15th century Incan citadel Machu Picchu is a world famous historic site and Peru’s biggest tourist attraction. First publicised to the outside world in 1911 by Hiram Bingham, it is one of few significant pre-Columbian sites not discovered and destroyed by the Spanish conquistadors. Machu Picchu was also the final destination of my four day Inka Jungle Trek.
Located between Hidroelectrica and Aguas Calientes, Machu Picchu is approximately 75 kilometres by straight line from Cusco
Only accessible by train or foot, thousands of tourists visit the Machu Picchu area every day. To limit damage to the archaeological site, daily visitor numbers are restricted and, particularly during the dry May-November high season, advance purchase of tickets is recommended.
Note: I visited during August 2016 when a ticket covered a full day. From 1 July 2017, tighter entrance conditions applied, including separate morning and afternoon tickets and mandatory use of guides.
My ticket cost 142 soles plus 5.72 soles for online card payment and included entrance to both the main site and the optional Machu Picchu Mountain.
Machu Picchu just after 6:30am before the tourist hordes ascend to spoil the view
From Aguas Calientes, people can bus or walk to Machu Picchu. The outer gate opens at 5am and the site entrance 6am. I woke up early and joined the hordes tramping in the dark to the outer gate. There I found the other tour group members and waited in line for opening. Hiking to the entrance, one ascends hundreds of metres via 2,000 steps.
The clouds moved across blocking the view in time for my camera’s group photo. Jhimmy originally wasn’t going to take the photo with the clouds in the way but I insisted
For two hours in cool, rainy and overcast weather guide Jhimmy showed us around the site. Afterwards we had free reign. By the time the weather cleared up, I missed my 9am-10am window to begin climbing Machu Picchu Mountain. Instead, during the worst rain, several of us retreated to the overcrowded and overpriced cafe outside the entrance.
Video of clouds moving rapidly across Machu Picchu
Machu Picchu’s altitude (2,430 metres) and steep mountainous terrain combine to allow swift weather changes with clouds coming and going across the ruins.
The central Machu Picchu ruins visible from Intipunku, the Sun Gate
Another view from Intipunku showing the switchbacks of the bus track leading from the bottom up to the top
Orchids flowering at Machu Picchu
The Machu Picchu site has interesting flora with wild orchids, bromeliads and other plants.
A llama grazing in the foreground in front of tourists standing near an ancient stone building with a replicated thatched roof
The thatched roofs on Machu Picchu’s buildings perished long ago. A few buildings have replaced roofs, displaying their original form.
A flowering bromeliad in front of Machu Picchu ruins
These large rocks resemble the outline of the background mountains
Complex and precise Incan stonework
The terraced ruins in the beautiful late afternoon light
For eleven hours I roamed around the site. Outside of the main ruins it was possible to escape the hordes of tourists and relax in awe of both the amazing setting and construction.
Despite an extremely long day, leaving Machu Picchu I felt inspired, running down the 2,000 stairs on my return to Aguas Calientes.
After a meal and rest in my Ecopackers Hostel I walked to the Aguas Calientes train station to go to Ollantaytambo. Unknown to me, the station had separate terminals for locals and foreigners and I ended up at the local terminal until pointed in the correct direction. The train servicing Machu Picchu is one of the most expensive and profitable rail services in the world per kilometre and locals have special, cheaper services.
Transferring from train to bus in Ollantaytambo, I eventually arriving to Cusco late at night. The fantastic four day Inka Jungle Trek had ended.