This year marks the 100th birthday of Hiram Bingham’s discovery of Machu Picchu! We’re a little behind in posting more of our Peru trip photos.. but alas, our journal from Ollantaytambo to Machu Picchu is here.
There are two general ways into Machu Picchu: by train, or on foot (via the Inca trail): we opted for train. The train station in Ollantaytambo is a good option for those who can’t find tickets directly from Cusco.
The sleepy little village of Ollantaytambo was roughly a half hour drive’s distance from our hotel (Aranwa) in the Sacred Valley.
We made our train reservations from the home — thinking that there was only one option (Peru Rail), so we were shocked to find another rail operator (Inca Rail, fewer runs between Ollantaytambo and Machu Picchu) once we arrived at the train stop.
The train ride from Ollantaytambo is geographically diverse, and runs along the canyon floor.
At the end of the train stop lies Aguas Calientes, an interesting little town. The locals are trying to re-brand it as “El Pueblo de Machu Picchu”.
We felt our guidebooks were “somewhat misleading”, as after our read – we interpreted there to be fewer services and food options. In reality, there’s a fair amount of “infrastructure” (including restaurants, banks and bank machines — which we sometimes had difficulty finding in the Sacred Valley), and a handful of nicer “boutique” type hotels (which we unfortunately didn’t see on the internet or guidebooks, regrettably we had booked online and paid in advance for the less than stellar place where we stayed).
We purchased Machu Picchu tickets in Aguas Calientes (needed our passport to both buy the tickets and to get into the Machu Picchu site) – an official ticket boot for Machu Picchu is located off the main square. We suggest buying tickets at least the night before you go (in soles) because we passed by a few poor souls who were waiting outside of the ticket office in the (dark) morning (the ticket office didn’t open until much later). Also, we heard that there there is a cap of 2500 people/day due to park restrictions and that tickets can now be purchased via: http://www.machupicchu.gob.pe/
View off the main square at night:
Bus tickets to get up to the site are a separate fee, and a separate line — we bought our bus tickets at the slow moving kiosk (because there is a person still manually issuing and stamping the bus tickets, one ticket at a time) across the street from the bus “stop”. We were shocked to see so many people in line at 5am, and we weren’t close to being on the first bus up the hill (we counted at least six buses in front of ours).
Not surprisingly, there are a few cafe’s located along the bus “line up” route.
The bus winds through a series of 18 switchbacks — it’s like being on a theme park ride, while riding in a Mercedes bus. (many of our photos below are “out of sequence” — we took some of these photos on the “way down” due to lack of adequate light.)
There was another small line (conveniently located along the Sanctuary hotel) once we got up to the top.
We opted to hike up to Intipunku to try to see the “sunrise”, where the Inca trail ends – the notch on the horizon coming down the Inca trail is called the sun gate. The “average” time to hike up to this point is roughly about an hour (that’s not counting stops to see the scenery, take photos, water, etc.)
Unlike Wayna Picchu, there’s no line or headcount control for Intipunku (there was a 400 person limit/day for Wayna Picchu). We were told that if we really wanted to hike Wayna Picchu, we’d have to be at the park entrance “earlier than the crack of dawn”). Once we got up to the park, we actually did have the option of registering to hike Wayna Picchu, but taking our hoteliers advice, we took the Intipunku hike so that we could “see the sun crest over the mountains and light up the entire Machu Picchu site” (there are views of the Machu Picchu site along most of the Intipunku hike). We were glad we took her advice because we could see hikers coming down from from Wayna Picchu — and it was like watching an ant line from afar. There is something to be said for “not having people on our butt from start to finish”.
To get to Intipunku, once inside the gate, hike up, and follow the signs — and don’t forget to bring a fair amount of water. There are no vending machines or concessions along this route.
The clouds and fog are significant “wild card factors” — the cloud cover rolls in and out with the changing temperatures (as the sun rises) and creates an aura of mystique to the site: however, the environmental extras weren’t something we had factored into our “get up at the crack of dawn to get awesome clear sunrise shots of Machu Picchu” strategy…. (something to consider if having picture perfect sunrise photos are a goal). We now better understand why the site was so obscured one hundred years ago, covered by plant growth, and mysterious cloud cover — it would have been difficult to find unless you were a true “local”.
Regardless, the hike is quite something. We can say we were on the backside of the Inca trail (and we didn’t need a permit to hike this short part):
One final thing to note about food options: we weren’t stuck with the buffet or the sit down service at the Sanctuary. There is a food court (outside of the gates) which has decent food, at “somewhat normal” tourist trap prices — we actually cancelled our reservations at the hotel and opted to eat at the food court….when one wakes up in the middle of the night, its easy to get hungry before the restaurant opens. Overall, a great experience.