Machu Picchu is actually the first place that as a youngster, I decided that I had to get to. My high school Spanish teacher had a picture of the wonder hanging on our walls, and every day in class I would daydream about one day making it there. So in 2007, when my friend Alice called and asked me if I wanted to meet her in Peru to do some volunteer work, I jumped on the opportunity. I have a separate blog on the actual volunteer experience, but this one is dedicated mainly to Machu Picchu.
I should start by telling you the tale of our experience getting to Machu Picchu over the course of the next several pictures. But the first thing to know is that you should always leave some wiggle room for the unpredictable if you are not hiking in to Machu Picchu. It’s quite an experience getting up there, and a lot of the Peruvians are looking to rip you off every chance they get.
The tour operator that we booked to get from Cusco to Aguas Calientes (the town where all the buses to Machu Picchu leave from), was recommended by the group running our volunteer effort, Globe Aware. We figured that since they were familiar with the area, we’d be good to go. We just so happened to be in Peru, however, during a mass railroad strike, so there was a chance we weren’t going to get on a train to get to Aguas Calientes.
None of us spoke Spanish, so I know we were just asking to be taken for a ride, but someone took advantage of us at every step of the way. Someone at the airport tried to hide my check-in bags, claiming they didn’t have them. I had to go into the store room myself and dig them out from underneath piles of other bags that they were probably attempting to steal. The train operators charged and re-charged us for train tickets “because of the strike.” And we had to pay for 3 different bus tickets, each one costing us a little bit more than the first one. And we had pre-booked all of this on an organized tour recommended by a local nonprofit organization. Still very worth it, and it all comes with the territory when your’e in an undeveloped country, but this is just a friendly reminder to maybe build some flexibility into your trip to Machu Picchu. It would be a travesty to travel all that way and miss it because of one of these minor mishaps.
So anyway, we eventually made it to Aguas Calientes, albeit much later than we had intended to. I was hoping to get up there a day earlier so we could get on one of the morning buses and get up to the top before the clouds had burned off to get one of those awesome cloudy Machu Picchu images. That didn’t happen. Aguas Calientas is a charming and tiny village right at the foot of Machu Picchu. There are very few hotels in the area, so most people don’t get to stay here.
From Aguas Calientes, you need to buy bus tickets to get up to Machu Picchu. No private cars are allowed up there, so the only way to get in is by bus or trail. The Inca trail, as I understand it, takes about 5 days, which we didn’t have so we opted for the bus. The buses are limited, only a certain amount are allowed up per day – and that determination seems quite arbitrary, so I would constantly check to make sure that your tickets are valid and get to the bus early to avoid any hassles. It’s worth noting that a lot of Peruvians visit Machu Picchu as well, so you’re not just competing with tourists for those limited bus seats. It’s also worth noting that someone wrote “Dead Guido” on the dust on the bottom of this sign.
And then eventually, you reach the top. That’s me in my first ever Machu Picchu pic. In retrospect, I really wasn’t thinking about having these pics live on in perpetuity and I probably should have put some thought into my attire and overall appearance. Down to the fluorescent pink socks. But in fairness to me, I was doing volunteer work in Cusco, where it was mostly really cold, and we were getting dirty every day, so my attire was already limited to begin with. Anyhoo, Machu Picchu is still stunning, no matter what you’re wearing.
Most of this post is just going to be pictures of Machu Picchu, but the one thing I wanted to point out is that there are a bunch of llamas up there and they are really cute. They are also really into selfies. This was back in 2007, before the selfie craze, and I didn’t even think to take a photo with one, but I definitely got a few shots of these guys by themselves.
I may be wrong, but I think the skinny horizontal line that cuts across this mini landslide is part of the Inca trail. I believe that’s where they make their final descent into the ruins.
If you look out across the way, you can see a peak that is a little higher up called Huayna (Wayna) Picchu. It’s about another 20 or 30 minute hike, but we didn’t do it. Back when we went it was free and unlimited, but I think now they charge you and limit the amount of people who can go per day. I am a strong believer that people who want to see sites such as Machu Picchu and Angkor Wat should get to them today, while it’s still doable. And don’t just take it from me. CNN agrees.
One of the things I loved the most about Machu Picchu was the rock work. When we were growing up, to teach us work ethic (or was it to punish us??) my dad would have us help him build rock walls around our house. I never told him, but I actually enjoyed the work. I felt like I was playing Tetris, finding just the right rock to fit seamlessly with the others.
I’m telling you, these alpacas love the camera.
There are very few times in my life when my brain just shuts off and I completely immerse myself in the moment. This was one of those times. As me, Alice, and Lisa (another girl from our volunteer trip) kicked it on this ledge, I didn’t have a single thought running through my head and it was one of the most tranquil and zen-like moments ever.
This picture is kind of crazy. check out these guys working on the ledge of one of the buildings. One wrong misstep, and …
Here’s another pic of the guys working on the roof.
Stairway to nowhere.