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. The train manager served us our hot drinks personally to ensure we could have it 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.

View of Sacred Valley from train

The view of the Sacred Valley from our PeruRail carriage

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.

Aguas Callientes & River

Aguas Callientes sits on the fast-flowing Urubamba river.

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.

The 4.30am queue for shuttle bus

People were already queueing for the shuttle bus when we arrived at 4.30am.

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 THE 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.

We found that unless you were on a prearranged tour, it was quite difficult to organise a guide before getting to the gates of Machu Picchu. We didn’t need to worry though, when you arrive, there are lots of guides waiting around and this is how we met Oddy. We agreed on a price of 40 soles per person, which is around £9, and said we were happy to wait for two more people to join us. Once Oddy had convinced another couple to join us, 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.

Clouds obscure our view of Machu Picchu

Trying to get that ‘classic shot’ of Machu Picchu!

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!

We tried not to let it dampen our spirits and enjoyed our two hour tour. We walked A LOT, and learned 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!

Wandering alone

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!!!

Machu Picchu mountins and clearing clouds

The clouds finally started to clear around us, and the mountains came into view

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!

Clouds cleared from Machu Picchu

…suddenly we could see Machu Picchu before us!

Selfies with machu picchu

The mandatory Machu Picchu selfie!

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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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Vicky

Hola! Vicky here :)

22 Comments

Cathy · March 11, 2018 at 6:22 am

What time of year where you there? I’m hoping for less rain but good to see that the clouds can clear with some patience! Great shots!

    Vicky · March 12, 2018 at 12:35 am

    Hi Cathy. We went in January. So although, in our opinion, the crowds were big, it was actually the ‘low season’. Unfortunately, I guess you have to decide if you want bigger crowds or more chance of rain.

Shona · February 6, 2018 at 10:08 am

I’m so glad you hung around and the clouds cleared for you. You’re fortunate to have got some clear views of Machu Picchu. That solid fog and rain from one of your pics didn’t look like it was going anywhere 🙂

Emese · February 5, 2018 at 6:33 pm

Great post, and beautiful photos! I haven’t made it yet, but it’s on our list of places to visit soon. Thanks for sharing your trip on #TheWeeklyPostcard.

    Vicky · February 6, 2018 at 1:38 am

    Thanks for popping by Emese! When you do visit Machu Picchu, make sure you spend a couple of days in the Sacred Valley. It’s wonderful!

Stephanie (1AdventureTraveler) · February 4, 2018 at 4:55 pm

Great article on your journey to Machu Picchu. So glad the clouds opened up and you were able to get some spectacular photo shots. Good travel tips and information on Machu Picchu. I pinned this for later use when I visit Machu Picchu that is on my bucket-list. Thanks for sharing! #TheWeeklyPostcard

    Vicky · February 4, 2018 at 5:03 pm

    Thanks for popping by Stephanie! Glad to hear you might be able to get some use from our Machu Picchu series.

Upeksha · February 4, 2018 at 10:20 am

I’ve not been to Machu Picchu, but as they say, it’s on my list! Thank you for an incredible detailed account of your visit. I find such posts very helpful to get a real feel for what the the day is like. #theweeklypostcard

    Vicky · February 4, 2018 at 11:26 am

    Thanks for popping by! I hope you get to go there one day 🙂

Tomas · February 4, 2018 at 8:34 am

That’s a great article. We were in Machu Picchu in May last year. So it was nice to read about your experience. In our case, we were lucky with the nice weather. #TheWeeklyPostcard!

    Vicky · February 4, 2018 at 11:28 am

    Recently we spoke to someone who went a week later than us. They told us the weather was exactly the same, clearing up about 11am. Sounds like you just have to be extremely patient in the off season!

    Thanks for popping by! Hope you had an awesome time at Machu Picchu!

Anisa · February 4, 2018 at 8:00 am

I still haven’t made it to Machu Pichu, but I definitely want to go. I pinned for future reference. I am glad you guys toughed it out and the clouds cleared. The pictures of you two together are fantastic. Thanks for sharing on #TheWeeklyPostcard.

    Vicky · February 4, 2018 at 11:31 am

    Thanks for popping by Anisa. Glad you liked the photos.. we were just starting to dry out by the time they were taken 😉

Ruth · February 4, 2018 at 1:04 am

It is great to read so many details about your experience in Machu Picchu. I have been wanting to go for a long time (a little bit sad things are getting more expensive as time passes). I am glad the clouds cleared and you guys were able to get the iconic shot. I can’t imagine leaving the place without that photo. Awesome way to celebrate a birthday!#TheWeeklyPostcard

California Globetrotter · February 3, 2018 at 7:03 pm

Aw what a fun way to celebrate a birthday! I bet he we in utter shock! Interesting though to learn about the different kinds of rain! A bummer the fog was so thick though, but luckily it cleared up a bit for ya! #FeetDoTravel

    Vicky · February 3, 2018 at 7:15 pm

    Phil isn’t one for attention so yep it was a BIG shock 😉

Neha · February 3, 2018 at 6:40 pm

I’m glad it worked out well in the end and you could see the site in all its glory. I hope I can get there someday! Have pinned this for later. Thanks for sharing #TheWeeklyPostcard

    Vicky · February 3, 2018 at 7:41 pm

    Thanks Neha! I hope you get there one day too… We were surprised by just how much we enjoyed it.

Sara · February 3, 2018 at 4:50 pm

This is definitely on my list, but I’m a little concerned with altitude sickness. My body is ridiculously sensitive to changes. I can’t imagine how incredible it must be to travel through all that fog and all of the sudden, Machu Picchu arises!! Absolutely breathtaking shots – the colors are so vibrant! #TheWeeklyPostcard

    Vicky · February 3, 2018 at 6:41 pm

    Thanks Sara! You just need to take it steady with the altitude. The body adjusts but everything takes much longer. We’ve been surprised but how much it affects even now after four months in the Andes. It’s definitely worth it though when you get to see those amazing views!

Jenn | By Land and Sea · February 3, 2018 at 2:14 am

You have no idea how bad I want to go here! We’ve looked a few times, but so far it hasn’t worked out yet. What a great adventure you had in this amazing place!

    Vicky · February 3, 2018 at 2:18 am

    I hope you get to go one day Jenn! It really was magical. 🙂

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