Machu Picchu was the main attraction on this trip. I remember seeing pictures of it as a child and my mother telling me all that she read about it and how much she really wanted to see the site. Our trip to South America was built around our day at Machu Picchu.
We were up and in the restaurant at Tambo del Inka at around 05h30. In my post about the hotel, I talk about my thoughts on hotel breakfasts and the interesting sheen of the cold cuts I chose to eat and our train ride to Machu Picchu. We pulled into the station that serves Machu Picchu a little before 09h30. This was the end of the line and everyone was excited and scurried off the train to find their guides, most of which were meeting us at this station. My first thought – where is the bathroom. Yes, the shiny cold cuts were already causing issues.
We found our guide who immediately checked to make sure we had water, sun screen and then suggested we buy a hat because the sun can really bake down on you at the ruins – we did and like the time we bought a hat at Angkor Wat, we paid about 8USD for two — which made both us and the retailer happy – which means we got ripped off. I find markets like this to be the true free economy – you pay whatever you think it is worth, trying to get the best deal and in the end, if the retailer can’t make money, they won’t sell it to you.
We walked with our guide over to the long line of buses that would take us from Aguas Calientes up to Machu Picchu. There were a ton of people, as to be expected. We patiently waited in line for about 10-15 minutes until it was our turn to board. I got the last seat on the bus, which was sitting right next to the driver. I had a perfect view out the front window – I could see every turn and the sharp drop off just centimeters from our tires. I found that seat to be comforting as my bird’s eye view left nothing to my imagination – I knew exactly what was happening, while the folks behind me were just along for a wild ride.
We arrived at the main entrance for the ruins after about a 20 minute ride up the mountain going over about a dozen switchbacks and passing a good number of other buses which pushed us right to the edge of the road. I decided to pop into the washroom again before we began our actual tour.
There was a spot where you could get your passport stamped with a quasi-official Machu Picchu stamp – we decided to get stamped but I’m sure I’ll regret that once I run out of pages in my passport!
Our guide did a really great job of telling us the history – who rediscovered the ruins, his passion for the area and how he just wouldn’t believe that the folk tales of this ancient city were all false. He knew something was there, just over grown. Our guide moved quickly all the while telling us great facts on the history of the area including details on the Indigenous Inca people as well as Spanish Conquistadors, modern archaeologists and historical geological changes. He did a great job.
The views were spectacular – although they were exactly as I had seen in thousands of pictures. I always love finding a new angle or vantage point, but I couldn’t find one on this trip. Our guide was good about taking our cameras and getting pictures of us at the ruins – a thing that some guides aren’t all that skilled at.
At one point, out guide asked if we wanted to take a bit more strenuous of a hike to see an old bridge. This was pretty early in the tour, so I was still feeling somewhat fine. We took a 15 minute (one way) side trip to see and old Inca bridge. The trek out there was along a narrow path that hugged the side of the mountain – with little to no room for error. One slight misstep and you’d be over the edge. We couldn’t cross the bridge as it was too dangerous (and the path was closed long before the bridge – closed at the perfect spot so you could get a great picture).
Evidently this technique was used throughout the Inca Trail – a portion of the path was cut away and replaced with wooden planks. This was a defense mechanism – if raiders were coming after the residents of Machu Picchu, they could flee and pull the planks up and the offending parties would be stuck on the other side. Pretty ingenious, if you ask me.
We continued our exploration of the ruins and I was honestly surprised at how many elderly people were there hiking. They weren’t necessarily in the best shape either – they were walking with their walking poles and were determined to see everything at the site. I do hope when I get to be their age I am as active as they are. They were so passionate about the ruins too – it wasn’t just a bucket list trip for them either.
As we got back to the main attractions (away from the bridge, which not everyone visited), we encountered a ton of tourists. We ran into a ton of people with selfie sticks, trying to get the perfect picture. Then when they’d hit you with their phone on a 2 meter long stick, they would get pissed at you! Just like everywhere else in the world.
We had walked through the part of Machu Picchu that was for the upper class and priests and were working our way through the neighborhood where the normal people would live. I was starting to feel awful at this point. My stomach was doing cartwheels. I was thirsty, but with every sip of water, I was afraid I would begin vomiting. I was sweaty and lightheaded. I continued on. We learned about the ancient sun dial and how the buildings were perfectly positioned to allow light to flow in during the solstices. Everything was so perfectly planned.
At this point, it was about 13h15 and I just wanted to sit down…no, I just wanted to lie down and rest.
Our tour included a buffet lunch at the Sanctuary Lodge. We arrived long before the lunch rush. I waited in line for the washroom. I return to our table and MS and our guide just now realize something was wrong. I had done such a good job of hiding my utter miserableness. I sat at the table while they ate. I grabbed a piece of bread but couldn’t bring myself to eat it. I revisited the washroom a few times while they ate. This was one of those times where you wish you could just transport yourself someplace – anyplace. The idea of the winding road down to the train station – then the 3 hour train ride back to the hotel made me even sicker. And then it started to rain.
The lines to take the bus down the mountain were so long. There were hundreds of people all trying to leave at the same time. I left MS and the guide a couple more times to visit the washroom. Then the sun came out and it was sweltering. I’m sure my fever didn’t make this any better.
Eventually we boarded the bus and headed back down to Aguas Calientes to board our train back to Tambo del Inka. I visited the washroom again at the train station.
The return trip on the train was even slower than the outbound trip. We left a little late, so we had to wait a few times for trains going up the mountain to pass us on the single track. We were also surrounded by people coming back from actually hiking the Inca Trail – they were young, loud and drunk. I use to be one of those people. This trip, I was the sick, cranky old man.
When we arrived back at the hotel it was dark. It was cold. It was wet. I was in a foul mood. I had a fever with chills. I just wanted to crawl into a ball and die. I asked MS to run into the town and get me some saltines and some Gatorade – which of course they had. You gotta love visiting a tourist area where people encounter stomach issues from time to time.
Machu Picchu was one of those sites whose beauty takes your breath away (and I’m not making an altitude pun). As you can see from the photos, we were there on a perfectly beautiful day. Our views were as beautiful as any photoshopped picture anyone could take and manipulate. I could have sat on the edge of one of those rocky outcroppings and stared over the ruins of this former great city, wondering what their daily life was like, why did they leave (disease, enemies, rumors of the Spanish?), was it really a lost city that no one knew the location of until the early part of the 20th century?
Despite being on the brink of utter destruction caused by bad hotel breakfast food poisoning, this day at Machu Picchu was wonderful. I don’t think you need more than one day to see everything at Machu Picchu. You could stay at Aguas Calientes and get up early to see the sun rise, which I hear is utterly spectacular – the same goes for the sunset. Other than that, I don’t think you’d get much more from another full day at the ruins.
Our tour was coordinated through out hotel and we used Tikariy as the tour operator. Everything was coordinated over email and once we arrived at the hotel we had a quick meeting with the operator who gave us another rundown of the tour. She also gave us our train tickets, bus passes and Machu Picchu entry tickets. Of course this tour went off without a hitch (other than the Starwood Food Poisoning) – this is what they do – they coordinate day trips to Machu Picchu and they did a great job of it.