This post is all about our visit to Machu Picchu, also known as the Lost City. Although the day had a bit of a rocky start, we had an incredible time. If you would like help organising a trip to Machu Picchu you can look at our guide to choosing the best route, or our guide to organising a DIY visit.
Our visit to Machu Picchu began in Cusco, the once centre of the Incan Empire. In Quechuan (the indigenous language of the Andes), Cusco means, “navel of the world” and was a seat of great power. It was from here where we organised our trip and purchased our tickets for Machu Picchu and the PeruRail train.
As Machu Picchu isn’t accessible by road, we had to get the train to the closest town, Aguas Calientes. Our train departed from the town of Ollantaytambo in the Sacred Valley, about a one and a half hour drive from Cusco.
After spending a couple of days in Ollantaytambo, we set off nice and early for our train. There is a little cafe on the platform called Cafe Mayu, and we enjoyed watching the hustle and bustle of the station from their window booth. As life passed by, we enjoyed some yummy coffee and the best sandwiches we’ve had in months!
A little surprise
A little birdy (who could that be?!) had spoken with PeruRail in advance to let them know that Phil’s birthday was in two days time. Just 15 minutes into our journey, the staff crowded around us, armed with cake and candle, singing Happy Birthday (in Spanish)! You should’ve seen the look on his face – it was a total shock!
The staff gave us the extra special treatment for the whole journey. We were served our hot drinks personally by the train manager to ensure we didn’t have to wait and could have them with our cake.
For the rest of the journey we sat back and enjoyed the amazing views of the Sacred Valley unfolding around us. Whoever wrote ‘Ain’t no mountain high enough, Ain’t no valley low enough….’ had obviously never visited this special place. The contrast of sheer rocky mountains and low grassy valleys takes your breath away.
Arriving into Aguas Calientes
Our train pulled into Aguas Calientes two hours later – we were so sad to disembark! The town was built in the early 1900’s, to give easier access to Machu Picchu after it was rediscovered. It’s certainly not the prettiest of towns, but its location on the Urubamaba river, nestled between the mountains, is incredible. From wherever you stand, you can hear the roar of the water around you, and no matter how much you strain your neck some of the mountain peaks remain hidden behind the cloud.
An early morning
After staying the evening in Aguas Calientes, we awoke early to get ready for the big day ahead. When we got to the bus stop at 4.30am there was already a growing queue of people waiting for the first service at 5.30am. The bus takes you from Aguas Calientes, up the winding roads to the tourist entrance of Machu Picchu.
As we had bought our bus tickets the night before ($12 each way, per person), we were able to jump straight in the queue to board. The ticket isn’t for a set time, just the next available service. Lots of buses arrived early at 5am, and we were heading up the mountain by 5.20am.
Machu Picchu sits on top on a mountain within the Andes of Southern Peru. It’s precarious position gave it the ultimate protection, surrounded by mountains on three sides, and the Urubamaba river on the fourth. These days, it’s much easier to get to the citadel. In addition to the bus, there are steps that you can walk up for free. We passed by many people who had decided to attempt the steep climb. Unsurprisingly, they were all hot and sweaty, and we were grateful that we had opted for wheels!
Driving up the winding roads, I was beginning to feel increasingly overwhelmed. Even the pea soup clinging to the mountains couldn’t dampen the army of butterflies that had invaded my stomach. I could barely speak to Phil, and I didnt want to blink incase I missed my first opportunity to see Machu Picchu.
Until that point, I don’t think we had really felt excitement. We had been so focussed on the all the logistics of planning our trip, that we hadn’t really thought about the day itself! It was a surprise to feel so nervous, but these weren’t just any old ruins, it was Machu Picchu!
Arriving at the gates of Machu Picchu
The bus took around 15 minutes, and by 6.15am we had found a guide and agreed a price.
Unless you were on a prearranged tour, it was quite difficult to organise a guide before getting to the gates of Machu Picchu. You don’t need to worry though, when you arrive, there are lots of guides waiting around and this is how we met ours, Oddy. We said we were happy to wait for two more people to join us to keep the cost lower and agreed the price of 40 soles per person (which is around £9). Once Oddy had convinced another couple to join in, our tour began!
A tour of Machu Picchu
The pea soup that had obscured our view on the bus didn’t just remain, it got worse. By the time we got to the place where that ‘classic photo’ is taken, the rain had started to fall.
Oddy told us there were two kinds of rain, male and female. Male rain came down heavy but didn’t stay long, while female rain was softer but stayed for much longer. Unfortunately, it seemed like we were stuck with the female variety for the day!
Refusing to let the weather dampen our spirits in addition to our clothes, we really enjoyed our two hour tour. We walked A LOT, and learned a lot about the different areas of the city. We explored the temples, and the residential areas and discussed the steep terraces that were used for agriculture.
Our tour gave us a great idea of the layout and a better understanding of who the Incans were. The site of Machu Picchu was extremely sacred, and when the Incas downfall to the Spanish was inevitable, they abandoned the city to ensure it was never discovered and destroyed.
Taking a break from the rain
After our tour had finished we left to take a break from exploring. Standing under a ledge outside the entrance, we took refuge from the rain and ate the snacks we had brought with us.
We were in two minds. All of the organised tours were coming to an end and groups were beginning to leave and make their way back down the mountain. Part of us wanted to join them. The rain didn’t look like it was ever going to stop and it was becoming harder to keep our (soggy) chins held high!
After a moment of silence we gave ourselves a mental shake and decided to re-enter the citadel. When were we ever going to get a chance to visit Machu Picchu again? We wouldn’t let the rain ruin this opportunity for us!
Our train back to Ollantaytambo was booked for around 2pm so we had to make sure we left and headed back down the hill in plenty of time. It was already about 10.30am by the time we went back in, and we were aware of how much time we had left.As the stones were slippy, and the clouds so thick, we decided against making our way to the Inca Bridge or the Sun Gate. Both these places are outside of the citadel and require walking up steep steps. With the weather as it was, and our time restrictions, we decided to go back and explore the town itself in more detail now that we were alone.
Wow! Are we glad we decided to go back through the entrance!!!
The weather changed slowly, and at first we didn’t notice. Looking around us, we began to see more of the surrounding mountains, but we didn’t want to hope! The rain slowed, then stopped all together. A few rays of light began to disperse the pea soup all together. When we took off our rain jackets and looked around us, suddenly there it was! Machu Picchu spread out around us!
After walking round for close to six hours in the rain and the fog, our persistence paid off. We were rewarded with 45 minutes of sunshine and amazing panoramic views!
Five facts about Machu Picchu
We learnt so much about Machu Picchu and the Incas during our visi… I could carry on writing for hours and bore you silly! Instead I will share with you our top five facts about the citadel.
- While it was inhabited the city was incredibly remote. There were only two ways to enter, the most famous of which is now called the Inca Trail, which ran all the way from Cusco. Along the route, which weaved its way through the mountains of the Sacred Valley, there were over 100 different checkpoints to pass which provided an incredible layer of protection.
- Due to its seclusion, the Spanish never found it during their occupation of Peru. This is why it got its name as ‘The Lost City’. It was ‘rediscovered’ by an American explorer, Hiram Bingham, in 1911. In reality, it had never been ‘lost’ to local people. For the 400 years prior to Bingham’s arrival they had been using the city’s agricultural terraces for their crops.
- No one knows the original Quechuan name for the citadel. Machu Picchu means ‘Old Mountain’, and is the name for the mountain next to the city. At a loss for what else to call it, Bingham gave the citadel the name that is now recognised all around the world.
- Machu Picchu was built using the resources to hand and is an incredible feat of engineering. On our visit we were able to see how the Incas used the stone from the mountain. As well as a quarry to make bricks, many of the steps and walkways were built out of the mountain itself.
- At the moment the ancient citadel is open for tourists to fully explore, but this does come at a cost. All those thousands of feet and curious hands pose a dangerous threat to the conservation of the site. In the future tourists might only be able to stand and look from afar at the famous landmark.
At the end of the day
We absolutely loved our visit to Machu Picchu, and later that day, on the train back to Ollantaytambo, we had huge grins on our faces. Despite all of the money we spent, and the time it took to plan, we wouldn’t change a thing! We are so grateful that we persevered and stayed long enough to see the sight without those pesky clouds in the way!
Have you been to Machu Picchu, or are you planning your own trip? Let us know in the comments below!
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