The past few days have been one of the most amazing adventures I have had traveling. I would say it ranks right up there with our safari adventures in Tanzania. I don’t think I can find the words that accurately reflect how amazing Peru has been.
The city of Cusco is now one of my favorite cities I have visited. It is such an amazing city. After spending the day exploring the city, which I wrote about in yesterday’s journal entry, we got up very early today to begin our adventure of exploring Machu Picchu.
Our tour guide Juan Carlos, who is with Crossover Peru Tours, called us last night to coordinate our itinerary and dropped off our train and bus passes, as well as our tickets for Machu Picchu. I cannot say enough great things about Crossover Peru Tours, and Juan Carlos especially. He was absolutely fantastic.
Our day began with a 3:30am wake-up call and our shuttle driver, that Crossover Peru had arranged, picked us up at the hotel at 4:00am. It was roughly a 1.5 hour drive from our hotel in Cusco to the Ollantaytambo train station in the Sacred Valley. This is where we would catch our train to Machu Picchu.
We arrived at the train station at approximately 5:30am and then boarded our Peru Rail train to Machu Picchu at approximately 5:50am. The train ride took roughly 2 hours and was one of the most scenic train rides I have ever taken. The Andes Mountains and the beautiful mountain river the tracks followed were stunning.
This is the same river that the Inca Trail follows and we saw many of the hikers who were tackling this famous trail trekking alongside the tracks and down by the river. I will definitely be writing about the different ways in which you can visit Machu Picchu and the time, effort, and money each way requires when I write my visitor guide.
When we arrived at the Machu Picchu train station near Machu Picchu at around 8:00am, Juan Carlos was there waiting for us. We had to next walk thru Machu Picchu Town to get to the buses that would take us up to Machu Picchu. Again, Juan Carlos and Crossover Peru Tours had us covered and we already had round-trip bus passes in hand.
The bus ride only took about a half hour and followed the switch-back roads that you can see in the pictures. It was on this bus ride that we caught our first really good glimpses of the Andes Mountains and Machu Picchu. The excitement in our group was building and we couldn’t wait to start exploring.
We were going to also climb Huayna Picchu, which is the mountain you see behind the ruins, so we were on a pretty tight schedule. They only let 100 people a day climb the mountain, so you have to purchase your tickets well in advance. I will discuss this in more detail when I create the visitor Guide for Machu Picchu.
We entered Machu Picchu at around 8:20am and the first place Juan Carlos took us to was the spot above the guard house where all of the famous shots of the ruins are taken. If you are interested in knowing more about this prime photo location, I wrote about this a while back in my article “The Art of Travel Photography – Planning Your Shots”. I also included a picture I had Juan Carlos take of me in this spot below.
After getting a bunch of pictures of the ruins, Juan Carlos took us thru the gate of Machu Picchu and gave us a two hour tour of the ruins. Remember, there are now three circuits within Machu Picchu you can choose from and we were taking Circuit 1. I wrote more about these circuits in my three part series on our planning of this Machu Picchu and Galapagos Islands trips if you would like to check that out.
At 10:00am we were scheduled to begin our ascent of Huayna Picchu. It was roughly 10:20am when we got to the checkpoint because some of our group was having trouble with the altitude. Only my brother Mitch, Juan Carlos and myself ended up making the ascent.
Let me tell you, this was the most difficult hike I have done to date, and I have done some fairly difficult ones. It was about as long as the hike to Angel’s Landing hike in Zion National Park in Utah with a similar elevation change (I am guessing), but the altitude of this hike was much higher, so it was a lot more taxing. The whole hike up and then back down took us about 2 hours to complete. The views from the top were breathtaking though, so it was totally worth the effort. I especially enjoyed seeing the snow capped peaks of the Andes peaking out above the ruins of Machu Picchu.
After making our descent of Huayna Picchu, we had another hour to finish our tour of the ruins and then caught a bus back down to Machu Picchu Town. It was around 1:30pm when we exited Machu Picchu and around 2:00pm when we got back to Machu Picchu Town. Our train back to Ollantaytambo Station wasn’t until 3:10pm, so it gave us just enough time to grab something to eat in Machu Picchu Town.
When we got back to Ollantaytambo Station at around 5:00pm, our shuttle bus driver from that morning was waiting for us at the gate. Again, I cannot stress how flawless Crossover Peru Tour’s logistical planning of our adventure was. After a 2.5 hour shuttle ride back to Cusco because of traffic, we were back at our hotel discussing how amazing that day’s adventure was.
Next up, we catch an early morning flight from Cusco back to Lima with a connection to Quito, Ecuador. Peru has been absolutely amazing, but we are ready to start exploring Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands.