Machu Picchu is a place that I never thought I would make it to. I always saw it in travel books and photos online, but it always seemed like such a mystical and magical place that I never imagined I would make it there. Then again, I never thought I would embark on a trip like this either, but here we are. Our trip to Machu Picchu was special because it was together, but also because four of our good friends from Rhode Island traveled all the way to Peru to meet us on our travels. Shout out to Chrissy, Max, Anne, and Dave! PVD Crew!
Our adventure started in the Cusco airport where we boarded the van that we booked and headed to Ollantaytambo where we would catch the train to Aguascaliente. The van ride took about two hours in total and we were blessed to see such beautiful scenery along the way. I never realized Peru is such a beautiful country. We arrived in Ollantaytambo and had about 5 hours until we had to board our train at 9:00pm so we headed straight to a restaurant for some Pisco Sours and a taste of Alpaca.
Four pisco sours later….we boarded the 9:00pm train heading to Aguascalientes. The train ride lasted about 1 1/2 hours and sadly since it was dark so we were unable to see any of the scenery on our way through the mountains and to our place of rest for the night. When we arrived to Aguas we were beat and headed straight to bed in preparation for our early morning for Machu Picchu.
We woke up on a Sunday at 4:00am and set off on our hike to Machu Picchu. We decided that we wanted to opt for getting up early and walking the hour or so up the initial part of the mountain to the entrance of Machu Picchu. We departed the town of Aguascalientes on foot by following the railroad tracks down the road. Now, it was pitch black in the dark so we didn’t realize we were going the wrong way until we came upon a tunnel for the railroad tracks. This was definitely the wrong way and as we looked down over the ledge we saw tons of flashlights and individuals walking so we shimmied down through bushes and dirt for a couple of minutes and finally found our way to the correct walking path. We walked for about 25 minutes in the dark until the sun started to rise and we came upon the entrance of the path. There were guards posted before the bridge and they checked our tickets and passports to make sure we had all of the proper documentation.
We crossed the bridge and headed up the mountain. There were a lot more individuals climbing up the mountain than we thought there would be. There are actually two ways to get up to the entrance of Machu Picchu; one is to hike for free (which we chose) and the second is to take a bus up the mountain for $12 each way. We wanted the hike and always try to save money where we can so we opted for the hike up! The hike was a little more strenuous than I thought, but then again I really think it was just the altitude getting to us all. It was harder to breath the farther up we went and the hike was pretty much a vertical incline so by the time we got to the top our legs were aching a bit.
An hour later we arrived to the entrance of Machu Picchu. The park opens at 6:00am and there was already a long line to enter the park. We quickly found a guide for our group at the price of 20Soles per person (120 soles total) to take us around Machu Picchu until 9:00am. The park only allows each person to enter twice on the day of your ticket, so you have to be careful about how many trips you take to use the bathroom since there is not one inside the park. The very first thing we did once we were inside the park was head straight to the famous outlook of the park so that we could take our photos while there was still good weather. We were lucky that there were not that many people in the park and there was a clear view so we didn’t have to wait a long time to get our pictures. Large tours usually arrive around 11:00am, so if you want the park almost to yourself get there early!
After we took our obligatory Machu Picchu photos we spent the next three hours following the guide around the park listening to him as he told us the history of the park that was before us. Machu Picchu was built around 1450 and abandoned approximately 100 years later as a result of the Spanish conquest. The guide told us several stories of tourist misconduct and deaths that have occurred over the years. In the 1980’s the king of Spain wanted to land his helicopter in the open green area in the middle of the empire and an important stone was moved out of its placement to allow for this. There is at least one death every year due to heart attacks from altitude sickness, falling and slipping from the mountains, and other accidental deaths. The guide was very adamant about staying within the boundaries, keeping from the sides, and taking things slow as we descended and ascended each part of the ruins.
At 9:30am our guide departed and we took a moment to devour the sandwiches we had brought in near the exit of the Machu Picchu park. Of course, like the dumb tourists we are, we didn’t realize this was forbidden and got yelled at by some of the park workers. Oops. In our ticket prices we had purchased the opportunity to climb the actual Machu Picchu mountain that lay behind the ruins and is told to have the best view of the area. Since we had been up since 4:00am, only a few decided to do the 3 hike up and down the mountain. While Oscar, Anne, and Dave made their way up the mountain, Chrissy, Max, and myself reentered the park and explored the ruins one more time, but this time with more detail and a little more slowly. It was amazing how many things we had missed with the tour guide and there were so many more rooms that we discovered.
At about 2:00pm in the afternoon we decided to make our way down the mountain. Chrissy, Max, and myself decided to walk down the mountain since we didn’t hike up the additional mountain as the others decided. Also, who doesn’t like saving money? Ha! The rest of the group took the bus down and rightfully so after that additional three hour hike up the mountain!
Once we were back in Aguascalientes we all went straight for food and then headed to the thermal waters that we had been hearing so much about. After a morning of hiking and walking around all day, we were all excited to submerse ourselves into some warm natural pools. However, as we walked up to the thermal pools after paying 10 soles each we realized they ended up being glorified swimming pools with lukewarm water and rocks at the bottom. We were told after that the actual hot springs had dried up years ago and now they use these in place of them. Since we had paid for the entrance we decided why not try it and hopped into the pools. Some of the pools were warm and some were just plain cold and gross. The entire thing was weird being in a pool with tons of people where the water was really warm and people being served drinks. I know its just like a swimming pool, but the fact that it was warm and there was rocks at the bottom freaked me out. I would say it was not really worth it and it is something you can skip when you are in Aguascalientes; unless you really want to experience go for it!
We stayed the night in Aguascalientes and got up early for the 9:00am train ride back to Ollantaytambo. This time, since the train ride was in the morning we were able to see the beautiful views that the Sacred Valley had to offer. Our breath was taken away by all the beauty that was surrounded us as the train made its way through the mountains. We were able to see individuals who participated in the Inca Trail walking with their packs on their backs following the river, ruins high up in the mountains that seem to have yet to be discovered, and the farm life in Peru. It was so beautiful.
Machu Picchu was an incredible adventure for all of us and it was even more special to enjoy it with friends who traveled all the way to Peru to see us! Don’t forget to check out our video montage of our time at Machu Picchu!!