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Machu Picchu

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I remember when I first dreamed of this adventure, the number one sight on my list for South America was Machu Picchu – probably because I didn’t know anything else. Taking the train from Cuzco is really expensive (USD$122 return) so I decide to go for the cheaper, walk-in option.

dan_baby_monkey

The owner of the campsite has this little guy

I set out early one morning and drive through The Sacred Valley, passing Pisac, Ollantaytambo, Santa Maria and along a very narrow little track to the village of Santa Teresa. I’m amazed at the dense jungle and feel like I’m right back in Central America – complete with torrential rain, humidity and thick clouds of ferocious biting insects. I camp for the night at the “Inka Tour Hospedaje” where the friendly owner charges next to nothing and lets me park the Jeep while I go hiking for a few days. Walking the 40 minutes at dust to the Hot Springs near town is very worthwhile – an evening soak with just a couple of other people.

road_to_hydoelectrica

The remote road to Hydroelectrica

In the morning I hike two hours along a windy gravel road to Hydroelectrica, the heat and humidity climbing steadily the entire time. This is actually the last stop on the famous railway, and while I could catch a train for USD$8, I opt to walk the tracks for a further two hours to Aguas Calientes. Impressively, Machu Picchu Mountain is directly in front of me for most of the hike, and ruins are visible high above on Wayna Picchu to the left.

walk_on_tracks

"Please, walk on the tracks"

The town of Aguas Calientes is the very definition of a tourist trap, everything is over-priced about 400% and we are all quite literally stuck there for the night. After meeting up with a few friends and grabbing a “happy hour” beer we can’t help but make fun of the advertising – people are trying to lure us in left and right, we’re even told it’s 6-for-1 drinks right now. Upon closer investigation it’s nothing of the sort, and even the Argentineans with perfect Spanish can’t get the proprietor to explain how it even remotely resembles the claimed 6-for-1.
The beer is expensive, cold and great :)

train_tracks

Jungle and train tracks

I’m up at 4am in the morning, not content to pay the USD$8 one-way for the bus to the actual site of Machu Picchu. About 50 people have opted to walk the very steep ascent, which takes around 90 minutes. When I arrive soon after 5am I’m about the 15th person in line, clearly guaranteed to get the all-importatnt stamp to climb Wayna Picchu, of which there are only 400 issued each day.

dan_machu_picchu

Amazed to be there

Seeing the site for the first time is surreal, compounded by the fact I am one of the first through the gate, so there is not a single person wandering the ruins. Staring for half an hour does little to change my feeling of disbelief. Over the course of the day I hike up the nearby Wayna Picchu Mountain where the views are spectacular, hike the final section of The Inca Trail to Intipunku (The Sun Gate) and finally hike up Machu Picchu Mountain for superlative views of the whole area.

climbing_to_wayna_picchu

Climbing to Wayna Picchu

view_from_wayna_picchu

The view from Wayna Picchu

By the end of the day I am extremely hungry and thirsty, though not willing to pay the outrageously inflated prices for food and water on the mountain. I walk back down to Aguas Calientes, drink two liters of expensive water and collapse after a very big day.

view_from_intipunku

The view from Intipunku (The Sun Gate) Inca Trail on left

view_from_machu_picchu_mountain

The superlative view from Machu Picchu Mountain

For my final day I’m on the trail at 5.30am, hike the four hours back to Santa Teresa, then jump in the Jeep to drive the six hours back to Cuzco. Another big day.
Extremely tired and foot-sore I find the energy to walk into town and I’m pretty sure I make money at the USD$5 buffet. 😀

machu_picchu_stones

The stonework is extremely precise

-Dan

10 Responses

  1. Mike Gordon says:

    Hey Dan
    Again as I read I am blow away with what you are doing. It really makes me wish that I was still on the road, but for now I will live vicariously through your blog. Machu Picchu, is a pretty phenomenal place. Keep it up man and keep those posts coming!
    Thanks again
    Mike

    • Dan says:

      Great to hear from you Mike. Going to university right now is the best thing you can be doing, no doubt about it.
      Get that out of the way, then start dreaming about adventures to come :)

      -Dan

  2. Christine says:

    I really liked reading this post. I hiked the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu in 2009. I also hiked the long route around Wayna Picchu the following day. The place has such great energy – I swear my heart felt lighter the entire time I was there.

    Cheers!
    Christine

    • Dan says:

      It is a special place in the world, no doubt.
      How was the Inca Trail? I figure I’ll hike it if I ever go back through that part of the world.

  3. Christine says:

    The Inca Trail is beautiful. The hike was difficult at times, especially hiking up to Dead Woman’s Pass, but totally worth it for the views and simply being in the mountains. I recommend it to everyone who has ever thought about doing it.

  4. Adam says:

    you left your jeep at the guys hotel for a few days? is that safe?, and was there no way to drive to aguas calientes? i don’t really know the area since all my triips have been to africa and the pacific islands.

    • Dan says:

      Hi Adam – Yep, it’s pretty common for people to leave their cars at his hotel/hostel/campsite. He’s a great guy and I’m sure it was 100% safe in a locked area (his backyard basically).
      It’s not possible to drive to Aguas Calientes, the only way to get there (and onto Machu Picchu) is by catching the very expensive train. Technically I was supposed to get it from Hydro Electrica, the end of the line, though I just walked instead.

  5. Adam says:

    dan, maybe you can give me the name of this place? unless it’s pretty well known, i’m planning this trip and i plan on walking as well.

    • Dan says:

      Hi Adam, in the article I named it – “Inka Tour Hospedaje”. Anyone in town will be able to point you in the direction of the “campground” (it’s a very small town).
      Good luck, I’d love to hear how you make out.
      -Dan

  6. Adam says:

    thanks, i’ve been in rougher jungles, i just want to try myself against the altitude and the density of a south American jungle, i know that i picked the wrong spot, but i’ve always wanted to see the ruins so i guess i’ll have to put up with the tourists if i want both. thanks for the advice, i’ll let you know how i find it.

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