Sunday, April 28, 2019

Discovering Machu Picchu

Trip date: January 2019

Is there anything more exciting than standing in front of one of your bucket list sites? I have been to, and seen a lot of this fabulous world, but have very few things I'd consider on a bucket list; Machu Picchu is one of those few things.

Although most of Peru is very inexpensive, going to Machu Picchu is not. We started our day with an early morning taxi from our hotel to Ollantaytambo where we caught our Perurail train. The train goes from Urubamba station, where we were staying, but the cost was significantly more, and the schedule wasn't as good for us. Our trip out was $70USD and our return was $179USD. We had purchased our tickets to Machu Picchu months in advance ($70USD each) and had opted to spend the afternoon there (entrance rules have changed recently and you either purchase a 1/2 day morning or afternoon now).

The train ride to Aguas Calientes on the Vista Dome train is beautiful, but especially if you are sitting on the left side of the train (from the way the train is traveling), where you can see the river, mountains, small villages, and parts of the Inca Trail (the hiking trail for those making the pilgrimage by foot). Food/beverage service is extremely basic so we would have been smart to bring a snack. Luckily it was only about a 90 minute trip.

Aguas Calientes is only accessible by train and is the only way to Machu Picchu if you aren't hiking the Inca Trail. Most people choose to stay overnight here, but with nothing except souvenir shops and tourists restaurants, we decided to take the train back home that evening (and very happy with that choice as you'll read below).

Once in town there are two queues you need to get through. The first is for your bus ticket up the mountain. Everyone needs their passport to buy the bus ticket ($25USD round trip) and the line is actually up a side street, not the one pictured above. When we asked people in the main line if it was for the bus or the tickets most didn't know. I don't believe in standing in a line for no reason!

The 2nd queue is to board the bus for the drive up. It looks long but the buses come one-after-the-other so it moves quick. Optionally, there is a trail if you want to walk up from the town.

We had time before our afternoon entry so we grabbed a quick bite, and a pisco sour, at one of the tourist restaurants before boarding the bus. The ride up is a bit white knuckle, lots of switchbacks and sheer cliffs. And as we peered down onto Aguas Calientes, now just a spec below, we realized how high up we were too!

The entrance was easy and the trail well marked. There were a lot of people there but it didn't feel crushing. As we walked up the path though we again all felt the effects of the altitude. I popped some coca leaves in my mouth thanks to our hotel which provided them for free.

If you follow the Circuit 1 trail up and around to the left after you enter, you automatically start your visit with the famous view of the mountain and the ruins. Even with all the tourists taking photos, it is incredibly beautiful and awe inspiring. Here we were, standing at 7,970 feet elevation, peering out at a city built around 1450.

The city was then abandoned for unknown reasons approximately 80 years later and
remained empty until 1911 when explorer Hiram Bingham discovered it and had it excavated.

For almost 400 years, this city was hidden in plain site!

Not long after we arrived we noticed a large procession of people making their way up the trail. Some were dressed in the traditional brightly hued costumes of the village, but most were dressed in business attire, including women wearing high heels!

It was another parade celebrating the town's mayor like we had seen in Urubamba and Pisac! And they had all walked up from Aguas Calientes! Our timing was incredible!

There's a lot to learn about the Incas and Machu Picchu so most people choose to hire a guide, you can get one right at the entrance. We had heard very mixed reviews about the guides, and hadn't had the best luck when hiring in the past, so Thibault ended up buying a very good self-guided book in town while we waited for our bus.

The book was perfect for us! We followed the main route through the entire ruins with Thibault reading to us what each area was.

This entire city was built without iron tools or using wheels, and the stones were cut to fit together without the use of mortar.

There are about 150 buildings including homes, baths, guard houses, temples, and even this "Mirrors of Water" which allowed the Incas to view the stars reflecting in the small water pools.

The Incas also built about 600 terraces for agriculture. Those are some steep hills to farm on!

We spent about 3 hours exploring this wonder, it's incredibly beautiful as are the surrounding mountains. And then it started to rain. Like torrential buckets of rain! I was soaked through before I could even get my rain jacket out of my backpack.

Luckily we were near the end of the trail when this happened. We made a hasty retreat to the entrance only to find that there were no buses and the queue of people waiting for the ride down was long! The mayor and his entourage passed us on their walk back down the mountain! Peruvians are tough stock I'll say.

We stood in the pouring rain for about 30 minutes waiting for the buses to come up the hill. Everyone was completely soaked. When we got back to Aguas Calientes we had a couple of hours before our train left so we decided to warm up at a pizza place because it had a wood fire grill in the center of the dining room. We all stood around it like we were camping!

When we checked in for our train they told us we were the only passengers and led us to the platform. I thought we misunderstood and they meant we were the only passengers in that particular car. Nope. The 4 of us had a private train home to Urubamba!

Not only that, but our ticket included a 3-course meal with wine! We were definitely not dressed for this, but who was going to complain? haha!

They started us at the bar with a private demonstration on how to make a pisco sour. The bartender was great and gave us all a recipe card as well.

Besides the gorgeous dining room, the train also had a wood and glass observation room and a very elegant bar car. We drank our pisco sours in the observation room and then moved to the bar car for a martini. We were having an absolute ball!

Dinner and desert were fantastic as was our service. This was an awesome surprise to the end of an already awesome day!

We had a driver waiting for us when we pulled into the train station at about 10pm. It had been a very long, very amazing, and at ~ $350USD each, a very expensive day! And completely worth it!

Bucket list √

All photos from Machu Picchu here.

Other posts from this trip:
24 Hours Miami
Lima City of Kings
Welcome to the Jungle
Piranhas and Pink Dolphins
Ringing in 2019 in the Amazon
The Sacred Valley of the Incas
Dining at 11700 Feet
Cusco Daytrip
Return to Lima

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