A week off equals a LONG blog!

Trip Start Oct 16, 2012
Trip End Apr 20, 2013

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Wednesday, February 20, 2013

We had a whole week off in Cusco, which was slightly longer than we had planned for but for one reason and another it happened that way.  We spent three days in Cusco relaxing, seeing the sights and trying to fatten ourselves back up again.  There was a kitchen in the hostel, so we cooked ourselves our evening meals, which is now a real novelty and a treat.  We were able to cram in the same amount of vegetables in one meal that we have been having in a month of Peruvian cooking.  There were also real French bakeries, where we could indulge in Pan Au Chocolate (1 soles, 40 cents) and Cappuccinos.  Consequently my stomach protested and couldn't cope with the richness of the food and the break from the bland rice and chicken diet and I was ill for 24 hours.  Typical!!!

The other main activity that we faced was trying to plan our trip to Machu Picchu.  Unfortunately that area had been experiencing some of the worst flooding that it had ever encountered and 500km of roads had been swept away.  We had noticed that it would rain for an hour or two each day or night, but nothing to that scale and none of the rivers that we had cycled passed had burst their banks.  We tried endlessly to glean information about the possible routes to Aguas Calientes (which is where you then make your way to Machu Picchu) but everyone just told us to take the train.  There were countless tour agencies who would happily arrange a train ticket for us, for $240 or 150 GBP.  We didn't want to take a train though, with a bunch of middle aged, American tourists, when we were more than able to walk the distance to the town.  Arriving by train seemed like the easy way out and very un-Incan! 

We researched the problem some more and read that we could get a local bus to Ollantaytambo and then walk along the valley to Aguas Calientes.  It would take us 7 hours of walking, through a picturesque valley, with snow capped peaks on either side.  It passed occasional villages and some farmed landscape.  We would know that we were going the correct way, as the railway line would also be following this route from Ollantaytambo to Aguas Calientes.  It sounded like the perfect answer.  We knew that we didn't want to do the "Inca Trail", which is a 5 day hike into Machu Picchu and sounds great except for the fact that you have to sign up on a guided tour, with guides and porters.  It is also completed by 500 people every day and sounds like you don't get a moments peace to yourself to enjoy the trail and the views

So it was decided we would catch a local bus to Ollantaytambo and walk through the valley from there to Aguas Calientes.  We would find our own way to the sacred site of the Incans, without the need of guides or porters and we would do it at our own pace, much the same as we have found our way from Colombia to Cusco on our bikes.  We set off on the local bus (10 soles $4), and arrived into Ollantaytambo around 1pm.  We considered our options but realised that it was probably a bit too late to set off on a 7 hour hike at this time of the day.  We found a nice place to have some lunch, which overlooked the main square of the tiny town of Ollantaytambo.  It was a touristy place, as many people get the train for this town, but it also had a lovely feel to it.  It had an old, rustic charm to it, with cobbled streets, old houses, and tiny nooks and crannies down every little path.  There were women dressed in traditional, indigenous dress and snotty, red faced children running around the back paths.  The whole town was surrounded by mountains, on which there were many ancient Incan ruins.  I instantly liked the place.  It seemed laid back and filled with places to explore.

We easily found a hostel with a room available for us, for 20 soles ($8), threw our small backpacks down and headed out to investigate the ruins.  We decided to head to the big complex of ruins just on the edge of the town.  As we entered we were told that the admission price was 70 soles ($30) each....what?!!!  It seemed incredibly overpriced for a small town attraction, in comparison to the price of everything else.  I suggested that we walk around the market for a few moments and see what crafts the locals were producing.  As we walked around we saw another set of ruins, but this one had an open door and no entrance fees.  Much better.  Within a few minutes of looking around inside we realised that we had taken the side entrance into the main ruins and were now walking around freely having not paid the 70 soles admission fee.  Whoops.  Well in our defence they should probably close the side door or position someone there.  We enjoyed walking around the ancient complex for a couple of hours, as there was Incan terracing (where they section of the land to make it flat enough to farm), there was also numerous buildings, and a complex water irrigation system.  We spent some time walking around the main town, which was also littered with interesting Incan archways and buildings.  It was really enjoyable, as we had no idea that the small town had anything to offer until we arrived there. 

The following day we were all set to walk to Aguas Calientes.  We managed to find a restaurant that provided us with a hearty breakfast, and a good coffee!  We made our way out of the town just after 8.30am, and were excited to be making our own way to Machu Picchu.  For the first three hours we walked through the valley, on a small dirt path.  We walked through small farming villages, with the river rushing beside us.  The water level looked high but it was nowhere near bursting its banks.  We did however see evidence of flood damage from the previous weeks rain, but this was only with one house.  We were loving it; the air was filled with bird song, the sky was blue and we could see snow capped mountains peaking out below their crown of clouds.

After three hours we stopped for a packed lunch that we had brought from Cusco.  We knew that there weren't any facilities along the route and we would have to make it to Aguas Calientes as there were also no sleeping options.  After re-fuelling we continued to march onwards.  I'm not sure at what time we realised that we had bitten off more than we could chew but to cut a long story short, we ended up walking for 11 hours and covered 50km of walking in one day, although our research suggested it would take 7 hours and cover 28km.  We walked in a direct route, and followed the railway line, which had km markers and clearly showed that we had covered 50km.  Needless to say we were both tired and cranky by the time we finally arrived into the town at 8.30pm.  We had walked 10km more than the Inca Trail covers in 4 days and as Kory helpfully pointed out, we had done 8km more than a marathon, but on a rough, dirt, and sometimes stoney path.  We employed the same stubborn persistence that we have used to get us over the last 5500km but couldn't help but think that we had made an unwise decision that had left us walking in the dark, in the rain, along unfamiliar ground.  Thankfully we stumbled into a hotel, which had hot showers, and a restaurant below and were soon fast asleep, letting our aching legs repair themselves. 

We woke to find ourselves with stiff limbs and blistered feet.  We were tired and sore, but were still taken away with the initial sight of Machu Picchu.  The weather was warm and sunny, with only a little cloud around the peaks of the mountains.  The weather and the views were essentially as good as you were ever going to get at Machu Picchu.  We sat down to take in the views of the Incan Ruins, which were built between the 1200-1500s.  We were struck by how steep the cliffsides were that these Incas
were able to build this city on.  Machu Picchu survived being destroyed by the Spaniards because they were never aware of where it existed. In 1911, an explorer from the USA
“discovered” the ancient city when locals lead him to it through the
thick jungle.  Today, on average, 2500 tourists visit the site each day, with the quietest month being February, as the weather is the most un-predictable.  This meant that we were able to enjoy the site with relatively few people milling around and with no queues or line-ups.  Now, I'm not sure that anyone is going to like it but I must say that after about an hour of walking around Kory and I were both filled with a sense of "Is that it?".  Compared to other sites we have seen, for example Anchor What, in Cambodia, it seemed small and rather lacking in grandeur.  I felt more excited to see the ruins in Trujillo, as there were elaborate designs on them, with paint dating back to 500AD.  Only a couple of days ago, the Incan Ruins we had stumbled into in Ollantaytambo, were very impressive, but didn't attract anywhere as near as many tourists and there wasn't a hefty entrance fee, with extortionate train/hiking permit costs to factor in to the mornings activity.  We both walked away in the mid afternoon feeling quietly under-whelmed, and probably more impressed with the mountain landscape than the actual site.

The next problem was that we were faced with one option to get back out of the valley; we needed to jump onto the Gringo train and into the tourist trap.  We didn't have the energy or inclination to walk back out the way that we had come in.  So, had to part with $79 each to ride the two hour train out to Ollantaytambo, and then transfer on to a bus back to Cusco.

We spent one further day in Cusco letting our legs and feet get over the shock of walking so far.  As we have been cycling everywhere, we haven't walked further than around the tiny supermarkets for months now.  We also got ourselves ready to hit the road again and finally make our way to Lake Titicaca and Bolivia.  Let the next adventure begin.
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Paddy on

You finally made it to Machu Picchu! The photos of it are brilliant. What an amazing place it is.

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