Machu Picchu is one of those places on earth, along with the Pyramids, Taj Mahal, and the Eiffel Tower that you see a lot of photos of. Its a place burned into our heads as distant, remote, exotic, adventurous. Its probably on most peoples bucket list of places to see. Which makes sense when you see the industry built up around the area.
There are several way to get to Machu Picchu. You can hike the “classic” Inca trail, a four day walk from Ollantaytambo through the high jungle. There are a few other trekking routes that aren’t as popular as well, that incorporate zip lining and rafting or something. Or you can be lazy and take a 90 minute train ride. Deciding to skip the very crowded inca trail, we picked the train ride.
The ride was beautiful. You follow a canyon past high snowcapped mountains and lowland farms, and a few old Inca ruins too.
You’ll notice it looks like we are right in the engine room of this train. When we got on, the ticket guy smiled and said “Oh you have special seats”. Peruvians have a sense of humor, so I took this as maybe slight sarcasm, but it turned out on the train we were on, we had front facing seats, right in the first car. So we got a great view the whole time! Very fortunate.
The train takes you to Aguas Calientes, a small town built hastily from concrete and cheap materials, filled only with tourists and Peruvian workers either building more hotels and restaurants, or working in them. The only reason to go here is for the ruins, and most recommend not even staying in town and just doing a day trip from Cusco or Ollantaytambo. I think if you can stomach the overzealous tourist industry in town, it’s worthwhile to stay a night or two, just so you don’t have to rush the experience. It really is a place you only come to once, so why rush? Of course, it’s easy to say that NOW, but in the moment we got a little sick of the street touts begging you to go into restaurants or buy crappy souvenirs. The worst part was a complete lack of hospitality or really caring in general. Tourists only come once. Why bother? The money will always come in, no matter what. Be prepared for that attitude everywhere in this town.
But no need to dwell on the town. We came for Machu Picchu. We bought our bus tickets up to the ruins and got up there within a half hour. (Transport costs just to get from Ollantaytambo to Aguas Calientes, and Aguas Calientes to the ruins, cost as much as a flight from Lima to Cuzco….just for perspective)
We were greeted with giant crowds all getting the “shot” of the ruin. It was chaos. It kinda sucked. Kind of cheapened the experience I suppose.
We shoved our way through the crowds to get over the Waynapicchu, the hulking mountain you always see behind the ruins. We had tickets to go hike up it, which are thankfully capped at 400 per day, 200 at 7:00 and 200 at 10:00. We were in the later group, and once the gate opened, we were off, thankfully with a lot less crowds than the rest of the ruins.
We let the jack rabbit hikers go ahead of us, and soon enough, we were near the end of train of people going up, and were pretty much left alone. After getting to the top, we hung out on some old walls and enjoyed the big cliff drops and views high above the ruins.
It paid to be patient and just hang out a bit. By the end of it, it was 1PM, and we were the second to last ground to sign out. We really enjoyed the climb and getting away from the crowds, and getting an interesting perspective of the ruins.
We decided to take a break, and went to get some food and cold beverages. From 10am to 2pm is the peak time of people visiting the ruins. This is when most people from Cusco come for a day trip. So the line to get on the bus was horrendous, but the line for cold drinks was lite and quick. After eating and cooling off, the crowds were a lot lighter, so we went back in to really explore the ruins a bit more, hopefully without getting crowded out.
From 2pm onward, it was us and maybe 30 other people. Fantastic. The light got good, it wasn’t as hot, really made things all turn out okay. By the end, I think we were happy and felt the trip here was worthwhile after all.
We rode the bus down from Machu Picchu with very mixed feelings on the day. It truly is a one of a kind area to explore and ponder. The Inca had a flair for the dramatic, and Machu Picchu is their crowning achievement. There is no reason for this thing to be here, except that they wanted it to be, and they made it happen. I admire that. We were glad we came, but glad to be leaving. There was still so much country to see.