I was on a walking tour in Cusco and met a fellow traveler named Javi who asked me this question: “Would it be sacrilege if I come to Peru but not go to Machu Picchu?”
I recently read an article titled “No, We’re Not Trampling Machu Picchu Out of Existence” that saddened me. As Machu Picchu grew in popularity, the more it is being destroyed. When the Incas lived at the site, experts estimate that no more than 750 people were there at one time. Today, 5,000 people walk through Machu Picchu daily. To answer Javi’s question, I answered yes. So, I booked transport to and from Hideroelectra, the last drivable bit before Machu Picchu.
The Journey to Machu Picchu from Cusco
It probably wasn’t the wisest idea to go on 01 January. I waited at my appointed time and place, but my bus was nowhere to be seen. The agency I booked with said that people were canceling their reservations left and right because they partied a little too hard for New Year’s. Long story short, there was a lot of chaos. But a taxi, two buses, lots of screaming and yelling by other travelers who can express themselves in Spanish and be understood, I was on my way.
Halfway to Hidroelectrica, the bus encountered a washed-out bridge and a sedan that thought it could drive over a raging river. We sat in the shade watching many men try to push the sedan out of the way. And as I watched, I snacked on cut pineapple because a lady saw a business opportunity with stranded passengers.
The bus got to Hidroelectrica by 15:30. And then there was the 10km walk to Aguas Calientes, the town at the base of Machu Picchu. At this point of the day, I had only slept three hours, eaten only a bread roll, a small bag of sweet potato chips, and a pineapple, and sat on a bus for six hours. I was not prepared for this walk.
Three hours of walking and some rain later, I was so happy to see what looked like a town. I also realized that the town is called Machu Picchu Pueblo, which confused me a lot. I found my hostel, aptly named the Supertramp Hostel and found Javi, who had posed the question to me earlier, checking in.
Aguas Calientes is an interesting place because it is so secluded. There are only two ways to get there: walking or taking a very expensive train. Therefore, prices in this town are inflated. Every restaurant caters towards tourists, and they will try their best to rip you off. I sat down for dinner, and on the menu, it said the meal cost 15 PEN ($4.48). When the bill came, I was charged 6 PEN ($1.79) for the “Machu Picchu tax”, a fake charge that wasn’t written anywhere on the menu. Apparently, this is a common practice in Aguas Calientes.
The town itself is small and is only there to house tourists for the night before they march up to Machu Picchu. There are plenty of shops selling your typical Machu Picchu knick-knacks and food for the journey. There is also a thermal bath and hence the town’s name [aguas
From Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu
For those with plenty of time, there is a grueling 2-hour stair climb from Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu. For the lazy or who needed to get back down and walk the 10km back to Hidroelectrica by 15:00, there is a bus that will take you there in 25 minutes. A one-way ticket costs $12 (notice that I and the bus company running the bus are quoting in USD). I highly recommend buying the ticket the night before. The Peruvian government is trying to control the number of tourists entering the park with timed tickets. I got into Machu Picchu at 6:50 with my 8:00 ticket. But I wasn’t complaining. My cloudy first view of Machu Picchu My first view of the site was full of clouds, but it was still amazing to see. The llamas hanging about also added to the spectacular landscape.
Machu Picchu was once a citadel for the Incas circa 1450. They used it for a little over 100 years before it was mysteriously abandoned. An American explorer discovered Machu Picchu in 1911 covered in foliage. Only 30% of the locale was restored in 1976.
To help with the flow of people, you can only go in one direction. Trying to get back up top from the bottom is difficult as the park watch people and tour guides are constantly telling you to keep moving along.
I spent about three hours in Machu Picchu because I was able to find a few hiding spots away from the flow of people so I could take in the scenery.
I also slipped and fell on a rock that I was hiding from. Oh well… Scars are great souvenirs!
From Machu Picchu to Hidroelectrica
Going down was fairly easy. The path was very well laid out and took about an hour. There was plenty of shade, and the key part was that I was going down instead of up.
I kept running into people who decided to hike up to Machu Picchu asking me how much more do they have left before they reach the top.
If you go from the bottom of the trail of Machu Picchu to Hidroelectrica, you save yourself 2 km of backtracking by bypassing Aguas Calientes.
The walk back was peaceful but long. Since I was ahead of the crowd, there weren’t as many opportunities to listen to ask each other if they were there yet.
From Hidroelectrica to Cusco
The majority of buses to go back to Cusco leave at 15:00. This is mainly because these drivers just drove six hours to deliver passengers from Cusco.
About 50 people and I wandered from one driver to another looking for our names on their list. This is the opposite of organized. Tempers began rising, and confusion ensued. However, after lots of discussions as to who will take who, we were finally off. The bus arrived near Plaza de Armas in Cusco by 22:00. A very long day!
So, was Machu Picchu worth it? YES! I can see why the Incas hid this place from everyone. It was magical. And now, with my Machu Picchu scars, I’ve got some Inca in me for the rest of