When traveling through South America, the majority of people will include Peru on their itinerary, and the biggest tourist attraction by far in Peru is Machu Picchu!
D was in charge of planning this bit of our trip, and if there’s one thing D is bad at, it’s planning. Ideally, you need to book the Inca trail at least six months in advance – if that is your chosen route to Machu Picchu – but D didn’t know that. Luckily for us it turned out that almost all tour companies offer one day trips. So we booked ourselves a full day tour, and got ready for the trip of a lifetime.
We wanted to share our experience with you in case it’s on your bucket list and trekking isn’t your thing either (or you and forget to book the Inca Trail, like D!)
An Early Start…
We were picked up from our hostel super early at 3:45am, for a bumpy 90 minute minibus ride to Ollytaytambo – a town in the Sacred Valley which is worth visiting on its own. We were just there to meet the train that would take us on to Aguas Calientes, the town closest to Machu Picchu.
A Rather Posh Train
Comfy leather seats, individual tables and roof top windows, meant that the train turned out to be the poshest thing we’ve experienced since we came travelling! There were fancily dressed hosts serving complimentary hot drinks and snacks too. D’s favourite was the local, flaky buttery biscuit with hundreds and thousands on.
There are no roads to Aguas Calientes – so the train, (or a gruelling walk up the railway tracks if you don’t want to pay for a train ticket), is the only way to get there. The train takes about an hour and a half, and the scenery outside the windows is spectacular.
The Final Ascent
We arrived in Aguas Calientes just before 8am. Unfortunately, we had to wait about an hour to join up with a group of people, and then we were herded like cattle on to one of a string of buses, making the short winding drive up the mountain to the entrance. If you don’t want to pay for a bus ticket, there are steps that you can climb. But be warned, these are not for the fainthearted!
At about 10am we finally made it to the entrance and stepped inside. Although the gatekeepers no longer stamp your passport, there is a station just inside where you can stamp it with an official Machu Picchu stamp yourself. Don’t miss it!
Our Machu Picchu experience began with a guided tour which lasted about an hour or so. The tour was okay (if you like feeling like a sheep) but the real fun began when we were let loose to explore on our own.
Stomping around in the forgotten footsteps of the Incan people was fantastic! We walked out to the Sun Gate (where the Inca Trail ends), went to see the Inca Bridge and climbed the stairs up to the Guard House to get the “picture postcard” view. Each building is architecturally impressive and historically interesting, but together they form one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World. We also met the newest residents, the llamas.
Sights Not To Be Missed
1. Chinchilla chilling on Incan foundations.
2. Llama who managed to find a quiet place to graze.
3. Temple of the Sun – the only semi circular building in Machu Picchu. Used as an observatory with two windows pointing east and west.
4. Temple of the Three Windows.
5. The Roca Sagrada (sacred rock) – a carved replica of the mountain which the Inca considered their protector. Used as an altar to make offerings.
6. The Guard House / Hut of the Caretaker.
7. The iconic tiered steps – as well as forming structural boundaries these were used for farming.
8. The Temple of the Condor – can you see its beak and wings? Nope, neither can we.
9. Intihuatana – an instrument used to predict the solstices, carved out of a single piece of rock.
No blog of Machu Picchu would be complete without the classic view, so here it is. But, photos don’t do it justice; you have to go!
Once we were tired from all the walking and climbing around Machu Picchu, we headed back to Aguas Calientes. We grabbed some food at one of the many, many restaurants before embarking on the journey back to our hostel via the train and minibus. We arrived back around 1am and boy, were we tired! It really had been a FULL DAY tour.
Now you know the how, when are you going!? Or have you already been? We would love to hear from you so get in touch!