Alright! Now for the good stuff. Peru is best known for the sacred Incan ruins of Macchu Picchu, and I, like everyone else was drawn to Peru for this bucket list location.
There are a couple ways to do Macchu Picchu, including the famed four-day hike, but we did NOT have time for that. If you don’t hike, you have to somehow make your way to the town of Aguas Calientes which is the jumping off point to get to the ruins. From Cusco, you can take a train or cab all the way to Aguas Calientes OR you can get a cab/bus to the town of Ollantaytambo first and take the train from there. We opted for the latter since Ollantaytambo had some ruins to explore as well. Definitely grateful for that decision because some of our best days were in this little town. There are amazing terraced ruins built into surrounding mountains and we had one of our favorite meals at Apu Veronica, just outside the main ruins.
From Ollantaytambo, we took the VistaDome train to Aguas Calientes. There are a couple train options between the two locations, and we opted for the VistaDome since it has huge windows all along the sides and the roof of the train for viewing the insane jungle and mountain scenery as you approach Aguas Calientes.
Once in Aguas Calientes, don’t expect too much. It is a total tourist trap and everyone knows it. Every restaurant serves the same food and every shop is selling the same trinkets. However, the scenery is INCREDIBLE so if you have some extra time, I recommend hitting up the hot springs that the town is named for (Aguas Calentes=Hot Waters) or getting a cafe con leche and people watching against the gorgeous backdrop.
When the day of reckoning is upon you, you’ll need to get up at about 4 am to get in line for the buses up to Macchu Picchu. The first bus leaves the station at 6 am, but since everyone wants to get up there for the sunrise, the line is outrageously long! We arrived at 5 am, and there were already hundreds of people in front of us. Luckily the tourism industry in Peru is prepared for this, and they run the buses pretty much one right after the other to accommodate the crowds. Getting up for the sunrise is WORTH IT. We got super lucky with the weather and the mist was clearing up as soon as we got to the top, the sun came out and we had the most AMAZING view of the ruins! There are honestly no words to describe how spectacular it is to be up there before the crowds with the ruins almost to yourself to admire in the morning light.
It is easy and relatively cheap to book a tour guide to accompany you at the ruins, but we chose not to get one since we are stingy as fuck, and also so we could move at our own pace. Make sure you do the entire site — walk down below where the remains of buildings were and go all the way behind to where the Sungate view is (There are arrows and guides to help you out). You can also pay for an additional hike when you book your Macchu Picchu ticket for either Macchu Picchu Mountain or Huayna Picchu. If you want to do Huayna Picchu (the mountain present in all the typical photos of the site), you’ll need to book it far in advance. Macchu Picchu Mountain, however, is less popular but offers a higher vantage point. We ended up purchasing that one and it was a brutal hike, so be warned! And bring TONS of water!
We spent a full seven hours up at the site exploring and we covered every inch of the ruins. Macchu Picchu is a Wonder of the World and we wanted to make sure we took full advantage! The pictures speak for themselves, and I honestly cannot recommend making this trip enough. We should’ve saved this site for last, but alas, our pocketbooks and logistics dictated that we return to Lima for a short stop before returning home. Stay tuned for the next post where I review Lima and offer tips for traveling in Peru! If you missed my review on Cusco, click here!