I’d be lying if I said this wasn’t what I came for. Our hike to Choquequirao began on a Sunday, and we planned to make Friday our day to see Machu Picchu. On Thursday, we left the start of the Choquequirao trail to travel to the village of Ollantaytambo in the Sacred Valley. It is approximately 45 miles northwest of Cusco for reference. Ollantaytambo has Incan ruins in addition to some great shops with local jewelry and art. It is a very quaint, cozy town that is perfect for exploring on foot. From Ollantaytambo, we had tickets for the Peru Rail, which would take us to Aguas Calientes. Aguas Calientes is the town that Machu Picchu is in.
The Peru Rail is a beautiful train. The inside of the train is spacious and clean. We purchased a bottle of wine to bring along for the ride. They do allow you to bring alcohol on board. The train attendants also serve a beverage for no charge along with a snack. Our first ride was in the evening, and it was dark out. It was enjoyable, but even more so on the return during the day. The top portion of the car has windows and it was absolutely gorgeous watching the scenery as we rode along. Ideally, I would recommend traveling when it is daylight for both the inbound and outbound journey.
Check out their website at http://www.perurail.com. I can guarantee it will provide some serious travel inspiration! I am enthralled with the idea of train travel and was lusting after all of the train travel options available. They could be likened to economy all the way to first class. We took the basic expedition train, which I thought was wonderful. There is a Vistadome train with even more extensive windows. Beyond that, there are luxury options that appear quite opulent. The Belmond Andean Explorer train along with the Peru Rail Titicaca train are going to be on the list for my next journey to Peru.
Prior to your trip, if you do not have a guide/tour company, plan on purchasing tickets in advance for the following things. Our guide from Tikka Trekking purchased our train tickets on Peru Rail. He also bought our tickets for the Huayna Picchu climb months in advance. To purchase these, he needed our name and passport number. Last minute, one of our group members that did not have a ticket to climb Huayna Picchu wanted to take the place of one of our group members that was sick. They are very strict on entry and do not allow “substitutions” for other people to make the climb. Huayna Picchu overlooks Machu Picchu and allows for some unparalleled views. They allow two groups to hike Huayna Picchu daily. One is early morning and the other mid morning. A maximum of 200 are allowed per hike. If you do not have these tickets in advance, you will not be able to hike Huayna Picchu.
We arrived into Aguas Calientes late and checked in to the Hatun Inti Hotel. The hotel was nice and clean. The room was small with double beds. I think all of us were the most excited about taking our first shower in days and the prospect of warm running water. Unfortunately, the hotel was having issues with their hot water. This was eventually resolved, but I ended up having to take a cold/luke warm shower. Due to the time, we did not explore the town as much as I would have liked. We did a small amount of exploring on foot and had lunch at a casual cafe the following day prior to departure. On our walk, we passed by several other hotels that looked nice. In the future, I would have ideally spent more time here walking around and enjoying the town.
In the morning, you have to take the bus from Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu. Our guide told us that the bus line gets very long. This is a 100% true statement. We planned for breakfast around 5am and to get in line shortly after. The buses started filling up around 5:30am and took us up the winding road to Machu Picchu. You need your passport to enter the grounds, and there is a stamp for your passport if you choose at the end. Our first stop was at Huayna Picchu because our tickets were for the 7am climb. This is about a 2 hour hike. At the top, we lingered and took numerous photos. When you enter Huayna Picchu, there is the option to do a less strenuous hike that is not as much of an elevation gain. One of our group members opted for this, and I thought her photos were fantastic as well (maybe better). This climb is difficult; however, it is no more strenuous than our Choquequirao hike. You can see the stairs in the photo that were near the beginning of the Huayna Picchu hike. This gives you an idea of what the terrain is like. There are some areas that are steeper near the top of the hike. If you are physically fit, I think that this is definitely worth the climb. The vantage point fom the top really does change the perspective significantly.
We spent between 6-7 hours at Machu Picchu. I feel this is something group dependent. Our visit did not feel rushed, and I think we adequately had time to explore the majority of the grounds. Could I have spent longer … definitely.