Machu Picchu

Trip Start Oct 13, 2010
Trip End Feb 22, 2012

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Flag of Peru  , Sacred Valley,
Saturday, September 24, 2011

Machu Picchu – the inevetitable and most hyped-up stop on any trip to Peru – would it live up to the expectations? Definitely!

First, Cusco. 12 hours overnight on a bus and I arrived at the EcoPackers Hostel. Despite it only having a few guests and tepid water, the lure of the tiny 2 month old black kitten was enough to keep me there for a week. I was too late to do the classic Inca trek which is booked months in advance and couldn't be bothered with an 'alternative’ trek which doesn’t actually take you to the ruins so I took the train from Cusco to the little town of Agua Calientes (renamed as Machu Picchu Pueblo but as with so many renamed towns, nobody actually uses the new name). I wanted to climb the mountain behind Machu Picchu, called Wayna Picchu, and as only 400 people are permitted to climb it each day I had to wait a few days. In the mean time, there are lots of Inca sites in and around Cusco to keep anyone busy.

First I went on a free ‘alternative’ city tour …. The guy took us to a bar to see how the local Pisco Sour drink is made (it’s delicious, little did I know it was made with raw egg white), to the famous Inca wall that is ‘guarded’ by an Inca dressed up in costume, and to the chocolate museum where I tried chocolate tea, yum :) The inca walls were built with extreme precision, not a single gap between the stones. It wasn’t actually so free as its based on tips. We all gave what we thought was reasonable – however the next day I had recommended it to Rebeca and Cameron (having randomly bumped into them again in a café) and apparently he started the tour by saying up front that he usually gets about 4 times the tip that he’d got yesterday. Ooops.

I took a couple of day trips to the Inca sites surrounding Cusco. Each time there were only a couple of other English speakers on the trips, the majority of tourists are from other South American counties with a lot of visitors native to Peru as well. The guides give the info in English and Spanish but its obvious that the English version is much briefer, as a result I often didn’t really know what I was looking at. At Sexy Woman (really Sacsayhuaman but Sexy Woman is what it sounds like!) I managed to lose the track and ended up in the middle of the cordoned-off section, sliding over the ruins to get down with a guard furiously blowing his whistle at me from the ground. I was up there for ages trying to get back on the path! The terraces are very impressive. The Inca had no wheel or horse power so they dragged the rocks up the mountains themselves. Amazing when you see that the buildings are constructed on the slopes of the mountains.

I was heading over to pick up the tour, crossing the busy street of Aveneda del Sol when I noticed a man dressed up in a mask and brandishing a whip running along the middle of the road holding up a sign. Due to his silly costume I thought he was a street entertainer so continued to cross. When I got to the middle I realised the sign was instructing people not to cross and the weird little man was deliberately blocking my way to stop me crossing, almost getting me run over because I was stuck in the road! So I dodged him to get out of the traffic and ran across, and he whipped me!! Yes I got whipped on the ass. I was so shocked there wasn’t really anything I could do!

So on to Machu Picchu! I had thought that I would be part of a group but once again I was just handed a set of vouchers and I was on my own. A particularly wet couple were on the bus with me – we were put on a local minibus to the train station in Ollyantambo. The train journey turned out to be a real laugh – I was sat with a big group of Costa Rican travel agents who chatted to me in Spanish and a bit of English. A woman from their group was sick and couldn’t come so they said I should take her place – next minute they broke out a bottle of whiskey and everyone got merry on whiskey and water. It would have been rude to refuse even at 11 in the morning! The train stewards came over,  I presumed to break up the  party but no they had just come with glasses to join in. We were in business class so the stewards brought round delightful snacks such as bags of chocolates and biscuits.

We arrived at Aguas Calientes and found the hotel that the wet couple and me were staying in and disappointingly it was pouring down and there wasn’t really anything to do by myself so I whiled the afternoon away in a café before getting an early night because it was a 5am start the next day. The town is a nice place set right in the valley with great views but its all tourist restaurants and tourist prices. At 9pm I went out to get some food to find that the entire place was shut down and I had to settle for Pringles.

On Sunday it was finally time to get to Machu Picchu. I got up at 5 and took the first bus up the steep incline to the ruins. I had a tour at 7.45, but wanted to  have a bit of time to myself before the crowds arrived, and even when I got there at 6am there were loads of people getting off the buses. First shock was how big Machu Picchu is, I had pictured it as being a lot less spread out. As I walked around the corner and got my first sight of the Inca city on the mountainside no matter how many photos you have seen it still takes your breath away. At 6am it’s still very misty and the clouds cover most of the ruins, only the mountain of Huayna Picchu behind is poking out. In the first 15 minutes I bumped into everyone I have ever met in Cusco! Two guys who I was chatting to in a travel agents, the girl from my dormitory, the Spanish girl in my hostel a week before, two girls from the day trip to Sexy Woman … strange!!  I spent an amazing hour wandering around taking photos before the mist cleared and it was time for my tour.  There are numerous terraces for agricultural use and lots of llamas strutting around.

The tour was a bit rubbish really, about 30 people in the group and it didn’t get off to a good start when they left me behind as I was coming through the ticket barriers. I eventually found them at the top and the guide just recited information from the ticket – if I hear one more time about the condor representing the heavens, the puma on the land and the snake (or esnake as they say) the underworld I will scream!! Eventually we were shown around the lower level ruins, the temple of the condor and temple of the sun amongst others. I was chatting to an English girl for just a couple of minutes and we realised we had lost the group, again. The entire 30 people and guide had just vanished. We shouted ‘Eddie! Eddie!’ a few times, and realised we were lost in the inca passageways. After asking various guides if they had seen Eddie we found them half an hour later having missed all the interesting stuff. The best bit is that neither the guide nor anyone in the group including the wet couple had even noticed we were gone. It was pretty funny though.

After the tour I had decided to climb Huayna Picchu. It looked worrying high from the ground! 200 people can go up at 7am and 200 at 11am.  I set off with the 11am group and it was surprisingly good fun, the steps were incredibly steep andn everyone was stopping to catch their breath every few minutes. I made it to the top in the hour they say it takes after parts so steep you have to pull yourself up with a rope and a bit at the very top where we had to crawl though a cave then climb up a ladder, all worth it to sit on the rocks at the top and look down at Macchu Pichu. I then saw how windy the road up was! I felt a real sense of achievement reaching the top and it wasn’t as difficult as I expected. Going down was fun, there were some women who were scared of heights and practically crawling down, complaining about the lack of barriers. Though it’s wise to be careful  particularly after the guide warned us of the people who had fallen off – ‘1 hour up, 1 minute down’.

After a ridiculously priced lunch (8 pounds for a sandwich) I spent a few hours exploring the rest of the huge sight before the afternoon rain came. After a very long day it was time to return to Aguas Calientes and the return train. So Machu Picchu definitely lived up to it’s reputation and it’s been one of the most memorable experiences of the year :)  But now I want to come back and do the Inca Trek!

More photos here:
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