Trip to Machu Picchu or How to Save $2000

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Trip to the Lost City of Machu Picchu from Kyiv: How to Get There, What to See, Main Attractions of Cusco and Lima, and the Cost of a Trip to Peru. Finding Budget Accommodation.

Travel Itinerary

It might sound a bit unusual, but a journey to another continent and back, involving six flights, car transfers, and a train ride, took exactly six days, give or take a few hours.

The Peru Travel Program

Skeptical voices on Facebook often ask, “Is it possible to visit South America in 6 days? Is it worth spending so much money on flights, transfers, and early mornings?” However, everything went smoothly, and this travel format is indeed feasible and justified.

Route and Flights

A comfortable flight via Amsterdam, a stroll through the capital of the Netherlands, and an evening in Lima. Then, a flight from Lima to the Peruvian Andes – the high-altitude city of Cusco (3500 meters), a trip to Machu Picchu (2300 meters), and a return to Cusco, followed by another day and a half in Lima, and an unexpectedly smooth return to Kyiv. This format turned out to be quite comfortable.

If I were to make any changes, I would add an extra day for Machu Picchu and Cusco, as well as a one-day trip to the fishing villages on the coast of Lima.

For a broader change in the route, you could add another week and visit Lake Titicaca and the Bolivian Altiplano with a flight to the high-altitude city of La Paz. In this case, you’d have to budget a bit more money.

Flights from Kyiv to Machu Picchu, Peru

Kyiv – Amsterdam – Lima – Paris – Kyiv, operated by KLM (outbound) and Air France (return). KLM/Air France occasionally offer promotions and sales. In such cases, a ticket from Kyiv to Lima can be purchased for $1100-1200 USD. To stay updated on promotions or sales, you can subscribe to the newsletters of these airlines.

Lima – Cusco – Lima, operated by the local airline Peruvian, which is the most budget-friendly airline in Peru. Also, LAN, another local airline, operates flights from Cusco to Lima.

Accommodation

During the outbound journey, we stayed at the Allpa 3*+ hotel, and during the return journey, we chose the Carmel 3* hotel. Both hotels are located in the safe and peaceful district of Miraflores in Lima. Both hotels are recommended for overnight stays during transit through Lima.

The Allpa 3*+ and Carmel 3* hotels provide a comfortable base for a restful night. It takes about 20 minutes to walk to the ocean, and there are shops, currency exchange offices, and cafes and restaurants nearby. To reach the historical center, it’s best to use a taxi, which is not far and not very expensive, costing between $3-5 USD.

In Cusco, we stayed at the Augustos 3* hotel, located not far from the city center, approximately a 20-30 minute walk from the Plaza de Armas. It’s a quiet and peaceful area. The Augustos 3* hotel impresses with cozy rooms and a hearty breakfast that includes local fruits, tea, coffee, Vienna sausages, sausages, omelets, and more.

Flight from Amsterdam to Lima

A pleasant surprise during check-in was an upgrade to business class from KLM. This was likely made possible through the flying blue frequent flyer card. I didn’t hesitate to accept the offer.

The Attractiveness of Amsterdam

A layover in Amsterdam is one of the main advantages of flying with KLM. With a Schengen visa, you have the opportunity to spend at least a few hours in the city, take a stroll through the streets of the Netherlands’ capital, visit the Van Gogh Museum, and sit in cafes on the museum square.

Reaching Amsterdam from Schiphol Airport is very simple. After exiting the arrival hall, you need to purchase a “2 way” (round trip) ticket from one of the machines. The train station is located on the lower floor of the airport, and the machines are located right by the escalator. To buy tickets, you should have a chip card, as other cards are not accepted by the machines or the ticket sellers. You can also purchase tickets with cash in euros. The cost of a ticket to Central Station is 8 euros for a round trip.

Trains to Amsterdam run every 5-10 minutes, and it’s best to ask anyone at the station which direction the train is heading. Knowledge of the language is not necessary – simply mention the destination, “Amsterdam Central.” The journey takes about 20 minutes each way.

Amsterdam is a city where you just want to wander, admiring your reflection in the canals, visiting bars, and observing people.

How to Get to Amsterdam

You can purchase tickets for a flight from Kyiv directly from the KLM airline. However, it’s more advantageous to use flight offers from Kyiv to Amsterdam on aviasales.ru, an aggregator that I personally use. The service selects the best offers based on price, departure time, or airline, leaving you the option to choose the best option for you.

One Day in Lima (Transit)

Lima looks roughly as it is portrayed on television for those watching reports from there. The main features include a high crime rate, chaotic high-rise construction devoid of style, a beautiful colonial center, and the comfortable district of Miraflores on the oceanfront.

Most travelers recommend not staying in this city. This sounds quite debatable.

Lima: A Brief Break

Clearly, Lima is not the place for a honeymoon. It’s not Paris, not Barcelona, and not the colorful Bangkok or Istanbul. However, spending two days in the city won’t be tiresome, that’s a fact.

They say Paddington Bear recently arrived here.

Crime in Lima

It’s reminded of by tall fences with electrified wires under high voltage and heavily armed guards near banks and office buildings, as well as police officers patrolling the city. If in Kyiv, your wallet might get stolen, here they might take your life for a couple of hundred bucks. However, neither I nor most tourists encountered live criminals.

Essentials for Tourists

All a tourist needs to know about Lima is the safe and somewhat beautiful district on the oceanfront – Miraflores, where 95 percent of all tourists stay. We decided not to stand out and settled there ourselves.

Our Hotel in Lima

In Lima, our hotel was the Allpa 3*, single rooms overlooking the city streets, an evening walk to the oceanfront, and a sound sleep. In the morning – an early wake-up call and a flight to Cusco. We will return to Lima at the end of the trip.

How to Get to Lima

You can purchase flights directly from KLM airlines or find another comfortable flight option on aviasales. The service selects the best offers, and you can choose the one that suits you best in terms of price, departure time, or airline.

Flight to Cusco, Machu Picchu

I didn’t know how to rejoice in this rare stroke of luck when I had the chance to fly on a vintage Boeing. The plane on which I anticipated a journey over the Andes to high-altitude Cusco was a bit younger than me. The Boeing 737-200 of Peruvian Airlines was over forty years old, a respectable age for aviation.

Aircraft of this age are prominently displayed in local aviation museums or end up as scrap metal. This plane was scheduled for retirement in December of this year, and today, it is the oldest plane I’ve had the opportunity to fly on.

Beneath us were the snowy peaks of the Peruvian Andes, and my first thought was, “If we crash, it will happen in a very beautiful place.” It was very comfortable! The late 70s meant spacious seat rows in economy class, leather seats, wide windows – it was one of the most comfortable flights in my life in economy class.

The plane had a rich history – it flew in Hawaii and before being sent to South America, it was actively used by Ryanair. The crew probably didn’t fully understand our excitement but agreed to a photoshoot in the cabin. The captain of the vessel is on the left in the photo.

Flight from Lima to Cusco

Most of the time, when people mention Cusco, what do they talk about? Machu Picchu, Indians, Incas, history, the Andes, coca leaves, soccer? No, most of the time, those flying to Cusco talk about altitude sickness! Well, once, maybe twice. No, altitude sickness reminds you of itself every 5 minutes, including comments on Facebook.

Cusco – A High-Altitude City

Cusco is a high-altitude city, with an airport located at an elevation of 3.5 km above sea level. The city itself is situated at altitudes ranging from 3.2 km to 3.7 km. It is one of the most unique airports I have ever seen.

Altitude Sickness

Altitude sickness is a phenomenon that occurs when rapidly ascending to high altitudes, turning you into a helpless retiree in just half an hour. However, within a few days, you start feeling your age again. In our case, the flight from the ocean coast to an altitude of 3.5 km took only an hour. Atmospheric pressure here is 40% lower than what we’re used to in Kyiv, 620 kPa compared to 1100 kPa. This results in a feeling of pressure in the head, shortness of breath, and sleep disturbances.

They say it takes 3-4 days for full adaptation. We managed with just one full day. Yes, there was some shortness of breath, but there was almost no headache, just a slight one. Everything was fine the next morning. If your cardiovascular system is in good shape, there shouldn’t be any problems, and the restrictions are limited to abstaining from any alcohol, including beer, and refraining from morning jogging – you can walk instead.

Local Adaptation

Local residents take adaptogens in the form of coca leaves, which they chew to acclimatize to the altitude. Coca leaves are everywhere – in cafes, in hotel lobbies, and they even make tea from them. Personally, coca leaf tea helped me a lot, providing a sense of ease and an additional energy boost. I drank about 5-7 cups a day.

Cusco and Its History

Cusco was once the capital of the great Inca Empire, which in terms of size even surpassed the Roman Empire.

Unlike always overcast Lima, Cusco is literally bathed in sunlight. Note that this is where the most intense sun on the planet is found. Schoolchildren are required to wear headgear and sunscreen, without which they won’t be allowed to school.

Local Currency and Prices

The currency in Peru is the sol, with 1 dollar equaling 3.20 soles. Prices are not the highest in South America and are roughly equivalent to those in Kyiv. This applies to restaurants, cafes, hotels, and souvenirs.

Attractions in Cusco

Apart from the central part of the city, for which we thank the Spanish conquistadors, there isn’t much interesting here. Around Cusco, there are many picturesque ruins and scenic viewpoints overlooking the city. In the upper part of the city lies the fortress of Saksaywaman, and nearby are the ruins of Kenko, an Inca sanctuary. Inside a huge rock, there is an altar for sacrifices – a must-see for tourists visiting Cusco. It’s interesting from both historical and archaeological perspectives, although there are no breathtaking views here.

Guides will also show you the watchtower fortress of Puka Pukara, which guarded the entrance to the city, and Tambomachay – the springs where the Incas paid homage to water as an integral part of the world’s structure.

Exploring the Surroundings of the Sacred Valley of the Incas

You can explore the surroundings of the Sacred Valley of the Incas either on a rented scooter or with a tour, which you can buy from travel agencies or directly at the hotel. Walking is not an option due to the numerous uphill climbs and long distances – don’t even try.

Local Life

Local residents are not very concerned with comfort and are insensitive to unsanitary conditions and littering, both in daily life and in architecture. Many buildings here don’t even have plaster. They explain that during the rainy season, water washes it away, and reapplying it each time is costly. It’s hard for me to believe. It feels like the sense of beauty disappeared with the Incas, and the most beautiful buildings were left by the Spanish. The main street decorations here are outdoor advertisements!

Traditionally, such places delight in graffiti.

Local Cuisine

As for the local cuisine, it includes llama steaks and grilled guinea pigs. If steaks don’t raise any taste concerns, guinea pigs are a different story! They are fried whole, with the head, teeth, ears, and even nails, and before serving, they are cut into pieces with a special knife.

The guinea pig dish is called “Cuy,” and in taste, it is very similar to very fried rabbit. It’s best to try it at one of the city’s local festivals, which happen almost every week, mainly religious ones. People eat a lot, drink beer, and Inca Kola – the local competitor of Coca-Cola, which tastes like regular lemonade.

Souvenir Shops and Prices

Souvenir shops are a colorful madness. Most of the souvenirs are fake sweaters made of alpaca wool (a variety of llama) or llama wool. Genuine alpaca wool products cost from $70 to $200 USD, while fakes are sold to tourists for $10.

You can pay in US dollars, and the exchange rate is usually a few cents lower.

Cusco Center

The center of Cusco is a must-see, with entrance fees to the main cathedrals, but you can stay away from the group and not pay. Considering how much money is collected from tourists here, it’s not a serious offense.

In the central square, Plaza de Armas, there are plenty of tourist restaurants with open balconies. The food may not be as tasty as at the citywide festivals of local residents, but the view of the ancient square is worth it.

Getting from Cusco to Lima

You can buy flights from Kyiv directly, but it’s more advantageous to use flight offers from Lima to Cusco on the aviasales.ru website, an aggregator I personally use. The service selects the best offers, leaving you the choice of price, departure time, or airline.

After the flight from Lima, it’s a one-and-a-half-hour minibus ride to the train station, followed by a train and bus journey to the mountain.

Train travel is the only way to reach Machu Picchu, and there are no alternatives. Locals pay about one and a half dollars for the ride, but tourists pay a premium. For the locals, Machu Picchu is a source of income that ensures they don’t go hungry.

The train follows the scenic Urubamba River, and the ticket includes one complimentary drink of your choice: Inca Cola, tea, juice, or a non-alcoholic cocktail. Modern-day Inca descendants do not construct roads.

Jokingly on Facebook, some believe that the abandoned Inca city of Machu Picchu was built in the 19th century as an investment in future tourism. This idea is not even worth commenting on, but even if it were an investment, it would have been incredibly successful.

From Cusco to Machu Picchu

There is a train that runs from Cusco to Machu Picchu, but it’s expensive and takes about four hours. We chose a different route: first, a minibus to Ollantaytambo station, then about two hours to the town of Aguas Calientes, located at the base of Machu Picchu Mountain. From Aguas Calientes, there is a bus to the entrance of the abandoned Inca city, but before that, you’ll have to wait in a nearly one-kilometer-long queue for about one and a half hours. A round-trip bus ticket costs $24.

The Cost of Traveling to Machu Picchu

When you add up the expenses required to see one of the Seven New Wonders of the World, you realize that Machu Picchu feeds half of Peru and all the llamas living below 3,500 meters above sea level. UNESCO sets a daily limit of 2,500 visitors, but local guides claim it’s constantly exceeded, especially in the summer months of July and August, during the holiday period. Roundtrip flights from Lima to Cusco and back with Peruvian Airlines: $230. Train from Ollantaytambo to Aguas Calientes: $110 roundtrip. Bus from Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu: $24 roundtrip. A minimum of two nights, preferably three: $100 – $150. How much does this all add up to? Over 500 dollars if you subsist on complimentary coca tea. On top of this, you’ll need at least an extra 50 dollars for two days; dining in restaurants with a view of antiquity will cost considerably more. Now add it up, multiply it by the number of people per day – about 3-4 thousand (or more?) – and realize that the ancient Incas did much more for the prosperity of Peru than the Spanish conquistadors did in their search for gold.

Alternative Route to the Abandoned Inca City of Machu Picchu

An alternative path to the abandoned Inca city of Machu Picchu is to take on the challenge and hike the Inca Trail, which takes “only” four days. We’re not weaklings; we just didn’t have that much time, so we chose the “easier” way.

Machu Picchu – Is It Worth the Trip?

Most commonly, upon my return from Peru, people asked not “How much does it cost?” but rather “Is it really worth it to go to Machu Picchu?” Is this popular but perhaps overrated landmark really one of those places worth seeing in your lifetime?

I answer: Absolutely. Machu Picchu, the abandoned Inca city, is incredibly popular, even more so than Coca-Cola. However, unlike the questionable beverage, from which only half the name remains, Machu Picchu is genuinely awe-inspiring, and it exists in a single copy. It requires a lengthy and not-so-cheap journey, but it is incredibly beautiful, and perhaps this trip will become one of the best investments in your life.

The Best Time to Visit Machu Picchu

Machu Picchu is not only a beautiful place, an abandoned city amid the snowy peaks of the Andes in Peru, but also a powerful energy center in South America. In our case, ancient energy was joined by the energy of hundreds of tourists.

Yes, be prepared for crowds larger than at a “Hobbit” premiere. Guidebooks don’t mention this, and for some unknown reason, many travelers don’t talk about it in their reviews. However, there is a solution: plan to visit Machu Picchu in May or June, and only in the early morning. To do this, arrive in Aguas Calientes the evening before. Additionally, you can easily escape the crowds; I managed to do so.

Weather and Clothing in Peru – Lima and Cusco

Cusco and Machu Picchu are high-altitude regions. In August, during the Southern Hemisphere winter, the morning temperature here ranges from +5 to +12 degrees Celsius, while during the day, it can reach up to +22 degrees Celsius, and in the evening, it cools down again. Machu Picchu, as expected, is warmer, and you can get by with a light jacket or sweater. During this time of year, there is no rainfall; the rainy season runs from November to March, which is the period to plan a budget ski vacation in the Alps. Lima also experiences no rainfall. The city is situated in the Atacama Desert, and in June-August, it’s the winter season with temperatures ranging from +18 to +20 degrees Celsius during the day and around +10 degrees Celsius in the morning. It’s best to avoid traveling to Lima during the Peruvian summer (January-February) as this is when the mountains experience heavy rainfall.

Lima

Many consider Lima as merely an airport and a transit point to neighboring Bolivia or Cusco. Lima may not be the most comfortable city in the world, but it’s certainly better than Jakarta or Manila. The constant overcast skies and humidity in the air might not lift your spirits.

Where to Stay in Lima?

In this regard, we’re not very original: the Miraflores district is known for its proximity to the ocean, the best hotels, top-notch bars, and restaurants, along with reasonable safety. Hotel “Carmel” is a solid 3-star option, recommended for those seeking a balanced mix of comfort and price.

Peru is the fourth-largest economy in South America, after Chile, Argentina, and Brazil. The country does have a high crime rate, but it’s offset by heightened security measures. If you don’t go looking for trouble, it’s relatively safe here – the evening promenade, bars, and popular streets are all quite comfortable.

The coastline may not be the most beautiful, but don’t rush to strike Lima off your list. Firstly, there are many beautiful places near Lima that we didn’t get to, and secondly, there’s plenty to do here for a few days before your journey to Machu Picchu.

Strolling along the boardwalk, restaurants, and bars by the water with an ocean view. Lovers of Europe are invited to the colonial city center – several cathedrals, palaces, fountains, you’ll like it.

The old train station has long retired, and now there’s something like the House of Literature. It’s a strange decision, in my opinion.

Selfie enthusiasts will appreciate the local police – they readily pose, machine guns on their backs notwithstanding, and there are female police officers in Peru, but I didn’t dare approach them.

Is There Internet in Peru?

Yes, indeed! Internet is a comfort during travels, so let me tell you: there is internet! All Peruvian operators offer standard 4G.

What Are the Prices in Peru?

Prices for services, food, and drinks are roughly the same as in Kyiv. Having a few drinks costs around $3-7 USD. Beer costs $3 in bars and $1 in stores. Eating at touristy places will set you back $10-15, while local taverns offer meals for $3-5 USD. Dollars are accepted everywhere, including stores. The exchange rate might be slightly less favorable. The local currency is the sol. As of August 2015, the exchange rate was 1 USD = 3.20 soles.

How’s the English in Peru?

It’s challenging. Expecting answers in English from Peruvian residents outside of your hotel is like expecting answers from a nun. Therefore, it’s worth spending a few hours learning at least a few phrases in Spanish. Common questions, numbers, and dish names will help you not get lost, starve, or go thirsty. You can easily obtain a local map at any hotel, even if you’re not staying there.

Lima – A Typical Post-Colonial City

Lima is a typical example of a developing post-colonial city. There are a few quiet neighborhoods suitable for living and the tourist center. Everything else can be rather gloomy and impoverished. There are many unfinished buildings, residential houses surrounded by fences crowned with either barbed wire or live electric wires for protection against thieves.

Tourists are usually shown modern elite districts of Lima and the financial center of the city – San Isidro district. In this district, there’s the Temple of the Incas – the pyramid of Huaca Pucllana. It’s surrounded from all sides, and excavations are still ongoing. It’s probably not particularly interesting for the average tourist.

If you really want to ride through the poor quarters, start with a car tour of the city and then decide if it’s worth it.

Back Home to Kyiv

Do you know what the best flight is? The one that leaves no trace in your memory. And this isn’t because of endless inebriation but thanks to the possibility to get a good night’s sleep. The flight was overnight, and out of 12.5 hours, I spent 8 hours watching colorful dreams. In the morning, I was served a traditionally impeccable breakfast by Air France; there’s nothing to complain about. I love such flights, and there are no invented jetlags.

Saving on Your Trip to Peru

I almost forgot, how can you save $2,000 on a trip to Peru? It’s straightforward: just don’t fly anywhere – stay at home and watch TV. But it’s much more interesting to find the money and make the best investment in your life!

Comfortable and Budget-Friendly Flight to Peru

The most comfortable in terms of price and quality flight to Peru at the moment is the KLM / Air France flight. This option offers some of the lowest prices (approximately $1150-1300), the most convenient departure and arrival times, and frequent promotions for flights to South America from KLM.

Visa

Do you need a visa to visit Peru? No, Peru is visa-free for citizens of Ukraine, as are most countries in South America. All you need to visit Peru is the desire, a few weeks of free time, and some money.

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