Reading time: 15 minutes
The sound of the gushing water from the Urubamba river woke me up at 4:29 am. When I woke up, I felt puzzled. It was my third day in Peru, and I was trying to remember what was planned for that day:
Meet my group at the bus station in Aguas Calientes at 5:30 am
Travel to the Machu Picchu ruins
Hike the Huayna Picchu mountain (AKA, the "Stairs of Death")
Spend a couple of hours in Aguas Calientes
Drive back to Cusco
The first thing that I did after getting up was going to the terrace to see what the scenery was outside. I was hoping to see the river as I didn't get a chance to see it the night before, but I most certainly heard it. Unfortunately, it was very dark outside and I couldn't see a thing. After taking a moment to breathe the fresh air, I hurried up to the bathroom. Within the hour that I had, I got ready, packed everything, and even had a quick breakfast with coffee at the dining area. The area itself was very small, but it was packed with food and other goodies. A worker from the hotel was standing in the kitchen (that was part of the dining area), and was making food. I kinda wish I had more time to just sit there and relax, but I remembered that I needed to hurry to the bus station to meet up with my group.
When I finally got there, I saw a huge lineup. I kept walking along the lineup to find the end of it, and it didn’t look like there was an end. As I was walking, I was looking for people from my group and my tour guide as we were all supposed to meet up there. After about 10 minutes of walking up the street, I finally saw the end of the line, and hurried up to get a spot as more people kept coming.
The line to get on the bus to Machu Picchu in Aguas Calientes
When I got to it and saw that there was still no sight of them, I started worrying. I thought that maybe they already left without me or maybe I was at the wrong place. Two minutes later, the people from my group found me and told me that our tour guide was looking for me everywhere. I told them that I was actually doing the exact same thing. I was just happy I finally found them. All I wanted to do at that moment was enjoy staring at the mountains and the surroundings as the sky was getting lighter and brighter.
After about 25 minutes, we finally got on the bus that took us to the Machu Picchu ruins. The drive up the mountain was about half an hour. We got there a little bit after 6:30 am so we could watch the sun rising over the mountains.
The official entrance sign to Machu Picchu
Machu Picchu up close before sunrise
Machu Picchu up close before sunrise
Had to get a selfie with Machu Picchu in the background :D
Watching the first sun rays shine through the mountains, through the low clouds that were floating in the area and partially lighting up the Machu Picchu ruins, was an incredible and magical experience. I cannot explain it, but there was a very special energy in that place. So far it has been the most magical place I have ever been to.
Within 20 minutes, the sun passed the mountains and was higher up in the sky. I really enjoyed seeing how each part of the ruins was lighting up with each minute that passed. At the time, the tour guide was telling us about the history of the place, but I just couldn't concentrate on what he was saying. All my attention was focused on what was happening just in front of me. When the sun has finally risen, I was able to tune back in.
On the left, Ryanaldo, the tour guide, talking about the history of the place. On the right, where my eyes were wandering.
Sunrise over Machu Picchu
After being given some time to wander around the site, we all met at entrance of the Machu Picchu ruins (where the king used to reside.) Reynaldo took us to every single room and explained what each room was used for. As we were walking, we saw some cute llamas chilling and eating grass. I just wanted to hug them 😊.
Llama eating grass and just chillin
The view of Machu Picchu facing south. Every single “step” was used for growing crops such as potatoes and corn. Can you imagine going up and down those stairs every single day? Looks like the Inca people were very fit.:)
Surroundings of Machu Picchu
The view to the east side of Machu Picchu. 😌 what a view!
I tried to pet this one, but it had plans of its own. Apparently it just woke up.
From left to right:
- "I'm so tired. Such a long day ahead of me."
- "Wait, what time did you say it is?"
- "Okay, I'm up now. Slept in again."
After half an hour of walking between some of the rooms, we arrived to the amazing garden that had many different exotic plants. The garden also had a Coca plant which is very common in Peru. The Coca leaves are used in many different ways such as in tea, cookies, chocolate, and Cocaine (just a side note). Consuming it through tea, cookies, or chocolate won't get you high, and it is often used as a form of dealing with altitude sickness.
The Coca plant
This form of construction and stones are what the Inca's are famous for. All the Machu Picchu ruins are made this way.
The entire site is surrounded by guards. They are just everywhere! And they have whistles too, in case you do something you're not supposed to (e.g. like feeding a llama or trying to touch it - talking from experience)
A close-up of the area where people used to gather when the King made announcements and gave speeches. This location (where I stood to take this photo} is very unique as it allows the voice to echo very far.
After walking around Machu Picchu for an hour and a half, we arrived to the other side of the ruins, where the entrance to the Huayna Picchu mountain was. Four of us proceeded to climb it, while our tour guide and two other people from our group returned back to Aguas Calientes.
Before we started climbing it, we needed to give our tickets to one of the workers at the Machu Picchu site, sign in, and state when we were starting the hike. I'm guessing that they needed that information because the hike is done alone, without any tour guides, and let me tell you, it is not an easy and a very safe hike. The high altitude does not help either.
Thoughts about the hike:
It was a very steep hike that required the use of hands almost at all times during the hike. There was a metal wire rope almost all along the way, and that helped a lot to get up quicker. The steps were really high, and it felt like I was doing lunges the entire hike. On top of that, I was out of breath every few minutes, and that really made the hike more challenging. The only time I was able to take pictures was when I took breaks to rest and catch my breath.
The highlight of the hike was getting to the top of the mountain. At the top, there was a guard sitting on top of a rock, and he was taking pictures for other people. That was absolutely amazing. I stayed at the top for about 20 minutes, and enjoyed the moment as much as I could. There is something so empowering about being at a top of a mountain. It made me feel really "in the clouds".
The hike down was so much easier for me. I did it in half the time of climbing up. For some reason, climbing down is always easier for me than going up, but I've heard from other people that it's the complete opposite for them. Usually it's supposed to take 1.5 hours to do the hike (going up and down), but it took me 2 hours to do it. The other people from my group finished half an hour before me, but since we had lots of free time before we were supposed to meet at Aguas Calientes, I took my time :) When I got to the bottom of the mountain, I had to sign out and state the time I finished the hike.
Overall, I wouldn't mind doing this hike again. It's relatively short, and the view is absolutely worth it.
The entrance to the Huayna Picchu hike :) It only looks easy at the beginning!
The view from somewhere along the mountain
Made it to the top!!!
The view from the very top of Huayna Picchu. On the left you can see the road leading to Aguas Calientes, and on the right you can see the Machu Picchu ruins.
The beautiful greenery on the way down from the top of Huayna Picchu
On the left, full picture of those stairs from the picture above. On the right, the stairs of death (the view going down).
A beautiful panoramic shot of the view from the Huayna Picchu mountain while going down
The view on the way down from the Huayna Picchu mountain
Right after I finished the hike, I went to eat at a small food place right by the bus station in Machu Picchu. I was starving and couldn't think of anything else other than food. The last time I ate was at 5:10 am, and the time was 12 pm already. I did have snacks with me, but they didn't last long.
I ordered a slice of pizza with some juice, and started to look around for a place to sit. I don't know if any of you ever experience that, but whenever I go to a food place that is absolutely packed, and I need to find a place to sit, I get slightly anxious. I hate that feeling, and always force myself to think positively. I tell myself that by the time I get my food, someone would get up, and I would be able to grab his or her spot. This time, it worked out exactly like that. The people I was grabbing the spots from were two Israelis, and they couldn't believe when I started speaking in Hebrew with them. They told me that I didn't look Israeli at all and that I didn't have any accent when I spoke in English. Funny thing is that it happened A LOT during my this trip. It's so much fun knowing another language :P
I got on the 1:30 pm bus to Aguas Calientes (the buses run every half hour or so). A guy who looked like an American sat next to me. Later I found out that his name was James and he was from Seattle (indeed American :P).
About five minutes into the ride, he told me in English, "I'm sorry if I smell bad. I just finished the 4 day Inca trail hike, and I haven't showered during all that time."
I told him that it was fine because I could not smell a thing.
Then of course he asked me if I did a hike too or just went to Machu Picchu for the day.
I told him that I did the same hike, only the 2 day version.
Of course he then asked, "So, what are your other plans in Peru? What else are you planning on doing? How long are you here for?" (Just the very standard and typical questions that every tourist asks).
I told him what I'm planning on doing, and asked about his plans and what he got to do so far. He told me about some things he did in Cusco, and gave me some recommendations. It worked out wonderfully because I had two more days in Cusco, and on the third day I was supposed to leave back to Lima, so any recommendations were highly welcomed!
After I arrived back to Aguas Calientes, I went to the restaurant where we were all supposed to meet up, just like the previous day, and hung out with some people from my group until some of us decided to go and check out the local market in Aguas Calientes before boarding the train to go back to Cusco.
The market was amazing, and I wish I had picked up more things there. The prices weren't terribly bad, and there was so much more art and textile there than in the San Pedro market in Cusco. I saw more unique stuff there, and ended up getting a scarf for my mom that quickly became her favourite. I also got a small sculpture of Chakana, the Inca Cross, (which is a very important symbol in the Andean culture) that was made out of very smooth stone. I picked it up because something about it really drew me in, so I just decided to follow my heart.
On the way to the market in Aguas Calientes. This is the Rio Aguas Calientes that connects with the Urubamba river.
A train taking people to Aguas Calientes or the Inca Trail.
After we all finished shopping at the market, we got on the train, and enjoyed a long ride back to the Ollantaytambo train station where a bus was waiting for us to take us back to Cusco.
The ride back to Cusco wasn't as bad as the ride from Cusco to the Ollantaytambo train station. Most of us tried to sleep because we were so exhausted from the early wake up call. Luckily, I was the first one to get off the bus (as I was the last one to get picked up).
As soon as I entered my room in the hostel I stayed at, I discovered that all the people that were in the room two days before, were gone, and instead, there were 4 German girls and 1 girl from Chile. No one really talked to me, and I was just trying to take it all in. Then I heard in the hallway two girls speaking in Hebrew. Since I really wanted to make friends and kinda tell someone about my Inca trail trek, I ran to the hallway to try to catch them before they disappeared to their room, and asked them how's it going. We got talking and they ended up inviting me to go dancing salsa with them. I was absolutely exhausted from the trek, and really wanted to just shower, and relax. But guess what I did instead? I went dancing with them. We grabbed a cab to Plaza De Armas that cost us 5 soles (Peruvian currency), and went to this building that had Reggaeton music blasting from it. Many crazy things happened after I entered that building, but I'll have to save it for another post that I will write about my adventures in Cusco.
I hope you enjoyed this really long post.
I can't wait to share with you more stories from my magical trip to Peru.