Machu Picchu, complete. It felt so good to finally tick this baby off – it had been a long time in the making and one of the (few) things that has actually gone right this trip.
I went alone: it was too expensive for Andy to make the trip twice. I also hadn’t booked anything: uncertainty of dates and time constraints resulted in me planning my journey only the week before. My train left at 6.40am from San Pedro station in Cusco on one day, returning from Aguascalientes at 3.10pm the next day. I confirmed my visit up Machu Picchu for 6am that morning.
San Pedro station is relatively new. Previously, the closest station was Poroy, about a 20 minute taxi ride away from Cusco. Ticket prices meant that while I could book a train that departed from San Pedro, I was forced to arrive back at Poroy – but thankfully I found someone to share a taxi with (not that the taxi ended up being that expensive). The Peru Rail trains were super nice: there were panoramic windows, commentary about the scenery and even food and drink available. I tried my first Peruvian passionfruit – it was so delicious that I knew it wouldn’t be my last.
The journey takes about 4 hours, which meant that I arrived before lunch in Aguascalientes. A day there is all you need: it’s small, expensive and touristy as hell. I guess everyone has to eat, so restaurants can basically charge what they want. It is definitely fun to wander around though. There is a huge souvenir market right by the train station, lots of restaurants with happy hours and plenty of massage parlours to soothe those post hike muscles.
My plan had been to spend three hours hiking the round trip to the Mundo Waterfall, where there is also a butterfly garden and a swimming hole. About twenty minutes into my walk the skies opened. Annoyingly, I didn’t really have a change of clothes with me (I’d packed light) so I couldn’t afford to get too wet! Not to worry – I took shelter in the market, sourced myself some cheap produce for my dinner and met a few people from my hostel.
The next day my alarm went off at 4am. The day before I’d bought a bus ticket for my trip up to Machu Picchu. Lots of people choose to walk but I’d been advised not to and in hindsight I was so glad I listened! The hike up is gruelling: about 90 minutes worth of steep steps and little view. I walked down and that was more than enough: I would have been wrecked if I’d tried to hike up as well – especially at 4am in the morning!
Instead I got to the bus stop at about 4.45am and was about fifth from the front of the queue, along with two Canadians from my hostel. We had to wait until 5.30am for the bus to depart, but we were amongst the first at the top and our sunrise views of Machu Picchu were absolutely unhampered by crowds. It was truly breathtaking. The city of Machu Picchu went from being shaded to completely sun drenched in the space of about 6 minutes.
I stuck with the Canadians as we explored the area. None of us had pre booked the Wayna Picchu mountain (which needs to be done months in advance) so we just tried to stay a step ahead of the mobs of people following us. At first we kept climbing higher to get repeatedly better views and then we journeyed around to the Inca Bridge. It was about a 40 minute excursion from the front side of Machu Picchu and we were satisfied to see that we were the first people of the day signing in to this particular trail.
Afterwards we slowly migrated down to the city ruins, where we spent an hour or so wandering through the remains of different rooms, plazas, temples and areas. It was so well preserved and there were continually mesmerising views to appreciate. It was crazy looking back at the viewpoints where we had first arrived: they were now flooded with people. We were also lucky with the weather: I met some people from the Salkantay trek, whose guide had told them the night before to not get their hopes up as the weather was meant to be atrocious. Phew!
Annoyingly, we found ourselves on a one way path through the city which led us all the way to the exit. We tried to cut back numerous times (mainly because the Canadians I was with wanted to get closer to the roaming alpacas) and were told that we weren’t allowed. I was glad that we’d taken the time to soak up the higher views and visit the Inca bridge first, because we would have missed out otherwise. As it was, we didn’t make it to the Sun Gate, which was a bit frustrating. However, we walked continuously for over 2.5 hours and by the time we left, I felt like I’d seen more than enough.
We stopped for a coffee at the overpriced cafe (with undeniably gorgeous views) before beginning the trek down. It took about an hour and it was steep: my knees were crying out by the end! I felt very sorry for anyone we met coming the other way: to me, it just wouldn’t have been an enjoyable walk up.
Back down in Aguascalientes I had a few hours before the train departed. We enjoyed a ridiculously overpriced coffee at Inkani Cafe (the boys also got lunch) which was a trendy and relaxing spot, but not quite as good as the prices would suggest.
Exhausted, I was relieved to get back on the train and settle in for some more beautiful views as I journeyed back to Cusco. Tired but happy!