Disenchanted, Machu Picchu
Just a quick warning for those thinking of booking a tour company to see Machu Pichu in the future.
We went recently with Gecko (Peregrine) Travel and after promising in our itinerary that we would be get to spend all day at the Machu Pichu site and leave on a late afternoon train we arrived at Aguas Calientes to find we had return tickets booked to leave the village again at 10.30am the following morning.
As we had to be at the train 30 mins before it left, and the bus down from the site took 30 min and also required being there 10 min early, we therefore had to LEAVE the site at 9.20am in the morning!!!!
No Huayna Pichu, No Sun gate, Tour cut in half and no time to see the ruins by ourselves.
This the highlight of our South America tour ruined due to rubbish organisation and communication between staff and all we got was an apologetic sorry from our guide (not his fault as he had it sprung on him as well). We have had nothing from head office unless pushed to respond - and then they had the nerve to offer us a 20% discount on any further tour!! As if!!
I would therefore like to advise that if you are going to spend £1400 on a tour, plus $500 cash on local payment plus £1000 flights and Machu Pichu is going to be a highlight of your tour of which you get 1 HOUR to see it, that you think before using Gecko tours.
p.s. After this the atmosphere amongst all travelling was one of extreme disillusionment and annoyance which pretty much ruined the rest of the entire tour
Unique Suggestions: Make sure you check what time train is leaving the site for your tour!
Signed up for a tour recommended by our hotel/hostal operator. He said he would arrange a tour with pick up from airport, 4-5, places specifically and dinner and drop off at airport in Lima. Paid $200/4ppl in advance and had a handwritten contract. Turns out, he was late by 50 Min to pick up, didn't come in new car he promised, took us to 2 of 4 sites that were both closed and cut short the tour dropped us off at airport early. No partial refund when asked. Lesson learned-don't pay the entire tour in advance and be very careful with hotel operators that try to arrange tours for you...
Unique Suggestions: Go to a legit travel agent for tours or to larger top name hotels to arrange a tour.
This tourist trap won't cost you extra money -- just lots of precious time. It's the hike to the so-called Temple of the Moon around the back side of Huayno Picchu.
According to our guide book, the Temple of the Moon was a quick descent from the top of Huayno Picchu, so we opted to return to Machu Picchu along that route. Unfortunately, "quick" was not exactly the most accurate adjective to describe the hike and once we reached the Temple of the Moon we still had an hour and a half hike back to the bus at Machu Picchu. This presented a grave problem for us, as we had a 3:30 train to Cusco and no extra time to play with (luckily, we did make our train, but not without stress).
The other problem with the hike was that is was boring. The top had nice views and a tricky ledge-ladder combination, but after that it was just slogging down through the thick vegetation. Down, down, down, so that the climb from the temple to Machu Picchu was steep. The descent was so deep and the hike was so long that we often worried if we were on the right track, except that we knew we had seen no turn-offs to get us lost. By the time we got to the Temple of the Moon, we really didn't care if we saw the Temple of the Moon.
By the way, according to archaeolgists, it's doubtful that this temple had anything to do with lunar observances or rituals.
Unique Suggestions: According to Frommers, the Temple of the Moon is visited only by "Machu Picchu Complete-ists". If you are one of these, the bestthing to do is make sure you have enough time, food and water. We had none of those. We are thankful to the equally disenchanted group of New Zealanders and Londoners who offered food to the hungriest in our group.
I can understand that using guides helps the local economy and provides jobs. There are certainly many people that would do it this way whether the option to do it solo was available or not. Though not a physically easy hike, it is one that would be hard to get lost on. Surely a guide is not needed but it is a way for the Peruvian government to limit the number of people using the trail and certainly a way to stimulate their economy. Though I can see charging a fee to use the trail, I find the insistence on using a guide overly restrictive. Many backpackers enjoy the doing trips on their own and part of the lure of the sport is its lack of expense. Unless you have a group with you, hiring a guide is even more costly than going on a tour. The cheapest ones running out of Cusco are around $160 for four days/three nights. This doesn’t sound bad to well-heeled tourists but for many travelers, it is more than the are willing to spend for something they could do for a fraction of the cost on their own. It seems a shame to turn one of the world’s great walks into something for only those with money. There are much more expensive trips going too and as more people want to do the trip, which is to say that at some point, perhaps only expensive trips will be offered. People who might not normally even undertake such a arduous walk but who merely want to do the most famous activity will now fill the spots of people who would genuinely like to experience nature. Let’s hope there is some kind of compromise on this in the future or that things do not become even worse (i.e. the supposed building of a cable car to the ruins!)
Unique Suggestions: It would be nice to have a group of your friends or people you met traveling who wanted to do the trek. You could then maybe hire just a guide and do the rest on your own. At this point, if you don't have a small group, it is just cheaper to join a tour.
Fun Alternatives: In the past, porters were poorly paid and often had to carry ridiculous loads. The tour companies were raking in the money and not giving it to the people who were working hardest. Now, there are weigh stations just like they have for trucks so the loads are consistent. They are stil heavy for their size though but these are very strong guys for their stature. Be generous tipping them after the trek, they deserve it.
Intipunka or the "gate of the sun" is a sore spot for me. It is from here that the lucky trekker sees his or her first glimpse of Machu Picchu. Even after this massive party at Winay Huayna the night before, you are woke up at 4 AM on your final morning. In my case, I was up till well after midnight and had maybe 15 beers. I also neglected to filter any water before going back to our tent. So, I woke up hung over AND dehydrated. The toilets were so crammed I ate my pancake while waiting in line to get a stall! We got on the trail and once light out, it was pretty obvious it was not clear in the least. We arrived at the famous gate and waited for an hour before giving up. We saw nothing but fog. There were a lot of disappointed people up there. It was never a big dream of mine so I wasn't so upset but poor Doreen was heartbroken as were a lot of other people.
Unique Suggestions: If you were backpacking on your own, you could just camp another night and hope for better conditions the next morning but when you are on a guided trek, you have to go with the group. :( Luckily, it did clear as we neared Machu Picchu and we did get to enjoy the ruins with good conditions.
Hot Springs, where we were supposed to relax and take a warm bath after 4 day hike to Machu Pichu, turned out to be a big disappointment. It looked kind of dirty and pool water did not look very appealing to us.