As part of our trip to South America last year, we visited the famous Inca site Machu Picchu. A must-see on most travellers ‘places to visit list’!
Machu Picchu is located on a mountain in the Cusco Region, about 80 kilometres away from Cusco. The Urubamba River flows through the valley below. It is believed to have been constructed in the 15th century, but was abandoned at the time of the Spanish Conquest. For a long period of time, the Inca site was unknown internationally.
In 1911, however, an American historian called Hiram Bingham made it known wordwide. Since 1983 it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and was voted to be one of the New Seven Wonders of the World in 2007.
Getting to Machu Picchu is not an easy task. When we went to Machu Picchu last year, we booked tickets in advance online and had to go to a ticket office in Cusco to pick them up. Since then there’s been further restrictions put in place, which means only 2500 tickets are sold per day – so you have to plan ahead well enough to make sure you get a ticket on the desired day. You can then opt for different transportations means to go from Cusco to Machu Picchu.
The most common ones are either the train or the hiking trails. We opted for the train, but because there were construction works going on, we couldn’t start the journey at Cusco (replacement buses were active for part of the route). Instead we decided to start from Ollantaytambo and thus stayed over-night in the Sacred Valley. We booked a driver from Cusco to our hotel which also showed us some of the highlights in the Sacred Valley.
On the train ride to Aguas Calientes, you can enjoy a beautiful mountain panorama as well as great views of the river. From Cusco the train should take about four hours, whereas from Ollantaytambo it’s more or less two hours. Once you reach Aguas Calientes, you are in a very touristic hub with lots of street-sellers, restaurants and also hostels and hotels.
You can then either decide to walk through the forest up the mountain to the Inca site, or take the bus up the windy roads. We chose to take the bus up and then walked back downwards, which was the best choice I think as it is quite a climb up and it does get very humid there as well!
Machu Picchu is obviously one of the most hyped sites in the world – thus you will always end up having to queue to take some nice pictures or to walk up the narrow steps. Nevertheless, the views towards the mountains are breathtaking. While we weren’t so lucky with the weather and had to cope with quite some mist and rain, it was still beautiful.
Walking through the old-Inca site, which was partly reconstructed to give tourists a better feel of what it once looked like, takes up to two hours I’d say, depending on how often you stop for taking pictures or admiring the views.
The three main ‘buildings’ are the Temple of the Sun, the Intihuatana and the Room of the Three Windows. While exploring the site, you will often also see Lamas on the green patches of grass between the ruins, some even get very close up to the people, some prefer staying a little further away.
At the end of your visit you can have a snack and a drink at the café of the Belmond hotel – unsurprisingly, the prices are rather steep here!
After hiking down the hill we took a little walk through Aguas Calientes, as we still had quite some time to spare before our return journey to Ollantaytambo. There’s lots of restaurants and souvenir shops as well as a couple of small bridges.
Apart from that Aguas Calientes doesn’t have that much to offer. Before returning, we thus opted for dinner at a nice, local restaurant overlooking the river which served delicious Peruvian food.
Both the train journey and our visit to the famous Inca Site were breath-taking. We absolutely loved the mountain panorama, the ride up the steep roads was a little adventure though. It is a little sad, that Machu Picchu is so overrun by tourists as it takes away some of the uniqueness of the place – with the new restrictions on visitors per day this might have changed a little however. It might also be worthwhile to stay a night in Aguas Calientes and make your way up to Machu Picchu before the first train arrives from Cusco bringing in the daily tourists.