machhu Picchu Mountain): $62 USD (200 Soles) for adults and $35 USD (118 Soles) for children (<18 years)

NB! Note that tickets are not sold at Machu Picchu itself, you need to get your ticket before arrival. Book your entrance ticket to Machu Picchu Lost Citadel here.

When is the best time to visit Machu Picchu?

The dry winter months of June and July are peak season in Machu Picchu and prices rise accordingly (and Inca Trail reservations are scarce for last-minute planners).

Tourists flock to the sun-soaked coastal regions during the summer months of December and January.

The best bargains can be found during the fringe months of April and May or September and October.