Entry to Machu Picchu is double that of other world-famous sites (the Colosseum & the Pyramids of Giza to name a few); traditional transport options range from merely expensive ($55 for the cheapest one way train ticket) to obscenely overpriced ($320 one way on board the deluxe Hiram Bingham service- almost the equivalent of the average Peruvian’s monthly salary).
We chose the tightarse route and arrived via Machu Picchu’s backdoor- a four hour bus ride to Santa Maria, an onwards taxi ride to Santa Teresa and then a four hour walk following the Urubamba River to Aguas Calientes. Time-consuming…but then, time isn’t money (at least for us anyway).
The next morning, laziness won out over stinginess. We forked over USD$9 each for a 20 minute bus ride up the mountain to Machu Picchu- the alternative being a stiff climb straight up, starting at around 5am to make it to the gates by the 6am opening.
The Peruvian government has capped the numbers of visitors to Machu Picchu at 2500 per day; if you want a shot at enjoying the ruins in peace, it pays to be an early bird. Even so, it seemed like half the daily quota were waiting in line when we arrived just before 6am.
The ruins were still completely shrouded in mist when we entered, so we made our way up to one of the terraces overlooking the site, and waited for the cloud to lift. Every now and again, parts of the ruins would be revealed as the mist swirled over the plateau. Despite being one of the most familiar images of South America, seeing the ruins spread out before you as the cloud dissolves is still pretty amazing.