It is amazing how many people take a flight to Lima, jump in another one to Cusco, take a train, climb in a van, spend four hectic hours in Machu Picchu and go back home the same way.
My friend, never, ever do that. Machu Picchu is magical. It is at the cross roads of ancient history, an old culture and deep spirituality. A place to meditate, not a place to rush. My advice: give yourself three or four days. On your first day don’t climb to the ruins. Too many people. Just stay in Aguas Calientes watching the orchids or taking a sauna. Take a walk. Get used to altitude.
The second day, wake up early and take the earliest van to the ruins. They open at 9 am. Be the first on the line, and enjoy your first visit in royal solitude. Sit, think watch the faraway mountains. Breath deeply. Now you are in a sacred place.
On your third day, climb to the Huayna Picchu, the mountain that is just across Machu Picchu. and see the citadel from the top (or from as far as your legs let you) Keep looking. See the small people wandering among the ruins. The stone is eternal. People, alas, are not. That image will remain in your mind for the rest of your life. On your fourth day, take the train back…the sacred valley of the inkas is waiting for you.
One extra piece of advice. There is a luxurious hotel close to the ruins. It is not a great idea. When the citadel is open, it is open for everybody. When it is closed, the hotel’s guests are left out, as everybody. Down the hill, in Aguas Calientes, you can get far better accomodations for your money or very decent lodging at budget price. The good hotel in Aguas Calientes is really outstanding…