After our arduous trek through the Andes and a two hour hike in the dark along the railroad line, we arrived at Aguas Calientes. This tourist trap of a town sits below Machu PIcchu and is the access point for travelers all over the world to see this Incan marvel. The town was a shock after 5 days in the mountains: a bustling little place chock full of overpriced western-style restaurants and loud tourists.
The next day after a nice big breakfast, we caught the bus up to the ruins. We decided to climb up first to get a good panoramic view of the site:
One of the most impressive things about Machu Picchu is its setting. Set atop a small mountain and surrounded by taller peaks with a river running below. Very picturesque. Another impressive part of the site is the tight-fitting stonework, found especially at the Temple of the Sun (pictures farther down).
It is unknown now what the site was originally constructed for. Theories include defense, religious, and a retreat for the Incan king. It was never discovered by (and thence not looted by) the Spanish, which is why it is so well-preserved today. The site was built in the 15th century but abandoned in the next century when the Spanish invaded Peru. It only became known to the wider world in 1911 as the result of work by the American Hiram Bingham. When he “discovered” it, the site was completely overgrown by jungle. Must have been quite a challenge to uncover everything!
Some obligatory standard pictures of Machu Picchu:
Other interesting views:
And a few interesting features:
We spent several hours wandering around the site and admiring the views. I was charmed by the location and definitely enjoyed seeing Machu Picchu. Jeff thought it was nice, but maybe not worth it – overpriced and overrun with tourists (even on a slow day like we had), and not hugely better than other sites we had seen. On a peak day, the site will see 2500 people. A little different than having the Choquequirao site all to ourselves.
The next day, we took a Peru Rail train out of Aguas Calientes, headed back to civilization. The only ways into Aguas Calientes (and therefore Machu Picchu) are walking or rail (and maybe helicopter). There are no roads in. Pro tip if you go: train tickets from Aguas Calientes to Cusco are quite expensive; you can cut the trip cost in half or more by only taking the rail to Ollantaytambo and catching either a shared taxi back to Cusco (remarkably cheap), or taking buses to Urubamba and then to Cusco.
We had one more adventure before flying out of Cusco. We arrived in Cusco a few hours before our flight, had lunch, and went to collect our stuff from the hostel to head to the airport. At the hostel, we couldn’t find one of the bags we had left. The only person on duty did not speak any English and it took a while to sort out what had happened to the bag…
Short version: the hostel had flooded again in our absence and the storage room had flooded, getting several bags (including one of ours) wet. I’d placed the bags high just in case this happened, but it must have been moved lower. Since the bag had been soaked in sewage water and everything in it was wet, they sent our stuff out to be cleaned and it was currently at the laundromat. Which was a problem, since our flight left in an hour and a half and the laundromat was half an hour away. Once we got this point across, they rushed our clothes and bag back to us and we took a taxi to the airport, barely making our flight. I discovered later that all my toiletry items were in the flooded bag. Most of them had to be tossed. Jeff’s nice new down jacket was also in there and was laundered along with everything else which was nice of them, but very bad for the jacket. He was not pleased. 🙁