Cuzco and Lake Titicaca: a nature full of history

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Watch the video of our trip to Peru here.

After leaving Lima on the 6th of September and travelling more than 2000km across Peru(see our previous article) we set off from Arequipa towards Cuzco where we arrived at nightfall. Beyond the attraction of the city itself, Cuzco will be our base camp to explore the region before continuing our journey towards the Bolivian border and Lake Titicaca.

Sixth stage (2 days, 1 night): on the steps of Machu Picchu

We sleep in Cuzco before heading to our first major objective in South America: Machu Picchu! We leave early the next morning for Aguas Calientes, the starting point of our "Great Ascent". We spend the night there and only return to Cuzco the next day after exploring the famous Inca city.

Why Machu Picchu?

At an altitude of 2,400 metres, Machu Picchu is an Inca city that was abandoned when the Empire fell to the Spanish colonists. Characterised by its agricultural terraces and the ruins of its places of worship, the site was rediscovered by Hiram Bingham, an American archaeologist, in 1911. Although he was not the first to discover the existence of ruins there, he was the first to undertake excavations and reveal the extent of this city, which was exceptional in terms of its size and geographical location!

Today classified as a UNESCO heritage site, this citadel has become a mythical place, and we understand why! Perched on a mountainside in the heart of the jungle, the ruins offer a breathtaking spectacle that we dream of contemplating... Like everyone else, you might say... Except that not quite! The desire we have to discover this site is tinged with a small feeling of challenge!

When we think about it for the first time, we draw a picture of the place: its altitude, its location, its hundreds of steps... For a second, we consider not passing through this stage during our trip. And then the second passes, and we are convinced that it is not even possible: we will go, full stop! Now, the question is how...

Practical information

How to get there?

There are only two ways to get to Machu Picchu: by foot, or by bus!

 On foot :

- For hiking enthusiasts, the mythical Inca Trail allows you to reach the site by trekking for two or four days in general... A lot of height difference and a lot of walking: not for us, even if we were very tempted!

- If you don't have enough time but want to walk anyway, a path starts from Aguas Calientes and allows you to reach the entrance of Machu Picchu in about 1h30: be careful, it is steep! Here again, the ascent is mostly made of steps: we recommend it rather on the way down to enjoy the visit without the fatigue of the climb (according to other travellers' testimonies, we didn't do it...).

By bus:

One company has had a monopoly on the route from Aguas Calientes for years. Buses leave as soon as they are full (so very regularly) in front of the last bridge down town. The journey takes about 20 minutes and a return ticket will cost you 24USD: remember to buy it the day before at the same place (you need your passport to buy it). Note that it is not accessible (three good steps to go up), you will have to be carried on board if you do not go through one of the companies mentioned below...

To get to Aguas Calientes, there is no choice: the only means of transport that serves the city is the train (the tracks pass right through the streets)! From Poroy station (20 to 30 minutes from Cuzco by taxi depending on the traffic, about 40 Soles), Perurail offers different types of trains for a 3h30 trip to Aguas Calientes. We choose the Vista Dome, a fully glazed train that allows us to enjoy the landscapes we cross on the way (95 USD per person for a one way ticket).

In a wheelchair : the train is not really accessible... And we weigh our words! When you arrive at the station, you have to go to the ticket inspector so that he can install an access ramp. But it is very steep and even once installed, there is still a step of about thirty centimetres to cross! The corridors are also very narrow (about 60 centimetres): be sure to have arms to help you get on and off if you can't stand up! On the other hand, the train crew is very available and always ready to help... Very appreciable!

For those with a smaller budget, it is also possible to take a bus to Aguas Calientes... But you will have to finish on foot!

Timetable and booking

The Machu Picchu site is open to the public from 6am to 5pm without interruption. It is necessary to book well in advance! Very popular, it can "only" welcome 2500 visitors per day (as opposed to the 1000 recommended by UNESCO to better preserve it...). Tickets can be purchased online at https://www.machupicchu.gob.pe/inicio (152 Soles per person, i.e. about 40 euros): you will have to choose your entry time!

The 6 a.m. time slot is particularly popular and will allow you to see the sunrise over the site... But you'll run into crowds of visitors! Less crowded, the afternoon slots allow you to enjoy the site a little more quietly (this remains very relative) but do not have the same panache... It's up to you!

Useful information in a wheelchair

A jewel of Peruvian culture and a UNESCO heritage site, the site is subject to increasingly stringent preservation measures. The Peruvian government's rules for wheelchair access are evolving and it is worth finding out in advance if you want to visit.

To date, here is what we have learned :

- You can access the site with your own wheelchair if you wish (beware: very steep access slope, bring help!). However, due to the number of steps, your visit will be limited to one viewpoint (the first one, about 100 metres after the entrance) if you choose this option. In order not to damage the site and to limit the risks for people with reduced mobility, it will not be possible to improvise a visit by being carried by friends for example... Specific equipment is therefore recommended if you want to go a little further!

- – It is possible to visit the site with a joëlette, but this is very restricted: specific routes are provided on the site! The advantage: you are against the flow of the other visitors most of the time (therefore quieter)... The disadvantage: the portion of the site in which you can circulate remains limited (about 2 hours of possible visit on the spot against 4 or 5 hours when you have access to the whole site). This is important to know, especially considering the budget that a visit to the site with a joëlette represents!

- – To our knowledge (others may exist), three companies are currently authorized to offer tours of Machu Picchu by Joëlette:

  • Latin America for All: packaged tours in more global offers of 100% accessible travel in Peru,
  • Wheel the World The Wheel of the World: a choice of packaged tours or simple access to the site depending on what you want to do before and after,
  • Accessible Travel Peru The site is included in a package tour of Peru, but specific requests can be made to arrange your own programme if you wish.

- – Finally, at the time of our visit, access to the joëlettes is limited to 2pm to avoid crowds... Since recently! We booked our ticket at 6am to see the sunrise and had to change it at the last minute to comply with this new regulation...

The most

The joëlette used is simple and comfortable. With a single wheel, it allows you to access winding passages and climb uneven steps for the most extensive tour possible! In addition to the three people who "pilot" it, the guide is included in the price and tells us about the history of the ruins and the functioning of the ancient city.


Pierre is not very comfortable with the passive side of the joëlette, which does not allow him to move around the site independently. Despite the availability of the guides to move it according to the requests, it remains a little frustrating when one is not used to it! The major point in our opinion remains the price (and this is valid for the three companies mentioned above): as for many tourist agencies specialising in accessible travel, the prices can seem exorbitant (several thousand euros depending on the options chosen)! This can be explained in part by the price of the equipment used and, if applicable, the hotels chosen, but unfortunately remains prohibitive for many people...

Despite these reservations, we spend a magical time walking the steps of this mythical city, with the misty jungle-covered mountains in the background: absolutely incredible, we don't regret our choice!

Fernando, Francisco and Michael from Accessible Travel Peru

Where to sleep?

We choose the hotel Casa Andina to spend the night. The problem of Aguas Calientes is that the city only works with the tourism linked to Machu Picchu. As for the transport and the entrance of the site, the prices are constantly increasing... You have to plan a certain budget for the accommodation compared to the rest of Peru (here, 125€ per night for two people, breakfast included). We do appreciate that the hotel is located on one of the only flat streets in the city (the railway passes in front of the front door, the rest of the city is on the side of a mountain) and close to the bus station. The view of the river from the room and the breakfast room does not spoil our pleasure... The bathroom is not accessible, but we are getting used to it!

Where to eat?

The city is full of restaurants (all of which claim to be number 1 on Trip Advisor) of varying quality. We choose to dine at Mapacho, which has two advantages: 

  1. It is just a stone's throw from our hotel. 
  2. It offers a wide choice of craft beers! The ceviche is excellent and the menu is varied: a good address!

We take the train from Aguas Calientes to Cuzco at 5.30 pm after this timeless adventure. The exceptional landscapes seen the day before are now drowned in the falling night, but the memories of this day that are running in a loop in our heads take up all the space anyway...

Aguas Calientes
Seventh stage (1 day): in the Sacred Valley

We recover from our emotions and sleep another night in Cuzco before leaving the next morning for the Sacred Valley. Anxious to be able to access the archaeological sites, we ask Accessible Travel Peru to accompany us again for this exploration! It was a mixed experience, as several sites were finally accessible with a little help and no real need for a joëlette... We will nevertheless keep an unforgettable memory of it!

The Sacred Valley: what is it?

In the Inca culture, three elements have a predominant place: the Earth (Pachamama or Mother Earth), water and the sun. These beliefs are reflected in each component of nature, which has its own role and spirit. The protective mountains that surround the Urubamba valley offer multiple favourable micro-climates that allow agriculture to flourish, earning it its name of Sacred Valley.

The Incas settled here and built many agricultural, religious and military sites whose ruins can be seen today. Invaded by the Spanish after the conquest of Cuzco, the Sacred Valley also offers the opportunity to discover different villages with colonial architecture: there is something for everyone!

In one day of visit (8am - 7pm, distances are long!), we discover four of these archaeological sites and are amazed by what we see...

The terraces of Pisac
Practical information

How long?

The visit of the Sacred Valley in one day is a bit short to take advantage of the archaeological sites and the villages (it takes a little more than an hour by car from Cuzco to reach the first sites). We focused on the ruins, but would have been prepared to take another day to discover what the place had to offer (even if it meant spending a night there, as there was plenty of accommodation available).

Guided tour or not?

You can access all the sites independently, but there are few, if any, explanatory signs: taking a guide is a good way to learn more about the places you visit, their history and how they work!

Where to eat ?

To break up the day, we have lunch about twenty minutes drive from Ollantaytambo, in the Don Angel restaurant. A varied and abundant buffet that guarantees a quick meal before setting off again on the road: perfect for what we were looking for!

The Moray Agricultural Experimental Site
We recommend

1. Moray (1h)

An agricultural experimentation site built by the Incas to recreate different microclimates using circular terraces... The concept is genius: as aesthetic as it is brilliant!

By wheelchair: the first two viewpoints can be reached relatively easily with a conventional wheelchair, a third wheel and possibly a little help (flat terrain, slightly stony path). The slope to go down to the terraces is quite steep but the view is more impressive from the top anyway!

 2. Maras (1h)

The salt pans are still used today by the local inhabitants! In the heart of the ochre and tawny mountains, the white terraces clinging to the side of the cliffs are a sight to be seen once in a lifetime (you can go there at the end of the day to appreciate the low-angled light, but don't wait too long to take advantage of the luminosity: the terraces are in the shade as soon as the sun starts to go down)

Note: for reasons of site preservation, the terraces are no longer walkable, so the view can be enjoyed from a promontory outside.

By wheelchair: the viewpoint closest to the saltworks is not accessible (several steps to get there). On the other hand, there is a good view from the road (more of a track), which is accessible with a third wheel. Be careful on the way back up though: the slope is steep! You will certainly need help...

3. Ollantaytambo (2 to 3 hours)

A city famous for its temples and its irrigation system, witnessing the advanced agricultural knowledge of the Incas. The site is divided into two parts: the ruins of the village below and the terraces crossed by a dizzying staircase that will take you to an incredible viewpoint over the valley.

The town of Ollantaytambo is also very charming with its narrow streets criss-crossed by irrigation channels!

In a wheelchair: joëlette or not, only the lower part will be accessible to you (the staircase is too steep to be practiced in complete safety)! For this part, a classic wheelchair is more than enough (with a third wheel for more comfort, but it is not compulsory): the site is fitted out with numerous ramps (home-made, of course, but ramps nevertheless), with in the worst case a step to cross to move around in the old village. The town is entirely made of cobblestones... It is better to walk the streets with a third wheel and ask for a helping hand when they are too steep.

4. Pisac (2 to 3 hours)

Although incomparable to Machu Picchu, the ruins of Pisac have a certain charm. Their main interest according to us: the impressive semi-circular terraces at the entrance of the site and the Inca tombs dug in the rocks at the foot of the ancient village...

By wheelchair: the two elements mentioned above are accessible by joëlette, but the village is perched on the hill and the guides will not allow you to try the adventure... Only two flights of a few steps allow access to the lower part of the site: with a classic wheelchair and a few arms, it seems quite possible to us. If we had to do it again, this is the option we would choose!

The salt flats of Maras
Eighth stage (1 day, 2 nights): Cuzco, capital of the Incas

Perched at an altitude of 3,400 metres, Cuzco was built on the mountainside by the Incas and was their capital for a long time before the arrival of the Spaniards, then the main bastion of rebellion before the fall of the Empire. In the steep streets of the city, the remains of Inca temples and colonial architecture are mixed together: a marvel to discover!

Practical information

Where to sleep?

We stay at the Novotel for the three nights we spend in the city (before and after our Machu Picchu trip). Although there are more affordable accommodations in the city, this hotel is one of our favourites in Peru!

We particularly appreciate :

  • Its colonial architecture gives the lobby (where you can dine and have breakfast) a real charm,
  • The warm welcome of the team, who are very good at giving advice and are always ready to help,
  • Its accessibility (for real this time, up to the bathroom 100% fitted out and without steps in the shower: a first since our arrival and it is very relaxing)!

Where to eat?

For a very local lunch, we stop at Egos. The menu of the day (vegetable soup with quinoa and potatoes, two options for the main course and a corn juice) will cost you 12 Soles, less than 4€... In the very small room, cusquenians of all ages follow each other at an impressive speed, as well as rare tourists.

In the evening, we take advantage of a longer meal to taste excellent meats at Uchu: rather expensive for the city, but one of the best restaurants of our journey in Peru!

Cuzco and its colonial architecture
We recommend

1. Stroll through the many squares with their colonial architecture

With their white facades and carved wooden balconies, the houses of Cuzco have a particular charm. The Plaza das Armas, lined with impressive monuments, the Plaza Regocijo and the Plaza San Francisco, more intimate but just as aesthetic, are particularly appreciated. 

2. Admire the Inca remains and their stone walls

Underneath more recent buildings, the old city walls can be seen in some of the narrow streets. Don't miss the famous 'Piedra de los 12 ángulos' (12-cornered stone) in Calle Hatunrumiyoc, hand-carved and unique.

3. Stroll through the San Pedro market

A joyful mix of fresh products, handicrafts and dried herbs of all kinds in the smell of cooking stalls to take away! All in all, a nice moment of local life where it is good to walk in the shade before continuing your visit of the city...

We leave Cuzco in the evening after an intense day of sightseeing towards Puno! Eight hours of night bus waiting for us before this next step.

The alleys of Cuzco and its market
Stage 9 (1 day): the floating islands of Lake Titicaca

Puno will be our most "express" stop in Peru: the city is not very interesting in itself and we plan to cross the Bolivian border in the middle of the day... Arriving at 6am, we decide to take a two hours excursion to visit the famous floating islands of the Titicaca lake (35 Soles per person, that is to say about 10€) before taking the bus back to the border.

Floating islands ?

Still inhabited today by the Uros, who live there according to their ancestral traditions, these islands are built from scratch with successive layers of cut reeds moored to wild reeds! Entire villages have emerged on the lake, whose inhabitants live from fishing... and tourism! Children go to primary school here and leave to study in Puno when they reach secondary school age

The Uros and their traditional boats
What we thought

We won't lie to ourselves, the excursion is very touristy. The boat drops us off on one of the islands, where the president gives us a presentation. We find the explanations about the construction of these floating islands fascinating, but we appreciate less (although we understand it) the insistence of the inhabitants to offer us souvenirs to buy or to sell us a traditional boat trip...

The welcome is nevertheless extremely warm and we are touched by this unusual way of life and the generosity with which the Uros are willing to share it.

Note: we take the boat at 6:30 am to reach the islands around 7 am. First on the spot, we appreciate both the grandiose calm of the lake during the journey and the fact of observing authentic moments of life on our arrival. The return journey is quite different: when we leave at 8.30am, we pass a good fifteen boats of all sizes in the reed channel that leads to the villages. The smell of petrol, the noise and the constant flow of tourists docking on the islands make us bless our departure time: we strongly recommend you to get up early if you want to enjoy your experience!

In a wheelchair: from start to finish, this tour is not accessible. In the strict sense anyway! Except that... As since the beginning of our stay, the kindness of the people we meet goes far beyond the classical notions of accessibility. Our guide carries Pierre and asks his colleagues to help him: on the steps leading to the pontoon, on the boat... Then from the boat to the islands, where the floor is made of reeds (so you roll in loose straw...). After all, and in his own words: "You came all the way here, it's not to stay on the boat, is it? Indeed... An experience that we enjoyed 100%!

Floating islands and reeds on Lake Titicaca

In Machu Picchu and then in the Sacred Valley, we are experimenting with accompanied trips with Accessible Travel Peru: a first for us! Here is what we thought about it:

The most

In a country like Peru where tourist sites are not very or not at all accessible, some experiences require an accompaniment or specific equipment to go further. Access to Machu Picchu in a wheelchair, for example, is highly regulated... And very difficult! In view of the experience we had there, we are delighted to have used the services of a specialised agency, without which we would not have been able to enjoy the site so much (despite the personal inconveniences we found there): a real success!

Going through this type of organisation is also a guarantee that all your needs will be taken care of: transport, hotels, activities... Total peace of mind if you are worried about the unknown!


The joëlette is an ideal piece of equipment for people with reduced mobility who find it difficult to move around on rough terrain. Our respective physical conditions and Pierre's equipment allowed us to pass many obstacles, but we found it frustrating depending on the sites we visited. To avoid this frustration if you are in our case, do not hesitate to talk to your guides (see information above on the sites visited): if requested, they will surely agree to let you visit with your own wheelchair if they think it is feasible.

Furthermore, as mentioned above, the budget remains the main problem of these towers in our opinion...

In summary, we recommend that you choose your guided tours carefully according to your physical condition / degree of autonomy, your budget... and your priorities! If you are going to spend a lot of money to complete an experience, you might as well make it unforgettable! You will only be satisfied if you manage to find the right balance between the "constraints" that such an agency imposes on you and the added value that you find there to live your experience...

Mural in Copacabana, Bolivia
In our next article...

Our Peruvian journey is coming to an end and we cross the Bolivian border after two hours of driving. A Bolivia Hop bus (see our previous article) is waiting for us and drops us off in Copacabana, first stop in this new country that we are eager to discover! We spend two days there before leaving for La Paz, then the South of the country, its lagoons, its geysers... And its Salar!

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