Alright, so you want to read more on my magical trip then? As promised in Part One, this post we are covering the ancient stuff, AKA Machu Picchu, and Ollantaytambo. We did some hopping around Cuzco as well, but I will save that for a bit later.
If you are planning a trip to Machu Picchu, you cannot drive there. You basically have to take a train or hike in. If you choose to hike in, then a lot of people start in Ollantaytambo. If you take the train directly from Cuzco, you might miss out on this gem, unless…
Pro Tip: Take a taxi or group bus to Ollantaytambo (called transportivo) and then a train to Machu Picchu. Prior to getting into a taxi, or group bus of any kind, just be aware that the Peruvians treat speed limits like a general advisement, not a requirement. Alabaster was pretty sure we were all gonna die. Having lived in L.A. for 10 years, I was a little less freaked out about our impending doom, but not by much. The guy went 80 the whole way. On the upside, we got there in an hour and a half!
Once you get to Ollantaytambo, there are a couple things to know. The archaeological sites here are not a big as Machu Picchu, but there is still a ton to learn and it is less crowded than Machu Picchu. Also, hiking around Ollantaytambo a bit will give you an idea of what you are looking at in Machu Picchu.
There is not much to see as far as the town goes, although it does have the distinct honor of being the oldest, consistently inhabited town in Peru, so be sure to wander the side streets as well as the ruins. The people at the tourism center are super helpful and can outline possible hiking routes for you (minimal Spanish required, so those of you who only know your numbers are covered). We spent half a day here, but you could easily spend a full day if you wanted to go at a nice slow pace.
The train station is literally two feet from the Ollantaytambo ruins, so after exploring, we wandered down to the train to make our way to Aguas Calientes, aka the tourist-hell-hole at the base of Machu Picchu. This is not a pro tip, this is just a travel tip, so it does not get its own special formatting; Aguas Calientes does not have a lot of charm, it is a great place to shower before and after Machu Picchu, but trust me when I say that you don’t want to hang around. If you do, you will be stuck eating meh food and being bait for the mosquitoes.
Pro Tip: Those mosquitoes do NOT play. Get some serious bug repellent and bathe in it. Also, book your tickets into the park well in advance. Like the mosquitoes, the Peruvian government ain’t having your tomfoolery.
Anyway, we got in late and stayed at a pretty nice hotel. I would totally recommend Tierra Viva – who big ups to them – printed my pass to Machu Picchu after I printed the wrong stupid document. We then got up at the actual crack of dawn to go wait in the bus line of doom.
This is the part where I tell you that the bus to Machu Picchu is actually the scariest thing I have ever done in my life. Like so scary that I would have hiked up there if I had known how terrified I was going to be. The buses go absurdly fast up a cliff with zero shoulder and one lane that does not prevent other buses from passing you on hairpin turns. Seriously, it was scary enough that the only thing stopping me from soiling myself was the lack of a Depend Adult Undergarment (see what I did there? HA!). We arrived alive by the grace of the condor or something.
Pro Tip: Hire a guide to take you around the ruins. They are reasonably priced and know everything. To be honest, I recommend getting a guide for basically everything in Peru, but especially this.
Machu Picchu is more incredible than any documentary, movie, book, picture, or Nat Geo issue could ever convey. Thus, I offer my sad photos and hope that they inspire you to see it yourself because it will change you in the best way possible (Stop judging my outfit, it is fly as hell).
After spending a few hours poking around the ruins, I decided to hike up Huayna Picchu. This is not for the faint of heart but is WELL worth the haul. Fair warning: I thought that being in marathon shape would mean the hike up would take less than an hour they recommend. FALSE. It took me a smooth 53 minutes to heave myself up there, so be prepared to suck some wind, humble yourself and see a truly rare sight – seriously, only a couple hundred people get to see it a day, so enjoy being among an elite group (and by elite, I mean enjoy being among a group of people who like to buy park passes that far in advance that they can get a ticket).
Like I said, photos don’t do it justice, so please invest in seeing this magical place. I think it would be impossible to regret this choice.
Anyway, after I crawled down that beast of a horrifying Hobbit-cave-thing, we headed back to Cuzco, which is Part 3!