Peru: Machu Picchu

So this is the post you’ve been waiting for. And of course it was the main highlight of our trip. Everyone will tell you this, and it’s true: you know going in that Machu Picchu is going to knock your socks off. But you cannot possibly be prepared for just how incredible it is. It lives up to the hype. It really does.

Getting there is a bit of a trick, though. It can’t be reached by road. The process from Cusco is this: you leave your hotel at 4:50am and drive almost two hours to Ollantaytambo. From there, you get on a train (you need tickets beforehand; I think you can buy them there, but I wouldn’t risk it – they always sell out). The train takes an hour to go 27km. It’s quite a ride, though. Once you arrive, you will need to take a bus (again, get your ticket early!) to the top (you can walk, but you don’t want to waste the time).

Anyway, here’s our train.

We splurged a bit and went with Vistadome, which you can see gives you a good view of the mountains. I think it’s worth it, personally. If you have any control at all over it, try to sit on the left side.

And once you finally arrive, you will wait in the queue. Oh, and you’d better have tickets already; they only allow 2,500 people per day. But it’s all worth it, because look at your first view:

Even if you don’t come as part of a tour, you should take a guided tour. It will last about an hour and a half and is worth it, because it explains everything you’re seeing. With that context, you’ll be able to roam around after and really enjoy yourself.

I’ve seen a lot of photos of it in which fog or clouds obscure the view, making it very mysterious. Which is probably nice. But under the beautiful blue, cloudless skies we have, you can appreciate the setting all the more.

Yes, there are a lot of people. But what do you expect when you visit one of the seven wonders of the world? Just be patient and prepared to stay a little later, when most of the grey-hairs will start feeling tired and get on the bus to go home. Close to sunset, you will find you have the place all to yourself.

And look how big it is! Once the crowds start to thin, you will feel like the only people there. It’s so spooky and lovely.

The place is full of little creatures if you look carefully.

This is Huayna Picchu, which a lot of people encouraged us to climb. You’ve got to reserve tickets beforehand, and you’ve got to NOT be afraid of heights. I was not terribly disappointed that we couldn’t do it. It just looked… so scary.

Plus, look. Our view didn’t lack anything.

A small herd of llamas lives in the city and gets to go anywhere they want.

This is the Temple of the Condor. See it? Wings up above me, and next to me, body, white ruff around the neck, and head.

After that long but wonderful day, we checked into our hotel, had showers, and found more soup.

After which, one of the best nights of sleep I have had in a long time. Which was perfect, because we were back up again at 4am for breakfast and to catch the first bus and make it to the top before sunrise.

It took nearly an hour to walk out to the Sun Gate, but the view is well worth it. We kept passing people who’d just completed the Inca Trail, and every one of them had the same joke: “You’re going the wrong way!”

While Yen got set up for the shot, I settled onto my perch and enjoyed the view.

Here’s one of the trails built by the Incas and in perfect condition still today. It’s so nice to walking on: completely even, and with no loose stones.

On a whim, Yen began following signs for the Inca Bridge. At first I was a little confused why we were deliberately walking away from Machu Picchu, but once I saw the view, it became clear.

Here’s the bridge. It is absolutely stunning that they built this. It’s a secret way to bring an army into (or out of) Machu Picchu by a route other than the main road. And see? You can slip the wooden pieces out and completely close it off if you need to.

Look at me go! I was pretty proud of how bravely I walked out onto this. No rail. Total drop-off. And the path gets more and more narrow.

Anyway, then back to the main attraction.

We had a 3pm train to catch, so we decided to leave and walk down (instead of taking the bus). Pretty hard on the knees, but a nice way to spend an hour. And we got to see this Blue-Crowned Motmot!

This is at the bottom, back on the same road the bus takes.

And the little town of Machu Picchu Pueblo (nee Aguas Calientes). If you arrive accepting that it exists only for tourists and their supporting staff, it’s kind of a cute little town.

On the train on the way home, we were invaded by a dancer.