Machu Picchu is actually the only reason we’re in South America and Mark’s been excited to see it for a long time, so it seemed a good enough excuse to go. In fact a large percentage people who visit Peru don’t even stick around for anything else, they just fly in and either trek up or take the train to get their selfies with a llama. For our visit we opted for the more expensive and much less strenuous two day, one night, train and bus combination. It took a painful chunk of my remaining budget, but we both have leg injuries and I struggle to walk up hills at this altitude, so never mind trekking for 5 days.
We were picked up from our hostel in Cusco on Friday morning and guided to a minibus nearby which would take us over to Ollantaytambo to catch the train. The journey took just under 2 hours and unfortunately we were stuck with the back seats, so there were uncomfortable shakes and bumps the whole way. Thankfully the train was much more comfortable and we were able to relax with free drinks and a beautiful view of the mountains and river on the way.
When we arrived in Aguas Callientes, which is the closest town to Machu Picchu, we dropped off our bags in our hostel and decided to go out and explore the area. The town seems like it’s just full of restaurants serving really weird mixes of cuisines, which isn’t surprising considering just how many tourists pass through daily. We wandered around for a few hours taking photos, then took a stroll through the market to pick up a couple of souvenirs.
There weren’t any self-catering facilities at our hostel, so we chose to eat dinner at an affordable place which had both vegetarian options and Mark’s usual meal choice of burgers. The restaurant actually had guinea pig or alpaca pizzas, which at some point in the past I might have tried but now I just find depressing. My days of eating adorable animals for the novelty of it are coming to an end.
As we were heading up to Machu Picchu in the early hours of the morning, we decided to head to bed early so we weren’t zombies on the day. It wasn’t the most pleasant hostel experience I’ve had, as there was a cheap smelling air freshener spraying every five minutes in the bathroom, mixed with the smell of a guy who opted to sleep fully clothed in an outfit which smelled like he’d just done a three day trek in. When 4am came around, I was pretty glad to get out of there. Once free of the smelly dorm we wolfed down some cereal and smuggled some items from the breakfast buffet for lunch before heading out to the bus.
It was in the massive queue for the buses that we had an irritating experience with some people who jumped in front of us. I’m not one to keep quiet when someone rudely adds to the 450 people in front of me, but they got really offended that we even cared and started calling us babies and asking what country we were from. We ignored them after that, though they did high five each other when they thought they were getting on a bus before ours. Thankfully we were able to strip away their joy when we were the last two to get on the same bus and we even had to sit right by them all. Considering they called us babies, it’s odd they thought it was the adult thing to do to try to crush our legs with their seats, but I was too amused by the whole thing to care.
We finally arrived at Machu Picchu at 6am and waited for our tour guide to wave her selfie stick flag in the air. A couple of members in our tour group didn’t show up, so it wasn’t until 6:40am that we actually went through the gates. Unfortunately we didn’t get to experience any sort of sunrise that morning due to the mountains being surrounded by white clouds in every direction. We were guided around the citadel with no idea that we were missing the classic photo spots, or what was even looming behind the clouds. This didn’t help my fear of heights either, allowing my imagination to let me believe anyone near an edge was risking falling to their deaths any minute. It did help me to focus on the tour guide though, which meant I learned quite a bit as we went around.
Our guide was lovely and funny, keeping everyone engaged and telling us to not lose hope as she knew it would clear up by 11am. She was right too and when the clouds cleared once our tour was complete I was bowled over by just how amazing the view was around us. We just stood for ages, taking in the view and I honestly thought I could cry at how beautiful I found it. It’s also possible I wanted to cry because of how high up I now knew we were too.
The system at Machu Picchu is just one-way, but you’re allowed to re-enter if you loop within your allotted time. Our second loop around the citadel was completely different to the first, giving us two experiences in one day. Having missed the classic photo spot on the first loop, we just stood in awe for a while and waited for the clouds to move around for a sunny photograph.
We met llamas, spotted chinchillas, stared at the mountains and took hundreds more photographs, some purposely in the same position as the first time to compare later on. The contrast was amazing and being able to experience it so differently within a few hours was perfect. We actually spent around 6-7 hours there in total, making the most of the day and exploring every corner of the ruins.
That evening we were due to head back, but we stopped for dinner back in Aguas Calientes and treated ourselves to a three-course meal. It was the perfect end to an excellent day and after that the four hours it took to get back to Cusco didn’t seem so bad.