Backpacking across the Andes Machu Picchu Peru

Backpacking across the Andes – #16: Machu Picchu (Peru)

 On August, 15th we jumped out of bed when the alarm clock rang at 4:45am: we were going to the Machu Picchu, the “Lost City of the Incas”!! Finally!

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 A DREAM COME TRUE

Going to Machu Picchu was a dream and it was the second highlight of our trip across the Andes (after the Uyuni Salt Flat in Bolivia)! There is something mysterious about this Inca City, lost in the middle of misty mountains, at about 2 430 meters above sea level, in a spectacular setting.

 A FEW HISTORY WORDS

The city was built in the 15th century by the Inca Empire, and that it was  then abandoned about a century later, at the time of the Spanish conquest. The Spanish conquistadors never found it and it was “lost” for many years. Over the centuries, the surrounding jungle grew over the site, and few people knew of its existence. In the 20th century the city was “rediscovered” and made known to the outside world. Today Machu Picchu is the most visited site of South America. It is a UNESCO World Heritage site and it is considered one of the New Seven Wonders of the World.

OLLANTAYTAMBO   AGUAS CALIENTES  MACHU PICCHU

So on D-Day we reached the little Ollantaytambo train station at 5:40, ready to embark on a new amazing adventure. The train was comfortable and had panoramic windows so that we did not miss anything of the beautiful view. The train took us deeper and deeper into the mountains, into the middle of nowhere! There was nothing along the way but beautiful and luxuriant mountain peaks.

About one-and-a-half hours later, we reached the little town of Aguas Calientes, located at the feet of the ancient Inca City. We followed the masses of tourists to find the place to buy the bus tickets, which were ridiculously expensive for the 20 minute ride. But we preferred to keep our energy to explore Machu Picchu so we took the bus. After a crazy mountain-curve ride, we finally reached the entrance of this magical city. We could not believe we were finally there.

 FIRST ENCOUNTER WITH THE CUIDADELA

As we started walking up a little mountain trail, we were fascinated by the setting. There was something beautiful about the light. The sun was going up and the morning mist was gradually disappearing. It was nice and warm. We were surrounded by this gorgeous tropical mountain forest. There was not a single cloud in the sky. We were so lucky with the weather.

And then suddenly, there it was, right in front of our eyes: the beautiful lost Inca City. I was afraid to be disappointed because I had seen so many pictures of Machu Picchu, but, on the contrary, I was fascinated. It was more beautiful than I could have expected. More than ever, we thought that they Incas had not chosen the easiest place to build a city…

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HIKING TO THE “PUERTA DEL SOL”

We first went to the Sungate (Puerta del Sol), located on an opposite mountain. The hike lasted about 2 hours and we followed a lovely little path that kept going up and up.

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All along the way, we had the best view on Machu Picchu.

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Suddenly we realized how high we were. The little Urubamba River seemed to be very far away down in the valley.

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Finally we reached the Sungate. The view on the Machu Picchu was amazing. We could even see the curvy mountain road we had taken with the bus.

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DISCOVERING “EL PUENTE INCA”

We then went to the Inca Bridge. We were surprised that we had to “register” to take the little path going there. We were told to be careful as the path following the mountain flank was very narrow. Indeed it was. But the walk was very pleasant, in the shadow of century old trees and there were not many people. We learnt that this used to be one of the entrances to the Machu Picchu in the Inca times. They had built this impressive bridge on the mountain flank. Surely they did not have the fear of heights back then…

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On the way back, we were faced with this beautiful view of the mount Wayna Picchu.

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EXPLORING “LA CUIDADELA”

And then we started exploring the ancient city referred to as the “Ciudadela” (the Citadel). The site is divided into an urban sector and an agricultural sector with the specific Inca terraces. About 200 buildings were built around a vast central plaza. Like in Ollantaytambo, there was an impressive system of irrigation channels.

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Here again, the huge stone blocks are perfectly fitted…

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 BEING FACE TO FACE WITH A BEAR

And then suddenly as we were exploring the site, we came face to face with a bear! He was right there, five meters away from us. As we were going back to the other direction not to get any closer to the bear, a staff member told us that we could not go back and he scared the bear away…

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 AND KEEPING EXPLORING AS IF NOTHING HAD HAPPENED…

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BACK TO AGUAS CALIENTES

At about 4pm, the weather started to change and clouds were coming. We were exhausted after a whole day going up and down and decided to leave this magical place before the rain came.

We decided not to take the bus and went down walking, using a lovely mountain trail. It took us about an hour to reach Aguas Calientes. The view was beautiful and we were glad we had not taken the bus.

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AND BACK TO OLLANTAYTAMBO

At about 6pm, we took the train back to Ollantaytambo. Everybody in the train was dozing off. We were thinking about this incredible day we had just spent, at 2 430 meters, on the footsteps of the Inca…

TIPS FOR TRAVELLERS

How to buy your tickets?

You must buy your tickets at least one week before your visit. Click here to check out the following website to see how many tickets are left each day.

You will follow these 3 steps: make a reservation on the Machu Picchu website, pay on that same site if you have a VAISA card (or from one of the authorized agencies), print out your ticket (from the “Check-in” tab on the Machu Picchu website).

How to pay without a VISA card?

Go to one of the authorized dealers: some cultural centers in Cusco or Aguas Calientes or in a Banco de la Nacion agency (throughout Peru). You will find the adresses of the authorized centers on the Machu Picchu website (“Pagos” tab), the opening hours and authorized means of payment.

Once your reservation done, you will only have three hours to pay.

 There are three different tickets

Machu Picchu only (the one we purchased). This tickets gives you access to the main site. Only 2 500 tickets are available each day.

Machu Picchu + Wayna Picchu. This ticket gives you access to the main site + to the very steep mountain overlooking the citadel. If you want to hike Wayna Picchu, you must purchase your ticket three months in advance! There were no more tickets available when we tried. Only 400 tickets are available each day.

Machu Picchu + Machu Mountain. This ticket gives you access to the main site + to another mount from which you have a great view on the Citadel. Only 800 tickets are available each day.

Which ticket should I choose?

If like us you have no precise travel plan and end up buying your tickets a few days before your visit, you will not have a choice. You will buy the “Machu Picchu only” ticket. But as you will see bellow, you get to see many incredible things with this ticket so don’t be disappointed.

If you are the kind of traveller who plans several months ahead, then you might have a choice. We heard that either the mount Wayna Picchu or the mount Machu are really worth the hike.

But be aware that these hikes are quiet steep. If you are not a great athlete like me, the first ticket might be enough for you. If you love hiking on the other hand, you should definitely choose ticket 2 or 3.

How to reach Machu Picchu?

By train

Perurail and Incarail are the 2 companies. The train leaves from Cusco, Ollantaytambo and Urubamba. You will get off at Aguas Calientes, at the feet of Machu Picchu. From there you can either walk to Machu Picchu (1h30) or go by bus (20 min). It is the easiest option but it is expensive.

By bus

You can also take a bus to “Hidroelectrica”. From there you will walk 2h to Aguas Calientes and then reach Machu Picchu on foot or by bus. It is recommended to arrive the day before in Aguas Calientes. It is the cheapest option.

On foot

You can also choose the trecking option that lasts several days. You will follow the “Camino Inca” from Cusco to Machu Picchu. Be aware that the treck requires a good physical condition. This option is rater expensive as well.

Continue reading

  • Next stop: Cusco. Click here to read the article.
  • All articles about this country: click here to see all articles about Peru.
  • All articles about this trip: click here to read see all articles about this backpacking trip across the Andes (Chile – Bolivia – Peru).
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  • Reply Backpacking across the Andes – #15: Ollantaytambo (Peru) - La petite valise d'Aurélie 20 February 2016 at 18 h 22 min

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