Originally, I was going to include our pictures from Machu Picchu in the previous post, but it is just so unfair to compare the two! I absolutely loved our time in Peru’s Sacred Valley, but there is no comparison with the city in the clouds. Be forewarned, this post is a little picture heavy. 🙂
Despite our early wake-up call, we were energized when we woke up in Urubamba for our thirty-minute ride to Ollantaytambo, which is where the train station for most of the trains to Machu Picchu. After a short, but freezing wait, we boarded our one-car train to the based of the mountain. We were served hot drinks and bread while we soaked in the majestic snow-capped mountains and rippling rapids as we rode past. I don’t know why, but it was such a surprise to me to see snow-capped mountains. I just never thought of Peru and snow anything belonging in the same sentence!
Two hours later, we arrived in Aguas Calientes, or Machu Picchu Pueblo, which is the very small town at the base of the mountain on which Machu Picchu was built. We made our way through the very busy station to find our guide, who led us to the bus. There are two ways to get to the top to where Machu Picchu is: to walk the ancient Incan trail or to ride a bus. We picked the latter of the two.
Not that the bus was relaxing. There are a team of coach buses that drive up and down the mountain all day, transporting visitors to this wonder of the world. However, the dirt path was steep and narrow, with 16 tight switchbacks. The ride was short of terrifying (especially for those who suffer from motion-sickness, me included) but it did beat the alternative. Of course, all was quickly forgiven once we entered into the park and I had my first view of the infamous Machu Picchu.
I read so many posts from other bloggers who traveled to Machu Picchu and every one of their posts were they same saying a picture will never do it justice. I thought that was stereotypical to say of such a wonder, but never truly understood what they meant until we were there. The magnitude of this place is enough to knock the wind out of you, but once you consider how this city was built hundreds of years ago with every little detail honoring their religion and the earth, how it was abandoned out of protection from the invading Spaniards, and that you are literally surrounded by peaks of the mountains as far as you can see, the title of new wonder of the world doesn’t even come close to truly describing this powerful place.
Our tour guide at Machu Picchu was best we had during our time in Peru. He was incredibly knowledgeable of the history of it, he offered to take our picture often, and he knew the best places to go sit and relax away from the crowds so we could soak in this beautiful place. He even gave us ideas of what to do during our following morning in Machu Picchu, as we didn’t have a scheduled tour.
On a different note, Machu Picchu was the first place we were able to get up close and personal with llamas since arriving in Peru and we did not keep our cool.
Once our tour of Macchu Picchu was over, we enjoyed a delicious meal before waiting in line to head back down that mountain. We didn’t anticipate the amount of people that were also there — we had to wait for 45 minutes before it was our turn to board one of the buses to Aguas Calientes.
After checking into our hotel, we changed our clothes and decided to explore the village. It wasn’t very big, but considering it was practicially founded for the tourists, we figured we may be able to find some souveniors here as well. Besides, once again we ate way too much at lunch and were in need of a little more exercise. The village was adorable, filled with things for visitors to do when their time in Machu Picchu was over. There were a ton of massage shops for the hikers, restaurants, and gift shops throughout the village. There was even a small hot springs resort, which we will definitely be visiting our next time in Peru!
We took it easy the rest of the day and planned to turn in early. Since we had tickets to go back to Machu Picchu the following morning, our tour guide encouraged us to be in line by 5:00am to avoid the long line that would form to go back up. We enjoyed dinner at our hotel (not that we were were starving by any means, but included is included for a reason!), a round of Pisco Sours before heading up to our room. While we were settling down for the evening, we opened our window to listen to the sound of the train station, people speaking Spanish down in the streets and the occasional dogs barking. We were soaking up every sense of this country as we could since we knew our time in Peru was coming to end.
Around 4:30am the following morning, we dressed in layers, packed our bags, and headed down to grab something to eat before heading back up the mountain. Since Jody and I were the first ones in our hotel to breakfast, we were feeling pretty optimistic about how long the line would be to board the busses. As we finished our tea and coffee, we realized it was already 5:30am, so we hopped up and headed down the street to where the busses line up. However, once we got closer, we realized that the line was wrapped all the way up the street and around the corner!
We waited in line for about an hour before it was our turn to board the bus. Once we made it to the gates, we scanned our tickets and headed towards the trail. Jody and I had decided the previous day that we wanted to hike the Inti Punku — the Sun Gate trail –during our second morning to get another view of the great Machu Picchu. The Sun Gate used to be the main entrance into Machu Picchu, as it sits on top of the mountain directly south of the citadel and follows the last bit of the Incan Trail.
The part of the trail was the hardest as the path became steep and narrow. Due the increasing altitude (we were nearing the peak of the mountain, after all), each breath we took got increasingly harder to breathe. We had to rest every few steps to ensure that we were had enough energy to be sure-footed so we wouldn’t fall. However, once we made it to the top, every thought and tired muscle disappeared as we soaked in the glorious view.
The Sun Gate is also the point of the Incan Trail where hikers get their first viewing of Machu Picchu. We were resting at the Sun Gate when a group of hikers rounded the bend and saw their light at the end of the tunnel. It was so cool to watch them cry, cheer and hug one another, signifying that they completed the journey and had only a short walk downhill to the gates of Machu Picchu.
Once we made it back down the mountain from the Sun Gate, we spent the rest of our morning relaxing on the grassy hill overlooking the citadel. We were trying to soak up as much as we could — the view is honestly something that we could never be tired of. Following a few more pictures, chasing a couple of llamas around, and carefully making our way down some very steep and uneven steps, we said goodbye to Machu Picchu and boarded the bus back down to Aguas Calientes.
We spent our afternoon in Machu Picchu town roaming through the town once more. We first were on a search for lunch, before doing a little more souvenir shopping. After walking past some places where the servers try to coax you in (honestly one of my biggest turnoffs when looking for a place to eat!), we ultimately decided on a Peruvian brewery. While I opted for a lemonade, our experience their was superb. Jody ordered an alpaca burger and I ordered fried rice. Both entrees were so delicious and refueled us after our hike that morning.
Sadly, our time at Machu Picchu had to come to an end. That afternoon, we boarded our train back to Ollantaytambo, where we would be met for our two and a half hour drive to Cusco for the remainder of our trip. While we were enjoying our train ride, we were entertained by a Peruvian fashion show by our crew, including a visit from this traditional Andean dancer!
After two very full days, we rested during our ride to Cusco. We were eagerly looking forward to our last full day in Peru, which I will share soon! 🙂
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