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Machu Picchu

September 21, 2012

We had elected to take the train from Ollantaytambo to Aguas Calientes (sometimes called Machu Picchu Pueblo) which is the gateway to Machu Picchu.

Our train was at 2pm so it would give us a good view of the route along the Rio Urumbamba. Once we got on the train we had a very social 1hr 30 journey to the station at Aguas Calientes. Everyone on the train was very friendly, it being the cheapest train and full of backpacker’s.

Arriving at Agua Calientes is a bit disorienting as the exit from the station is straight into a tourist market and there are no signs pointing the way out. We were approached by a tout for a hostel on arriving and agreed to go with her to Hostal No.1. The hostal wasn’t very nice but it was for one night and all we would do is sleep there so we agreed to stay.

Our first tasks were to arrange our visit to Machu Picchu for the next day. We first had to buy a site ticket. After wandering around town for 15 minutes we found the correct place to buy a ticket. We bought our tickets for the site including the climb up Cerro Machu Picchu. We then needed to buy tickets for the bus ride up to the site – at a booth just up from where the buses pick up.

There is not much to Aguas Calientes. Its really an ugly concrete town which is 100% focused on tourists to Machu Picchu. This means everything is expensive. We had a simple pizza and beer meal which cost over S100. Unheard of in other towns.

We went to bed early as we knew we had to be up early the next morning. We were up early and got to the bus stop for 5.30am – to find a big queue already there. Well it wasn’t so bad and we were on the 7th bus to leave.

The journey to the Machu Picchu site takes about 30 minutes as you wind your way up a really switchbacky road to the top. Once there you have to present your ticket and passport to get into the site proper.

We headed up straight away to get to the Caretaker’s Hut which is the highest point in the city. It was shortly after 6am at this stage and although everything was light the sun hadn’t yet reached the city. We sat down, about 50m from the hut, to wait for sunrise.

When the sun crests the mountains and the sunbeams cross the city it is a beautiful sight. This is what makes Machu Picchu one of the top tourist sites in the whole world. Watching the sunrise we were far from alone though with probably 500 people scattered around.

Once the sun was well and truly up we made our way down into the city itself and followed a clockwise route around. It took about 3 hours for us to make our way totally around, seeing all the different areas.

The thing about Machu Picchu is that although the ruins are interesting they are by no means the most amazing that we seen. In fact the Mayan ruins of Mexico and Guatenmala have way more impact. However the setting is incredible with sheer drops to either side of the city and then mountains ranges surrounding the area. This is what makes it an amazing place. There seemed to be very few couples or individuals at Machu  Picchu. Most of the people there were in big groups with a guide so it was possible to get a bit of peace and quiet for a few minutes between the groups.

One of the busies places in the city was the Intihuatana which is a large rock that was an astro-agricutural clock and it is aligned in four directions with mountains that were important to the Inca.  Machu Picchu is at only 2492m but feels much higher than many of the 3000m+ places in Peru because it is perched on a mountain ridge.

After we’d seen the city, and as time wore on more and more people were arriving, we decided that we should climb the Machu Picchu mountain, which overlooks the city from the Sun Gate end, to get away from all the people. The climb up the mountain was hot and hard work as the path is stairs the whole way – the variation is the size of the stairs as some are much higher and steeper than others. Its a 600m climb above the city so about double the climb of Huayna Picchu.

Reaching the top of the mountain after about 1.5 hours of climbing we were rewarded with an amazing 360 degree view of the mountains and a beautiful view down to Machu Picchu itself which looked pretty small below us.

By about 3pm we were back in Aguas Calientes with three hours to kill before our train back to Ollantaytambo. We had a leisurely lunch and then went to the exceptionally crowded station to wait. The train back was quite slow and took over 2 hours as there was a broken down train ahead. It was a bit like our commute from back home !

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. September 22, 2012 2:30 pm

    Love the sunrise pictures, some of your best! Great write up.

    • September 23, 2012 12:47 pm

      Thanks Merv. Its great to see you’ve made it to SA. Hope to meet up with you at some stage.

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