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I’ll admit this right off the bat. You cannot visit Machu Picchu with a dog. You can get close, but you can’t actually take your dog inside the sacred site. We had hemmed and hawed about whether or not to visit Machu Picchu, knowing it would be difficult, but everyone told us we had to, so we figured out a way.
Getting to Machu Picchu with a dog is no cakewalk, but it’s doable. If you’re overlanding or have your own transportation, the feat is much easier, arriving on two wheels or backpacking requires a bit of creativity and persuasion.
We implemented a variety of ways to reach the mega tourist attraction, including cycling, van, walking, bus, and private transport. There are no roads leading to Aguas Calientes, the launching point for Machu Picchu, so it’s train or foot and dogs aren’t allowed on the train or on the famed Inca Trail. Depending on the amount of time and money you have, plus your mode of transportation, then you can piece together a visit to Machu Picchu with a dog. This guide should provide help for cyclists, backpackers, and overlanders alike.
Cusco to Pisac – 25 km, mostly downhill after climbing out of Cusco
We departed Cusco by bike with minimal luggage, leaving our camping gear, most of our clothes, and cooking equipment behind at our hostal. For the first time in a year and a half, I cycled with one pannier and my handlebar bag containing only the essentials.
Per the recommendation of our friend, Flavia, we opted to visit Pisac, a small town with busy handicraft and produce markets and a hippie vibe. The long climb that snakes up and out of Cusco went much faster with our light loads. From the top, hold on to your hat as you glide down for 20 kilometers.
Peruvians are not known for their driving skills, so mirrors are advisable, as are headphones to block out the frequent blast of horns.
Tip: Try to leave on a Sunday, when there is less traffic and you may even spot some roadies out there.
Stay: Hostal & Café Puma Orco
Comfortable room with a great, spacious shower, albeit suicide style, with hot water that doesn’t cut out after a few minutes. Lovely garden with a friendly cat. Can purchase breakfast separately. Talk them down to S/.50.
Eat: Sacred Sushi and Curry.
Serves, well, sushi and curry. All vegan menu. Also several desserts and tough to find luxuries like freshly ground nut butters and cacao butter. It’s only open on Sundays.
If you’re not there on a Sunday, try Apu Organic (next door to Sacred Sushi and Curry, we had a tough time choosing between the two). It’s only open until 4 or 5PM, so Ulrike’s Café is a great option for dinner. The burgers are great, the fries, OK.
All restaurants listed are dog-friendly.
See: The Inca Pisac ruins sit on top of a hill toward the entrance of the town. The large handicraft market is on Sunday, Tuesday, and Thursday each week.
Pisac to Ollantaytambo, 58 km, mostly flat
Despite the hoards of tourists, Ollantaytambo is actually quite a lovely little town. The royal estate of the Emperor Pachacuti during the Inca Empire, Ollantaytambo features extensive terracing and irrigation channels throughout the city. The city dates from the 15th century and has some of the oldest continuously occupied buildings in South America. The streets weren’t designed for cars, so your nights are free of car horns, reggaeton blasting from speakers, and you can freely walk down the street without fear of being run over from a careless vehicle.
From Ollantaytambo, we took a bus to Hidroelectrica, the stopping point for motor vehicle transport to Aguas Calientes. With the long distance, winding roads, and constant up and down, we felt this was the best option over trying to battle the cars for space around blind corners on our bikes.
Finding a spot on a bus that will allow your dog can be tricky. We lucked out at one of the cafes off the main square who managed to convince the driver on our behalf that Sora could hitch a ride.
Tip: The drivers are most concerned about the dog getting sick or peeing in the car. It’s a long, windy, loopy, four-hour ride. If you can convince your driver that your dog won’t get sick in the car, then chances are you’ll get a ride. The road to Hidroelectrica is very windy and, Sora seemed to feel a little ill due to her panting, so even if your dog doesn’t normally get car sick, keep this in mind. We didn’t know about this before we took the ride with Sora, but apparently you can give your dog Dramamine. Also, the floor is slippery, so we wished that we had brought her bed. We paid S/.45 for each ticket (and did not pay for Sora).
Stay: Rumi Wasi
Finding dog-friendly accommodation here was a bit tough. Places either said a flat-out no or made up some excuse about them having dogs and fighting. Clean cozy rooms, fantastic shower (non-suicide), and sweet staff, including a schnauzer named Apolo that loved Sora and adorable kitten named Señorita. S/.50 for a matrimonial, pay an additional S/.10 if you want breakfast.
Eat: La Esquina
Great host, knew immediately that we wanted a beer after telling him we had walked the 30km from Aguas Calientes. Serves a variety of Valle Sagrada beers on tap. We got the vegetarian menu of the day, which was a fantastic carrot ginger soup, chickpea patties with pureed potatoes and steamed veggies. The menu comes with a brownie for the vegetarians and a giant bowl of fruit for us vegans. Wash it all down with a fantastic lemonade. S/.28 for the menu, S/.15 for the beer (US prices, but totally worth it). Dog-friendly, indoor and outside.
Another option is Hearts Café, which has a few vegan options. We both ordered the burrito, which was good, the fries were OK.
From Hidroelectrica, it’s a 10km walk along train tracks to Aguas Calientes, the tourist trap built specifically to house the folk making the trek to Machu Picchu. While the setting is gorgeous, the town is anything but. The streets are packed with tourists and the restaurant staff lining the main roads asking who inquire as to your interest in whether you would like to pay an extraordinary amount of money for a mediocre meal. Skip the restaurants and visit the central market, where you can buy fruits, snacks, and bread for a fraction of what you’ll pay for a prepared meal. The city is loud all day and all night long.
Enough about my distaste for Aguas Calientes, the walk from Hidroelectrica is quite lovely. After having spent time in the high desert for over three months, all of a sudden, we were plunked in a semi-tropical jungle with birds and plants that we hadn’t seen in a long time. Watch out for packs of dogs along the tracks, they can be vicious. Most were friendly, but we kept a rock in hand, just in case we needed to toss one in a dogs’ direction. Not our favorite way to keep them away, but sometimes there are no other options.
Buy your tickets for Machu Picchu in the city center. They post date the tickets during the high season, so don’t worry if your ticket date shows a date two weeks into the future. Tickets cost S/.128, bring cash and your passport.
Stay: Machu Picchu Friend’s House
If you love loud music and noise all night long, this is the place for you. Somehow, this accommodation, located somewhat off the main tourist hell of downtown Aguas Calientes, takes all the noise streaming in from the street throughout the night and broadcasts it straight into your ear. Unlike the hotel structure, the rooms have zero ventilation, so prepare to sweat. Don’t be alarmed if your bathroom sink falls over and shatters suddenly, they’ll bring a new one straight away.
It’s the only place we could find in our price range that would allow a pet, so we were left with little choice. Cost is S/.50 per night.
Eat: Restaurante Amazona
In protest of eating anywhere that cat-called us into their restaurant and then required us to haggle over the price, we opted for a chifa (what the Peruvians call a Chinese Restaurant). Unlike other chifas we had visited in Perú, when we explained our veganism, they actually got the order right and didn’t try to tell us to pick out the chicken or that they had no vegetables to cook.
Another great, but more expensive option is Incontri del Pueblo Viejo. They serve a proper pizza from a wood-fired oven and a large variety of craft beer.
We set our alarms for 4am, though it was really unnecessary since we didn’t sleep thanks to all the noise. Sora continued snoozing while we readied for our trek to Machu Picchu. The walk to the entrance was about 5 or so kilometers. There is a bridge just outside of Aguas Calientes that opens at 5am and the entrance gate to the site opens at 6am.
For those having just arrived to high altitude, the trek will be fairly tough. It’s steep with lots of stairs and humid. If you’ve been in high altitude for the previous three months, you’ll breeze past all those suffering and feel like the king of the mountain. The trail itself is about 2km total.
After passing through the ticket gate, we spent probably an hour or so walking around Machu Picchu itself. You could certainly spend more time there, but it was sufficient for us. From the time we left our room until our return, we had been gone for about four hours, which we felt was fine for Sora to be left alone.
Tip: Don’t bother waking so early. Everyone wants to be the first one in and along with all the trekkers and the people taking the bus, it’s just a big mess of tourists pushing and shoving their way to enter. Machu Picchu is plenty large and being the first one inside won’t mean you won’t get a good view. I would suggest aiming for a 7:15 arrival. It’s a bit of an off-time (i.e. not on the dot or half past) and still early enough to beat the crowds. You will have the trail to yourself and should be able to walk right up to the ticket gate.
Returning to Ollantaytambo
Rather than opt for another long and stomach churning bus ride from Hidroelectrica, we decided to hike the 32km along the train tracks carrying passengers from Cusco or Ollantaytambo to Aguas Calientes to KM 82, where a local bus will drop you off in Ollantaytambo.
This was our favorite part of the entire journey. Sure Machu Picchu is lovely, but this trek just sent us to our happy place. It’s mostly flat, until the last five kilometers and meanders along the river and through the mountains. You’ll have to get out of the way for the trains that pass by frequently, but you can always hear them coming with plenty of warning and they’re slow. Space can be narrow at times, but we always found plenty of space to stay clear.
The final 10km takes you along a path off the train tracks, through fields and Inca Ruins. Bring plenty of water and/or a water filter and food. There are some places to fill up at the river, but there are no services along this route. You are pretty much on your own.
Be sure to leave early to make the last bus (which departs at 7pm) and to beat the heat. The walk took us about eight hours. Walk to the top of the hill when you arrive to the town and wait for the bus. The ride should cost S/.3.
Return to Cusco
Before leaving for Hidroelectrica, a taxi driver asked us if we needed a ride. He agreed to take us, our bikes, and our dog back to Cusco for S/.140, which we felt was a fair deal, given the distance. We also made a few stops along the way, like at Cervecería del Valle Sagrado, co-owned by two Oregonians who brew the best beer we had found in South America. They also have the most gorgeous rescue dog you’ve ever seen. His name is Rabbit and he’s a looker.
We also stopped at the Salineras de Maras, community-owned salt evaporation ponds. One day, some smart local thought, well there was sea here once, so there must be salt. Now a side of the hill boasts thousands of squares of salt ponds owned by locals only who harvest salt three times per year. Walk along and watch people flooding the ponds or collecting their salt and buy your own from one of the kiosks near the entrance.
So there you have it. That is how we visited Machu Picchu with a dog. Even if you don’t have a dog, this guide should be helpful in planning your arrival to the mega tourist destination. And if you want to avoid it altogether, here are some alternative treks, that supposedly allow dogs, some of which have zero tourists, and are free to enter.