‘Machu Picchu’ meaning ‘Old Peak’, is certainly a world wonder. It is no surprise that this trip would be one to remember and one that would once again make me feel so small (in a good way). In addition, one of my best friends, Connor, was able to make the trip with me. He flew from the US to Peru to visit me and to of course, accompany me to the world-famous “Lost City of the Incas”.
First of all, this trip to Machu Picchu is not only a little costly, but it’s also a little difficult to figure out. Research definitely needs to be done and I was fortunate enough to get all of the little information from my fellow housemates after they had done it themselves. Going to Machu Picchu includes: a round trip flight from Lima to Cuzco, a round trip train ticket from Ollantaytambo (or Cuzco) to Aguas Calientes, a 2 hour taxi/shuttle ride from Cuzco to Ollantaytambo both ways, a shuttle ride from Aguas Calietes to Machu Picchu, a relatively costly ticket into Machu Picchu, and then all the hostel, food, and shopping costs added to that. We, being students on a tight budget, found hostels for really cheap (like 20 soles~$9), but if you didn’t know that you could find hostels that cheap, you probably would have spent about 70 soles ($32). Maybe they would be better hostels but honestly, you just need a bed to sleep in. Just in case you are curious, with everything I probably spent about $620 for a 4 day trip to Cuzco and Machu Picchu. We saw prices for tours online to Machu Picchu that were about $500 more so doing it ourselves was cheaper and I think it’s half the adventure!
We started our journey in Cuzco which is really beautiful. Surrounded by hills with a mix of colonial architecture and a bustling tourist feel, it is a really nice city. We even went during the rainy season, but when it wasn’t raining, the sky was nice and blue and you could see starts at night. I’d have to say, it looks way better than Lima. That first night in Cuzco we did some shopping, walked around the town and found ourselves at Qorikancha.
Qorikancha was orginally called Inti Kancha. Inti meaning “sun god” and Kancha meaning “temple”. So, Inti Kancha was the temple of the sun god, which means that it was the most important temple of the Incan Empire. However, when the Spanish came to Cuzco and Christianized the native people, they destroyed the Inti Kancha, only leaving the foundation to build the convent of Santo Domingo. According to Cieza de Leon (a very famous and important man who wrote the Crónicas del Peru), when the Spanish demanded gold in exchange for the life of Atahualpa (the last Incan leader), most of the gold was brought from Inti Kancha. This just shows how important this temple was to the Incas, and it would be really cool if the original temple remained, since it was supposed to be decorated with gold…everywhere.
The next day, we headed out to Ollantaytambo, the sacred valley, which is about 2 hours from Cuzco. In Ollantaytambo we caught the train to Aguas Calientes, which is basically the tourist city of Peru. It is a cool little town, pretty much made for tourists. Therefore, it’s a little more expensive but you can still find things for pretty cheap (relative to the US). We walked around the town and the huge market you are forced into right out of the train station. That night we decided to treat ourselves to a peruvian delicacy. A 45 sole dinner bought us cuy. If you don’t know, cuy means guinea pig in Spanish. So we ordered a cuy, with the head and everything.Adonde fueres hazlo que vieres! I have to say, it was really good. There’s not much meat on them as I’m sure you can imagine, but the way it was cooked with seasonings and everything was awesome. It was a little weird eating a pet, but once you get over that and dig in, it’s not so bad!
We called it a fairly early night because at 4am the next day, we woke up for our ultimate adventure! 4am wake up to buy the shuttle tickets to Machu Picchu and then we were on the 2nd bus up to the entrance of the park at 6am! We got there right when they opened the doors and with our first glance at Machu Picchu, I knew that nothing could beat this. I have wanted to go to Machu Picchu ever since I learned about it in like 4th grade. I don’t know why it captivated me so much, but somehow I knew I’d someday make it to Peru. Everything about Machu Picchu is beautiful: the way it is completely hidden by civilization, the way the sun hits the city, the mountains that surround it, the terracing, the clouds below you, the buildings, and everything in between.
Discovered in 1911 by Hiram Bingham, Machu Picchu has been believed to be a religious site of the Incas among many other theories. Sacrifices were held there, mostly of animals, probably as a tribute to the sun god. Astrology was very important to the Incas, seeing as their religion is based upon the sun, moon, and stars, and the architecture reflects that. There is the Temple of the Sun, sundials, and buildings specifically designed to cast shadows in different shapes when the sun hit it in a certain way. Unfortunately, we couldn’t get a guide because it was pretty expensive so we just wandered the ruins by ourselves. I plan on buying a Machu Picchu book while I’m here so I can put the pictures with the historical significance.
After climbing all around Machu Picchu, we headed back down to Aguas Calientes because our train left that afternoon. Here is where we hit out only big hiccup. We arrived at the train station (really tiny by the way) about an hour before our train was due to depart. Well, there are 2 train companies: Inca Rail and Peru Rail. In the train station, there had only been announcements for Peru Rail trains and literally nothing about Inca Rail which we had chosen to ride. BIG MISTAKE. After much confusion and me even asking 5 other people, we had missed our train. And we weren’t the only ones who had missed the train. There was another couple who had missed the train since there was no announcement about the train leaving and you couldn’t see the train from the train station like you could see Peru Rail’s trains. So, after attempting to fight with this employee at the desk, we had to pay for another ticket. The only problem was that our flight back to Lima left the very next morning and there weren’t any trains early enough the next day to make the flight in time. So we probably were going to miss our flight as well…which would have been way more expensive. Well, obviously we weren’t going to use Inca Rail again so we bought a ticket for the earliest train at Peru Rail. I explained our situation to the lady at the Peru Rail ticket booth, and she was so nice. She let us print our boarding passes so we could run straight to security at the airport, and then we asked her if there was any way we could get on the last train that same night back to Ollantaytaymbo if some people didn’t show up. She said she couldn’t guarantee anything but if we come back later on she would see if she could get us on. So we went back at 9pm and by some miracle, she was able to get us on that last train. She was awesome. So, future travelers to Peru, take this note: DO NOT USE INCA RAIL. Seriously.
Overall, our trip was awesome and I can’t really even put into words how awesome it was to be on Machu Picchu. You’ll just have to experience it for yourself!