This is it, the most well known, visited touro desitnation possibly in all of South America. The lost city of the Incas, Machu Picchu, a pile of rocks, call it what you like. It really is something amazing, in the middle of nowhere, producing a magical feeling (sometimes hysterical) but also a real hassle to get to. I think that all this makes the experience so much more special.
Being such a world famous attraction, Machu Picchu is pricey. Just the entrance fee is about $50 (half that if you're a student) and the"tourist" train ranges from about $70-100 one way! For myself and my two French pals, we were both super keen to spend as little money as possible, because walking is free! (backpackers, pffft). As a result, we put ourselves through hell to get there. It all started with an 8am minivan ride from Cusco along a winding, unpaved mountain road in the rain, a sure recipie for disaster slightly relieved by the fantastic scenery below. The driver was probably world class by Peruvian standards. Beeping the horn just before the blind corner at full speed oughta let them know we're coming right? After that nightmare, and myself mid snooze squashing fellow travellers, we had arrived at the Hidroelectrica, a small industrial site on the river.
We walked 3 hours along the train tracks in the heat toward the closest town - Aguas Calientes, carrying our gear and a few camping essentials. Arriving just before dark, we erected the "2 man" tent rented from Cusco. Funny thing about the tent is that we were 3 people, and the ongoing joke was that I will have to have my head or feet hanging out the door (whichever was more unpleasant). It was a hilarious thought until we had finished setting up and realised it would probably be a reality. There was no way 3 people would fit, it was barely big enough for 2.
Aguas Calientes has been transformed into what I imagine Las Vegas would be like. Due to its location next to Machu Picchu, it is full of foreigners and fancy restuarants, and there is nothing more than this in my opinion. The river is nice though. We ate in town and walked back preparing for what was sure to be a horrible night. Getting into the tent was hard enough, and soon after I realised I had no sleeping bag, so we spent the night laughing at our misfortune, with hard rain outside lulling us into some sort of sleep.
430am next morning and it was time for the big hike up to the entrance of Machu Picchu. Lining up behind everyone, we were checked in one by one before the fast paced walk to the start of the climb, like a big race. By about 730 we had arrived to the entrance, a little worse for wear after a 400m ascent and 2 hours of walking in what was suprisingly hot conditions considering it was so early. All this at an altitude over 2000m made things much harder but we were there! and eager to see what we had travelled all this way for. Stepping out onto the ruins site and seeing nothing but fog was certainly not what I expected, so we sat, ate and regained some strength. Half an hour later the fog cleared to reveal the classic, postcard image of the ruins in front of Wayna Picchu mountain and it was an amazing view. Up to the Caretaker's Hut, past swarms of tourists we took a few very happy snaps before exploring the rest of the site. We walked for an hour or so, admiring the ancient stonework, different sectors (agricultural, industrial, living quarters etc) and just taking it all in, generally stoked to be there - a place with more history than anything I've probably seen in my life. It was nice to see no sign of development anywhere. There are no bins, stores or even signs inside the ruins.
Unfortunately time was getting away and after walking around like small open-mouthed children in Willy Wonka's Chocolate Factory, it was time to go. Back down the stairs (much easier), back to a dry tent ready for deconstruction and back along the train tracks and into the van (driver was definitely in a hurry). We continued the painfully long and uncomfortable journey along the vomit-inducing road to Cusco.