It all started in the middle of the night on May 14th. The itinerary for the day included:
A car ride to the Ollantaytambo train station
A train ride to one of the starting points of the Inca Trail
Four hours of hiking the Inca Trail until we get to the Wiñay Wayna ruins
Lunch break at Wiñay Wayna
Three hours hike to the Sun Gate and the Machu Picchu area
Approx. 1.5 hours to explore the Machu Picchu area
A bus ride to the Aguas Calientes village
Check in to our hotels
Have dinner with the group at the Indio Feliz restaurant
At exactly 3:00 am, I waited in the lobby at my hostel (Atawkama) for my ride from the travel agency, Alpaca Expeditions. I was all dressed up and had my small backpack ready with me. I was ready to tackle this hike. My ride was a bit late though, which made me a bit frustrated because I got up at 2:40 am to be ready for 3:00 am, and only had 3 hours of sleep. After several phone calls to my travel guide, Reynaldo, I was please to find out that they did not forget about me, and that they would arrive in half an hour.
At 3:40 am, someone rang the door bell, and started calling my name. I knew it was Reynaldo who I just spoke on the phone with and had met a couple of hours earlier. I opened the door, got out of my hostel, closed the door, and started marching after him to the minivan that was supposed to take us to the train station. I was really out of breath after the first 10 steps, which made talking so much harder. I tried to find out if I was the last one they had to pick up or if they needed to pick up more people. Luckily, he was able to make out the words that I blurted, and confirmed and I was the last person and that our next stop was indeed the train station. As we were approaching the minivan, I wondered whether I would get to rest on this ride to the train station, and whether I'd get to see the people with whom I was supposed to spend the next two days.
The street in Cusco of where my hostel was
As soon as I got on the minivan, I realized that all the seats were taken except for the solo seats. My chance of having a comfortable seat, where I could relax and nap, vanished right there. Also, it was pitch black inside the van, so I couldn’t even see the faces of the people that were there.
The ride lasted three hours and was one of the worst I have ever experienced in my life. Almost the entire time, we were driving on gravel roads, so the ride was very very bumpy and noisy. I had an eye mask and ear plugs, and they didn't help. Also, it seemed that the drivers who were driving in the opposite direction "forgot" to turn off their headlights, so all I kept seeing was flashing lights. I don't remember if I had the sleeping mask on at that point, but I remember that no matter what I did, I just kept seeing flashing lights. So my last slim hope for having a nice three hour nap, despite of the uncomfortable seat, disappeared.
After a long ride that felt like forever, the van finally stopped, and Reynaldo shouted "Guys, we're here. We need to hurry up to catch our train." As soon as I got out of the van, I was finally able to see who the people in my group were. I saw three guys, all around my age, and a couple. I was told that the couple was American.
Back to the story, the guys, one Canadian, and two Jamaicans, were really hungry and wanted to get food before we got on our train. I didn’t pay close attention to whether they ended up getting food or not, but moments later I found myself rushing to the train with Reynaldo and the rest of the group because the train was about to leave. When we got to it, all the doors were closed and the staff were already on the train. They had to open the doors especially for us and helped us get on the train. We were the last ones to get on, and I still don’t know how we magically made it on time.
As soon as I got on the train, I was trying to find my seat quickly, while also trying to take it all in. The wagon we were at was really nice.
On the train to Machu Picchu
By the time I was already on the train, it got pretty bright outside, and the scenery that appeared in front of my eyes was just stunning. About half an hour after the train started moving, we were given complimentary drinks and a snack. The train ride was about an hour, and I spent most of it either taking photos of the beauty I saw outside or talking to Dimitri, the Canadian guy in my group.
The view from the window on the train
Small houses along the Urubamba river
As soon as we approached our drop off point, it started to rain. Luckily, I came prepared! I spent a ridiculous amount of money on water proof hiking shoes, waterproof camera bag, water resistant backpack, and a rain cover for my backpack (just in case). The only thing I forgot to bring with me to the hike (though I had it in my big backpack that I left at the hostel) was a rain poncho. I had a rain jacket with me, but the poncho was a lot bigger, and would've covered all of me.
As soon as we hopped off the train, Reynaldo (my travel guide) helped me put the rain cover over my backpack, and even tied a huge plastic cape around my neck to cover me from the rain even more. After we were all set, all wearing some form of protection from the rain, we crossed off a bridge and were asked to wait on the other side of the bridge until the rain stopped. About half an hour later, we finally started the trek.
The bridge that took us to the starting point of the Inca Trail
The view from the other side of the bridge
I couldn't stop saying words of amazement because the hike was absolutely breathtaking, literally. The elevation kicked in pretty fast, and I found myself out of breath every couple of steps. It seemed that the guys in my group had no problem doing the hike. Five minutes into the hike, they disappeared from my sight, and I did not see them again until we met at the first resting point.
Somewhere on the Inca Trail
The view from the Inca Trail
Part of the hike I was hiking alone, but Reynaldo always waited for me to catch up at different points. Whenever I got to where he was, he helped me with anything that I needed. I honestly could not thank him enough. He jokingly said that he basically was my butler. It was kinda true though. Whenever I needed water, snacks, or help with holding stuff...he was always there to help. I was carrying a huge camera bag plus a fully packed backpack. Taking everything off whenever I needed a drink or a snack would've been just awful without his help, and would've taken forever.
The hike doesn't feel so bad when you have this view to look at
After about three hours, I arrived to our first stop, Wiñay Wayna, which translates to "forever young" in the Quechua language (the local language in addition to Spanish). The rest of my group was already there, waiting for me. I am telling you, those boys, were FAST. While Reynaldo took us to the ruins in Wiñay Wayna and showed us around, an entire squad of chefs and cooks were making lunch for us. After receiving a history lesson about the place, we were given some alone time to explore it.
Wiñay Wayna was absolutely magical. I know I probably sound like a broken record, but when I saw it, the first word that I could think of was "holy shit". I actually said that a lot during this trip because apparently that was the most jaw-dropping word that I could come up with at that moment.
After having a super delicious two-course meal and some rest, we continued our trek to Machu Picchu. This part of the trek was easier because it was less steep most of the time. But there were definitely sections that were just DEADLY, like the steps to get to Intipunku (the Sun Gate). And catch this, Reynaldo just hopped those stairs! By the time I was on my forth step, he was already at the top. This man is probably in his 50s and he just skipped up. I have no idea how he did it. I honestly can’t even imagine how the Incas did those steps everyday. They must have been in a really GOOD shape!
After passing the Sun Gate, we didn’t have to do much hiking anymore. We stopped for a short snack break right at the point where you could see all the Machu Picchu ruins. Absolutely the best view.
This is Macchu Picchu (from another angle)
The classic photo of Machu Picchu
Reynaldo gave us about an hour and a half to be on our own and explore the Machu Pichhu area. Then, we were supposed to meet him at the entrance to the Machu Picchu site where the buses would be waiting for us to take us to Aguas Calientes, a small village at the foot of the Andes Mountains.
A close up look of the Machu Picchu ruins
Luckily, there weren’t that many tourists at the time that we were there, so I was able to get great pictures and selfies in the afternoon sun. Our passes to enter the Machu Picchu ruins were just for the next day, so we had to enjoy the view from afar. I actually was really happy that we didn’t go to explore the ruins that day, because I was already very tired and sore in various different places from the hike.
A close-up shot of this beautiful and unique tree in Machu Picchu
The moment I saw Aguas Calientes, I just wanted to stay there and not go anywhere else. The place was absolutely stunning, just like in a fairy tale. The village was small enough that you could just walk everywhere by foot and it would take you about 15 minutes max. Where ever you walked, you could hear the rushing water of the river, and you could see huge mountains all around you that stretched very high up the sky. Unfortunately, I didn't have a chance to really capture the beauty of the place because I was there for a very short time period and had a very busy schedule while being there. It also got dark there very fast, and because the mountains were so tall, I didn't really get to see the sunset nor the sunrise. But the most important thing is that I got to experience the village just by being so present in the moment.
Our meeting point in Aguas Calientes was a small local restaurant that was frequently visited by the Alpaca Expeditions staff. The guys in my group decided to stay there for some food, so I stayed with them and tried Pisco Sour for the first time in my life. Pisco Sour is Peru's national drink (made out of egg whites, lemon juice, and Pisco). It is basically what they are known for, and it is very good. At first I was a bit hesitant to drink an alcoholic beverage while being there because I wasn't in the mountains long enough to get used to the thin air (which takes about 2-5 days). That meant that my red blood cells (that carry oxygen) count was pretty low, which also meant that one drink of alcohol (at a high altitude) was actually like 4 drinks (at sea level). However, I tried it anyway because technically it was my second day in Peru.
After the short stop at the restaurant, Reynaldo took each of us to our hotel. From the moment I got to my hotel, I only had about 45 minutes to get ready for dinner, and for me that definitely was not enough, but I made it work! I did leave my room with wet hair, walked as fast as I could to the restaurant, and still was 15 minutes late, but hey, time is not a big concern in Peru. Let's just say that it was easier for me to adapt to their culture :)
The restaurant that we went to is called Indio Feliz. It was such a cool place!!! Alpaca Expeditions paid for our meal, so we only had to pay for drinks and dessert if we wanted. I forgot to mention that all the transportation, including the train rides, and bus rides were also covered by Alpaca Expeditions, so I didn't have to worry about bringing extra money to pay for all of that as well.
The food there was very unique. The restaurant is owned by a French chef who came to visit Machu Picchu, decided to stay, and opened his own restaurant. One of the dishes that I ordered was Pineapple Chicken with Caribbean rum and some veggies. This is what I got:
An actual pineapple with pieces of chicken inside. Isn't that insane?
I initially ordered an appetizer, but I couldn’t even eat half of it because the portions were so big. Then, when I got the pineapple dish, I couldn’t eat much of it either because I was pretty full from the appetizer that I ordered (which a was also made up of a bunch of veggies).
At the end, we were offered dessert, and I think I got one even though I was really full. You can guess that I couldn’t finish it either. There was just SO MUCH food.
After the dinner at the restaurant, we went to the Hot Springs that the village is known for to go on a night swim before hitting the bed. But as soon as we got there, we discovered that they closed it earlier that day because it was Mother’s Day. I was a bit disappointed because I was really looking forward to seeing what the hot springs looked like. All I knew at that moment is that I had to come back to Aguas Calientes.
I got back to the hotel late at night and had a very early morning call waiting for me the next day and a busy agenda (exploring the Machu Picchu ruins, hiking Huayna Picchu, spending a few hours in Aguas Calientes, and getting back to Cusco).
A post with tips about what I packed, how much money I brought, how much money I spent on this trip, etc., will be coming soon, so make sure you are subscribed so you'll know when it's up. At the end of this page there is a place where you can sign up.
I hope you enjoyed reading this and loved the pictures! Maybe one day I will meet you there ;)