Contiki Peru Uncovered – Days 9 & 10: Machu Picchu
he big day was finally here, the main event, the reason Peru jumped out to me as a place I wanted to visit – Machu Picchu! Even though I wasn’t doing the Inca Trail, I made arrangements to visit Machu Picchu an extra day instead of staying in Ollantaytambo for the morning and afternoon with the rest of the people that weren’t doing the Inca Trek. I knew the weather at Machu Picchu tends to be variable & foggy, specifically in the morning, so I wanted to ensure that I saw it in good weather. This meant switching my ticket to an earlier time and joining the group that was doing the one day Inca Trail trek on their 6:30 AM train!
The group got off at KM 106, but I kept going for another 20 minutes to the town of Aguas Calientes – the main congregation point for those that are taking the bus up to Machu Picchu. The town itself was gorgeous. Built into the valley, it was surrounded by mountains that ascended into the clouds. The town truly felt like it was created by Disney Imagineers!
Upon my arrival, I waited for the ticket office for Machu Picchu to open as I didn’t have my ticket yet since I made my plans to visit a day earlier last minute. They only took cash, so I ran to an ATM and bought my ticket for the afternoon session which started at 12:30 PM. As I was disabled, I got a half price ticket for around $25. After I got my ticket, I went to the bus station and bought my ticket to go to Machu Picchu. It cost $24 round trip. The bus zigged and zagged up the side of a mountain for about a half hour before finally arriving at Machu Picchu.
Even though it was only 11:30 AM and my ticket wasn’t valid until 12:30 PM, the ticket person let me into Machu Picchu which was good because I needed every minute at the site. The weather was gorgeous with a beautiful blue sky over Machu Picchu. After climbing up a few mini flights of uneven stairs, I eventually made it to the main viewing station above Machu Picchu. The view was breathtaking and it was at that moment that I realized I was actually there – I was looking firsthand at something I learned about in elementary school. It was right in front of me in all its glory.
Then, the real challenge started. Ever since I added Machu Picchu to my bucket list, I knew I wanted to see the ruins from the iconic Sun Gate. This is the main gate that everyone first sees Machu Picchu from when they complete the Inca Trail. To be honest, I wasn’t sure I’d ever be able to see it from up there because the walk up was difficult with hundreds of uneven, rocky stairs which were sometimes over a foot high. I was determined to do it, though, and became even more determined to do it when two of the people that work at Machu Picchu told me I couldn’t do it. For those of you that know me, I thrive when people tell me I can’t. Fueled with the extra determination, I started my climb up. The first few hundred meters were a steady climb up a rocky path, but nothing I couldn’t handle. I did notice that the altitude, at about 2,450 meters above sea level was something I would need to take into consideration over my hike so I took many breaks to rest and catch my breath. It wasn’t hard to find an excuse, though, as the view was stunning.
After the somewhat easy path up a few hundred meters, the true challenge began. Rocky stairs interspersed with rocky ramps for pretty much the whole way up the 290 meter ascent in altitude. As I walked up the path, people stopped me to take pictures of me or with me. Other people offered me water. Others just gave me a pat on the back, called me an “inspiration”, gave me a thumbs up or a smile, said “mad respect” or other words of encouragement. It was great to have the support of so many people over the around 2 and a half hour trek.
When I was about 100 meters from the final bit of stairs, I heard someone yell my name. I somehow timed my arrival at the Sun Gate with the group that climbed up the Inca Trail from KM 106. As I completed the ascent, I had people clapping from both my Contiki group as well as random strangers. It was, by far, the most physically demanding thing I have ever done & it was great to share the achievement with my Contiki family. To be greeted by cheers and high fives from everyone is something I will never forget. I turned around and took in the view. I had done it. I saw the view of Machu Picchu from the famous Sun Gate. I proved the two employees of Machu Picchu wrong. I have always said that you should never let someone else tell you what you can or can’t do. The only limits in life are the ones you set for yourself. That day, I set my own limit and achieved it.
After taking the cliche pictures, I just sat and enjoyed the view for about 20 minutes. I video chatted my parents and showed them what I was seeing. Then, I started the descent back to Machu Picchu. The trek down was 10 times easier and I was able to enjoy the view more as I was facing the site for the whole time. It was now I who was giving encouraging words to people I passed on their way up. I was now telling people it was worth it and putting a smile on their face.
After about an hour, I made it back down to the viewpoint of Machu Picchu I was at earlier in the day. It had cleared out as it was closing time, so I was able to see the site with almost nobody in it and take some final pictures.
I then took a bus down to Aguas Calientes and found the hotel. My arms were exhausted and I had calluses forming on both hands, but went out to dinner with a few friends from my Contiki group. We had a three course meal for $25 which was more food than anyone could have possibly eaten. The following morning, we left our hotel at 5:00 AM to catch a bus up to Machu Picchu for the opening at 6:30 AM. When we arrived, I realized how lucky I was to have seen Machu Picchu the day before as it was so foggy you could barely see anything! I decided to take it easy and explore the lower ruins by myself instead of joining a tour. The stairs were pretty slippery and the site was pretty muddy.
I descended to the town of Aguas Calientes early as I was pretty hungry and saw everything I wanted to see. I found a French bakery where I had breakfast before I spent some time walking around the town to enjoy it’s beauty.