Although you can’t drive all the way to Machu Picchu, you can get pretty close.
The drive from Cusco took us through some amazing scenery, from the open farmland of the Sacred Valley, up through the alpine meadows and down again into the jungle.
Towards late afternoon we left the tarmac and took the sketchy dirt road to Santa Teresa. We could hardly see the road through the dust and were relieved to make it to Santa Teresa before sundown, without being thrown off the sheer cliffs by speeding taxi drivers.
The next morning, we parked the van near the Hydroelectric station and walked the line to the town of Aguas Calientes. This is the cheapo way to get to Machu Picchu.
We were up nice and early in the morning to climb the steep trail to Machu Picchu. We had planned to get there for the famed magical sunrise, but the weather did not cooperate. We hiked for an hour through thick fog and arrived at the gates drenched with a mixture of sweat and rain.
Visibility was about 10 metres, which gave the site a peaceful but eerie atmosphere. The thick fog enclosed us so that we felt like the only people there. When we could see other people they were just silhouettes. With the bright coloured gore-tex and sneakers hidden, we could almost imagine them to be the original residents going about their daily tasks.
Since it was high season, we had bought our tickets a few days earlier in Cusco. The coveted permits for climbing Huayna Picchu were already taken, but we were able to get passes to climb the even higher Montaña Machu Picchu for some of the most spectacular views possible. We started the climb in a white out and joined the thirty or so people at the top as we all waited hopefully for the skies to clear.
The sun finally broke through and lit up the mountains and the ruins site in all their splendour. We sat at the top for quite a while just soaking it all in.
It was about lunchtime by the time we made our way back down to the ruins, so we found a spot on the terraced slopes to kick off the boots and have a lunch break before exploring a little more.
The place really is pretty massive, you can wander around for hours and keep finding new places you haven’t yet visited.
The Inca Bridge, this crazy trail runs along a sheer cliff
Despite how much we had read and how many amazing photos we had seen before arriving here, we were still impressed and awed. There’s just a really great vibe, and so many mysteries to ponder. You can spend all day wandering the ruins imagining all sorts of stories about the people that lived there.
Also, the stone masonry is truly impressive. The stones fit together with such precision that mortar wasn’t necessary.
Anyone who has visited Machu Picchu will tell you how overpriced the snack bar. We didn’t care, we were really ready for a beer after a few hours inside. But, we did bring our own snacks.
Rested and refreshed we went back in for a few more hours of wandering as the sunlight waned. The crowds slowly thinned throughout the afternoon and as the light turned golden the place was feeling quite empty. Except for the maintenance staff and a few llamas.
We had been looking forward to Machu Picchu since before we started our trip. It had become a bit of a milestone in our journey, but as the time came closer we had become quite apathetic about it. All our research on how to get there and how much it would cost made it seem like a logistical nightmare and an overpriced tourist trap. We’re so glad that those impressions were wrong.
We loved every minute… from the beautiful drive, walking the train lines and catching our first glimpse of the ruins way above us, to the bustling village of Aguas Calientes and the awesome street food vendors there (I especially liked the old ladies selling slices of their home made pineapple cake). And of course, the ruins themselves were absolutely stunning.
We both agree that our expectations were far exceeded.
Posted from La Paz, Bolivia.