Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Machu Picchu Tickets- or -, I Hate You!

     I've been in the process of planning a trip to Peru and the trip's raison d'etre is to take Mrs. Pointsninja to Machu Picchu to see the Ancient Alien artifacts.  After all, there is no way that the Incas did all that unassisted.  No, it must have been:

     Seriously, though, Machu Picchu is an incredible place and we knew that we wanted to tick it off our list.  In the past, access to Machu Picchu was essentially unrestricted, but in recent years the Peruvian Ministry of Culture has limited the number of daily visitors to 2,500.  Visitors to Huayna Picchu, the mountain that adjoins and overlooks Machu Picchu, are limited to 400 daily. What that means is that its not safe to just show up in Aguas Calientes (the nearest town) and assume that you'll be able to visit the ruins.

     So, you need to get tickets first.  I'm a modestly seasoned traveler and, at first, it seemed that the process would be straightforward.  After all, there is an official Peruvian Ministry of Culture website that does nothing but sell tickets to Machu Picchu and other sites.  That website was the beginning of my downfall.

     First of all, the website is in Spanish, of which I have the most modest smattering.  But look!  Up in the corner is that boon to monoglots, the little flags that let the user select for English.  Easy, right?  Not so fast!  For some (possibly xenophobic) reason, the site will not let you reserve tickets if you choose the English language option.  I suppose you could use google translate, but after several abortive attempts to use the English version of the site, I had most of the fields memorized and just went through it in Spanish.

     The process of booking tickets on the site is needlessly complex.  First, the user selects which site they want to visit.  I chose Machu Picchu + Huayna Picchu.  Second, the user must make a reservation by inputting their name, age, nationality, and passport number.  So long as you're on the Spanish language version of the site, you can then generate a reservation number.  The user then has six hours to pay for the tickets or the reservation expires.  Prices are in Peruvian Soles and Machu Picchu + Huayna Picchu costs around $52.

     Payment requires you to go back to the first page of the website and select the "PAGOS" tab.  That tab will prompt you to enter your reservation number which will then take you to the payment processor.  However, they only take Visa, and, allegedly, your Visa must participate in "Verified by Visa", a supplemental security program.  It seems that this requirement is due to fraudulent use of credit cards to purchase Machu Picchu tickets.  However, since your ticket will bear your name and passport number and may not be used by anyone else, the security concern seems rather excessive.

     Anyway, businesses and governments have been accepting payments over the web for years, so paying for these tickets should be no problem, right?  WRONG.  Google "can't pay for machu picchu tickets" then read all the results.  <two weeks later>  See what I mean?  Because I'm a mileage addict, I have visa cards from Chase, Barclays, US Bank, Citibank, and Capital One.  I tried them all.  None worked.  But I'm a persistent guy.  So I tried again, and again, and again.  For a week.  Finally, I started looking for other ways to buy tickets.  Most hotels and any tour operator will book tickets for you, for a modest fee.  My hotel in Aguas Calientes charges $170 for a (guided) ticket to Machu Picchu.  Ay caramba!  I tried some more.

      Finally, I gave up and decided to go through an agency.  But which one to pick?  I read many posts on Flyertalk, Tripadvisor, and other sites.  I did a lot of googling.  Finally, I settled on a website operated by the tour company Totally Latin America.  I chose them because, at the time, they were the cheapest option I could find.  Tickets for Machu Picchu + Huayna Picchu were $74 each.  That price has now increased to $82.  A ticket for just Machu Picchu is now $72. 

     The booking process with TLA was fairly smooth, though it cannot be completed on their website.  Essentially the website works like an information form in which you provide TLA your desired dates of visit, name, passport #, and a convenient time to call you.  Payment is made over the phone.  I talked with a friendly British expat who took my payment and got the tickets to me the next day.  I'm told that they are looking at making online payments available, but as of press time, that hasn't happened.

     In the end, I got the tickets I needed, but I had to pay a bit more than I wanted to.  Still, it was certainly less than I could have paid.  Small victories, Pointsninja, small victories.  Now, having gotten over this hurdle, we're set for our trip and I can't wait to post some spectacular pictures here!


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