How to do Machu Picchu Right
Machu Picchu has been on our Bucket List for a couple years now, and we finally decided it was time to give it a go! I got a great Cyber Monday deal on www.theclymb.com that I couldn’t pass up. We booked the trip with Valencia Travel Cusco who did an outstanding job - we highly recommend them! The food was like eating in a gourmet restaurant every night! Anyway, I digress.
We booked our trip for the end of September 2016, right before Lindsay’s birthday.
It was a long trip to get to Cusco, Peru. Flying from Albuquerque is always a challenge for direct flights, so we ended up flying first to Houston, then to Mexico City, then to Lima, then to Cusco! Whew! It was quite a task to get to Cusco, but we finally made it after many layovers and delays! For some reason in South and Central America, sticking to timetables and schedules is highly optional. Luckily, we had plenty of time between flights that it didn’t really derail our itinerary at all.
Our time in Peru was 7 days total, with 4 days spent actually on the Inca Trail. What a stunning vacation this was!
Our itinerary was as follows:
Day 1 - Arrive in Cusco
Valencia picked us up at the airport, took us to the hotel and helped us check in. We stayed at the San Agustin El Dorado Hotel, which was a very classy, nice hotel. We then got situated, rested a little bit, and took a complimentary walking tour of Cusco in the afternoon with Valencia tour guide Angel. Cusco is a beautiful city, and very similar to our home city of Santa Fe, NM. Cusco was the administrative capital of the Inca Empire between about 1400-1534. The elevation here is about 11,200 feet, so it is no slouch when it comes to altitude! We saw the main square of Cusco, the Wall of 12 angles, and the San Pedro Market. The main square was a beautiful, open area filled with people just enjoying life. The Wall of 12 angles was a unique Inca design, made of big, heavy, and sturdy rocks. San Pedro Market had a variety of goods, from textiles, to meats and vegetables, and everything in between.
Day 2 - Full Day Sacred Valley Tour
After a complimentary breakfast, we got picked up from the hotel for a full day excursion to the Urubamba Valley! We looked at some hand-made souvenirs at the market in Pisac, which is at the entrance to the Sacred Valley. The valley is at about 9,700 feet, so we were breathing easier! We then made our way through Ollantaytambo, the oldest continuously occupied town on the American Continent! Ollantaytambo gives one a taste of what life would have been like during the Incan Empire, with the tiny buildings and canals. Lastly, we visited the chinchero market, a colorful market said to be the mythical birthplace of the rainbow.
Later, that same night, we had something kind of crazy happen! We were told that the city of Cusco was going to go on strike starting at 4am the next morning, and that if we were going to get out of the city safely and successfully to start our Inca Trail journey, then we would have to leave in two hours at about 8pm TONIGHT to make it out ok! Everyone was kind of surprised and a little scared by this. Apparently strikes in South America can get pretty rough, with rocks thrown at cars and things like that. So, we had to pack furiously and get ready to start our journey one day early! Everyone in the group was able to do this, and we arrived at our camping site around 11pm on that same night!
Day 3 - The Inca Trail Adventure Begins
We awoke to an absolutely stunning view of the Andes mountains! We were served a breakfast of porridge, coca tea, and some bread and spreads. Not bad at all! We then got all packed up and kicked off our journey! After checking in, we crossed the Vilcanota River and followed it for awhile. This part of trail reminded us of our home, New Mexico, with a dry landscape with cactus, a granite mountain canyon, and small river winding its way down the valley. We had some great views of an Inca Fortress called Huillca Raccay (don’t even try pronouncing these words, they are tough) and an Incan site called Patallacta. We hiked about 7 miles on this day, with only some gradual climbs. It was a great warm up to what was going to be the hardest hiking day of our lives!
Day 4 - The Brutal Day
We woke up at 5am ready to conquer the world! We had a great breakfast and then started a steep ascent. This was the day where we cross two high mountain passes. We first struggled one step at a time to reach the aptly named Dead Woman’s Pass, at an altitude of 13,977 feet. Everyone struggled to get to this point, but once at the top, the views were breathtaking. Here in New Mexico, if you are standing at 13,000 feet, you are the tallest thing around. But on Dead Woman’s Pass, even at 13,000 feet, you are looking up at sheer 19,000 foot snow peaks. The effect is very humbling! The landscape here reminded Lindsay of the rugged Scottish highlands with swift clouds rolling through. Just stunning!
We then continued on and had lunch at Pacaymayu, altitude 11,646 feet. This area almost looked tropical with avocado trees and baby alpacas running down the trail. The variety of climates, called microclimates, was fascinating! Every so often the scenery would completely change from desert, to mountain, to highlands, to tropical forest, it was just amazing! We then did ANOTHER steep climb to Runkuraqay pass at about 13,100 feet. Piece of cake after Dead Woman’s Pass (just kidding!). We then got to the campsite a few hours later. This day was about 9 miles of pure pain and suffering for once in a lifetime views!
Day 5 - Not Quite as Brutal and More Beautiful
Everyone was feeling the pain this morning! Lindsay woke up with the flu, unfortunately, and battled on with a fever and a bad chest cold for the rest of the trip. I guess those two mountain passes wiped her out!
After breakfast, we climbed to the site called Phuyupatamarca (Town in the Clouds), which was at 12,000 feet. The views from here of the mountains, canyons and surrounding area were spectacular. This was one of the best days on the trail, climbing through the cloud forest and visiting multiple ancient Incan sites, including the agricultural Inca site of ‘Intipata.’
We continued through a cloud forest to our third campsite at Winay Wayna, about 8,792 feet. The views here were awesome. We covered about 6 miles on this day, mostly downhill (thank goodness!).
Day 6 - Machu Picchu in All its Glory
The coveted day finally arrived! We got up at 5am on this day to get a decent spot in line to make our way to the Sun Gate (Inti Punku) before sunrise. After getting through the checkpoint, we booked it to the Sun Gate so we could see the sunrise hit Machu Picchu. We made it with a few minutes to spare, even though we had some pesky Europeans try to knock us off the trail as we tried to pass!
Machu Picchu (meaning Old Mountain) is an Incan citadel high in the Andes Mountains above the Urubamba River valley. The exact use of the site is also unknown as it is not aptly located for trade, though the site shows evidence of large amounts of people living there. It was built in the 15th century and later abandoned for an unknown reason, but most likely because of the Spanish invasion. Though, the Spanish were never able to discover this site when they invaded Peru in the 16th century. Machu Picchu continued to be a hidden treasure for several centuries until it was discovered in the mid-1800s.
As a World Heritage Site, Machu Picchu is and continues to be an absolute masterpiece of architecture and a unique testimony to the Inca civilization.
After taking in the amazing views, we toured around the site briefly, stopping by the famous Sun Temple, and made our way to Wayna Picchu (meaning New Mountain). Wayna Picchu is the dramatic mountain overlooking Machu Picchu that you see is so many iconic photographs of the site. This was a difficult climb because of how tired we were. I also drank all the water and left Lindsay extremely thirsty. Lindsay was also still sick and kicking butt! But it was well worth our struggles for the views from here were the best of Machu Picchu and the valley!
We then came back down and made our way to Aguas Calientes, where we entered back into civilization, had a great lunch, and entered into a food coma.
The train ride back to Ollantaytambo was awesome! The train is mostly windows, even on the ceiling of the train car, with awesome views and snacks and tea. We had one minor mishap where the train started smoking for a little while! There was a brief moment where we all thought we were going to burn alive in the train after conquering an entire mountain, but it passed.
We eventually got to our hotel and passed out. Lindsay had a high fever at this point, but was still trucking!
Day 7 - Adios Amigos
On our final day, we had a good breakfast and then made our way to Lima! The original plan had been to explore Lima, but Lindsay was really under the weather and I was pretty wiped out, so we mostly rested. We left the hotel for dinner, where we had the most incredible ceviche at Punta Azul, and then walked the streets to get souvenirs.
The next day, we made the slow journey home, and after two days of flying and airports, we were finally back to our own bed in Santa Fe!
This journey was just stunning, and we are so glad we were lucky enough to se