- DO get to Aquas Calientes (the town at the bottom) as early as possible. We took the first train from Ollantaytambo and arrived at about 7am to begin our ascent
– DO climb the last stretch of the Inca trail to get to the site. We had it all to ourselves, avoiding the tourists crammed into the many buses taking the road-trip up . The trail itself is very beautiful and gave us a sense of accomplishment and better understanding of how the Incas themselves would have reached Machu Picchu.
– DO bring mosquito repellent. You only need it for the site itself, not for the trail steps coming up, but I have never been bitten by so many mosquitoes at one time in my life.
– DON’T splurge on the Perurail “Vistadome” train either to or from Aquas Calientes. It is a total ripoff. It costs twice what the “backpacker” train does, ostensibly for the better views (there are windows at the top of the carriage as well as the side) and the “service” (which consisted of one soft drink service for a 5 hour journey and a sad snack). In addition, the top windows make the train stifling hot during the day, yet the cars have no AC. The final oddity is that the service staff at one point in the journey turn on loud disco music and perform (I kid you not) a runway fashion show in the aisle, modeling several types of outfit made with local alpaca wool. After the fashion show they come up the aisles trying to sell the garments. I have to admit that this last bit of theater was so strange it almost made the trip worth it for the sheer unbelievability of it.
– DO visit the museum at the bottom of the mountain. Its displays were great and really helped with understanding Machu Picchu. Ideally one would visit the museum before ascending to Machu Picchu, but then one wouldn’t arrive as early at the site, which in my opinion is more important. We came to the museum after our descent, and it did make clear many of the things we had seen. (Although the best option would be to arrive in Aguas Calientes the day before, see the museum, and ascend very early the next day)