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Trying to find the Inka’s Gold – First stop: Machu Picchu
Did you know that there were only 14 Inka during the time period of the 13th and 16th century? Sounds crazy, when you imagine their empire to be almost 1 million square meters big and consisting of the countries that we nowadays know as Argentina, Ecuador, Chile, and Peru. Not that crazy anymore when you realize that Inka is the term for King or ruler in the language Quechua, the language of their tribe.
The capital of the Quechua or Inca was Cusco, and this is also where most tours to Machu Picchu start today. From there we – oh yeah, I made this trip with my girlfriend, who is responsible for most of the pictures that go along with this story – went by a small bus to a place called Hidroelectrica. This takes about 6 to 8 hours and it is nothing for people who suffer from car sickness (my gf is one of them, so she did not enjoy this ride at all), since the route goes through the Andes with an altitude of about 4000m and includes approximately a million turns at full speed (yeah, drivers are not the most careful drivers, I would consider them to be rather reckless. They like to make you believe it is “experience”, but when we almost crashed a truck that our driver did not see coming around the corner, or when he was texting for 5 minutes without looking up once, I started to believe that the term experience has a different meaning in Peru). Eventually, we made it (only one person within this group of 12 threw up and no one died – well done, experienced driver!) to Hidroelectrica. And believe me, this adventurous bus ride was quickly forgotten after what comes after.
Hidroelectrica is the start of the railway tracks that bring you to Aguas Calientes, the village on the bottom of Machu Picchu, also called Machu Picchu Pueblo. You can either take a train that takes you to the village in about 30 minutes for a cost of 31 USD (this is the tourist price, Peruvians can go for only 5 soles which is more or less 1 USD) or you can walk along the train tracks for approximately 2 hours.
My gf and I chose to walk due to low budget traveling and the experience of walking through the jungle, take our time to take pictures and just to enjoy the given views. We were not the only people thinking this way, which makes this route quite crowded, but it was still worth it. If jungle is your thing, then you will love this walk/hike. 2 hours full of green plants, sounds of a wild river and views of surrounding mountains covered in mist. (If you have seen the old Jurassic Park movies and liked the scenery and don’t mind the absence of man-eating monsters, you will love this hike!) Since we went in January, we also had to prepare ourselves for rain (January is rain season, so the weather is unpredictable. It is very likely to be hit by a rain shower on your way. I brought my rain jacket, but my gf had to buy a raincoat. They are sold everywhere for little money but don’t buy just any. Some are not very water resistant and don’t let any air through either, so they turn out to be a mobile sauna!), but the permanent mist gave this hike a mysterious vibe, which I personally liked a lot!
After 2 hours we reached Aguas Calientes, a small village that basically consists only of restaurants, hotels, hostels and small stores (there is also a doctor, who charges you 100 USD only for his consultation – so better not get sick there 😉). Prices for dining are quite high, too. But since it’s a village meant for tourists, I don’t think it’s really surprising. If you want to travel low budget like we did, go look for the local market, where you can find very affordable dishes for breakfast, lunch menus and dinner.
Before going back to our hostel (about 50 soles (10€) for a double room) we bought our ticket for the bus that takes you up to Machu Picchu in the morning. You can also walk up, but since I was suffering from a foot injury and my foot swell up to the size of an elephant foot (that is why I know how much the doctor charges you -.-) we decided to take the bus and reduce the amount of walking to a minimum. 12 USD is the bus fee, they charge a little more when you pay with credit card.
Next morning, we went to the bus station around 4:30 in the morning to take the first bus, that leaves at 5:30. Again, we found a lot of like-minded people, so that there was a huge queue when we arrived at the bus station. Starting at 5:30, buses left as soon as they were filled up, which didn’t take long.
Up at the entrance of the Machu Picchu, we awaited our tour guide and the rest of our group. Since some people decided to walk up, they didn’t make it on time for the start of the tour, so that we started without them, next to 20 other groups so you can imagine how crowded the area was (If not, you will see in the pictures 😉)
Since it was discovered 1911 by the American Hiram Bingham, Machu Picchu has become the most popular tourist attractions of Peru and therefore an important source of income for the Peruvian government. There are Archaeologists that predict Machu Picchu to be destroyed by an earthquake in the near future, this is why the government tries to squeeze as much money out of this tourist spot as they can. (Who knows if this prediction is just an excuse to make more money?!) Since July last year, there are two-time slots to visit the sight. Most people tell you to go in the morning so that there are fewer people and the weather is supposed to be better. I call BS. In the morning all the tourist groups are up on the mountain, so you need to stay in line to take pictures of the sight. If you want to spend all day there, you have to buy two tickets (or you do it like we did and go in the morning, “hide” somewhere and then stay as long as you want).
Now whether, I mentioned before that we went during rain season, so that the mountains were full clouds so that the famous mountain you see in all Social Media profile pictures, (which by the way is not Machu Picchu but Huayna or Wayna Picchu and you stand on Machu Picchu while taking the picture), was not visible. The guide kept saying the clouds will move, bla bla bla…but no chance! Until 12 the mountain was completely covered by clouds. So, if you only had a ticket for the first timeslot and actually left before 12, you wouldn’t have seen this magical place. But, if you were as sneaky as we (hehe we are so gangster), you would have stayed longer and would have seen one of the most amazing views I have seen in my life yet. Fascinating. Incredible. Surreal. I am lacking more adjectives to describe it. (See for yourself in the pictures – even though, being there is a little different. Standing up on the Machu Picchu looking down to this ancient architecture, construction that leaves people until today, wondering how the Quechua build it, in front of all these green mountains and this big one right in the middle with even more constructions on top. Breathtaking.
Oh yeah, about the constructions, there are only theories, no one has a proven fact about the way they shaped the rocks they used to build their houses and palaces. Stones are cut so smoothly as if they were formed by machines or even lasers. Mind blowing, when you realize that people did this a few hundred years ago, without the technology that we have today.
After enjoying the sight for a little longer – in the sun and without big groups of people giving it a very busy and hectic atmosphere – we eventually left and made our way back to Aguas Calientes. Before we went down we didn’t miss the opportunity to put a Machu Picchu stamp in our passports. There is a small table with this stamp at the exit of the sight. So, whenever you go, don’t forget your passport 😉
Oh, and don’t listen to the bits of advice most people give you, the atmosphere is a lot nicer without all the guided groups and you can enjoy the Quechuan constructions almost all by yourself (remember this was offseason, so there is no guarantee, this is the same during high season)
Another thing, with your ticket you can go out of the secured area, eat (no eating allowed inside), go to the bathroom, or do whatever you want and then go back inside. There are bathrooms outside and lockers, if you don’t want to take your stuff.
views from the bus
Stray dogs will follow you from Hidroelectrica until Aguas Calientes
People on the march to Aguas Calientes
When the train comes through, peasants have to find room in the green
On the way, you will find this little store that sells some drinks, freshly pressed juice, and snacks
When you reach this, there are only a few meters left to Aguas Calientes
People lining up in the morning to catch the first bus to Machu Picchu
People waiting to take the famous picture
This is the view visitors during the first timeslot got
Paths in the area covered in clouds
We stayed longer and got to take a picture without people and with a view on Huayna Picchu
Llamas are running around freely, people were petting and feeding them
Don’t forget to stamp your passport 😉