Conversations buzzed as the train rolled slowly from the platform in Ollantaytambo, Peru. Everyone, including us, was excited about finally visiting Machu Picchu, and it showed. Backpacks were stowed, cameras were at the ready, and we were off.
The “Vistadome” is one of a few very scenic train services that travel through the heart of The Sacred Valley to the ruins. The Urubamba River has carved a path through the valley, so the railroad parallels its course all the way to Aquas Calientes. The valley is beautiful, and if Machu Picchu weren’t the destination, the train ride could easily be the high point of a trip to Peru.
Aquas Calientes, shoe-horned between the rushing river and the mountains, is the end of the line. Everyone visiting the ruins must pass through here, and this monopoly has created a “gold rush,” boomtown mentality.
“Unplanned tourist development and perpetual construction makes this one of the ugliest, most exploitative towns you’ll run across anywhere in Peru.” —Lonely Planet Travel Guide
But if you want to catch the bus up the mountain, this is the only place.
For most tourists, their first real exposure to the Andes is the road leading up to Machu Picchu. And what an experience it is. The gravel road is narrow, rough, and has saw-tooth switchbacks every few hundreds yards. It’s so narrow in some spots that two buses can’t pass each other and one must pull to the side. My mantra was “I’m soooo glad that I don’t have to drive this bus.”
At the end of the road is the view that you’ve come so far to see …Machu Picchu. It’s breathtaking, and honestly, even the best photos don’t do it justice.
But after only a few minutes, it becomes obvious that Machu Picchu is a place of steps. While the builders did a masterful job of excavation and construction, it’s still a mountain, which means some parts are up, some parts are down. And this means steps … lots and lots of steps.
And there’s nothing like a bit of rain on well-worn stone steps to increase the challenge. But we zipped up, flipped up our hoods, and in true Gallivance Style, carried on. The llamas didn’t seem to be bothered, so why should we.
These rainbow-caped students attempted to stay dry, but it was more comical than effective.
Luckily, the rain passed quickly, and the sun returned. But rain or shine, there’s no place on earth like Machu Picchu, and at long last, we were there.
Last updated June 7, 2019
Photo Credits: 4. Dr. Eugen Lehle