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 February 6, 2020
Photo Credits: 4. Dr. Eugen Lehle
Thank you for these two beautiful posts on Machu Picchu. This is on my wish list . My sister was there before and said it was a very spiritual journey for her.
After being there, I can certainly see how it would be a spiritual experience. I was into meditation in the past, and as I wandered the ruins, and saw the beautiful views I kept thinking what a great place it would be for meditation.
Would love to go there!
It’s unique in the world, and definitely worth the trip.
Macchu Picchu is on my husband’s and my bucketlist. 🙂 Hopefully, we get to visit that sometime in the future. Thank you for sharing. Your photos are great!
Thanks for the comment Lea, and for dropping by the blog. MP really is a magical place, and is definitely one for the bucket list. It’s a bit hard to get to, but Cusco, the Sacred Valley and MP make it worth the trip.
Enjoy reading your two posts on Machu Picchu. Breathtaking photos. It makes me wonder about the weather there? Did you visit there in summer or winter (I heard it’s warm in the winter.)
Amy, we were there in Peru’s early spring, and the weather was cool. However, I don’t think that it ever gets very cold or hot in the Andes at this altitude. MP is surrounded by mountains with “cloud forests” so I assume that it can be rainy much of the year.
Thank you, Terri!
So beautiful, so serene … however does anyone ever want to leave to go home?
MP really is one of those places that takes a couple of visits. If you do a bit of research, there really is a lot to see and experience.
Far too much for only a few hours, a few weeks, maybe. It’s almost impossible to absorb culture until you live it.
This is awesome 🙂 Every time I see a post like this (and thank you for mentioning all the steps), I get even more motivated to keep up with my personal fitness goals. I definitely want to do the three-day hike to Machu Picchu one day soon, so dragging myself to the gym several times per week seems less like torture and more like practice!
Thanks Jen. We didn’t hike the trail, but lots of folks rave about it. If you decide to make the hike, in addition to fitness, keep the altitude in mind. Cusco, where you will fly into to reach the Sacred Valley, is at 11,000 ft, and most likely you will have flown from Lima, which is at sea level. We didn’t have any serious problems with altitude sickness (soroche), but lots of people do. We’re both relatively fit, but we still got winded the first few days. So, plan some acclimation time in Cusco. BTW, have a great trip, it sounds cool.
I have heard altitude sickness is a problem, so I would definitely plan to spend at least a day getting acclimated. I don’t want my memory of the trip being marred by feeling ill if I can help it!
Nice photos. Words from previous travellers; no photo will ever do the place justice, like you said 🙂
Guess I’ll have to go check it out for myself! Were you up there just the one day, and how much did you pay?
Thanks for the comment Ricky, and for dropping by the blog. MP should definitely be on your list, and I’m sure that you’ll make it. We spent a long day at MP, and for us, that was enough. You know how these sites are, some people say, OMG it takes 3 days at least, and other see it in an hour. Bottom line, pretty much what you see in the MP photos is what you get. It isn’t that spread out, and a day was fine for us. I liked your post on Luang Prabang. Good luck in your travels in SE Asia.
Beautiful pictures! I really hope to get to Machu Picchu someday! Reading posts like yours makes me want to go even more! Thanks for sharing.
Thanks for the comment Heather, and for dropping by the blog. Even though it’s a bit expensive, and off the beaten path, it is definitely worth a visit. It is unique in the world for sure.
Through your posts, I feel like I’m travelling the world even when I’m sitting at my home. 😍
Shatarupa, we’re flattered that you feel this way about our blog, and are pleased that in these times of no-travel that we can help. ~James