Machu Picchu

Trip Start Jan 10, 2008
Trip End May 29, 2008

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Flag of Peru  ,
Tuesday, April 1, 2008


When I think of Machu Picchu, my ideal experience is watching the sun rise over the mountains.  Sunrises are quite early so you figure that you need to make it up to the ruins before dawn, which is why I wanted to avoid an organized trip out there.  When you sign up for a tour you have to arrange your whole schedule on their timetable then face the risk of paying for a crappy trip and/or it is full of people and you get rushed around making it feel really impersonal.  Additionaly, most of the tours involve taking a four hour train that arrives at 10:00 AM or later and returning the same day.  That meant missing the sunrise and there was no way I was going to abandon my dream. Unfortunately, that meant doing everything on our own, which is a huge hastle but I needed that sunrise! As I mentioned in the previous post, the train to Aguas Calientes (Machu Picchu town) is really expensive and annoying to organize.  The reason for this is because PeruRail has a monopoly on the railroad to the ruins, which cannot be reached by car.  The other alternative requires hiking or doing the Inca Trail, both a non-option with my parents.
When we arrived in Aguas Calientes at night and went to purchase our tickets for the ruins in advance (there is a 4500 person limit, per day), we payed another whopping $40 per person; they really clear your wallet out before you even reach the top.  If they had made us pay for missing the train earlier I┤m almost sure I would have jumped across the window and strangled the attendant.  I calmed myself down; everything was going more or less according to my plan and we would see that sunrise. We got up at 4:30 in order to eat and catch the first bus at 5:30 where we met our spanish speaking guide, Henry.  Even though the whole lesson was in spanish he showed us around all the important locations and we understood enough to get a good history lesson and appreciation for everything we saw.  The ruins themselves are extensive and well restored but are second in beauty to the 360 mountain views that are all around.  There are a lot of unknowns and questions we will never be able to answer about the site but there is no mystery as to why they decided to build it at this particular place.  There was really no way to prepare for that first impression of the surrounding nature.  As for the sunrise, it never happened.  Actually, we found out that in order to see it, its not really necessary to get up before dawn since it only comes over the mountain at around 10ish.  Becca and my parents started wondering why they all had to wake up so early. The reason we missed it though, is because we went during the middle of the rainy season and it was totally obscured by clouds.  After all that careful planning to sleep in the town below and wake up super early to catch the sunrsise we ended up with clouds and then rain.  Rather than be dissapointed, I was extremely grateful; when we entered the site it was actually a clear sky and we got amazing views of the ruins and surrounding mountains and it didn┤t start raining until we were done with the tour.  If we hadn┤t done it the way I planned we would have walked around the whole site soaking wet.  
After all that time planning and being practically robbed it was definately worth it.  The only thing is there are so many more ruins in Peru including another "lost city" built on a mountaintop that is three times as large as Machu Picchu so I wonder if there is a better experience waiting out there that is much more cost effective.  Certainly you are paying more for the fame of the place than anything else.  Even if I had known that I think I still would have wanted to see Machu Picchu, don┤t you? Everyone wants to see what all the fuss is about.  I will say though, if I had to do it again I would have preferred doing a hike to the ruins that was not the Inca Trail.  The trail itself is also really expensive and alternative routes are much cheaper and I┤ve heard can be more beautiful.  At least that way your money goes into a more rewarding experience rather than just a ridiculous greedy company. 
On the train back we were treated to a ridiculous traditional dance from one of the train stewards decked out in full Inca gear.  It was followed by a silly fashion show selling overpriced PeruRail clothing made from llama so they could steal a little more of your money. You see what I mean about doing the hike?  We drove back to Cusco and spent our last night with the folks and said goodbye early in the morning as they headed off back to Mexico.  We are so grateful for their help in this part of the trip and I think you can understand why. $$$$$

Machu Picchu is one of those once-in-a-lifetime things, and I┤m so happy we were able to go. After a little bit of climbing from the entrance you are faced with the post-card image that  everyone knows of the ruins. But, as usually is the case, its much better in person. I definitely agree that the background is what makes this site so beautiful - its incredibly high up, with even larger green peaks surrounding the site on all sides. Prime real esate location. And because it is so high, some low-lying clouds would occasionally blow through right over the ruins obscuring it for a moment and making it look almost magical. I tend to have alot of trouble appreciating ruins because its hard for me to fathom how old they are, or what they used to look like... But Machu Picchu was so big and much still intact that I was better able to visualize what it must have been like here than at other ruins we have visited. In different circumstances, I agree it would have been really cool to hike there instead - whether the Inca trail or another trail, I think it must be so rewarding at the end of it. But alas, the way we did it was fine as well and the train was a real hoot. We took the luxury train back (because there was no other choice) which differs from the backpacker train because there are windows on the roof and a snack, and the crazy entertainment. The first dude that came out was wearing the most ridiculous costume, most notably this knit ĘdevilĘ head covering that is oddly sold everywhere, doing a retarded dance up and down the aisle for tips. Strange, but entertaining. Overall, was definitely a good experience - and my thanks as well to Asaf┤s rents for a fabulous week! It was a much-needed break from our backpacker lifestyle :)
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starlagurl on

Very introspective
That was a very introspective account of your trip to Machu Picchu. I'm glad you had the initiative to wake up so early and also that it didn't get you down when it rained! Don't get too discouraged with all the people trying to take your money, it's sad, but sometimes necessary...

Louise Brown
TravelPod Community Manager

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