Days: 298 (19 April 2015)
Total distance travelled: 57,180.5 kilometres (35,515.84 miles)
I mentioned in our previous post that the highlight (in our opinion) of Aguas Calientes was in fact our hostel, the merits of which were proven in the fact that despite many people in the town rising at around 4am (as we did) to be at the Machu Picchu ruins, we were still offered the chance to partake of our hostels free breakfast!
Yes, some good soul was up at the same time as us (and several other guests), making sure we all had the opportunity for a hot drink, bread, and even freshly cooked scrambled eggs!
It was in truth the only positive news at that particular hour, as rains which had serenaded us to sleep the previous night, had still as yet failed to cease.
Things were shaping as a cold and miserable morning for our time at one of the worlds most famous tourist spots… typical!
At least with our stomachs satisfied it wasn’t all bad, and even as we strolled towards where the morning buses up to ruins depart from (it is very possible to walk there, not to mention much cheaper, however we wanted to maximise our time in the ruins given we had an afternoon train out of Aguas Calientes), those rains began to ease.
In fact by the time our bus (the second of the morning) departed, it had ceased completely, and the grey morning light began to reveal an admittedly damp, but lush, misty morning.
We were soon near the front of a crowded entrance gate, waiting for them to be thrown open at 6am with what felt a large group of similar minded visitors.
Tickets were scanned (despite our Lonely Planet guidebook suggesting you couldn’t, we bought our tickets online in advance), and just like that we were in, and very suddenly the crowd seemed to dissipate.
It incredibly felt like we were alone and better than just that, we were at Machu Picchu!
That morning rain meant plenty of misty looking clouds lingered, but in truth, they added more to the place, creating a truly mystical experience.
Obviously hard to realistically know without having been here multiple times (although this was Sarah’s second visit), but we both thought the weather was ultimately perfect!
So to complement the weather, we decided to climb, in search of own version of that iconic, perfect shot.
As our gazes fell over the ruins below, it seemed ridiculous how few people could be seen, but I guess that was our ultimate reason for getting here so early.
To beat the larger tour groups, as well as the trekking groups who almost all wait above at the sun gate, awaiting the sunrise (which on this particular morning, wasn’t visible).
With tickets purchased for Huayna Picchu as well (the mountain visible behind Machu Picchu, on which only four hundred tourists are allowed daily), our goal was to explore the main areas of the ruins prior to its gates opening at 7am.
Thankfully, with so much to see, it was never a case of just twiddling our thumbs until it was time to make the climb (the entrance times are staggered, two hundred people at 7am with the same number allowed to enter at 10am).
We explored more of the well constructed buildings, peered through many of those distinctly Incan trapezoidal doorways, and at times just let our gaze roam up, down and all around as those puffy clouds rolled past, and different levels of light revealed old scenes in new ways.
Put simply, you could lose yourself here for hours.
But soon it was time for us to climb that other mountain, the one sadly, more famous as the backdrop to I’m sure millions of peoples photos of the Machu Picchu ruins themselves.
It was now time for Huayna Picchu to be the star in its own right.
Obviously there were some people far keener than us however, so we joined the back of a fast growing queue, within which we spied our American friends, Brodie and Shannon (sadly, just out of earshot).
We were a fair way back in the queue as stated, but had already decided we’d do the whole shebang, and by that I mean aim to complete the apparently four hour long circuit that not only makes the ascent up Huayna Picchu, but also down the other side so we could visit the Gran Caverna and the Templo de la Luna, and began our climb at a cracking pace.
It was probably adrenaline from the excitement of the whole morning, but we were (despite a lot of puffing and panting) quickly finding ourselves overtaking many people seemingly (at least based on their expensive sportswear) more athletic than ourselves.
At a perfect location (as it was one of the wider places where you could grab great shots of the surrounding valleys and ruins below) we managed to catch up with Shannon and Brodie. Perfect as it meant we could finally grab a photo of the four of us altogether!
We all soldiered on, at times marveling at the views of Machu Picchu below, whilst at other moments, equally amazed by how rapidly the scene would either change, or disappear altogether as more clouds rolled past.
Still, the climb was completed in far faster time than any of the four of us expected, so we had time aplenty to kick back and enjoy the stellar, albeit at times blanketed views.
At least the clouds fairly raced by, so there was usually something to see in at least one direction…
After a little posturing, assuming the air of some sort of conquerors, we began our climb down the opposite side of the mountain, a far steeper proposition than the seemingly steep climb we’d just completed.
For most of the downwards journey, we were blanketed by cloud meaning the views were essentially non-existent, but it was still pretty cool nonetheless.
Eventually the path bottomed out, and by now the trail was now surrounded by moss covered growth meaning we could see little at all.
Then suddenly we emerged, our views would have been unimpeded had there been no cloud, and immediately below us, covered in lichens and ferns was the Templo de la Luna and the Gran Caverna.
In truth, there wasn’t really a whole heap here to see, but we had certainly enjoyed the walk down, and the path did continue on from here (after all, it is called a circuit).
The only downside however, we were now actually much lower than the original path on which we’d come, which meant a lot of the journey to follow, would in fact be uphill!
At least the at times, cliff hugging path on which we trod, wasn’t as steep as our descent had been from the from the summit…
Eventually the paths reconnected, and we were soon finished the Huayna Picchu circuit, ultimately very happy to have completed it an hour and a half sooner than the suggested time necessary!
What we weren’t happy with however, was the state in which we now returned to the ruins (the state of the ruins, not us in our sweat bathed clothing).
The place was now a writhing sea of humanity, everywhere we looked, lines of queues snaked their way across the previously pristine UNESCO World Heritage site.
I was also suddenly very thankful.
Thankful that we’d made the effort to get here early, a time in which I’d been able to truly enjoy the place in a much more tranquil manner.
We explored a few more places that we’d missed, but quickly shelved any plans to return to the viewpoints higher up the terraces.
Our explorations quickly became more of a process than a pleasure, so we decided to call time on our Machu Picchu experience and head back to town.
Weeks later (yes, I can speak from the future) we met a traveler in Arequipa who said she decided not to visit Machu Picchu as, I quote, “she’d seen the pictures.”
Forget that bullshit, Machu Picchu is brilliant, an experience I think would amaze most people (even when awash with tourists if you hadn’t experienced it during quieter times).
If you’re content to simply look at the pictures, you may as well become great friends with Google and never leave home…
* A combined entrance ticket for Machu Picchu & Huayna Picchu cost each of us $150.52 US.
* A return ticket for the bus from Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu cost $25.00 US per person (approximately $150.00 Soles).