There are a few options when planning your route to Machu Picchu. Being on a tight budget, we went for the cheapest which included a 6 hour bus from Cusco to Hidroelectrica, followed by a three hour walk along the train tracks to the small town of Aguas Calientes, which is at the base of Machu Picchu. Those who have more money to spend may decide to take the scenic train from Cusco, or even embark on one of the 4 day treks which include various activities such as white water rafting and cycling. Pretty much every tourist agency in Cusco offers their own version of each of these tours, and they all cost around the same price. The basic tour that we took included all transport, 3 meals, a hostel in Aguas Calientes, and a professional guided tour, and for this the average price is $100USD.
The journey to where we started the walk was a windy one. In a small bus bumping over the mad roads, we all got off looking pretty green. Before inclining up the mountains we stopped off for some coca tea at a cute family home, a drink which we are getting pretty used to the taste of being our third trek in 10 days! We were told by the driver as we got back on the bus that the altitude on the journey was going to be intense, and so if we felt nauseous we were to just tap him on the shoulder and he'll pull over! We didn't quite know what we were in for, however, luckily we all got there in one piece and stopped for lunch at a cafe where our walk would begin.
Having done quite a few treks recently, the walk to the town of Aguas Calientes was a very easy one. Although it was three hours long, it was totally flat and surrounded by beautiful scenery. Walking along the train tracks reminded us of a scene from The Railway Children, there were even a few tunnels along the way which we ran through half laughing/half scared of being chased down by a train coming from the other end. One thing we do have to suggest to those who go for the walking option is wear lots of DEET, there are a lot of mosquitoes.
On arrival in the town we were amazed of how much it reminded us of a ski resort (without the snow of course). There were so many pretty boutique hotels and wooden buildings, restaurants etc. We headed up the hill to our hostel where we were to spend the night before getting up at 4am. The room was basic but comfy, and perfect to rest our legs in before the next step of our journey. That evening we had a quick wander around the town and a lovely 2-course evening meal which was included in our package, before heading to bed.
The alarm went off at 4am the following morning and we begrudgingly crawled out of bed, definitely ready to have some time off of trekking after this one. Once we stepped outside, the excitement kicked in... it hadn't really sunk in yet that we were about to climb one of the 7 wonders of the world! Each day out here brings something even more amazing than the last, we keep trying constantly to capture visual images and print them in our minds making sure we remember these days forever.
The guide had told us that it was only an hour and a half walk up, in hindsight we certainly were not prepared for how much of a challenge it was about to be! The walk up from the town consists of what feels like an endless climb of pretty steep steps all the way to the top. Unlike Laguna 69 and Rainbow Mountain, Machu Picchu is not as high altitude wise at only 2430m, but this time it was the actual fitness part that was challenging. On the iPhone Health app it said we had climbed 130 floors which is quite something in that amount of time. Charlotte turned in desperation as we approached the top and said, "I can hear a car reversing, do you reckon that's a good sign!?" highlighting how long of a climb it really was! On the incline the weather wasn't great, we were slightly concerned as to whether we would see anything as it was very cloudy, especially considering our previous luck on treks. Thankfully, on arrival at the top, the clouds cleared to reveal the incredible Inca ruins, surrounded by towering mountains on all sides. There were alpaca's roaming around the place, and of course many other tourists all looking wide eyed around at the incredible view.
Our guide walked us around and explained some of the history of the ruins which was really interesting. We were surprised to hear that Machu Picchu never discovered during the Spanish conquest of Peru, and was left dormant for around 400 years before being rediscovered by the American explorer Hiram Bingham, who stumbled upon it in 1911. It is now visited by on average 9000 tourists per day!
After spending an hour or so on top, we headed back down to the bottom, and couldn't quite believe the amount of steps we had just climbed up. We grabbed some food for fuel in the town before taking it slow back along the railway tracks, our legs almost felt like jelly and Christie couldn't stop tripping up the entire way back. We were absolutely not ready for the bus back, and all plans for partying that evening in Cusco went dramatically out the window by the time we arrived back! We checked into a super chill hostel called Intro Hostel and crashed by 9pm, totally exhausted but feeling super fulfilled with the day we had just had.