We arrived by train the night before. The train ride to Aguas Calientes (Machu Picchu Pueblo) is very picturesque but as it was dark we would have to wait for the ride back to Ollantaytambo to be sure. We
had bought some snacks for the train so once we arrived, all we needed to do was find the way to our accommodation (which was quite hard) and fall asleep (which was even harder). Aguas Calientes must be one of the least attractive cities I’ve ever visited. The only good thing about it, is it’s proximity to MaPi. There are millions of hotels, hostels, pubs, and restaurants (with waiters that can be really aggressive in their advances to convince you to eat at their place), fluorescent advertisements, loud music… Nothing there to build up our excitement for the magical place we were about to see!
Our hotel was located on the busiest streets, with music playing until midnight and people shouting. In the end, we got some hours of sleep and woke up ready to catch the first bus to Mach Picchu. Too bad though, that about 200 others had the same idea! So we got in line, dreading the potential waiting time, while Clément went to buy our tickets. The busses started to move not long after, filling up with excited tourist to make their way up the mountain to the famous ruins. The queue moved astonishingly fast and after only about 30 minutes we were on board of bus #16! We went up the narrow windy road and enjoyed the amazing view over the beautiful mountains and valleys.
Of course, once we arrived we had to join another queue to enter the premises but we were lucky and got into a fast moving line. The people working at the entrance at supposed to check the bags for forbidden substances which is basically everything except for water (in a glass bottle) and fruits. We had left most of our stuff in one of the lockers next to the entrance but we shouldn’t have bothered. The lady in our line didn’t check a single bag as far as we could see.
So at about 7:15 am we were making our first steps onto Machu Picchu! I had to keep myself from overtaking people or pushing them out of the way on the first narrow path towards the site! That’s how excited I was! We went straight up to the caretakers hut (as recommended in every guidebook and travel blog ever written on Machu Picchu) to catch a first glimpse of the Inka capital before it’s swarming with tourists.
It was simply spectacular! The sun was shining through the misty clouds, making everything glow. We heard that people break down in tears at first sight of MaPi – well, I can understand that although it didn’t happen to us. This city in the middle of nowhere, all those remains of a once powerful empire! The thought that all this has been built from nothing and is still here for us to see and admire… absolutely overwhelming!
We took our time, sat down on a little wall (a guard whistled at us because apparently you can sit in the wall but not have your feet dangling down) to wait for the sun to break through the clouds. At that point we were really happy that we didn’t get a guide at the entrance. All around we heard people being reminded to walk on, that they were in a hurry, that they had to move on. No times for a moment of admiration or a picture. Finally, the masses moved on and the sun broke through creating a whole new Machu Picchu. Again, absolutely beautiful!
From the caretakers hut, we walked towards the Inka Bridge. It’s a 20 minute walk to the bridge along a narrow but easy path. There are not a lot of people in the morning so it’s calm and quiet! The path offers a view over a different part of the valleys surrounding Machu Picchu, down on the river, the railway, and Hydroelectrica. It’s not possible to access the bridge (stupid me thought we could walk across) but I guess few people would like to anyway. It looks like an ancient access or escape route from the city with a collapsible bridge to keep enemies away. From the end of the path you can catch a glimpse on how the path continues or used to continue. It looks absolutely mad!! Only an absolute emergency would make you take this road!
To stay away from the crowds roaming the ruins and to take advantage of the cooler morning, we aimed for the Sun Gate next. To get up there took us about 45 minutes, including several breaks to catch our breaths. There are two lookouts on the way that already offer quite spectacular views over MaPi and the surrounding mountains. Some people turned around here but we continued our quest to the Sun Gate. It’s were the people hiking the Inka Trail arrive so – since we didn’t do any hike to earn Machu Picchu – in a way we felt like we had to walk at least this small part of the trail.
After exhausting ourselves on the two hikes, we headed for the exit to eat and to use the bathroom. We learned that most pathways are one way streets so to reach the exit, we had to take quite a detour. You have to know that there are no toilets on the premises so if you happen to have to go, you better hurry. And pray to not encounter any group of asian tourists blocking the narrow pathways trying to get the perfect shot.
For lunch, there are three options: First, eat in a restaurant that offers a lunch buffet for 30 US$. Second, buy a sandwich for prices (and quality) common in german theme parks. Third, bring your own. That’s what we did. We brought some bread, avocados, cream cheese, and chips, and enjoyed lunch in the sun surrounded by some stray dogs. The money we saved, we spent right away for coffee though, because, well, we really needed one!
After lunch, we went into the ruins themselves to explore the buildings and temples that have been built there. It hit us again how amazing this place is! Someone a long time ago must have dreamed up and planned this whole endeavor! And to put the plan into reality took hundreds of helping hands and endless hours of work. We could have spent hours imagining how life must have looked like… for the kings, for the servants, for the children…
After 3 pm most people had left and we were very thankful for the advice to book two nights and not just one in Aguas Calientes for not having to worry about taking the bus in time to get back to Cusco on the same day. How ever dreadful Aguas Calientes may be, it’s definitely worth to stay another night! We spent this time at our favorite spot: around the caretakers hut. The sun was shining warm from the sky and the llamas and alpacas came down from the upper terraces to enjoy the view over their Machu Picchu. We enjoyed the view of the llamas in front of Machu Picchu and took a thousand of the iconic llama-in-front-of-the-ruins-pictures.
We really appreciated those last moments with magical light shining onto this magical place! A lot is about to change for the visitors of Machu Picchu (visit for 6 hours max. and only accompanied by a tour guide). I hope it doesn’t decrease the visitors experience and still let’s them appreciate the magic of this otherworldly place!
We took the bus back to Aguas Calientes at 4:30 pm, exhausted from the long day but really happy! I don’t think we could’ve hoped for more! After this beautiful day, even the craziness of ugly Aguas Calientes could not bother us much…
Lots of love