Magical Machu Picchu

Trip Start Feb 26, 2013
Trip End Mar 15, 2013

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Flag of Peru  , Sacred Valley,
Saturday, March 2, 2013

Our day began with a 4am wakeup call, and we walked down to catch the 4:45 train to Aguas Calientes, the town at the base of Machu Picchu. The train ride was 90 minutes through lush, dramatic mountains that eventually gave way to jungle. We arrived at 6:30am, and caught a shuttle bus up the windy road to Machu Picchu's entrance.

Unlike a lot of our friends, we didn't spend 4 days hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu. Our dislike of hiking and camping aside, we wanted to see Machu Picchu in the off season, when the Inca Trail was closed, and the hordes of hikers are absent. It was absolutely the right decision- as we approached the Guardhouse Entry- the spot where all the famous photos of Machu Picchu are taken- we were virtually alone. It was mystical and eerie and absolutely breathtaking. How empty was Machu Picchu? Well, they only allow 2500 people per day to visit. Even this early, many dates in the summer are already sold out. Today? Barely 500 people visited. It was a nearly private visit to one of the most spectacular sites I've ever seen. It ranks up there in wonderment with the Pyramids of Giza and the Serengeti migration. I consider myself amazingly fortunate to have seen it.

We spent a few hours wandering the upper heights of the site and getting some amazing photos. At 10am, we had tickets to climb that mountain that is in the background of all Machu Picchu photos- Huayna Picchu. Until recently, anyone could climb this mountain. Now, it's limited to 200 people per day on a first-come, first-served basis. Oh, and now it costs an extra $10, because it wouldn't be Machu Picchu without bleeding you dry (train tickets, $100 roundtrip per person; bus up to the site, $9 per person; admission, $50 per person; seeing Machu Picchu without going bankrupt, priceless). Anyway, if you see photos of Huayna Picchu, it looks IMPOSSIBLE to climb. But those crafty Inca built a scary steep staircase into the mountain, so it was easier than it looked. We made it to the top in under 30 minutes, and all I can say is wow. The views of the Andes and Machu Picchu were unbelieveable. It was like being on top of the world, higher than the mountaintops.

We picnicked on top of Huayna Picchu, then did the oh-my-god-please-don't-let-me-plummet-to-my-death crawl down the stairs. We spent the remainder of the afternoon walking through the massive city ruins and getting our Incan education on. At 4pm we walked all the way down Machu Picchu mountain to the train station- an hourlong hike down, but again those crafty Inca had built a granite staircase! We caught the 6pm train back to Ollanta, and I am not at all ashamed to admit that climbing stairs for 9 hours has us in bed at 9pm. :)

So that was our adventure to Machu Picchu, a day I've dreamed about for years. It really isn't possible to convey how magical and amazing it felt to just be there. I'm going to dream about it tonight, I'm sure.

Distance up to Huayna Picchu: 1640 feet
Distance down Machu Picchu mountain to Aguas Calientes: 2000 feet
Feet: hurt
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