Thursday, January 16, 2020

Magical Machu Picchu

By Kathy
Actual Dates: September 8th and 9th

The time has come for one of the big items on our South America bucket list – Machu Picchu!! As I mentioned in the last post, this was not an easy place to visit. We had made it to Cusco and did a lot of activities around the area and now it was time to take the train to Aguas Caliente. Machu Picchu has a lot of visitors each year so it took a little bit of time to coordinate our flights, train tickets and Machu Picchu tickets. There are only so many of each one per day. If you find yourself making travel plans to Machu Picchu please let us know. I have lots of good travel tips for finding better prices on tickets and how to book the whole thing on your own instead of using a travel company.

We woke up bright and early on the morning of the 8th to catch the Peru Rail train to Aguas Caliente. We were not quite sure what to expect since we bought the budget ticket. It was a very pleasant surprise to find a super cool train with our own conductor for our car. The ceiling was made of windows so you could look right up into the sky. This also meant that they did not have room for luggage so that was a big shocker when we read the night before that luggage was not allowed. What?? Most people do a day trip or an overnight to Machu Picchu and then return to their hotel in Cusco before departing so they store their luggage at the hotel. We were doing the same thing except we were changing hostels so we had to take our luggage. Our bags are not large but there is five of us so it can make a pretty big pile. In the end everything was fine and we were able to store our luggage on the train without any issues. This was one of the big benefits of traveling with backpacks during their not so busy part of the season.

No, really they are excited

Time to board the train

A pretty nice train with windows in the ceiling to take in the scenery

The train ride was beautiful and it took us through the Sacred Valley. The mountains surrounding the valley are just amazing. We also passed several places where we could see people hiking the Inca Trail.

A beautiful train ride through the valley

We have gone down a little bit in elevation so we are seeing some more green foliage

We made it to Aguas Caliente pretty early in the day and we were not going up to Machu Picchu until the next morning so we were able to do a little exploring around town. The first thing you notice when you walk through town is that it is built on a hill. Our hotel was a nice hike up the main walkway through town to the very top. It is times like these you understand why you chose to use backpacks and not rolling luggage.

We made it to Aguas Caliente

Cute little town area

It is hard to tell in this picture but we are going up!

Two popular activities to do in town is to soak in the thermal baths and visit the Machu Picchu museum. After checking into the hotel we walked back down the hill and hiked 45 minutes of town to get to the museum. The ticket was included in our regular Machu Picchu ticket so this was an easy decision. The museum was pretty small but had some great pictures about the first discovery of the ruins. We were not allowed to take any pictures while we were in the museum but we did get a few on our walk  and did a little trek up the path that leads to Machu Picchu.

If we were to hike from Aguas Caliente to Machu Picchu this would be the trail

Time for a water break

A little ice cream after the hike to and from the museum

Hmmm....what to eat for lunch. Take a close look at this menu

After a little siesta we headed into the thermal baths. We had been to a few along the way and this one did not rate very high with the kids. It smelled a little funnier than most but on the plus side they did have a cool bar that would take orders and deliver drinks right to the pools.

Time to check out the thermal baths

Almost there!

We found the pools!

Paying our drink tab at the cool bar at the thermal baths

The next morning we bought our bus tickets up to the top of the ruins. Everyone was pretty excited to finally see Machu Picchu. The bus ride included some hairpin switchbacks with buses going both directions. YIKES!! Once we made it to the top it was a pretty easy process to show our tickets and head in. We opted to tour on our own without a guide but there were plenty to choose from if you wanted a guide. We also added a little extra something to our regular tickets. When you book your tickets you have the option to hike one of the two mountains that surround the ruins. The two mountains are Huayna Picchu and Machu Picchu. Huayna Picchu usually sells out months in advance but we were able to grab the last few tickets to hike Montana Machu Picchu which is supposed to be the easier of the two hikes. We had a specific time to start our hike so we had to follow the signs to the trailhead. But on our way we were able to get our first glimpse of the ruins and they were AMAZING!! It is just breathtaking the first time you see them. I will let the pictures do the talking for this one.

It is hard to control how many pictures you take it this amazing place

It is just amazing!

Every view looks a little different

Time to add some people to the pictures!

The locals!

Making our way a little higher

More locals!

You can really see some details in the building layout in this picture

Time to check out the ruins up close

After taking our first set of pictures and seeing some of the local llamas hanging out we made it to the trailhead and started our hike up the mountain. Lots of stops along the way as we climbed up and we soon realized this was going to be a difficult “easy” hike. The trail was so steep!! Between the vertical trail and the general altitude our group was struggling. We did take lots of breaks to take in the amazing views. It is funny the difference between ascending and descending with the kids. There is a general amount of kiddie whine as we head up but the way back down is usually filled with laughs and excitement. I love listening to them chatter on the way down.

Look how small it looks from up here!

Another view from the top as we make our way up Montana Machu Picchu

It is good to see smiling faces on the hike up!

Check out the terrain around the sacred village. It is easy to see how easy it was to be hidden for so many years

This was really steep! I am not sure if the picture captures it.

Up, up, up!

Machu Picchu will be different things to different people. For us it was the pure amazement that something so vast could be built in between two big mountains in the middle of a huge mountain range. Just looking at the structures you have to wonder how they did it. It would take a huge amount of effort to build in in this day and age so it is amazing to think about how they could accomplish this in the 1400s. We felt very fortunate to be able to see this special place for the first time with the kids.

What a day! Time to take the evening train back to Cusco!

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