September 2, 2015
Much has already been written about the most popular sight in South America so I will limit my posts to our personal experience and details that could help others when planning their trip.
We bought our train tickets and Machu Picchu tickets on-line weeks ahead of time. This Tripadvisor post gives good instructions on navigating the website. Tickets for both can, of course, also be bought in Cusco.
Train to Aguas Calientes from Ollantaytambo
Luggage on trains to Aguas Calientes, gateway to Machu Picchu, is strictly controlled. Unfortunately, I had failed to notice the baggage restrictions listed on the Perurail tickets until we were in Ollantaytambo. Panicked, I inquired at hotel reception at El Albergue. Julia told me that it’s a little known secret that since their hotel is located just off of the station platform you are already inside the gate where passengers are subjected to baggage control. Thankfully, we did not have all of our luggage with us, having left some of it in Cusco, but we still had a medium size backpack which we were able to find room for in the luggage compartment of the train.
The train ride itself is a slow, comfortable trip through a picturesque valley along the Vilcanota river. The landscape changes from dry mountains to rain forest as you approach
Aguas Calientes, an ugly, dirty town with a fabulous river setting.
In our short one night visit we planned to visit Machu Picchu twice, once in the afternoon on the first day and then again the next morning to climb Huayna Picchu before taking the train back to Cusco that afternoon.
Frequent buses leave from the center of town for the 25 minute ride up the steep mountain side to the ruins. Bus tickets are sold from a kiosk across the street from the bus stop and cost about 77 soles ($23) per person for a round trip ticket.
The first afternoon the thunderheads were already accumulating as the bus climbed the mountain. By the time we reached the archaeological site thunder was already rumbling in the distance and we had very narrow window before we lost the sun.
After a quick visit to the classic view point, up the stairs to your left as you enter the site,
we hiked up to the sun gate, about 30-45 minutes. The sky grew darker and more threatening as we climbed.
While I missed the light of the late afternoon sun the stormy skies added a misty, mystical element and cleared the crowds.
By the time we returned to the main part of the ruins it had started to rain and most of the tourists had left. We were about as alone as you could ever be in this incredibly popular park.
At about quarter before 5PM the guards herded the remaining visitors towards the exit, with me shuffling my feet and snapping photos all the way out.