The decision to go to Machu Picchu struck me one day. I was walking to class and mulling over the end of my semester. I realized that I had not gone to Machu Picchu, one of the top stops of my bucket list, had some time, and while it was an expensive trip it would be much cheaper than if I were to attempt it from America. What was stopping me? A fear of being a bit poorer? During my musings, I made up my mind. One way or another, I was going to Machu Picchu.
It just so happens that I finished classes two weeks before our program end date and my plane ticket home. There was no need to extend my plane ticket or overcomplicate my life. I could split up my remaining time in South America. I consulted with one of my friends and we picked out some airline tickets and a hostel. Just like that, we were going to Machu Picchu!
We flew into Cuzco on July 4th, the day after our goodbye dinner. Our flight left at 6:30 AM which meant a 3:00 AM shuttle to the airport. With our goodbye dinner the night before, we realized we wouldn’t be sleeping much, if at all. Oh well, that was what the long flight was for.
Our flight connected from Lima to Cuzco and was about 7 hrs total. Although our layover was much too short, and we ended up sprinting to our second flight, we made it to Cuzco safely in one piece.
The altitude in Cuzco was a killer, and I started feeling it immediately. We had already been advised to take our first day slowly. We checked into our hostel, got something to eat, talked to a few tour agencies before settling on a tour for Machu Picchu, took rather long naps and just generally took the day really slowly.
The tour we picked left at 8:00 AM the next morning. We were doing a two day, one night tour to Machu Picchu by van. This option was significantly cheaper than the typical train tour and also included three meals and a hostel. We were sold.
Driving up the side of the mountains in a van was rather terrifying. We ripped around tight turns in ways I would never consider. After awhile, I just decided to trust the driver. This was his job. He knew the roads. He didn’t want to die as much as we didn’t. We would be fine.
We spent the first day in our van with the rest of our tour group until about 4 PM when we were dropped off at the beginning of the Machu Picchu nature reserve, a stop called Hidroelectrica, from there we were to hike to Aguas Calientes, or Machu Picchu town. We could also wait half an hour and take the train, but after all day in a van, who wanted to do that? We started out on the “2 hour hike” (which turned out to be about 3, the guides had an awful sense of time).
The hike was nice, but got a little tiring when our packs got heavy, it got dark, and we still weren’t there. I was pretty relieved to finally reach Aguas Calientes and be directed to our hostel.
The hostel was fine. It was better than I expected for the price we paid, but still pretty standard. We had a double with two beds, linens a tv, and an ensuite bathroom. I wasn’t sure if the sheets had been washed recently, but I had a decently comfortable bed and a decently clean bathroom, so I decided to not worry about it.
We got up at 4 AM the next day to head to Machu Picchu. There were two options; paying to take a shuttle up the mountain or climbing hundreds of steps to the summit. We got going a little late and decided that with the altitude, the dark, and other factors, we would rather take the shuttle and save our energy for Machu Picchu.
We got to Machu Picchu at about 6 AM. We met up with our tour guide and from there headed to the first stop on our tour, the overlook that results in the most well-known photos of Machu Picchu. We stopped there, took pictures, met some llamas, listened to our tour guides, and watched the sunrise over the mountains. It was spectacular.
From there, we had a tour of some of the ruins and then time to explore Machu Picchu before having to return to Aguas Calientes. There’s not much I can say. It was surreal, beautiful, astounding. I still don’t believe I was there. Getting away from the crowds, it was possible to appreciate the mountains and the nature peeking out of the rocks and crevices more. It became quiet, and you could enjoy the birds swooping through the air, the flowers on the sides of rocks, and the sheer enormity of Machu Picchu itself.
Once inside the ruins, things started to look the same (there’s a lot of rock structures), but it was still all gorgeous and astounding that man was able to build something this immense solely from rock so long ago.
I decided to descend on foot and started my descent at 11:20 in order to ensure I was back on time. The fact that the trail was only stairs took a toll on my knees after awhile and between the altitude and my backpack, I wore out after awhile, but I made it back with plenty of time for the train back to Hidroelectrica.
From Hidroelectrica, we piled in our van. There was a bit of disorganized drama (c’mon, we’re in South America. It’s to be expected), but we made it back to Cuzco by 10 PM. We checked back into our hostel, packed, showered, and crashed.
The next day, we headed back to Santiago. I would’ve liked some time in Cuzco as well, but time and funds simply didn’t allow for it. We had an uneventful return and once again crashed in our beds.
It’s now the last week. Time to enjoy every last bit of my time here!