The Man-Made Beauty that is too Good to be True
At this point of my trip (after seeing Moray, Maras and the Sacred Valley), I had made up my mind how awesome Peru is. Last night I was Facebooking about Peru with one of my Facebook friend and she told me that she never really thought anything in Peru outside of Machu Picchu could be so pretty after seeing all my pictures of the Sacred Valley. Peru made me fall in love within ten hours I was there, if Peru were a person – it would be a heartthrob, I could say this even without seeing Machu Picchu yet.
I underestimated what Machu Picchu would do to me.
Arranging a trip to go see Machu Picchu created a lot of anxiety for me – making sure there is a ticket to climb the Huayna Picchu and a train that leaves and comes back at the right time. Buying a ticket to Machu Picchu is a headache because the government website (www.machupicchu.gob.pe) is not exactly cutting edge and user friendly in terms of payment. I will write more about it soon. I ended up having the El Albergue Hotel bought one ticket for me while the other one I managed to buy it myself. The ticket to Machu Picchu + Huayna Picchu is about 56 USD, the hotel charged me about 20 bucks extra as a commission fee to secure it.
El Albergue is situated right at the train station which makes it extremely convenient to board the train in the morning for Machu Picchu. In dry season (April to October when there is not much rain, you can buy a ticket to climb Huayna Picchu on the first round (7-8 am) so it’s a little cooler. However, if you go there during the wet season like me (November to March), it is better to buy the 10 am round because if you go up too early, it would still be too cloudy.
Inca Rail, Executive Class, very cozy but the train is quite old. I think I paid about $70 for this ticket.
I opted for the 6 something am train so I could arrive there around 8 to get the backpack to the hotel. Try not to pack too much for the trip especially if you keep switching hotels. However, seemed like a lot of people do not stay overnight in Aguas Calientes (while many also do especially those who do Machu Picchu multiple days) so they traveled with just a daypack.
The train ride to Machu Picchu from Ollantaytambo was quite scenic. Take a seat by the window on the left side if you can to get a great view of the Urubamba river that flows all the way to Machu Picchu. Along the way, you will see villages, a few agricultural terrace ruins and completely surrounded by the high mountains of the Andes.
Traveling alone requires me to reach out and talk to people. This trip I met so many interesting people, example is the family from Hong Kong in the picture above. It was very interesting to hear them talk about their past adventures and their upcoming trip to Antarctica. The train from Ollantaytambo took about 1.5 hour to reach Aguas Calientes (Machu Picchu Pueblo).
Dreams do come true if you have the guts to pursue it (and money of course T-T).
I chose to stay at the Sumaq Hotel in Aguas Calientes, which is the town where everyone who wants to go to Machu Picchu has to stop. I was met by a porter from the hotel at the train station (which is quite a walk to the hotel), he hauled my bag, showed me the way to get the bus ticket and to the hotel. Sumaq is about $350 a night with breakfast and dinner included. I decided to splurge on this night (which I should not have because the room did not really match the price). I will write about it below.
The good thing about Sumaq is, the bus up to Machu Picchu (46 Soles for a roundtrip) stops right in front of the hotel. The hotel arranges for the bus to pick you up and make sure you have a spot to sit so that was quite nice. The bus ride up to Machu Picchu takes about 20 minutes on this green microbus (air-conditioned – quite nice). If you want, you can hike up or down the mountain but it will take you a while as it’s a long hike.
After all the plane/car/train/bus ride, I could not believe I was at Machu Picchu. It was unreal but it was a truly amazing feeling. I couldn’t believe how men could construct such a place in an extremely remote mountain. It was just…overwhelming. Thank you to Hiram Bingham, an American explorer – professor from Yale who revealed Machu Picchu to the world.
Machu Picchu ruins at its finest.
Machu Picchu was built during the era of Emperor Pachacuti. It was not really known why and for what purpose he built it. The construction lasted for a hundred of years. It is pretty much like a small town that has temples (Temple of the Sun/Moon), the emperor’s residence, ceremonial center, storage, guard houses, multi purpose rooms and agricultural terraces and most importantly, the Intihuatana (similar to a sundial). The terraces we see are also built to prevent soil erosion and to create stability for the town’s foundation. Incas were the master of stone masonry, agriculture and cosmology (Hence, the famous Inca calendar). They worshipped the sun, the moon, and mother nature (Pachamama/Pachapapa).
One of the llamas the government put on Machu Picchu as natural lawnmowers and of course, for tourists to take pictures
The main part of the ruins.
Upon entering Machu Picchu, you will meet many guides who offer a tour of the ruins (takes about 2.5 hours). I suggest you do it if you do not have any other arrangements. I was due to hike Huayna at 10 am and was kind of late so I did not do it before and did the tour the next day instead (I was there for two days).
You have to be somewhat fit to go up the Huayna Picchu is it is nothing but continuously steep and narrow steps for about an hour with some places here and there for resting. Huayna is the small mountain (it is not really small when you climb it.) that you see on the signature photos of Machu Picchu behind the ruins.
The top of Huayna in the clouds, looking from the ruins
The day I went up was not really a good day as it was rainy and very cloudy, so we were not able to see the ruins from the top except when the clouds momentarily opened up. Can’t complain about it though as it had its own mystery and I had some really beautiful pictures of those moments. I was up on the mountain for a good hour or probably more – to wait for the sky to clear up. I waited patiently and it paid off, I saw one of the most beautiful scenes that our eyes can behold.
The clouds started to part to let us steal a glimpse of the lost city of the Incas and her mystery. It did take my breath away.
The ancient city amid the clouds.
Jose from Canary Island on his tour of South America
While waiting for the clouds to open up, I met this man – Jose from the Canary Island in Spain. He had his presence up on the mountain, he is the kind of person that we would say “know how to live”. I saw him recorded a video to wish his family a merry Christmas from Machu Picchu – it was amazing. We ended up seeing Machu Picchu together prior to his leaving for his next leg of the journey. Time well spent.
No pain, no gain, you must work your calves so the god would reward you with the view
Coming down the top of Huayna definitely required caution as the weather was wet and it was steep and slippery
A common bird of Machu Picchu
The view of Machu Picchu ruins on the way down from Huayna as the sky began to clear up. What a sight.
A zoom-in of the ruins from Huayna. I just love the green terraces. This place is breathtaking.
The narrow stone walkway that connects the ruins to Huayna Picchu, picture does not do the actual place justice.
Another angle of Machu Picchu’s beauty with Huayna in the background.
Jose with the ruins. I love his sense of humor, meeting people like him makes me want to travel more. Jose compared his plastic raincoat to a used condom. He has a point! LOL. Te amo Jose!!!
Another “glamour shot” of Machu Picchu, the view from the guard house up top. I think I have over a hundred shots from this angle, this tells how much I am in love with this place.
The site closes at 5 pm. After a rainy and cold day, I could not wait to rest in the hotel. The bus stopped right in front of the hotel so I was thankful for that. Sumaq Hotel got rave reviews on Tripadvisor, which made me pay that much money for it. The staff was nice and responsive but somewhat very impersonal. The hotel was fully booked so I got a room next to the train track. The rate was also for the half board meal, free pisco sour and cooking class (making Ceviche). Internet signal was poor. The only two things I like here is the food and the service (geting a seat on the bus for me and lugging my heavy backpacks around). Is it worth $350? I don’t think so. The value for money is the worst among all the hotels I stayed in Peru.
The lobby of Sumaq hotel.
Sumaq Hotel: The room was quite small and stuffy but the bed was nice and comfortable.
A desert plate upon arrival to the room, quite good actually! Macarons and truffles were nice.
Hotel’s restaurant with the view of the river.
Before dinner, I had some time to walk around town to explore a bit of Aguas Calientes (The Hot Spring) or Machu Picchu Pueblo, I did not see the hot spring though, apparently there is a hot spring that is like a public pool that you can go use. I found this town to be quite scenic as there is this big river that runs through it and is surrounded by the tall mountains filled with lush tropical forest – which is very different from the view of the Sacred Valley. However, if it was not for the second day in Machu Picchu, there is no need to stay here. The city is filled with tourist restaurants, hotels and souvenir shops – which quite ironic, I am a tourist but I don’t like this kind of stuff. I do not need a reminder that I am a tourist :D.
Aguas Calientes – AKA Machu Picchu Pueblo
The view of the fiercely flowing river opposite of the hotel.
I had a very pleasant dinner at the hotel – a good three course Peruvian fusion cuisine. My suggestion to you is, do not stay there but eat there!
The one thing that this hotel beats all the others I have stayed at is the food. This trout ceviche was the bomb! Very fresh fish with sour and spicy dressing. The corns and the potatoes were good too.
The grilled trout with mashed Andean potatoes was to die for – best dish I had in Peru and I am not kidding. Also the huacatay butter in the picture has become my most memorable food of Peru, I love it so much.
The maracuja (passion fruit) mousse/cheesecake was perfect. My mouth is watering as of this moment.
The day ended with a positive note with my belly full. Could not wait for what tomorrow would bring! Hope you enjoyed my views of Machu Picchu!
For my other Peru adventure:
Click here for my overall Itinerary
Day 1: Click here for my adventure in the Sacred Valley – Moray and Maras Salt Mine: Losing My Mind in the Land of Salt, Wind and Hills
Day 2: Click here for my visit to Ollantaytambo and the ruins: Into the Heart of the Valley