For less than $45 we were able to get tickets for entry to Machu Picchu as well as the Montaña Trail from which we could get the wonderful views and photo ops for this mystical ruin. The only way to arrive, other than a grueling trek, is to board a train. There are three options. We chose the middle one for $164 each, though it was considerably less expensive than the luxury ride.
The Cusco train station we needed is about twenty minutes from the city so for about $12.50 we took a taxi over there. We were lucky that though our seats were set up for four people on either side of a table, the other two seats were vacant. That let us put our overnight baggage on them since there are no overhead bins. During the three-and-a-half hour ride we were fed a light snack which we didn’t know about. Too bad we had bought something to eat at the station. The scenery during the latter half was more picturesque. There was one stop at Ollantaytambo and then another to let a train pass.
We arrived at Aguas Calientes at noon, and what a difference thirty-three years makes! Back then I think just a few local vendors met the train. Now there is an emormous covered market with sellers galore! The town has become a maze of restaurants; it’s a wonder how they manage to survive even with the vast number of tourists. We made our way to the hotel which is run by a French immigrant. As we prepaid the room all we needed was to show our passports and Andean tourist pass, the latter which negates hotel taxes. Yes! He gave us some information about the bus up the mountain for $24 per person round trip, we ordered a generous bag lunch for the next day, and settled in our room.
Then it was on to get the bus tickets. We found out we couldn’t get them for the next day until after 2:00. We decided to get something to eat, but the waitress was so unattentive we only had a drink. Back at the bus ticket office we made our purchase and returned to our room. Doing a last minute check of the entry tickets for Machu Picchu I remembered we needed to show the credit card used to buy them. Oops! That card was now obsolete. In a panic we descended to talk with the kind French owner who said that was bad joke! He also said the “tickets” we had weren’t actually tickets, though the information on them said they were. He directed us to the office just off the main square where we would show our passports and ticket information. The man behind the tall counter just wanted to confirm we had paid for them, looked up the order, and printed the tickets. What a relief!
Dinner, which was also for our anniversary, was in a pricier restaurant. We both ordered from the three course menus which was cheaper than buying the dishes separately. Bill’s main course was really yummy! He chose chicken cooked in a pineapple. My three plates were ok but not as delicious as I had hoped.
The buses start up the switchbacks at 6:00 AM, so people start making the line at 4:30! We thought that was a bit obsessive so we joined the long line at 6:00 and boarded within a half hour. Thirty minutes later we were at the gate right at the opening hour. The entry was quick so we were able to get in and enjoy. Bill was awestruck with his first views of Machu Picchu!
We made our way to the Montaña trailhead where we had to sign in. That was taking people awhile but we were finally on our way up by 7:30. A steady stream of steps for 2 km with a change of 800 m, over 2600 ft, in altitude awaited us! Having been in Cusco we were well acclimated and as this area is much lower it wasn’t the altitude that was the problem. It was all those unrelenting stone steps for two-and-half hours!!!!!
I thought I wasn’t going to make it. It seemed to never end, and I was spent. In fact, I was about to say I was done when the end suddenly was in sight. We did rest several times and take in the views of the ruins and the surrounding snow-capped mountains.
At the apex is a small covered seating area, a huge flag of the Cusco region, and amazing, dare I say breathtaking, views!
We rested for a half hour, took pictures, and had a snack. The thought of descending the steep and narrow steps was not a comfortable one, but it turned out not to be as difficult for as long as I had feared. People heading up were kind to let us by on the inside track where hand placement created a feeling of stability. The more we went down and eyed those going up in the heat of the day, especially those with significant built in pounds, the more grateful we were we are in relative good shape and had an early start.
Eating inside the ruins is supposed to be prohibited so just before entry we ate half our huge sandwiches. Then it was on to get the close-up view, which also allowed us to see where we had just been!
The ruins look pretty much the same as 33 years ago. There have been some renovations and such. The biggest difference was the number of people. New Year’s Eve 1982 was pretty quiet, especially in the late afternoon and the next morning. Now thousands visit daily!
There were llamas there, too, just as before. Of course, everyone wanted a photo of themselves with one.
Hot and weary we returned to our hotel mid-afternoon and rested. Dinner was at the restaurant where the waitress wasn’t attentive and were able to get a different one. The food was pretty good. Bill had wood fired pizza while I stuffed myself on eggplant balls in a tomato sauce and cheese and a bowl of soup. A local woman took a rest just below us.
The next day we had to wait until mid-afternoon to catch the train back. Aguas Calientes is a bit boring. There is a tiny agricultural feria where local women sell fruits, vegetables, grains, meat, etc. I did try bargaining for quinoa but wasn’t successful so decided to wait until we returned to Cusco (where I got it for about a dollar less per kilo). We meandered the streets but didn’t find anything of interest. Our baggage was stored at the hotel so finally we retrieved it and waited at the train station.
For the return trip we did have companions across the table, a couple about our age who have a lot of money and traveled quite a bit. We were given another snack and then a fashion show of expensive clothing made of alpaca. We arrived after dark and were able to negotiate the taxi ride down a bit from the day before. Our luggage was in the same hostel room, along with all our vast amount of clean laundry which was done much more cheaply than in Chiclayo!