30 hours flying with layovers: Paris – Madrid – Lima – Cusco.
2 hours in a taxi from Cusco to Ollantaytambo with a stop in Chinchero.
1 hour 40 minute train ride from Ollantaytambo to Aguas Calientes/Machupicchu Pueblo.
2 hours waiting in line at 4:30 a.m. to catch a bus up the winding mountain.
20 minute bus ride to the entrance.
Catching our 1st glimpse of the ruins after years of talking about it.
Our hotel in Aguas Calientes was right in front of the bus stop that takes you to Machu Picchu. I had set my alarm for 3 a.m. By 4, when we left our room, I could hear the rain pouring down outside. I mean buckets full. We made our way to the dining area; hotels and B&Bs in Aguas Calientes are use to their guests having a 4 a.m. breakfast call before leaving for an adventure of a lifetime.
We went outside and the good thing – it wasn’t raining. The noise I’d heard was the roar of the river making it’s way down to the valley. The bad thing – when we exited the hotel a half an hour after breakfast, the queue for going to Machu Picchu was already past our hotel and winding its way up the street.
I don’t know what I had expected, but I had feared waiting forever for a few buses going up and then coming back down to take more people up.
Oh no, nothing like that, by 6 a.m. there was a line of tour buses pulling alongside of us waiting to take everyone up at the same time. The whole thing was very efficient. Within a matter of minutes, bus after bus filled with people heading up to the historical site. The narrow winding road quickly became filled with a train of buses maneuvering up the mountain. A little scary when buses started coming back down and they had to pass one another. Not for the faint of heart, but the drivers were used to it they could practically do it blindfolded. (Strike that!)
As I said, the first sight of the ruins is overwhelming. Patrick and I had dreamed about this moment for so many years, it was almost surreal to be there. We wandered around for a little while, but we knew we had to set off for our mountain climb. Patrick and I were part of the first group that would be climbing up Montaña Machupicchu, which is much higher than Huayna Picchu. What were we thinking? 800 people are allowed to ascend the mountain in two time slots each day. We had opted for the early morning climb at 7 a.m.
There’s a check point where you must sign in with your ticket, name, age, country you’re from, and the time you signed in before you can go up. Again you must sign out once you make it back down the mountain. Why? Because if you fall off the mountain, they’ll be able to know who to look for when they send out a search party. Oh yes, people have fallen off the mountain before.
This was not an easy climb for us. First of all, the high altitude of 3082 metres (10,111 feet) at the top didn’t help and instead of rough terrain which would’ve been a lot easier, the climb consisted of huge steps, some as high as 12 inches, so you had to pull yourself up. (Think of a humongous Stairmaster without the railings. Those Incas must’ve been tall.) I read somewhere there are over 2000 steps, but I felt like there were a lot more. It’s not a climb for couch potatoes by any means or for people like me who spend most of their time sitting in front of a computer.
Before going up we had talked to a couple and their daughter, they were quite the sportive family and, of course we didn’t see them until we were almost at the top. We had stopped once again to *uhm* take some more photos and they were making their way back down after spending an hour or so up on top.
Guy: I see you’re heading back down too. Wasn’t it beautiful?
Patrick: Uh, no, we’re on our way up. We stopped halfway at the wine bar and had a glass. I’m surprised you didn’t stop.
Guy’s Wife: There’s a wine bar? (They both looked at each other perplexed as any French person would where wine was concerned. Lol.)
Patrick: Nooo, I’m joking, we’re barely making it to the top.
(Laughs all around. Well, they were, I was still gasping for every breath.)
It took us a lot longer to reach the top than most of the young whippersnappers going up that day. (More about this further down.) Most of them can make the climb in 1h 40 minutes, we made ours in 3 hours. Going down they can descend in about 45 minutes, we took 2 hours. I’ll blame it on a need to stop every so often to snap photos of the surrounding scenery and the rain, but who am I kidding? We needed to catch our breath.
After an hour sitting and soaking in the beauty of the Andes Mountains, the Urubamba River below, and enjoying a light snack we had prepared, something was coming toward us.
Yep, it started to rain as we prepared to head back. Those stone steps turn mighty slippery when it rains. There were a few people who fell down, so Patrick and I took our time.
We finally made it down and then we found out that I was the oldest person who had climbed the mountain that day and Patrick was the second oldest, but we made it! And yes, we’re proud of that.
Maya Muses: My advice, if you plan on climbing Montaña Machupicchu or Huayna Picchu it’s better to spend 2 days in Aguas Calientes and go up to Machu Picchu twice. By the time we got back down we were exhausted and didn’t spend as much time as we would’ve if we had just stayed and visited the ruins. I mean if you’re traveling from far away like we were, it really is worth spending an extra day there.
And be prepared for all kinds of weather, it changes constantly, but I think the clouds add to the beauty of the surroundings. Bon voyage!
Photo Credits: All personal photos