South America Day 56 - Machu Picchu

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South America » Peru » Cusco » Machu Picchu
March 5th 2019
Published: March 6th 2019
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Today we are going to Machu Picchu. We have to get up at 5 am for a second consecutive day, added onto a 17 hour overnight coach journey and I would be flagging, apart from the fact that the drop in altitude has rejuvenated me.

Machu Picchu isn’t cheap; train £268, hotel £73, entry £75 and bus to the entrance £37. That’s £453 for a 4 hour visit. And that doesn’t take into account the cloning of our credit card whilst purchasing the tickets.

We get to the bus queue by 5.30. It’s very busy but well organised with a constant stream of buses, so we are on our way within 10 minutes, driving the 5 mile uphill zigzag to the entrance, trying to avoid pedestrians too tight to pay $24 to be driven up a hill.

We arrive just as the site opens at 6 am. It is similarly busy but well organised, so we are in Machu Picchu 10 minutes after sunrise. It’s beautiful; the clouds are half way up the valley with the citadel poking its head above them.

A fact I didn’t know about Machu Picchu; it’s an excellent workout. We are there for 4 hours, almost all of which involves climbing up or down steep stone steps.

We start by climbing to the top for an overview. It’s not too crowded; just us, the first few busloads and several alpacas.

After taking some panoramic photos (and catching our breath) we decide to follow the Inca Bridge; it’s a trail cut into the cliff face. It’s steep and has no railings. The only safety features are a sign saying ‘beware narrow path’ and a man with a broom who chases the alpacas away so they don’t push people over the edge.

The alpacas are unhappy at being kept away and the entrance to the bridge is packed with a dozen attempting to break in. Passing them is a mission. The old man abandons me and a random strangers acts as my llama guard to the trailhead.

Next, the old man sets off up another trail. I point out that the main site is filling up at the rate of one bus load every 4 minutes so we should visit there first. He is not persuaded, so we split up and I descend to the citadel. The clouds have lifted and the sun is out, so it’s a lovely day for wandering around the ancient site marvelling in its construction and the beauty of the surroundings and taking hundreds of photos.

Eventually the old man reappears and we visit the last few sites together; the Ceremonial Baths, the Temple of the 3 Doorways, the Sacred Plaza and the Temple of the Condor (there are no condors there, only a viscacha – imagine a cut & shut between a rabbit and a squirrel).

We reach the exit of the well-policed one way system. It has taken exactly 4 hours, our official time allocation.
We take the world’s most expensive bus back to town and choose a restaurant overlooking the river for brunch.

There are no trains during the day, so even with seriously dragging out brunch, we still have 4 hours to wait to return to Cusco. So we set up camp in the hotel foyer where we can keep dry and use the WiFi. Plenty have the same idea so it looks more like a refugee camp than a fancy hotel.

We were so lucky with the weather, we had a gorgeous morning at Machu Picchu but it rains incessantly all afternoon. The noise of the rain clattering on the roof joins the sound of the river roaring past.

Finally it’s time to board our train for the 90 minute journey back to Ollantaytambo. It’s much noisier than the outward journey as the engine strains to pull us uphill. After dinner, we pull into a siding and the 3 crew put on a show; one dresses as an evil spirit and performs a traditional dance while the others model alpaca wool jumpers and scarves. I wonder if they drew straws for this division of labour?

We reach Ollantaytambo station and transfer to buses for the final 2 hours of the journey. We depart in convoy, meeting traffic coming the other way in the the narrow cobbled village. Total gridlock ensues. A 12 year old policeman tries to resolve the situation but nobody’s listening.

It takes an age before we finally set off for Cusco, reaching our hotel at 9 pm for the end of our 16 hour outing. Time for a little sleep before tomorrow morning’s flight to Lima.

Additional photos below
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