Machu Picchu: Peru’s top destination better than ever

Stay overnight in nearby Machu Piccu Pueblo, aka Aguas Calientes, to see the amazing light of an early morning Machu Picchu. (All photos by Rodney Dodig) See more photos.

By Rodney Dodig

Many articles have been written on Cusco and traveling to Machu Picchu. I revisited both in the past month to see what changes had occurred due to the past year's flooding catastrophes and strikes. What I found surprised me.

Arriving in Cusco, I could tell that there has been a lot of construction since my last visit. There are new homes, apartment and roads surrounding the city center. Some are incomplete and work continues frenetically. None of this affected the historical center of Cusco though. There, nothing had changed; the shopkeepers still hawked their wares, women offered massages and boys offered watercolors for sale or shoe shines as you walked around the main squares.
Seeing Machu Picchu from different perspectives is part of the fun. (All photos by Rodney Dodig)
See more photos of the trip.

There were two separate demonstrations while I was in Cusco. One concerned the return of artifacts from Yale University in the United States and the other was labor related. Neither had any effect on the tourists walking in the area and both were peaceful and well ordered.

Before heading up to Machu Picchu, my friends and I took the Sacred Valley Tour, one of my favorite things to do there. The damage caused by the flooding in this area was no longer visible and it seemed to this casual observer that all was well with the farming communities in the area. There were many new homes built or in the process to replace those damaged and it seemed that recovery in this area is progressing nicely. All of the sites (markets, ruins, towns, and overlooks) that I remembered were still on this tour. They stood, unaffected by the damages caused in this valley by the floods.

The next day, we headed to Machu Picchu Pueblo, formerly called Aguas Calientes, by train. For some reason that I was unable to discover, the trains do not leave from Cusco anymore. Now you have to take a taxi, or arrange for some other form of transport, to Poroy and catch the train. It was not difficult, about a 20-minute ride and you get to see some nice scenery. A taxi will cost you 25 soles but I understand that there are buses that leave from and drop you off at the Plaza de Armas in Cusco for much less.

They have rebuilt the train cars and now provide you with a little more legroom, a shared table and large observation windows for your viewing pleasure. It was easy to spot the areas of train track destroyed by the flooding. Work was still going on to shore up those areas to prevent any future washouts. The views on the ride to Machu Picchu Pueblo were spectacular and it was a lot easier to take photos from the new windows. A free snack and drink are also provided during the trip, which was something new. The trip still takes between three and a half to four hours.

Machu Picchu Pueblo and Machu Picchu itself seemed not to have been affected by the floods at all. We stayed the night at one of the hotels in Machu Picchu Pueblo and went up to teh Inca citadel early in the morning to catch the sunrise. It was stunning with perfect lighting for you photography buffs and there are not a lot of tourists in the site at this time of day. If you have the time, I highly recommend spending the night there and trying to catch the sunrise from the ruins. In addition, if you are the more adventurous type, the climb to Waynu Picchu is reportedly worth the physical exertion and offers magnificent views of Machu Picchu and the surrounding valleys.

There is a rumor that I have been unable to confirm that Machu Picchu will be closed to visitors for a couple of months next year while archaeologists and engineers try to figure out a problem with some of the terraces. They say that water is not draining well and some of them may collapse if the problem is not fixed. Check back with LivinginPeru.com for updates on this before planning your trips.

For this excursion to Cusco and Machu Picchu, I made all my reservations via the internet. Everything from plane tickets, hostels, train tickets and transports to and from those places. Everything went smoothly and we did not have a single problem. The staffs and employees of every place we stopped were friendly and helpful. Round trip bus tickets and entrance passes to the ruins can only be bought in Machu Picchu Pueblo if you are making your own arrangements. It’s very easy to find the places where you purchase them in the town. Machu Picchu is still one of the most incredible archaeological sites to visit and a truly spiritual experience.

For those who remember the reports of flooding and helicopter evacuations almost a year ago, put your concerns aside. Cusco, Machu Picchu and the Sacred Valley are waiting. They will not disappoint you.

Read more stories from Peru by Rodney Dodig. Click here to see his blog and read his fiction at Peru Writer’s Group.

Interview with Victor Hugo Perez, regional head of tourism in Cusco

Published in El Comercio

Have the expected number of tourists been reached despite the floods of the beginning of the year?
Although in February, due to the intense rains and floods it was thought that numbers would fall, the numbers registered last year are being reached again this year. In 2009, between January and June, 716,000 tourists arrived and this year, in the same period of time, we had 712,000.

Was this thanks to the Cusco Pone campaign?
It was thanks to the joint effort of the companies that launched the project and mainly, to the decrease of air ticket prices.

Despite loses, this situation presented new alternatives to visit Machu Picchu…
Since the Inca Trail was also affected, other routes were promoted, like the Santa Maria, Santa Teresa and Hidroelectrica. There is even a travel package that promotes a trip to Machu Picchu by car.

Will more routes be implemented?
Within the Cusco strategic tourism plan, new accesses to the monument are being considered, but saturating the area must be avoided.

Adapted from Spanish by Diana Schwalb