2 May 2014

We Made It To Machu Picchu!

Cusco is the gateway to the incredible mountain top Inca village of Machu Picchu and it would have been a major fail for us if we didn’t at least try and visit. The scenic, adventurous route was no longer an option (see why here) so, we decided to see if a local travel agent could help get us there another way. 

"We made it!"

We’d had a great time whitewater rafting with them so we started our search with an agency called Mayuc on Cusco's Plaza De Armas square. Despite it being Easter weekend they were able to find us some reasonably priced train tickets to Agua Calientes. The times weren’t suitable to get there and back in one day so we had to stay overnight in the tourist trap at the foot of Machu Picchu mountain. It was our only option so we decided to go for it!

Our Machu Picchu itinerary looked something like this:

3.30am Taxi pick up at hotel
4.00am Shuttle bus to Ollantaytambo train station
6.00am Train to Aqua Calientes
8.00am Meet Rep at train station for MP tickets and guided tour 
Zzzz   Stay overnight at a hotel in Agua Calientes
3.00pm Train to Ollantaytambo
5.00pm Shuttle bus to Cusco

machu picchu peru
"First view. Incredible!"

As planned our adventure to Machu Picchu began at 3.30am. At 3.50am we were wandering up and down our street wondering the hell is our taxi? Just five minutes earlier the driver had rang our hotel and spoke to the owner yet it didn’t show. We had no choice but to make a run for it across town making an educated guess as we ran that our shuttle bus would be leaving from the same street as our whitewater rafting trip. Thankfully we were right and were very relieved to find a bus of tourists waiting to depart. Phew!

We relaxed into our seats and enjoyed a power nap until we arrived around sunrise in Ollanta. There were lots of tourists here and many were on organised group tours being escorted from A to B by their flag wielding guides. We, ever the independent travellers were on our own. We bought coffee and joined a big queue before being ushered on to a very impressive train with a glass roof for maximum viewing pleasure. The free coffee and cakes perked us up a bit more too! Peru Rail trains are so different to the UK.

We glided through tunnels and around numerous bends at the bottom of a very steep valley alongside a fast flowing, boulder filled river. The scenery was absolutely stunning! 

machu picchu peru

When we embarked at Aqua Calientes another drama surfaced as our rep was not there to meet us. For about 20 minutes we were like the forgotten children in the playground whose parents were late picking them up. Eventually she appeared and took us to the ticket office. From what we saw anybody can turn up and buy a ticket for Machu Picchu on the day of their visit, nothing was pre-booked or waiting for us, you just need your passport. 

We also bought tickets for Machu Picchu mountain, not really sure why though as its a six hour round hike after you’ve spend hours roaming Machu Picchu. TIP: Save a few $ and don’t buy this kind of ticket!

machu picchu peru
"We're IN!"

With our tickets in hand and directions to the bus stop we set off again on our own. We’d heard the bus up to the gates of Machu Picchu was pretty scary, the rumours were not wrong so if you don’t want to stare into the face of death choose an aisle seat. The zig zag road has been cut into a very steep mountain side, the roads are narrow and buses pass each other every minute or so, its that busy. 

Anyway, we made it to the top and headed straight through the gates to stamp our passport. We had MADE IT TO MACHU PICCHU!! 

machu picchu peru

It was so exciting and hot, its very, very, sunny and hot up there.

machu picchu peru

Armed with our map and with a couple of hours to spare before our guided tour we set off to explore. 

machu picchu peru

First impressions were breathtaking, nothing prepares you for the sheer beauty of the setting. Let's just say it's worth the hype!

machu picchu peru
"#SELFIE (it had to be done)"

Machu Picchu is difficult to describe. We loved the symmetry of the  design and layout. The contrast of bright green manicured lawns, matte grey stone and vivid blue skies is beautiful. From every angle you get a fantastic view. In addition to the unique architecture  Machu Picchu is surrounded by pointed lush green mountains and seemingly bottomless valleys. Its very other worldly as you are so high up and remote, yes, even despite the volume of tourists.  

machu picchu peru

On our first entry we decided to stick to the lower levels of the village and save our energy to get us to the top during our guided tour later on. It was lovely to wander around aimlessly trying to imagine the Incas living here in the 14th century.

machu picchu peru
"Reconstructed farm houses in the agricultural section."

After a couple of hours we gave in to our hunger and (Steve's) beer cravings. In the bar we felt a little envious of the trekkers who were toasting their survival of the Inca Trail - that should have been us! However, we were also pretty glad not to be them as they looked much more tired and in need of a shower than we did. 

We sipped happily on our Cusquenas as we tried to spot our tour guide. Of course she arrived late. Then, she spent about 15 minutes trying to get an English speaking guide to allow us on their tour. Its quite chaotic where all the guides hang out, everybody is always looking for a lost person or touting themselves as a guide. Again, we could have organised this bit ourselves as it wasn't actually that organised. 

machu picchu peru
"The classic Machu Picchu shot."

Eagerly, we joined a group and were relieved we didn't have to struggle our way through a tour in Spanish. Our guide was really nice and her native language was Quechua as she belonged to one of the indigenous ethnic groups of Peru. Our first stop was to climb to the highest point of Machu Picchu and enjoy an incredible birds eye view of the site. 

machu picchu peru

We enjoyed a two hour walking tour and found our guide quite informative. Like many other official guides she had a Machu Picchu text book to refer to and show us diagrams from. Some of the information was a little hard to follow and seemed far fetched especially when it came to the temples.

The Incas were incredible scientists and Machu Picchu was a lot like a university with many developing their skills further here. The more we saw the more we understood the layout and functionality of the site. 

machu picchu peru

Huayna Picchu mountain is visible in the background of most of our photos, visitors can hike to the top in a couple of hours but they only allow a couple of hundred to do this each day. Unfortunately, we'd booked too late and were sad to miss out as the views from the top are meant to be fantastic.

After our tour we were shocked by the enormous queues for the return bus back down. Being British we're glad to report that it was very orderly and went down quicker than expected. 

machu picchu queue
"Extreme queueing (for a bus)."

Soon we were in our rather grim hotel reception at the top of the main street in Agua Calientes. We checked into our hotel room and were disgusted to find the bathroom full of flies. Gross!

It was only for one night and we'd already paid our travel agent so there wasn't much we could do. Well, apart from get the receptionist to come and kill the flies by flogging a towel at them. We decided red wine and pizza were in order and headed down the main strip to find some of decent quality. It was a tough call but we found some eventually.

The next day we had loads of time to kill as our train home wasn't until 3pm. We found a cute restaurant on the other side of town where the train literally runs through the street and the pavement is the platform.

agua calientes train
"Mind the train."

Our train home was very nice and we were seated opposite a senator and his wife. This made a nice change from backpackers! It was entertaining to witness a unique approach to sales from the Peru Rail staff. We got to watch a fashion show and salsa dancing in the aisles!  

When we arrived back in Ollanta, the feeling of being lost children returned as we were the only two tourists left behind in the carpark. There was no shuttle bus to meet us. 

Thankfully a taxi driver helped us out and introduced us to his mate who's shuttle bus was leaving soon. After a few phonecalls it was agreed we could ride the bus and our travel agent would pay. We were very relieved to make it back to Cusco and the homely vibes of Casa Sihuar for our last night in the capital of the Inca empire. 

It was a bit touch and go but we did make it to Machu Picchu. We're so glad we did, we've never visited anywhere like it! Incredible. 

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