Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Finally, Machu Picchu

Machu Picchu is arguably the top destination for the whole of South America. We have always felt lukewarm about it because of the monopolistic practice of the train and bus to the site, and the astronomic admission that is disproportional to the rest of the country.

Fortuitously Machu Picchu happened to be our last stop before going to Lima to catch our international flight back home. With everything we have seen in the last 7+ months, the surrounding hills and valleys for Machu Picchu are very beautiful. If it were not for the archeological site, the area itself would have deserved a visit as a national park. As much as I am impressed with the Inkas, the ruins themselves were only so-so impressive.

Here is the rest of the details.

Monday after Easter, we boarded the train in Ollantaytambo for Aguas Calientes. The 40km ride cost $34US (the cheapest train). To put this in perspective, the 19km bus ride we took the other direction from Ollantaytambo cost $0.46US. We could have trekked in on the Inka trail. The multi-day trek would have cost several hundreds dollars each, with permit and guide being mandatory.

Aguas Calientes has nothing but tourist services, but the setting is magical, steep green hills and a roaring river. While there were plenty of reasonably priced guesthouses, food was mostly overpriced. From Aguas Calientes, it is 8km bus ride up a steep hill to Machu Picchu. The roundtrip bus fare was $15.5US. Again, we opted to ride instead of walking. We wanted to maximize our time at the site. The site admission is $45US.

Once we set aside the extortionary prices, we still needed to decide whether to climb the hill right beside the ruins, Huayna Picchu. Everyday 200 (7-8am) + 200 (10-11am) permits are given to climb the hill. In order to get one of those 400 permits, one has to queue in Aguas Calientes way before the first 5:30am bus. We were not sure whether we wanted to be a part of this insane business, so we decided to set our alarm for 5am. The next morning, John woke up at 4am and got us going. We were in line for the bus at 4:35am. By the time we took the bus and got in line for Huayna Picchu, there were permits only for 7-8am and we were well within the last 50 people to get in. It was madness.

Luckily we did not suffer any illness from the efforts of getting up at such ungodly hours, we took our time and went up and down the site. After 10 hours, we were pretty worn out. We wanted to make sure that we do a thorough job this time, since we have no plans to return to Machu Picchu, even as we have been talking about revisiting Cusco and the Sacred Valley. After we took the bus back to town and grabbed some dinner, we caught the 6:45pm train back to Ollantaytambo, $37US this time.

The scenic town of Aguas Calientes.
Aguas Calientes, Peru

Sunrise over Machu Picchu.
Sunrise - Machu Picchu - Peru

Proof we were there.
Machu Picchu, Peru

Various other "classic shots" of Machu Picchu.
Machu Picchu, Peru

Machu Picchu, Peru

Machu Picchu, Peru

And a few not-so-classic shots.
Machu Picchu, Peru

Temple of the Moon.
Temple of the Moon - Machu Picchu, Peru

Sun-Ling descending Huanya Picchu.
Descending Huayna Picchu- Machu Picchu, Peru

Wild Orchid on Huanya Picchu.
Wild Orchid - Machu Picchu, Peru

For the rest of the Machu Picchu photos click here.

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