While we were planing our trip, I remember saying: “we might be in Machu Picchu for my birthday, how great would that be!” and it seemed all so far away and so unrealistic…
If we were not in Machu Picchu on my birthday, we were just one day before and it was amazing! And it was all for the best because for the first time in many years, we had rain on my birthday!
We arrived in Cusco on the 26th of June. Not that we had much expectations but the city was nothing like we imagined and we were pleasantly surprised with how nice it is, despite the big crowd of tourists. The streets of the old town are beautiful with old buildings on every corner, walls made of original Inca stones, souvenir shops, restaurants, happy hour bars everywhere, and tons of tourism agencies…
While most tourists plan their visit to Machu Picchu a long time in advance, we arrived in Cusco a little unprepared. All we knew was that: the most famous trek (Inca Trail) costs a fortune and is over-booked up to a year in advance; you need to register and pay on the official website your entrance to Machu Picchu a few days in advance due to the limitation of daily entries; there are 2 mountains to hike: Montaña (the highest one) and Huayna Picchu (lower in altitude, is the mountain in the background of most pictures) but this second one is usually fully booked a few month in advance.
One thing we did not know was that from the 1st of July the high season starts and 2 rounds of visit take place in a day, meaning you are only allowed half a day in Machu Picchu instead of a full day which does not give enough time to climb one of the mountains.
After we spoke to a few agencies in Cusco, we chose to do the Jungle Inca Tail in 3 days only which would guarantee us to be in Machu Picchu on the 30th of June and enjoy a full day there. It was great!
The first day we drove for a few hours in order to reach the top of a mountain and we biked down into the valley. After the death road in La Paz it was a chill ride down! We started in the cold and rainy weather and arrived in Santa Maria town with a tropical weather. We then drove to Santa Teresa to spend the night on what actually this time felt like a proper death road. I have to admit this was the most scary road from the whole trip and it was quite a relieve when we arrived… We treated ourselves at the local spa: natural hot springs with water up to 40ºC.
On day two, we walked 2 hours from Santa Teresa to Hidroelectrica which is the beginning of the railroad to Aguas Calientes, the village where people overnight when visiting Machu Picchu. Just as most travellers, we walked the 10km from Hidroelectrica to Aguas Calientes alongside the train rails. If you think it is be a nice walk, alone, by yourself in the mountain your are mistaken. There is a huge international crowd of people walking the same path. But it is still very nice, an opportunity to meet a lot of travellers and it is fun to be on the lookout for the train to pass by. It feels a bit like a clandestine walk.
The third day was the best and the toughest. Our legs still remember the pain! We woke up at 4:30 am in order to be at 5:00am in the queue to climb the Inca stairs to Machu Picchu. It took us one hour to reach the entrance of the site and thirty minutes more to make it through the entry gate. But finally we were walking through the ruins of Machu Picchu. What a great feeling! Through all the morning mist it was difficult to take it all in and realise how big the site is but it made the place even more so mystical…
After an hour and half guided tour, the place was very busy with tourists and having cooled down from our first climb, we made our way up to Montaña. This second hike was much harder, much higher, and every step we took we couldn’t help thinking that we would have to climb down afterwards… In one hour and a half we reached the top we ran into Greg and Andrea who had arrived the day before in Aguas Calientes by their own mean. Machu Picchu seemed small from the top of the mountain but was so beautiful! We were very lucky that the clouds left eventually and let us with a spectacular view on the surrounding landscape. We spent quite lot of time there (mostly because our legs asked us some rest) before we made our way down and spent the remaining of the day in the ruins.
The next day, we joined Greg and Andrea on the walk back to Hidroelictrica under the rain, the meeting point for all buses to pick up their passengers. We almost didn’t make it back to Cusco due to the quite chaotic organisation of the pick up. Try to imagine, hundreds of tourists waiting for their bus, drivers screaming out names of their passengers, plenty of buses filling up little by little to head back to the city. But no one called us… We were left behind with a few others who also had been forgotten by their agency… About one hour after every one had left, a bus finally came to pick up the “forgotten souls” and we headed back, 7hours to reach Cusco.
So, the day of my birthday was spent walking in the rain and on the long bus, but the 3 days that led up to it were incredible!
I thought we’d seen so many images of Machu Picchu we’d might end up being disappointed once there. The truth is, even if it is very touristic, this place is magical. It’s not so much the temple itself, but it’s the place it’s been built, lost in the green mountains and the clouds that make it so special. A definite one in a lifetime must see!
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