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Published: December 20th 2013
One of the places we had looked forward to seeing, and one of our main reasons to returning to Peru a second time, is Machu Picchu. Although trashed by Madventures who we like a lot, we still wanted to see the most known Inca ruins of them all. As our travels are not that planned we decided to skip the Inca Trail option which you need to book several months in advance. Instead we decided to just take the train to Aguas Calientes (the closest town to Machu Picchu), stay the night there and visit the ruins the following morning.
Already when we started to look at train tickets we realized that it would be an expensive trip. The tickets were starting at 60 US$ and going all the way to 350 US$. As there are no busses running to Machu Picchu, Perurail is pricing the tickets very expensively for tourists. There was also an option to take a bus to Ollantaytambo in the Sacred Valley, and take the train from there, this reduces the ticket price to about 50 US$. As Ollantaytambo also sounded like an interesting town with Inca ruins, we decided to take a bus there in
the morning and the train from there onward to Aguas Calientes in the afternoon.
When we went searching for the bus to Ollantaytambo in the morning we could only find a lot of combis trying to lure us in. We found a big one just about to leave, so we decided to take it even though combis are generally more dangerous than busses. The ride was surprisingly smooth, for once the driver didn’t speed, and we arrived safe and sound to the cute town of Ollantaytambo were we had lunch. In the end we didn’t go to the Inca ruins as they were only accessible with a combination ticket that included a lot of other sights (and is quite expensive), instead we shopped around at the market place and went for some coffee.
The train ride from Ollantaytambo to Aguas Calientes is in itself a sight. It goes through the most beautiful part of the Sacred Valley with high peaks on both sides of the rail. Especially the beginning of the trail was spectacular, once we got closer to Aguas Calientes there started to be more and more vegetation in the way of the mountains. The train had
windows also in the roof in order for the passengers to be able to see the mountains; their slopes were so steep that it wouldn’t have been possible to see them otherwise.
Aguas Calientes in itself wasn’t that spectacular. It was all about the tourists, with hostels, restaurants and people selling tourist stuff all over the town. After buying tickets to Machu Picchu we had some dinner, and then went to our hostel to sleep as we had to get up at 4:30 the next morning in order to get to Machu Picchu by sunrise.
After a simple breakfast the next morning we went to find the bus to Machu Picchu. The bus tickets were overpriced, but at that time it was too late to walk as we wanted to get to Machu Picchu by sunrise. The door opened at 6 AM and we rushed in with the rest of the early birds. We spent our first hour walking through all the highlights as the ruins were still quite empty. Later in the day we walked around in the ruins some more, but at that point the day tourists had arrived, so there were people and guided groups
in the way most of the time.
The ruins are much more incredible in real life than in the pictures, this is because of the landscape that they are situated in. The ruins lies on a saddle between two mountain tops, everything (except the ruins) are covered in green cloud forest, and there are steep hills to all sides. The ruins are also more extensive in reality than in the pictures, but without the landscape they still wouldn’t have been that interesting.
In addition to Machu Picchu we had also decided to hike up to Wayna Picchu, the mountain you can see behind Machu Picchu in all the tourist pictures. There is a restricted amount of people let up to the mountain (400 in total divided in two groups) and we had booked places in the 7 AM group. The mountain top is 250 meters above the Inca city, and although Machu Picchu is at only(!) 2500 meters, the climb to the top was quite heavy. There were stairs most of the way, but at one point we had to crawl through a tunnel maybe 1 meter high. The views from the top were of course stunning, a
little before the top there were some ruins from which there was a really nice view of the city, and from the actual top there was a panoramic view of the nearby mountain tops.
As our climb had gone quite smoothly we decided to continue towards the temple of the moon that our guidebook spoke ecstatically about. This turned out to be a mistake. Not only was the path going in the forest (i.e. no magnificent views), it was much longer than we thought and it went downwards along steep stairs. When we finally arrived to the ruins our legs were shaking from exhaustion. The ruins turned out to be nothing out of the ordinary; they were not at all comparable with Machu Picchu. And then we still had to climb back up to the Inca city as the temple of the Moon is situated 200 meters below them.
Once back at Machu Picchu we were completely drained of energy, so we went to the gate where we had left our other backpack for some lunch. This was perfect timing as it started to pour almost directly once we had sat down, and being at the
gate we were able to find cover from the rain. The weather in Machu Picchu had been changing a lot, from sunshine to light rain and back, and also this downpour was short and ended about at the same time as our lunch. Refreshed we went back for still one hour of sightseeing in the ruins, after that we had enough and took the bus back to Aguas Calientes. We had planned in the morning to walk back from Machu Picchu, but we were much too tired at this point to even consider it. Back in Aguas Calientes we still had some dinner before taking the train back to Cusco.
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