The alarm went off at 4.15am. More asleep than awake we got ready and started walking in the dark, only followed by a couple of stray dogs and just a few other travellers that, like us, wanted to get to Machu Picchu by foot at dawn. The gate at the bridge opened at 5am sharp. The one hour ascending the endless steps sweating, red faced and out of breath was kind of tough, but it didn’t matter, the recompense was near.
We found Machu Picchu covered in a heavy mist, fog and clouds. We couldn’t really see anything, it was an entirely different landscape to what we had expected. A bit disorientated, and really not knowing in which direction to go, we sat down to rest for a few minutes and to have a bit of breakfast (supposedly you are not allowed to bring any food into Machu Picchu, but nobody checks) before tackling the trek to Huayna Picchu, “Young Peak” in Quechua.
Huayna Picchu is the mountain that we always see at the back of the typical Machu Picchu postcard. Only 400 people per day can get to climb it and we were between the lucky explorers that got a ticket. The hike is even more exhausting than the hike to the ruins from Aguas Calientes. The path is narrow and the stone steps are really steep, weren’t the Incas small?? As we were climbing up, the fog disappeared only for a few seconds and we got our first sight of Machu Picchu, just beautiful. But when we got to the summit, the fog finally lifted and the views were even more spectacular. We had seen it many times in documentaries and pictures, so we kind of knew what we were going to see but still, it didn’t disappoint us. We sat there for almost 1h just inhaling the calm and beauty of the place. There is also a little citadel with impossible constructions at the top of Huayna Picchu that made the engineer in us question how they were able to build their cities in such steep hills!
Back down in the main citadel, we continued exploring the ruins: the Temple of the Three Windows, the Temple of the Condor, the Ceremonial Baths, the residential houses, the terraces, the Inca bridge… Machu Picchu, which means “old peak” in Quechua, is often referred as “The lost city of the Incas”. It was an almost impossible city to construct, in between steep mountains, at the doors of the jungle, on an incredible inclined terrain and almost reaching the sky. It is believed that the city was built around 1400 and that is was abandoned about 100 years later. But it wasn’t discovered until 1911, when Hiram Bingham came across with Machu Picchu when he was looking for Vilcabamba, the last Inca refuge during the Spanish conquest. There is a bit of controversy around what the site was for the Incas: a sacred religious site? a country resort for elite Incas? the traditional birthplace of the Incan “Virgins of the Suns”? a prison? These are some of the theories proposed by different archaeologist and scholars, but non of them are proved.
Knackered and starving after almost 10h walking up and down we said goodbye to Machu Picchu and went back to Aguas Calientes, where we stuffed ourselves before collapsing in bed. Aguas Calientes is just a small town at the bottom of the valley next to Mapi, as the locals call it. Leaving aside all the touristy restaurants, the endless pizzerias and the hundreds of souvenirs shops the town is very scenic. The charm of Aguas Calientes is in the spectacular views of the mountains surrounding it, the roar of the rapids that pass through the centre of the town and in the fact that there is no traffic at all. It was here, in Aguas Calientes, where we had our first pisco sour when we run into Xavi and Sergio, the two brothers we had met at lake Titicaca. It probably wasn’t the best pisco, but one glass was enough to get us tipsy. We will have to keep trying more Peruvian piscos!
On the way back to Cuzco, we took a different route. Instead of taking the expensive train back we walked for 2 hours and a half along the beautiful railway line to Hidroelectrica, then by car to Santa Maria where we took a minivan to Cuzco. A much more scenic route but an exhausting one, specially after the day in Machu Picchu.
The Incas defied the odds to create an impossible city in the sky, nowadays Machu Picchu is one of the ancient world most awe inspiring places and a well deserved New Seven Wonder of the World. For us, a dream come true and an unforgetable experience!
Visit our flickr gallery to see all the pictures!
Hospedaje Los Caminantes – Basic accommodation in Aguas Calientes. We stayed in a double room with shared bathroom. The best of it were the hot water showers, really hot perfect after the day in Machu Picchu. All you need but without luxuries. Quiet and there is free wifi at reception. We paid 40 PEN per night.
From Ollantaytambo to Aguas Calientes by train (1h 30min) – There are many ways of getting to Machu Picchu from Cuzco. We decided to make our own way to Ollantaytambo and then to take the expensive and touristy train from there to Aguas Calientes. We booked the train online on www.perurail.com and we paid 48 USD per person.
From Aguas Calientes to Cuzco by foot (2h 30min), car (1h 30 min) and minivan (5h) – On the way back to Cuzco we decided to save a bit of money and took the longer route. First we walked from Aguas Calientes to Hidroelectrica along the railway track. Once in Hidroelectrica we took a shared car direct to Santa Maria (we didn’t stop at Santa Teresa) and paid 15 PEN each. In Santa Maria, after a quick lunch, we took a mini van to Cuzco (we had to wait until the van was full to leave) and we paid 20 PEN each. In total 35 PEN and over 10h, much longer than the train but much cheaper. It is possible to do it in reverse when heading to Machu Picchu.
Machu Picchu ticket
A ticket is needed in order to get to Machu Picchu and another one to Huayna Picchu. There are 2500 tickets per day to get to Machu Picchu and only 400 to get to Huayna Picchu. Although for Machu Picchu it is normally possible to buy them on the same day, for Huayna is recommended to buy them 3 or 4 days in advanced. We bought our tickets online on www.machupicchu.gob.pe. We paid 158 PEN per person (Machu Picchu + Huayna Picchu).