Today’s Classroom: Machu Picchu, Peru
Office Elevation: 7,972’ above sea level (2,430m)
*3,300’(1,000m) lower than Cusco 11,152’(3,399m)*
MACHU PICCHU MONDAY! I reached the ruins of Machu Picchu on a Monday morning under a sweet October sky. This is my 3rd man-made wonder of the world I’ve reached. I couldn’t believe I got to experience this ancient city built by the Incas, a place I have seen only in history books and National Geographic magazines. It’s mystery and architectural intelligence is astounding. However, here is the reality to get there…
First, I booked Machu Picchu entrance tickets at least 2 months in advanced. To hike up to Wayna Picchu (the iconic mountain peak above the ruins in all the photos) and Huychuy Picchu (smaller peak) it is important to purchase tickets early because those tickets sell out fast. My friends and I got tickets for the AM Wayna Picchu group entry. About 2,500 tickets per day are available for Machu Picchu versus the 250 tickets per day available for the two peaks. This is their government website, MachuPicchu tickets. It is helpful to have friends that read Spanish and remember the prices are in Nuevo Sols. I would also advise to purchase Peru Rail train tickets online before you go as well. We made the mistake of waiting until we got to Cusco, which turned out to be a hefty $214. Our lesson is that it was more expensive and most train tickets were sold out for the days we wanted. Make sure to have hard copy print outs for all your tickets! Second lesson: always buy from the source, not from tour companies. Another mistake we made as we learned travel agencies overcharged us sometimes 3x the price. So try to settle all this before you go to prevent wasting time looking for places to buy tickets. Don’t risk the chance of flying all the way there to discover tickets are sold out. (True story: this happened to a Boston couple in our hostel dorm who couldn’t go to Machu Picchu because the city was on strike and there were no more train tickets).
Now there is also the other option to book a 4-7 day trip backpacking the Inca Trail or Salkantay Trek. Reason that I didn’t go with this option is that I am a backpacker and I didn’t like the fact that locals would be carrying my stuff for me. I felt it was not an authentic experience if I am not carrying my own weight and have sherpa-like individuals chauffeuring all my crap up the mountain. It is expensive and definitely luxury, princess-camping style. We also did not have the time with other sites we wanted to visit. Now I fully support anyone to check out those guided tours and backpacking packages. I am not saying it is a bad experience, just one that is not for me.
Pre-plan ticket documents and that’s about all I would prep for to make life easier. Off to Peru and fly into Cusco! Be aware that the city is at a high elevation of around 11,150’ so prepare with altitude pills or start loading up on Coca tea and candy in Lima. A taxi will take you straight from the airport to the main plaza by Catedral del Cusco for 35sols. It’s cheaper by bus but after being on a 24hr layover flight, I was willing to pay the $11.50 just to get there quickly. The architecture is beautiful and similar to Europe with Spanish colonial influences. Please have a cappuccino on the blue balcony overlooking La Plaza de Armas! It is where I waited to meet my friends and I could observe the whole plaza in peace. There are plenty of shops and colorful markets for bargain goods. In October the Peru Mountains are getting pretty cold and temperatures drop at night to low 40’s Fahrenheit. Coming directly from Central America where all I needed was a swimsuit, I was happy to grab some warm clothes. I preferred wandering down the alleyways away from the plaza to find better-priced items and fewer crowds. All together I got gloves, beanie, and a sun hat for 40 sols ($13).
Wild Rover Hostel and Hostal Pariwana were two great places to stay for traveling backpackers, each 40 sols a night ($13/night). From Cusco, catch a bus to the mountain town Urubamba (6sols=$2). Explore the Maras Salt Flats, which is a stunning natural formation. It takes 30min for a taxi to drive from town to the flats for 8sols. Enjoy many goodies at the lovely bakery, El Edén. (Side Note: Coca cookies are a bit strong and made my mouth numb if I had more than two. Don’t try to bring anything with Coca back home to the States… it’s illegal.) Then take another bus from Urubamba to Ollantaytambo (2sols=70cents). I loved everything about this small town and our stay at Hostal Los Andenes was adorable (24sols= $8) The Heart’s Café next door was the icing on the cake! A percentage of their proceeds go towards children’s education in the village schools. I had thee best french toast there, no exaggeration. The 16sols was worth the delicious french toast with muña té, ($5) Ollantaytambo is where we caught the train to Aguas Calientes. This is the city built below Machu Picchu for travelers like us to visit the ruins. It is very touristy but the ceviche, aji de gallina, cuy de ahorno, pisco sour, cerveza Cusqueña, and Peruvian style donuts served fresh from street vendors are traditional dishes on the must-try list. Buy your bus ticket ahead of time to get up the mountain! There is only one booth running and the line starts building at 5:30am (36sols=$12 one way). I would advise to buy a round trip ticket because again there is only one booth at the top for a return ticket… line gets ridiculous.
And when you finally arrive, just take it in. Get your souvenir passport stamp, because you know you want one, and try to refrain from all the pictures at least for 5 min. With our 7am entry ticket to Wayna Picchu, I was thrilled to have the first 10min of solitude all to myself at the summit of our hike. I cannot express how awe-inspiring it was to enjoy the view and realize that I was the first soul to greet the sunrise above Machu Picchu that day. It was my precious moment I will never forget.
Hike Huychuy Picchu below as well. The photos from there are closer to the ruins. The girls and I had two amazing experiences. 1) A cluster of white butterflies surrounded us and fluttered with the breeze as we stood there. Many landed on me perhaps because I was wearing rose patterned leggings. I’m not super religious but I believe the spirits were greeting us. 2) We witnessed a proposal! I was asked to videotape while my friends kept the woman distracted. That was pretty special. *hint hint to my future husband.
So now we were standing and existing on the mountain of Machu Picchu. What to do then? Nothing, absolutely nothing. Sit, put the camera down, and be thankful to be alive long enough to see such a wild place.
Today’s Reminder: Enjoy the view, folks.
*prices converted into U.S. dollar. Currency $1= 3sols as of Oct. 2015