Day 15 - Machu Picchu
The 4:00am alarm went of in competition to the 24x7 rooster next door. Karen met the guide and took the first bus at 5:35. Bus cost is 80 sol (us$24) return up a very steep series of switchbacks.
Guided by my super head torch, I set out walking from the hotel in Aguas Calientes at 4:25, to wait for the entrance at the bridge to open to start the climb to the site gates. It's a steep climb and took about 1.5 hours and I arrived not long after Karen at 6:00. It was a misty, humid morning, with stars visible and there was a steady stream of fit, young and not so young making the accent.
The entry gate to the Machu Picchu site is a hive of activity with big tour groups, hikers who have done the 4 day Inca trail to get here, and rich tourists who stay in the Sanctuary Lodge (located at site entrance).
We had an English speaking guide for 2 hours, and he knew the best directions to head to avoid the crowd.
Machu Picchu is so much larger in area the I expected, probably because all photos are taken from mountain top. The architecture, engineering and work quality are impressive. It is a series of temples, houses, farming terraces and specialist building like astrometry. The clouds, sunlight and surrounding mountains make it a photographer paradise.
After the guide left, we had some expensive coffee (much better then Aguas Calientes) and rested in preparation to climb Montana Machu Picchu mountain. It is about a 600m climb from the entrance gates and is 3025m at the top. It took us about 2:45 up and about 1:45 down from the mountain entry gate. Our start time was 9:00-10:00 and the site official at the top starts blowing his whistle to start descending at about 12:30. It was a tough climb and is mostly high steps to achieve the elevation so quickly. The view was greatcand other climbers were encouraging as we met a number coming down as we still ascended.
I came around a corner to hear the sound of a popping cork and clapping as an Irish couple get engaged- they seemed to make it down even after the champagne!
We were careful coming down. Our guide told us a women slipped and broke her leg the day before. Karen's phone app counted about 12,000 steps walking around the site and climbing the mountain, and our legs told us so.
As we arrived back to the main site, it was very crowded with big tour groups.
We then joined the bus queue (US$12 one way for me) and descended the steep dirt road. Some walk down as well, but not for me. We found a cafe near the railway/bus stop and ordered our first meal for the day. The Coke Cola tasted great.
This restuarent was also expensive and added a 11 sole "tax" - that was a new one. In summary, spend as little time and money in Aguas Calientes. None of the free Wi-fi worked after paying for expensive drinks. So we went back to the hotel and waited in the lobby for the 17:00 train departure time.
This train was a bit more luxurious, and the complementary drink included peanuts. We enjoyed the rest on the 1.5 hr train trip to Ollantaytambo and were met by and agent and put on a small bus for the windy 2hr trip back to Cusco. The driver dropped us a few blocks away and were into bed by midnight after a long day.