Problems with INC and Monopolistic Train Travel

November 5th, 2006

From Cusco we planned to take the bus to Pisaq, where we would stay one night and wake up early to see the market before hundreds of old large red day-trippers arrive. From there we would see the rest of the Sacred Valley and arrive in Ollantaytambo, the last town on the road to Machu Picchu from which The Great Peruvian Con game begins, where a monopolistic train company, PeruRail, takes you the rest of the way in low-quality trains for a high price. But all did not go according to plan.

First, the INC (Instituto Nacional de Cultura). We arrived after eating breakfast to the INC’s biggest office and passed through the main gate to the room in which you buy tickets for Machu Picchu. We wanted to buy the tickets here as we would arrive by train to Aguas Calientes, next to Machu Picchu, at night then wake early the next morning, perhaps before the ticket office there is open, and climb to Machu Picchu. Many tourists buy their tickets from here every day, this is the same place that tour agencies come to buy the tickets for people on organised tours.
However, today they were not interested. The guy at the desk stared at us, with a look of annoyance, stood up, ushered us out of the office, locked the door behind us and said, “You know what, you can buy it from Aguas Calientes. Our printing system isn’t working, buy it from there”. He then walked off.
Perhaps the INC has decided it has ripped-off tourists enough and doesn’t want our money? Who knows.

This being Cusco, there are plenty of other people who would love to cheat us out of money, PeruRail is the one to whom we awarded this honour. PeruRail runs a host of monopolist services relating to Machu Picchu. Owned by Orient-Express, they somehow ($?) got permission to build a very expensive and the only hotel on the Inca’s sacred Machu Picchu mountain, along with the only restaurant, a highly priced bus ride to the top, and a monopoly train route to the whole place.
The ticket price for the short hour-long journey from Ollantaytambo to Aguas Calientes is about S./130 or $41. Locals pay $3. This is the price for the cheapest available train. The most expensive costs $499 or S./1600. You can buy a plane ticket to Rio for that. The official line is that tourists paying the higher fee receive a higher quality (hour-long) trip. If this is true then I can only assume that in the Peruvian-only carriages the guards give out beatings and spit on people.

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