The Lost City of the Incas
When visiting Peru, Machu Picchu can never be skipped. This site is such a popular and magical place, everyone wants to see it. I wouldn't miss it either. Ever since I learned about these ruins as a kid, I was fascinated by them and told myself that when I would grow up, I'd visit them. I went to Peru in 2012, Machu Picchu was on my itinerary and I'm glad I've finally been there. Surrounded by the typical misty mountains, I stared at this surreal place and wondered how it must have been centuries ago... We'll never know. But I can tell you how it was in the year 2012...
Machu Picchu is Quechua for 'old mountain'. This is the mountain on which the ruins are located. The mountain we see in the back of every Machu Picchu picture is Huayna Picchu, meaning 'young mountain'. The old mountain and the ruins are located at 2430m above sea level and the young mountain rises up to 2720m. The ruins can be found on a mountain ridge in the sacred valley near Cusco. At the bottom of the valley, the Urubamba river flows. From Cusco, the ruins can be visited with ease. There's a few options for doing this. We choose the lazy option number one.
Getting there by train
The train to Aguas Calientes leaves from the Poroy train station in Cusco. Poroy is a short for the Spanish 'Por hoy estamos aqui' which means: 'for today we are here'. It's funny how all duo's have been split up in the train. The seat numbers are very illogical and there is an immediate chaos when people start switching places and searching for chair numbers. When we leave the station, there are many seats unused and again, more people switch seats. The train ride is fun and the scenery is at times amazing. We ride for hours to end up a few kilometers further on. Almost the entire ride, the Urubamba river accompanies us. The closer we get, the more the mountains resemble the typical picchu we've seen in photographs. There are even some smaller ruins visible from the train. Four hours later, we reach Aguas Calientes, a small mountain village and the gateway to Machu Picchu. The village is build around the train station and there is no doubt that this village thrives on the Machu Picchu success. Every house in this town has been remodeled to be a hotel, restaurant or small shop. Every villager makes a living out of the millions of tourists that pass by every year. Visitors usually don't stay long and they only visit once. Everything is expensive and there is no escape. Without the huge tourism, this village would be an awesome place to live. The next day, a tourist bus can take you up the mountain to the ruins. While zigzagging the steep road, you can see the village of Aguas Calientes getting smaller. It really looks like a peaceful village in the mountains, split into two pieces by the Urubamba river. The bus drops you off at the entrance of the park, where hundreds of other people are waiting to get inside. After all, we didn't wait that long and the entire ticketing process is digitized. Finally we're there!
Getting there: trekking
The Inca trail is a very popular way to visit the Machu Picchu ruins, but this option is limited. Only 500 people are allowed on the trail per day. This means there are only 200 trekkers allowed, since every group consist of trekkers, porters, guides and other people. That is why there are alternate routes, such as Lares trail and others. The Inca trail can be hiked in different stages of difficulty and time. Some of the trails take you up to 4200m altitude and take multiple days. The trail itself is the original Camino Inca, constructed by the Inca hundreds of years ago. The surrounding environment consist of Andean mountains and cloud forest. Eventually the trip ends at the sun gate, which probably has the best view on the ruins at sunrise.
Often referred to as 'the Lost City of the Incas', it isn't lost right now. But it's very plausible these ruins have been forgotten for centuries. The location deep in the impenetrable mountains and jungle of Peru is a perfect hideout for a gem like this. The city was built in the 15th century and rediscovered in 1911. People around the world wanted to visit this place ever since. Because of it's success, restrictions had be made to protect the site. The maximum number of visitors per day is 2500 and Huayna Picchu can be hiked by 400 trekkers per day. Tourism has grown over the years and a hotel with restaurant was built next to the ruins. The Peruvian people disagreed and protested against the plan to build a bridge for easy access. There is no bridge there today, so the protesting paid of. Our visit to the ruins was a highlight I'll never forget. Obviously it would be better to wonder around the terraces and through the dozens of rooms and corridors all by myself and only hear birds twittering... But there is no way on earth that will ever happen. But the visitor limit is definitely a good thing. Some places are crowded with groups and tour guides, but there are places to be found where you can sit quietly and enjoy the views.
* When looking for shelter in a hostel: check your room before you rent it. It might be crappy.
* Count a few days for Cusco, it's a wonderful city
* Booking a hotel or hostel is a good plan. Hotels tend to be full and it could be difficult to find a last minute hotel. We found a cheap hostel, but the better places were all taken.
* Restaurants at the train station serve perfectly edible food.
* One night will do.
* Don't buy your souvenirs in the market at the train station, the same stuff is for sale at half price in the Cusco markets.
* No backpacks over 20L are allowed in the park
* Smoking is not allowed
* If you like to know the details: get a guide