The Cost of a Year Around the World, Part 2: The Spend

Last time, we talked about the budget process for a year around the world, where I estimated that it would take $28,000 per person (around $500 per week) to circumnavigate the globe (at an enjoyable pace) in roughly a year. After the 54 weeks of travel across 5 continents and 28 countries (31 with layovers), we had spent $25,286.50 per person ($468.27 per week)! Below, I’ll talk about what we actually spent our money on and how we kept our costs down, as well as how you might be able to spend a year traveling on even less.

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Our breakdown of spend for the year.

Sticking to a Budget

A budget only works if you stick to it, so I built a tool to help us track our spending through the entire trip. It’s an Excel spreadsheet with tabs that I tracked all of our spend on in five categories – lodging, food, travel, personal hygiene and health, and fun. It then calculates total spend by category for each week and by country. You can download it for free below to use on your trips, and if you have any questions feel free to contact me!

Download the World Budget Template

P.S., one thing I would change about my budget is to write the spend in on the day the event occurred, not when we purchased tickets. This is the same day for most things, but for travel will help you sort spend better by region. For example, spend in LATAM looked way higher originally because it included the tickets for our flight to New Zealand, but that should actually be part of the Oceania part of the trip. I’ve made adjustments to the data manually below, but it was a pain to do.

What our budget went to

Because I love data, I ran an analysis on our expenses from the trip and below describe our breakdown of what we expected compared to actual spend by category. As an overview, travel was definitely the biggest part of our budget, which is unsurprising when you’re circumnavigating the world. But even this, as well as food and lodging cost less than we thought. And as avid hikers and explorers, we found tons to do that was fun and free.

Our weekly total spend by region.

Travel

Expected: $200 per person per week
Actual: $162.24 per person per week

As mentioned above, travel was our biggest budget category and is nearly twice the size of our nearest other spend categories (food and lodging). This is primarily because I set out with a goal for us to circumnavigate the world AND chase summer, so we had to travel round the globe in a giant sinusoidal shape (that’s a sideways “S” shape for, for those of you who don’t know). We had to cross both the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans and shift between the Northern and Southern Hemispheres, and that much distance to cover in a year while leaving time to enjoy things means we paid money for flights. It was normally a couple hundred dollars here or there, but there were also a few big-ticket items like the flight from Phoenix to Mexico City, to and from the Galapagos, from Santiago to Auckland, and the flight home from Berlin. Trains, which were really only available Western Europe as a mode of transit (save for Russia and Indonesia), were surprisingly often as expensive as flights. Bus was often the slowest, but cheapest and most interesting option between locations (even the bus ride from hell counts).

Our best rule for saving money became the two-week rule: unless there was no other way, we booked flights only if we were travelling more than two weeks out. If we were within the two-week period, we caught a bus or some other mode of transit instead. Rome2Rio helped us out a lot in figuring that out.

Weekly spend on travel by each region; definitely pricier in Oceania and Europe, while Asia’s is higher because we bought 2-week JR passes in Japan.

Lodging

Expected: $105 per person per week
Actual: $78.39 per person per week

Another expected, constant cost of our trip was a place to sleep each night. We had a budget of $15 per person per night, and what we could get for that varied a lot both between and within countries — heck, it varied a lot even within the same city. Prime example was Cartagena, where a private hostel bedroom within the walled city with the bed taking up nearly the entire space, no AC, and gaping holes in the ceiling that let mosquitos in cost us as much as an air-conditioned, modern room with a TV just outside the city’s walls.

My primary strategy to keep cost down was research, research, research. If I had the time or knew we were going to be somewhere for a while in advance, I checked Hotels.com, Booking.com, and HostelWorld.com for the cheapest deal, looking in particular for multiple-day stay discounts. If it was last minute, I skipped HostelWorld and just stuck with Hotels.com and Booking.com, looking for last-minute discounts.

We also cut costs by having transit sometimes double as lodging, taking overnight buses, flights and trains. This was particularly helpful in South America, where long-haul buses are commonplace and first-class seats were affordable for travelers, even on our budget. For flights, the airport often doubled as our accommodation, as we would find a quiet part of the airport and rolled out our camping mattresses before or after our flight. Since people frequently sleep overnight in airports (there’s a whole website dedicated to it), most airport staff don’t bat an eye.

Lastly, we cut about a month’s worth of lodging (and food) costs and had the most amazing time possible by doing the obvious: visiting where we had friends and family currently living. It meant we had a happy host, a welcoming bed, amazing food, and often a far better guide than the internet to the area.

Weekly spend on lodging by region; the spend in Asia is so high primarily because of Japan, but also due to a few nights of splurging on a hotel room here and there, and lower in Europe because of stretches of stays with friends and family.

Food

Expected: $105 per person per week
Actual: $89.66 per person per week

Like having a place to sleep, you always gotta have something to eat, but we found while food could vary wildly by country, we had more control over it than the cost of lodging. If you’re staying in a hostel in almost any country, you can pick up ingredients from a local market and cook a meal for a fraction of the cost of a meal out. This played a big role in making Western Europe affordable, where we saved for one nicer ~$25 meal a day and otherwise snacked on homemade sandwiches and salads. The only caveat I would give here is that there is an opportunity, no, an enjoyability cost. Because a place’s cuisine is often unique and singular to a place (like the culture), it’s worth springing the money to enjoy at least a couple of meals and understand how the locals eat. We would rather spend a little extra on food over lodging any day (which usually gives you less of a window into culture), and our actual spend reflects that.

Beyond cooking your own meals, the other way to save costs is the above-mentioned stay-with-friends-and-family method. Not much can beat a home-cooked meal, and in many countries your more rural relatives have better tips on the best cheap places to eat.

Weekly spend on food by geography; Asia is high primarily due to volume of food and not necessarily cost, and costs in Europe are lower due to a lot of staying with friends and family, netting us delicious meals.

Personal hygiene/health

Expected: $20 per person per week
Actual: $41.88 per person per week; $11.46 per person per week without our year of travel health insurance

So depending on whether you want to count the pre-trip costs in the budget, I was either wildly under-estimating this one or just a little over-estimating it. When I put together the trip budget, I originally dropped the pre-trip expenses into a different spreadsheet and built the travel budget without it, so I wasn’t counting the travel insurance. As I mentioned in the last post, that travel insurance wasn’t useful beyond peace of mind, because even when I took a fall in Peru and needed an X-ray, the full cost of the visit was the equivalent of ~$200 USD and it was difficult to keep track of receipts and submit them for reimbursement while moving around so much.

Otherwise, this category sat pretty unused with the exception of repairing our equipment and restocking medicine, which I’d recommend purchasing when you are getting modestly low, not when you’re low or out, because there are some countries that just don’t have certain medicines. Pharmacists in Indonesia and Vietnam, for example, had no idea what bismuth subsalicylate (Pepto Bismol) was, so we were out until we got to Hong Kong.

The equipment repair and replacement was also pretty variable, and mostly consisted of us repairing the same pairs of shoes we wore throughout the trip. In general, a good rule to determine whether you should repair or replace is look at the current socioeconomic status of the country around you; depressingly, it’s affordable to get things repaired when you’re in a poorer country, but to buy something new when you’re in a richer country, just because of the variation in cost of labor. In some countries, we couldn’t even find people who still repaired camping equipment or shoes.

Weekly spend on personal hygiene, medical, and emergency by geography. The cost in Oceania is so high because we bought a UV sterilizer when our water pump broke, and in Europe we had to renew travel insurance.

Fun

Expected: $100 per person per week
Actual: $96.10 per person per week

I’m thrilled to see the budget for fun experiences and souvenirs is almost spot-on with what I predicted, because I wasn’t sure if I had dramatically under-or over-estimated. We started out in South America being cheap as hell and got a little spend happy in a couple of other places (Japan, Western Europe, looking at you). We did have a couple of big splurges on the trip, like the five-star Galapagos cruise with a Cordon Bleu-trained chef on board (why our LATAM bar is so tall) and fine pens/hobby equipment in Japan. I also placed meals in really nice restaurants in this category because they felt more like experiences than food. But overall, we managed to keep costs down by being outdoorsy people and going for hikes or walking around town. We would also ask locals for recommendations on what to do for fun, as these tended to be way cheaper and more interesting than whatever was set up for tourists.

Weekly spend on fun experiences and mementos by geography; the cost in LATAM is our $3,000 Galapagos cruise, and everything in Oceania cost so much money to do that we basically on did free hikes.

How to do it on less

There are two ways you could travel for a year on less: make fewer hops between countries, and stick with cheaper countries. We stayed in a location 1-2 weeks before moving on, which meant we were paying a lot in travel expenses. We also intentionally visited some more expensive countries (New Zealand, Japan, France, Germany), because we wanted to see them. If you weren’t set on the idea of circumnavigating the planet, stick with just Asia or LATAM and save yourself the cost of cross-continental hops.

Next, I’ll be doing a breakdown by country of our costs and provide some tips on how to save money in each country.

Read Part 1: The Budget.

Read Part 3: Country Comparison.

Next stop, Venice!

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Venice is a beautiful and fascinating place. I’ve always wanted to visit, Natalie not so much. It turns out that it’s got a little bit of everything, good and bad. Its beautiful, winding alleys interspersed with canals and bridges and spires are inspiring. The measures taken to keep buildings from falling and the island from sinking are a testament to human ingenuity and stubbornness. Its attitude towards tourists and the costs (and sometimes smells) of living on the island are saddening. In my view visiting Venice is worth it for two things – the history and architecture, and the marvel of engineering that keeps the city alive. Most of the tourist traps should be rightfully avoided, and it’s best to stay away from popular areas at peak hours.

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There are basically two ways to see Venice. The cheaper and arguably more lively route is to stay on the mainland at one of several campsites or large hostel-like buildings, and bus in in the morning. The other way, significantly more expensive, but better for seeing Venice the way we wanted to, is to stay on the island itself. It’s not cheap, but for a very short stay, the value of waking up before dawn and walking the empty streets is worth the extra fee.

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We took the bus out of Sant’Agata, then on to the next bus to Rimini, and finally on to the train north to Venice. Midway through the trip our train stopped and a bunch of announcements came on in Italian. We did not understand them. The train stayed in the station and eventually people started shuffling off. A conductor came by and told us, in slightly broken English, that the train would not be moving again soon, and we should go on to a different track to catch the replacement. We’ve been through worse transportation adventures, but the feeling of an impromptu change of plans in a language we don’t understand is always exciting.

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There is the last station on the mainland, and then the open water. The train tracks cross over a narrow bridge, on either side the Venetian Lagoon. Technically, the mainland just before the crossing is also part of the district of Venice, but what everyone thinks of when they hear the name is found across this bridge.

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Right out the gate, Venice does not disappoint. The church of San Simeon is literally the first thing most people see when they leave the station. It’s gorgeous and only a taste of what’s to come.

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There are a few ways to get to the inner islands – all of them are connected by bridges, with a bus ferry, or with ferry taxis. The ‘bus’ is actually fairly expensive, and the distances are short. With so much to see the natural choice is to walk everywhere. If we were here for a week or more, maybe the bus ferries would have been a more appealing option.

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In the fading hours of the day we made our way to the hotel. Despite the day’s journey and the weight of the packs, we still lingered and turned in all directions staring at the city around us. In short order we were introduced to both the magnificent Italian architecture, the tightly clustered houses and apartments, and the occasional but persistent vendors of tourist things.

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We also found that the city of Venice has an attitude, and the people are not shy expressing themselves on the walls. This was probably the largest demonstration we saw, but there are plenty of smaller ones scattered alone or in clusters around the city. The topics range from banning tourists to saving the planet. Perhaps unsurprisingly, climate change is often on the minds of those living here.

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Night fell and we left our hotel in search of food. To set expectations, hotels in Venice are not very similar to most people’s idea of a hotel. Unless you pay a lot of money, it will resemble something of a walk-up, 2 to 3 stories of three or four rooms on each floor with a shared bathroom. Much like a hostel in any other part of the world. Similarly, the food is not reasonably priced. This is entirely expected in an extremely popular and difficult to supply city, but it’s good to be aware.

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Luckily for us, right near our hotel was a Bigoi. This is a small, almost fast-food version of pasta, where you pick your noodles, sauce, and meat, and they make it fresh for you. It costs about 5 euros and each bowl is enough for a person. Not the best in terms of nutrition, but they taste great and they’re cheap! There are also small grocery stores available, but they still run fairly expensive, and they do tend to run out of key ingredients at night, especially bread. We relied pretty heavily on Bigoi and the snacks we brought with us while we were in Venice.

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Also pastries. We didn’t eat a lot of fancy food in Venice but we did make room in the budget for coffee and pastries in the morning. The coffee is still very affordable – 1.20 Euro. The pastries can be a little expensive but are still around a few euro each. This one is called a sfogliatelle. It’s small, packed with cream and syrup, and somehow amazingly crunchy and flaky. It’s fantastic and we found the one we liked best was in the pastry shop Pasticceria Toletta. The lady working the counter in the morning is super nice, and their pastries and coffee are fantastic.

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Next time – Venetian architecture!

Mostar

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A lone person traverses the Stari Most in the morning.

A couple hours’ bus ride west of Sarajevo, the city of Mostar is a point of pride for the country. When we asked people in Sarajevo where else we should visit, the answer was also “Mostar, because it’s beautiful.”

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One of the old buildings in the downtown, at dusk.

Situated on the aquamarine Neretva River, Mostar’s most famous landmark and namesake is the Stari Most (Old Bridge), a 16th century Ottoman Bridge made of silken white stone. Destroyed in the Bosnian War, Stari Most was reconstructed with the help of the U.N. Protections Force and funding from several countries, in part using stones from the original bridge that were fished out of the Neretva. Local tradition of jumping off the bridge as a right of passage for men has morphed into a tourism attraction, and on a lucky day you’ll see a tourist or two taking the plunge. The bridge is also now a stop on Red Bull’s Cliff Diving World Series.

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Staring down into the Neretva River.

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Stari Most at night.

The downtown area is a tourist hotspot, with market stalls packed full of souvenirs, artisan shops, and restaurants. Most of touristic good sold are likely made elsewhere, but if you find a craftsman at work then you’re likely getting the real deal. Hand-hammered copper reliefs and Turkish coffee sets* make ideal take-home gifts, so as you walk through the marketplace listen for the clink of chisels on metal.

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The touristic downtown market.

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A coppersmiths workshop. Jizve are being molded using lead (silver circle) at left.

Outside the downtown area, the city bustles on, a network of roads full of cars and lined with densely built shops and houses. There are fewer physical signs of the war here; fewer bullet holes or mortar shell scars. The neighborhoods get a bit rougher looking at the city’s edge on the west side, but we had no problems walking through at dusk. If you’re not behaving strangely or wearing anything ostentatious, you’ll probably be left alone.

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The remains of a building.

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Modern cars parked in front of a building, likely damaged in the war and now left to decay.

Oh, and when you’re there be sure to stop by Tima Irma to eat the best kebapci money can buy, served with fresh veggies, cheese, and pita bread. You can even wash it down with a local beer.

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A view at the edge of town.

*A slight word of warning: traditionally, the jizveta are formed by pouring lead into the mold, and then removing it afterward. It’s been done this way for centuries, but if you do get one you might want to test it for lead before using it to make coffee.

**A second slight word of warning: the countryside around here may look dreamy, but don’t wander off into the hills without a guide. Mostar sat at one of the fronts during the Bosnian War and much of the area is still mined.

This is why people are staring at you: the good, the bad, and the strange

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When you travel, especially off the beaten track, you’re going to get stares from the locals. Those stares can be uncomfortable, especially if you come from the U.S. or a closely-related culture where staring is considered rude. Why are they staring at you? Is it something I did? Why don’t they stop?

Staring etiquette varies from region to region and over time. For example, the Japanese rarely stare because it’s considered rude, preferring to steal glances of you through a long side-eye when you’re not looking. In contrast there’s neighboring China, where sometimes people will not only stare but also point at you, and it’s not considered rude. Because the world is increasingly cosmopolitan, staring seems to be considered rude in more places and I think it now happens less. Back in 2004, my mom got lots of stares from locals in Shanghai because she is white. Fast forward to present day, where she gets hardly a glance.

But in many places off the standard travel itineraries, be prepared for some stares or uncomfortably long glances. For those of you who aren’t used to this, here’s a primer for you on why the locals are staring at you and what to expect.

First, are they smiling? Then it’s probably…

The Good

Overwhelmingly if you’re getting stares and smiles, it’s a good thing. People are probably fascinated by you because you look and dress differently, you’re new, you’re interesting!

Especially in highly-isolated and rural places, you may be the only foreigner passing through they’ve ever seen. This was the case for us in Indonesia, where people frequently stopped to greet us and ask for a selfie, even if they spoke only broken English or no English at all. Because Stoytcho is tall (6’4”) and white, he was a magnet for every middle-school tour group at every temple, so we’re in about a dozen class pictures.

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Yep, here’s one of those class photos. I do not know whether it is more or less appropriate that I wore a “Damn! I love Indonesia” shirt.

In some cases, people are staring and smiling because they’re happy to see you, a tourist/visitor/traveler because you’re a herald of positive economic outcomes. We found this to be the case in Medellin Colombia, where we’d catch people staring at us, strike up a conversation with them, and find them thanking us for coming to their country. Things were really bad in Medellin (linkout) only a couple decades ago, so for people of Medellin, tourists are a big deal. That will probably change as more visitors come to the city, but for now, they stare and smile because you’re a sign of how much better life is now.

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A local jugo vendor we made acquaintance with makes faces for photos.

Lastly, sometimes people stare and smile because you’ve done something silly but harmless, like mispronounce a word. This will happen a lot if you’re trying to learn some of the local language. You’ll often hear this accompanied by a stifled giggle and someone may try to correct you. But that’s life and in no situation has a language mistake this ever been held against us.

Now, if people are staring at you and frowning, it may be…

The Bad

Every culture has its own maze of written and unwritten rules and social norms and superstitions that are impossible to understand and difficult to remember for foreigners. So if someone is staring at you and frowning, you’ve probably done something wrong.

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For example, you didn’t listen to this sign.

The good news is that while breaking cultural rules and norms is usually bad with varying degrees of seriousness, as a foreigner you’ll generally get a free pass. The only two exceptions to that free pass are: modesty-related and religion-related customs. Modesty-related customs are often dress codes or interpersonal interactions, like how much skin you can bare in public or how much romantic public affection is acceptable. Religion-related customs can vary, but usually relate to the aforementioned modesty, cleanliness, or separation of the sexes. Breaking these often makes a lot of people uncomfortable, or makes a lot of work for someone (i.e. they have to re-purify some sacred area thanks to your transgression). Hence, the frowns you’re getting.

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Women cover themselves after leaving a temple in Vietnam.

Some great examples include those stares that young woman in the tank top is getting while she wanders around in Indonesia, or that guy who didn’t wash his hands and feet when coming into the temple. In my case, I committed a terrible fashion faux pas: wearing boots in the summer. I got an average of three scowls a day for that, apparently because it’s weird and just not done. It was so bad that Stoytcho’s aunt (linkout) concocted a white lie to get me to wear a pair of her shoes when we went out for ice cream because she didn’t want to be seen with me in boots. The solution? I switched to flip flops.

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A Russian woman gives me the usual down-up-scowl: first she looks down at my boots (actually moves her head down), then she looks up at me, and frowns. This happened so often I started trying to get photos of people doing it.

It can be hard to avoid breaking the customs of another culture while traveling, but this is where a bit of research in advance can help a lot. Before traveling, type in “taboo” and where you’re going to see if there are things you should avoid doing or wearing. These can vary in validity, so it also helps to consult a friend, acquaintance, or a travel forum.

There’s another reason people could be staring at you without a smile, though. That’s…

The Strange

Because you’re strange, you’re weird, or you’re confusing. They’re staring at you because they’re trying to place you in some kind of context and having trouble. It’s not you, it’s them.

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Like this, although they’re also probably staring because we’re in the middle of rural Java hitching a ride in the open bed of a pickup truck with giant backpacks. This clearly doesn’t happen every day.

For better or worse, a lot of our judgements do stem from a person’s appearance. A white-person dressed in cargo zip-offs, a hat, and sunblock? Probably a tourist, has some money. Black woman, dressed nicely? A rich tourist or a model. A latino-looking guy in grungy clothes, carrying wares? Likely a local street vendor. That Asian-looking granny sitting on a park bench in rumpled clothes? Reasonable to assume she’s a resident octogenarian. We feel comfortable when we can place people into some kind of context and make assumptions about how we can interact with them. And when we can’t do that, we get confused and sometimes we stare.

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Me, ethnically ambiguous because I’m half-Chinese and half white.

As someone who’s ethnically ambiguous, this happens to me a lot. I look just enough like the local people almost everywhere we get stares, especially when I’m not with Stoytcho (who obviously looks like a foreigner). In South America, people would stare at me because I didn’t look totally white but I was an English-speaking tourist. In Japan, the ambiguity almost got me into trouble (linkout). And in Russia, the locals stared because I looked like a local Buryat girl dressed in weird tourist clothes. I got stuck in between the boxes of local and tourist, and it messed with people enough that they’d inadvertently stare at me for that extra second or two.

If you’re prone to receiving this kind of stare, the best way to deal with it is to smile and not take offense. It’s hard because when people stare at you, trying to figure out who or what you are, they don’t usually look friendly. They may even be frowning, although it’s an unconscious frown caused by their confusion. But if you make eye contact with them and smile, they usually realize they’ve been staring and avert their eyes or they’ll smile back. You may not fit neatly into their mental world, but that matters less once they realize you’re friendly.

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When you greet a stare with a smile, you make friends. They may even strike poses into the camera for you.

Hoi An’s Tourism

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Tourists and locals reflected in the canal in Hoi An.

Hoi An, our next destination, is a ‘traditional’ village located 30 km south of Da Nang. Imagine any quintessential tourist village with preserved architecture, art galleries, and traditional restaurants, except in the theme of Vietnam, and you’ve got a good idea of what Hoi An is like. Women in traditional dress pose beneath the curved roofing of old homes and temples. Streets are lit by handmade fabric lanterns of every color, and human-powered rickshaws shout to get past throngs of tourists loitering, buying, staring, and photographing. It is at once adorable and obnoxious, somehow simultaneously catering to every touristic whim while being touristically exhausting.

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Lantern displays in Hoi An’s old town.

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A floating candle-lit lantern on the canal.

Nearly everyone in Hoi An is involved in the tourism industry, and anything and everything has a price on it. You can pay a man to pull you around in a  rickshaw, for a boat ride on the town’s canal, to take a photo of you in front of a building, to get ‘tourism information’. Even walking around costs money; Hoi An’s pedestrian streets have sometimes-manned ticketing booths at every street entrance, where occasionally people will deny you entry unless you pay. You can stand there as people who are clearly other Asian tourists stream by, but they won’t let you through unless you pay. Here, it’s the inconsistency of rules, both in race and in time, that bothers me.

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A man walks past a lantern display in the old town. And yes, you can also buy a lantern here. As many as you’d like.

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A woman gets ready for her shift at the inconsistently-manned ticketing booths that charge you to get into old town.

Things are also a distinctly different price for you as a tourist. I arranged a fairly pricey $75 cooking class for our second day there, and in the morning our guide showed us around Hoi An’s market. She was primarily interested in discussing the market’s vegetables and kept us at arm’s length, dodging questions about herself and life here in Hoi An with silence or vague responses like “We’re poor. We need tourist money.” We switched to asking about the market to make her more comfortable and to try and get an understanding for the pricing of things, but we found her responses equally as vague. It was confusing, given that she’s probably shopped this market every day of her life. Then she bought us some snacks for a few thousand VND and it became clear why she couldn’t give us exact prices. Excited to finally have a benchmark for something, I asked her about the price. “Hmmm…” she hesitated, “For you, maybe it would be 20,000 VND.” More than three times what she had paid.

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A traditional dish of prepared seafood (snails) mixed with chilis and green onions, available at the market. Our guide was unable to give us an estimated price for tourists.

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The snacks she bought for us. For locals, you can get three of them for around 6,000 VND.

Though the rest of the cooking class was pleasant and uneventful, I couldn’t shake the fact that every interaction was an opportunity to put on a show and pull more money from us. We took a boat out to our guide’s small village, on an island in the Thu Bon river delta, to continue with the cooking class. They brought out an old woman and introduced her as ‘grandma’, where all of the recipes come from, and she showed us a handful of tasks in rapid succession before shuffling off exhaustedly. The local ‘shopkeep’, a man who drives his motorbike laden with random goods around the island, paid us a visit to see if we wanted anything. And after the cooking class, the guide invited us on a walk that ended up at the house of an old woman, whom the guide told us was widowed. “She sells vegetables for a living…and we all try to help her by buying something or helping her tidy up around the house. Do you want to come in?” the guide asked as she held the gate open. I was only a little ashamed when I blurted out, “No, thank you.” I was exhausted.

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The travelling salesman of the island.

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The ingredients of our cooking lesson.

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Taking the boat back to Hoi An. The net in the background is used for nighttime fishing.

Part of this is my privilege talking. I can, after all, get onto an airplane and be welcomed in nearly any country in the world with my U.S. passport. It’s in immense privilege to be able to go somewhere and have more spending power than half of the local population. It’s a privilege for people to be excited about you coming to their country. You’re not an immigrant or drain on resources—you’re a gift to the economy and a sign of good times to come.

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A woman smiles after we bought two paper lanterns from her to float in the canal.

I also don’t blame the local people for all trying to make money off of tourism. When you see your neighbor bringing in a hundred times what you are by catering to tourists, you’re going to try and do the same. And there’s no way to say who does and doesn’t get to profit off of tourism without being unfair to someone, without shutting out a group of people from the new prosperity. But when everyone does it, when every interaction you have with another human being is a transaction, you’re bound to get transaction fatigue.

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Crowds of tourists in the old town.

The next day we left Hoi An, bound for Da Nang by way of a tour bus. We visit ancient Buddhist temples in the marble mountains, where just outside you could buy carved marble Buddhas to take home. We walk through a sacred Buddhist cave, embellished (recently) with scenes of Buddhist hell to liven it up for the tourist crowd. At the entrance to the cave is plaque to Vietnamese fighters. “What does it say?” I ask our guide. “Oh, it’s for soldiers who fought here against American forces. They shot down a plane,” he says absentmindedly, “But if you keep walking, it is more interesting inside. There are scenes of Buddhist hell.”

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The plaque commemorating guerillas stationed here during the American War.

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A demon roasts humans in a scene from ‘Buddhis hell’. I think this is the sin for eating meat or being a butcher.

We end our tour with a stop at a marble factory, one of those ‘compulsory opportunities’ to buy souvenirs that so common in tours. We take the chance to use the restroom and wander through the store, past gemstones, jewelry, and carved marble of every shape and color. We stop to stare at an ornate marble fountain and a man hurries over to us. “Want to buy it?” he asks.

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A marble statue, as always, available for sale.

An Introduction to Vietnam

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Students pose in front of a communism monument in the shadow of a Pepsi advertisement.

We’re on to Vietnam, where we’ll spend the next three weeks traveling. Since these posts are retrospective (we were there in April) and Vietnam is a country that gets mixed reviews when it comes to tourism, I wanted to start with this post outlining our overall experience in the country. Here are five impressions we got as first-timers in the country.

It was super-affordable

Excluding the flights into/out of Vietnam, we spent $600 USD a week, or $300 a week per person. While there are South American countries that price similarly, the difference here is we were living a step above the standard backpacker lifestyle: we flew between all our destinations (three flights), we rarely ate at street food vendors, we went to a Starbucks-like coffee shop almost every day, and we paid for two tour packages and a cooking class. We were more like we were upper-middle class tourists here than backpackers.

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We flew everywhere in Vietnam. In some cases, flights were cheaper than the advertised bus and train fares!

You are an outsider

This is the feeling we struggled with most, and I suspect it’s the feeling that leads many backpackers to leave Vietnam with a negative opinion. You are an outsider in Vietnam and very rarely are you invited in. One reason is the language barrier; for people whose native language is English, Vietnamese is hard. In our three weeks we picked up only a couple of phrases, mostly to order coffee and thank people. Since language is often how we connect with people, it’s hard to move from outsider to insider, even for a backpacker.

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Stoytcho walks through a crowded market.

The second, more insurmountable reason for this is that Vietnam has suffered a lot under actions of the West. Vietnam was as a staging ground for a proxy Cold War only a few decades ago, with the U.S. bombing the country while the rest of the Western powers looked on. Before that it was a French colony, where heavy-handed tactics were used to keep the Vietnamese in check. While the Vietnamese claim they hold no grudges, it’s in their rhetoric to say they won their independence and autonomy on their own. This means the Vietnamese people aren’t going to glare at you on the street, but they don’t have a reason to do you any favors. Or, as we found out when we asked a guide about the price of something in the market, “For you, it would cost about this much.”

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The market where we learned prices were different for us and locals. It’s not a good feeling.

The tourism dollar comes at all costs

In Vietnam, the primary goal of tourism is wealth transfer from foreigners to locals. This leads to three problems: a lack of budget backpacker options, some shady dealings, and environmental damage. Vietnam doesn’t offer much in the way of super-cheap backpacker options because that doesn’t facilitate as much wealth transfer; we lived as middle-class tourists because we couldn’t find any backpacker options when it came to tours, food, and accommodation. There are hostels, but their minimum price is higher than in South America because they know that anyone who can afford to get here can afford to pay a little more for that bed. Tours start around $40 USD because the agencies know you can pay. This is why people have such different opinions after visiting Vietnam: those looking to travel middle class find a fantastic deal, but those looking to travel as backpackers wonder whether they’re being cheated.

There’s also a distinct goal of getting as much money from you as possible; some people are outright dishonest and lie to you, but more often it’s subtle omissions of information or referrals to friends. Things like “Oh, we forgot to mention that the all-inclusive resort doesn’t include drinks and you’re not allowed to bring your own,” or “you shouldn’t go with this tour agent, go to the one down the street (who I happen to be related to).” We took any info we got with a grain of salt and always looked for second opinions. And when it comes to providing good tourism, the goal is to again maximize that dollar. I cringed when I saw our tour guide feeding monkeys so they would come closer to us, and sighed over the massive environmental damage in Ha Long Bay. Like so many other developing nations, the Vietnamese know what cultural treasures their country holds but they’ve decided the tourism dollar is worth more*.

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A monkey looks up at us, expecting more food from our guide.

The Vietnamese culture is amazing and unique

Even with the above issues, there’s no place like Vietnam. The food is like nothing else, a fusion of Asian and French cuisine that’s had centuries to become sublime. There’s pho, banh mi, fresh spring rolls, and a hundred other amazing dishes that haven’t yet made it out to the rest of the world. And there’s a plethora of healthy, fresh vegetables at every meal, so you’re getting good nutrition. Simultaneously, the Vietnamese celebrate and preserve their culture in temples, museums, and open-air displays. And it’s a culture that you can’t find anywhere else.

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A dish from our first night (in Ho Chi Minh City). It’s fresh veggies, rice noodles, and fried tofu with fish sauce and citrus juice for dipping, and it was delicious.

The future looks bright

The Vietnamese are excited about the leaps their country has made in economic wealth in the past decade and they’re optimistic for the future. Cities seem to be under construction everywhere you turn, everyone’s starting a business, and people talk about the future with smiles rather than frowns. In rural areas, opinions seem more mixed—the residents here look at the growing wealth in cities and fear being left behind. We also have a biased sample – we can only talk to English speakers, and their economic prospects are much better than people who don’t speak English. But it’s invigorating and exciting to see people talk about their country with such pride, love, and excitement, and to see them look forward to the future.

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Kids play in an open-air square in Hanoi. Optimism for the future runs high among the people we spoke to (in English).

*Note: While it feels bad as a traveler to be seen as an outsider and walking money, I find it hard to begrudge the Vietnamese for their behavior. They’re responding to blooming tourism after decades of hardship in the most human way possible: let’s make money and create better lives for ourselves, our families, and our friends. You can’t fault them for that, or for feeling no particular affinity of friendship toward visitors from the Western world that created many of their hardships in the first place.

Cusco and the dangers of tourism

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A local girl fights to bring a lamb over for a tourist photo. The streets of Cusco are lined with women and girls who pose for photos in traditional costume with their animals for money.

During our first taxi ride in Cusco, we asked the driver what drove the city’s economy. “Tourism,” was his first and definite answer. “Are there any other things?” we asked out of curiosity. “Mmm…” There was a long pause before he answered, “Culture. We have culture.” I didn’t have the heart to tell him that culture probably also fell under the category of tourism.

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A guide explains the construction of the Saqsaywaman ruins to his tour group. The primary source of income for most people in Cusco seems to be tourism.

One of the dangers of tourism is that when it’s the main economic driver bringing money into your city*, it needs to somehow employ everyone. Yes, there are the people who keep the city running in the day to day, but all of the best-paying jobs are tourism related: hotel staff, tour agents, travel guides, shopkeepers selling souvenirs. And when those jobs are saturated, people find other ways to take part in the tourism economy. There are the llama ladies on the streets of Cusco, dressed in traditional attire and toting their pet llamas. They’ll invite you to take a picture and then demand payment. There are the wandering art sellers, toting their portfolios and approaching tourists, asking them to buy a piece and support their attendance at an art school. And there are the folks dressed as Incan warriors hanging out along Calle Hatumrumiyoc, “guarding” the stone wall here that was once part of an Incan palace and insisting on payment for photos.

The logic is simple. Tourists have money, and they’ll pay me. And doing this pays better than another job I can get.

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A vendor poses with his wares at one of the archaeological sites near Cuscuo. I paid him $1.25 USD for this photo. He will likely make more money selling souvenirs to tourists than as a farmer or local market vendor.

In the high season, there are plenty of tourists around and things are probably pretty good. But in the low season, the people here get more desperate. Sweet invitations turned into shouts and frowns when we declined to take photos of some of the llama ladies. We were offered tours and massages from about twenty different people a day. Art vendors practically begged us to buy something. Again, the logic was simple: times are hard. You have money. You can (and should) give some to me.

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Slow day: in the low season, fewer people come to Cusco and there’s less tourism money to go around. The vendors, tour sellers, and costumed women get more desperate.

And while that logic might be simple, it can make visiting Cusco as a traveller, especially one with little money, feel pretty bad. It’s the constant being sold to, the commercialization of every aspect of the place, the insistence that you must spend, spend, spend to experience and enjoy.

But what the people of Cusco are doing isn’t wrong, either. They’re simply trying to make money to survive, to save, and to take care of their families. To exclude them from the tourism economy is to deny them a better life.

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A woman walks by signs taped up by protesters.

But that exclusion soon might be coming to all of Cusco. The second major danger of tourism as your only economy is that the flow of tourists might stop entirely. This could happen because the global economy dips and fewer people have money to travel. It might also happen if the reason tourists visit disappears or gets destroyed (though this one is less likely). And it can also happen when tourists find a more convenient route to get to what they want to see that doesn’t involve you.

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Signs protesting the construction of the new international airport in Chinchero. Once completed, tourists will no longer need to fly to Lima or Cusco to reach Machu Picchu, the country’s most popular tourist destination.

When we went out earlier, we saw signs plastered around Plaza de Armas in protest and several people scrawling more with black pens on white poster paper. They were protesting the construction of an international airport in the nearby town of Chinchero. Approved in 2012, the plan would create a travel hub closer to Machu Picchu with more capacity to receive tourists. It would also enable tourists to see the ruins without having to visit Cusco at all, and the people here know that’s bad news for the biggest employer in town.

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A man stands at the edge of an Andean vista outside of Cusco. How the city would change from a sudden drop in tourism remains unknown.


Footnotes:

*Frustratingly, I couldn’t find much hard data on the size of Cusco’s tourism industry (in dollars or empoyment).

According to Wikipedia, Cusco’s tourism industry was worth $2.47 billion USD in 2009. Considering that the Cusco region (not just the city) accounted for 4.4% of Peru’s GDP, we can use Peru’s GDP of around $190 billion to figure out that Cusco’s region accounted for $8.4 billion. After this we get kind of stuck, since we’re not sure how much Cusco the city accounts for GDP in the region, but let’s say 50% because it has about 1/3 of the region’s population and as a city it’s going to have a pretty big economic footprint. So that means Cusco the city has a GDP of $4.2 billion.

Assuming tourism hasn’t drastically fallen since 2009 (according to various sources, it’s only increasing), then tourism accounts for at least $2.47 billion of Cusco’s $4.2 billion GDP, meaning it makes up 59% of the city’s GDP. While that doesn’t equate to employment, that does suggest there are a lot of incomes in Cusco that are dependent on tourism.

The full cost of visiting Machu Picchu

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The ruins of Machu Picchu, the dream destination of many

Machu Picchu is a dream destination, once-in-a-lifetime visit for many people. The reconstructed remains of this Incan Citadel see over one million visitors each year, and it’s a place of amazing beauty. But when we visited as two backpackers, we were shocked at how much the trip cost. So we’ve put together a breakdown of the cost per person below as an estimate for future travelers. There are two categories: cheap (you’ll be staying in hostels, dining at cheap local eateries, and all around paying time/comfort instead of money) and comfortable (you’ll be staying at 3-star hotels, dining at trendier restaurants, and paying to walk/hike less whenever possible). Note that we use US dollars and assume you’re visiting directly from the U.S., but you can easily put your own numbers here to get a final tally from your country of origin and then convert to your local currency.

Breakdown:

The flight to Cusco

$580 (cheap) and $655 (comfortable). While $500 was the cheapest rate I found for the next month, it was only available flying through DFW. The mean price for flying out of Dallas, New York City, Boston, Los Angeles, and San Francisco was around $580. It will also be more expensive if you’re not flying from one of the major airport hubs.

Flights to Cusco depart only in the mornings (the region’s weather makes it hard for flights to land in the afternoon), so you’re probably going to spend the night sleeping in Lima’s international airport. If you want to be comfortable, you’ll have to spring for a room and some food, which I’ve estimated at $75 over the ‘cheap’ price for a total of $655.

The stay in Cusco

$30 (cheap) and $250 (comfortable). Unless you’ve booked a tour to Machu Picchu or are really packing your schedule, you’re probably going to stay a night in Cusco after landing and a second night after returning from Machu Picchu. On the cheap side, you can get a cheap hostel bed for as low as $5 and eat $3-$4 meals with the locals at Mercado San Pedro. For those who want comfort, expect to pay around $75 for a hotel room and $50 for three meals at nicer restaurants. Double each of those for your two nights in Cusco.

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A view of Cusco’s tourist area, Plaza de Armas

Getting to/from Aguas Calientes

$30 (cheap) and $150+ (comfortable). You’re either paying a lot of time or money here. For the cheap option, you take a $20 collectivo from Cusco to Hidroelectrica, a 5+ hour ride through the winding Andes. Then you hike ~3 hours (13 km) to Aguas Calientes; on the way back you do the same hike, but we found the collectivo was only $10 back to Cusco. The total time paid for this trip is around 30 hours.

On the other hand, taking the comfortable option with the whopping $150 price tag cuts travel time to a total of 5-6 hours. The cheapest round-trip train tickets run for around $136 (in low season) round-trip. In the low season, the train doesn’t reach Cusco (only Ollantaytambo), so you’ll also shell out ~$14 for a bus or shared car from and to Cusco. You could also take the train only one way, but be warned that you’ll be paying $75 for that one-way train ticket*.

A night in Aguas Calientes

$50 (cheap) and $200+ (comfortable). To get those much-coveted views of Machu Picchu in the morning, you’ll have to spend the night in Aguas Calientes, where prices are 1.5-3x those in Cusco. $30 will get you a cheap place to stay and $20 should get you three meals. If you insist on the comforts of having working hot water, clean accommodations, and soundproof rooms so you can fall asleep and get up early, plan to spend $150 for your room, and $50 for three meals at the more upscale restaurants.

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Aguas Calientes, the closest town to Machu Picchu, is more expensive than Cusco

Machu Picchu entrance fee

$47 (minimal) and $62 (with Huayna Picchu or Machu Mountain). The base price of an adult foreigner ticket directly from the offices in Cusco or Aguas Calientes is $47 a person. If you want to hike Huayna Picchu or Machu Mountain, expect to pay $15 more for that privilege and plan to buy your tickets far in advance—these extras sell out much sooner than standard tickets, even in the low season.

Getting to/from Machu Picchu

Free (cheap) or $40 (comfortable). The question here is whether you want to do a 1+ hour, 1 km near-vertical ascent/descent on the stairs to Machu Picchu. This is after the 2 km walk from Aguas Calientes in the morning. If you don’t, your best option is to book the $40 ticket for the bus up and down, which should be done at least a day in advance (the bus kiosk in Cusco isn’t open early in the mornings). Be warned that people line up early (earlier than 5:00 am) for the first buses up, so be prepared to wait in a long line in town. I believe there’s also an option to buy a one-way ticket down from Machu Picchu, which costs only $15; inquire at the bus kiosk in Aguas Calientes or in Cusco.

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Stairs on the hike up to Machu Picchu should you not opt for the bus ride.

Guide

Free (cheap) or $25 (comfortable). There are no informational signs around Machu Picchu’s ruins, so expect to come armed with your own knowledge in the form of downloaded website pages or a book, or you’ll have to pay for a guide. You can get a guide for cheaper than $25, but you’ll be in a larger group and the tour may only last an hour.

The total cost to visit Machu Picchu:

$737 (cheap) and $1,382 (comfortable). Is it worth it? That’s up for you to decide. This article isn’t meant to discourage you from going, but to give you a clear idea of how much the whole to Machu Picchu trip costs. I think I would pay to see it again, but I’m still surprised at how much I paid for what I got.

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The ever-popular selfie at Machu Picchu. How much is it worth to you?

*Note: There is a cheap train (~$2-3) that goes between Cusco Machu Picchu, but it’s locals only. Foreigners are barred from using it as of 10+ years ago to ‘improve the quality of their experience’. The current astronomical prices are charged by the two private companies that run rail services to Machu Picchu. From conversations with locals, there’s disagreement over whether the government sees any of that money, and if so what they use it for.

Afterward: Why’s it so expensive, you might ask? The going hypothesis is that Peru sees tourism as a form of wealth redistribution from richer countries to their (relatively) poorer country, so they charge foreigners (especially from non-Andean countries) far more for this visit to Machu Picchu. That’s totally within their right to do, but for those of us who don’t have the money to pay these prices, it feels a lot like a “Not rich? Then you’re not welcome here” message.

Machu Picchu in Pictures

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Morning mist at the ruins of Machu Picchu

Because a picture is worth a thousand words, here is a photoessay on our visit to Machu Picchu. For those of you who want a wordier post (and some critical commentary on visiting), here’s the essay.

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Mountains obscured by mist and clouds, as viewed from the trail to the Sun Gate

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A worker removes dirt from between the stones on the trail to the Sun Gate

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Passing clouds obscure the ruins as seen from the terraces to the northwest of the main gate (former cemetary and guard quarters)

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Machu Picchu as seen from the terraces to the northwest of the main gate

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Terraces and buildings that have been reconstructed and given new thatched roofs

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A worker poses beside a wall where he has removed dirt from between the stones. If you encounter the workers, I would treat them with respect and thank them. They work hard to maintain Machu Picchu.

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A man poses for a selfie on the terraces of Machu Picchu

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A full view of the ruins from near the main entrance.Huayna Picchu (upper right) is obscured by clouds.

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Tourists pose questionably while an employee works on a nearby wall

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A woman is excited after getting her picture at the Sacred Plaza in the ruins

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Nature’s lawnmowers: llamas and alpacas are used to keep grass in check on the ruin’s terraces. They also serve as an informal petting zoo for the curious.

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A tour group waits at one of the many “bottlenecks” along the Machu Picchu ruins path. The whole path is arranged to be unidirectional and marked with signs to prevent total chaos. At some extremely narrow or famous points, tour groups get bunched up and chaos ensues anyway.

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Workers measure the impact of thousands of human feet on the ruins by measuring the height of the dirt path. This is in the Eastern Urban Sector of the ruins.

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A path leading off a cliff in the northern part of the ruins.

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A view of the Urubamba River from the terraces in the north of Machu Picchu. The thin line above the split in the river is the rail track we crossed on the hike here.

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The archetypal view of Machu Picchu.

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Narrow corridors between the buildings is a characteristic hallmark of the Eastern Urban Sector at the ruins. This area could have housed hundreds or even a thousand people during the height of the Incan Empire.

Machu Picchu

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The view from a window in the ruins of Machu Picchu

The nice part about low season is that you can waltz into the tourism center in Aguas Calientes and buy general tickets for Machu Picchu for the next day. You may not be able to get the more limited tickets to climb Huayna Piccu, but most of the time they still have the standard 152 sole (USD $46) ticket to visit the archaeological site. Likewise, while Aguas Calientes might be a tourist trap, the actual tourism office here is wonderfully helpful free of charge. After purchasing our tickets to Machu Picchu yesterday, we stopped by to ask how to get back to Cusco if we couldn’t afford the train. They told us we could walk back along the train tracks to Hidroelectrica and take a van from there. “The last van leaves around 3:00 pm,” they said.

Next came the decision of whether we wanted to take the bus up to the ruins. The first one left at 6:00 am, but when we asked about how much it cost, we found out it would be $35 per person for the 20-minute ride to the top. Uh, no thanks.

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The only consolation I have regarding Aguas Calientes’ steep prices is that they made these adorable frog trash cans, which are free to enjoy.

Our 6:30 am start the next day was early for us, but when we left our hotel there were already more than a hundred people lined up on the sidewalk, waiting to take the buses up. We started out too late to beat them to the top (and have Machu Picchu to ourselves), but hopefully we’d still make it before the ruins got too busy. We hiked out of Aguas and took the left fork in the road for Machu Picchu. The guards at the suspension bridge there checked our tickets for the ruin, along with our passports, then waved us on. Another group wasn’t so lucky—one of them had forgotten their passport, and we watched him sprint off back toward Aguas Calientes.

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The map of the trail up (green). I like how they actually drew all of the squiggles in the trail instead of doing the lazy thing and drawing a straight line up.

Now it was time for the pain before the gain. You’ve seen the pictures of Machu Picchu in the National Geographic or online, high in the mountains and shrouded in mist. It’s mysterious. It’s gorgeous. And it looks like this because it actually is on the mountain. And the hike up is just that—up, up more than a thousand stone steps. Some are wide and easy to traverse. Some are narrow and your foot won’t fully fit, so you step diagonally and cautiously. Some are unevenly spaced. And some are wedged into walls so you’re climbing them like you’re in some kind of real-life video game. We raced to the top stopping only a couple of times and passing more than a dozen other groups. We would pay for this later, but for now we’re going for gold.

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Steps along the trail. Cue up some video game music from either Super Mario or Ico.

We knew when we were near the top because suddenly little old ladies selling water and premade lunches appeared, sitting on the side of their trail and calling out their wares. A few steps later, we were out into the pavement in front of Machu Picchu’s entrance, which was already thronged with tourists. We ducked between tour groups gathering their members and got to the entry turnstyles, presented our ticket and passport yet again, and then stumbled through into the open dirt path. Made it!

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Our first view of Machu Picchu

We had only four hours at the ruins if we wanted to catch a bus back to Cusco from Hidroelectrica. There weren’t too many tourists yet, so we sprinted around the compound to see everything we wanted. First on our list was the Sun Gate (the end of the Inca Trail), but we scrapped that when we found out it took two hours to hike there and back. But we still walked some of the trail in that direction, to get a feel for what the Inca Trail would have been like. The conclusion was rocky and knobbly and full of people with trekking poles and some egos. As we passed one hiking group from the Inca Trail, one guy snarkily asked us if we had enjoyed our train ride here. “We hiked the Salkantay,” Stoytcho said, and neither of us bothered to stop. As we left them behind, I heard their guide say, “That trail is harder than ours. Much harder.”

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Mountains in the morning mist along the route to the Sun Gate

Exploring the rest of Machu Picchu’s ruins was more leisurely, as we climbed up to the northwest part of the compound, then walked down along the north edge to the east side. We visited what looked like dwellings, storehouses, meeting grounds, and temples, all painstakingly reconstructed from the ruins over the past century. I say “looked like” because I couldn’t actually tell you much about the ruins: there are only a handful of informational signposts in the ruins, so learning anything about them requires prior study or a guide. (And no, we couldn’t get signal for Wikipedia up on the mountain.)

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The only sign I remember seeing in the ruins. it proclaims that this was a “ceremonial rock”. Ok.

So instead of studying the ruins, we studied the tourists visiting them. What had started as a smattering of people when we arrived had turned into a torrent by late morning. They posed for pictures, took selfies, and were overall insanely excited to be here. We’ve been on the road for a few months now, and Machu Picchu is just one destination of many for us. But for some of these people, coming here is a lifelong dream and it shows.

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A man takes a selfie

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These women took photos of everything while grinning madly; it was probably their lifelong dream to come here.

And despite the dearth of information on the ruins, it’s clear they’re deeply loved by the staff that cares for them. We encountered more than twenty khaki-clad workers in our visit, doing everything from removing plants and dirt from between the stones to measuring the impact of thousands of human footsteps on the stability of the ruins. From the first moment in the morning to the end of the day, these men and women work hard to preserve Machu Picchu in the face of more than a million tourists each year*. And through chatting with them, we learned it’s definitely not for the money; one worker was stunned and amused to find out how much foreigners paid for admission compared to how much he made working there. “We see very little of that money,” he told us.

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Workers measure the impact of tourist footsteps/walking in the ruins.

So is Machu Picchu worth all of this? The expensive fuss to get here, the painfully touristic atmosphere of Aguas Calientes, the long hike through and up mountains to get here? It could be reviled as the cash cow of the Peruvian government and the local area, or admired as the dream destination of so many and the labor of love for those that work to preserve it. To know if it’s worth it, take a look and decide for yourself.

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The archetypal Machu Picchu view, available to everyone who visits.

*Note: that 2014 linked article stated that guides would become a requirement, but when we visited (January 2017), this was still not in effect. There were some concerted efforts to move people more quickly through bottleneck points though.