Day 9: Wednesday, June 1
We woke up around 4 am, had a tasty hotel breakfast at 4:30, then lined up before 5 to take a bus up the mountain from Aguas Calientes to the Machu Picchu entrance. We saw tons of people walking by the hotel, starting a hike up the mountain in the dark to save $12 (or for the thrill of it). By the time we arrived at the bus stop just down the road, the line was already several blocks long.
The buses started up the mountain at 5:30, but despite the crowds of people, it didn’t seem to take long to make our way to the Machu Picchu entrance.
We, along with 20ish other people, met up with our English-speaking guide for a 2-hour morning tour. There were hoards of guided tours just like ours, bumping into and talking over one another. Around 7:30 the sun peeked over the adjacent mountain and shone right onto Machu Picchu and Huayna Picchu – the iconic mountain next to the ruins. It was breathtaking!
The tour was really interesting – we saw the terraces, a garden, the lookout tower, sundial, sun temple, king’s house, many buildings, etc. Researchers think it took over 100 years to build Machu Picchu, holding 400-500 people. It might have been part of a pilgrimage. Despite popular belief, it is not the Lost City of the Inca. Hiram Bingham III was led there by a native boy when searching for the Lost City in 1911. According to our guide, because several thousand people walk on the ruins every day, it is slowly sinking. (I’m not sure if I believe this) He said there is talk of limiting the time guests can stay there, or even building a cable car so people just view it from above while crossing between mountains. If that’s true – I’m glad we made the trek when we did!
After the tour we decided to take a hike to the Inca Bridge. Unfortunately Machu Picchu tourism is designed to be one-way, so we had to go all the way down the steps and back up to get to the trailhead. (We’re talking many, many flights of steep, rugged steps.) Once we signed in at the entrance of the trail (to make sure everyone makes it back alive, I suppose), it only took us about 15 minutes each way. The scariest part of the bridge has been barricaded off since someone fell to his death a while back. It’s an extremely narrow section of the trail carved into a sheer cliff, connected by a wooden plank. If you follow the trail with your eyes, it goes up the mountain and disappears – never uncovered.
Even the last section of the hike prior to the cutoff point had a cable to hold on to, being quite narrow.
It was still late morning when we returned from the Inca Bridge, so we headed to the top of Machu Picchu and hung out on a terrace, watching a few llamas graze on the grass. The crowds were starting to die down a bit, so it was as picturesque and serene as you might imagine … until the guards ran all of us tourists off the terraces.
We decided to have an early lunch – hungry from all the flights of stairs we’d been climbing. We enjoyed a fancy included buffet at the Machu Picchu Lodge. We tried all kinds of dishes, including ceviche, which we decided we didn’t need try again. They also had ICE! I made myself an iced coffee and we took our time and indulged in way too much food.
After lunch, we went back out to explore on our own.
It was much less busy than the morning, so we visited every piece of Machu Picchu we could find, including some secluded areas on the backside. We took fun photos, ran into a chinchilla, and theorized about the big open area in the middle (possibly an arena?).
We had to pay 1 sol to use the restroom, then we hopped on the bus and made our way back to Aguas Calientes in the late afternoon.
Back in town, we had to kill a few hours before our train left, so we walked through the market, ate overpriced ice cream, bought sandwiches for the train ride home, and hung out on park benches in the town square. (I got scolded by a police officer for lying down on the bench.)
We took the 6:00 train to Ollataytambo, where someone was waiting with our names on a list to take us in a large van back to Cusco. The van sped through the windy, steep countryside, so it wasn’t exactly an enjoyable trip. We walked a few blocks to our hotel, finally arriving around 10:30.
We happily found our luggage waiting for us at the hotel, so we showered and made it to bed around midnight, exhausted after 27,000 steps and over 300 flights of stairs climbed.