First off to get that off the table, Machu Picchu itself is great! Aguas Calientes on the other hand is nothing other than a tourist trap, as there is nothing around, and no possibility to go anywhere else once you are there, be aware that prices for just about anything are 1.5 – 3 times higher than for example in Cusco which in itself is not the cheapest town either. So I got to Aguas Calientes on Thursday afternoon by train, as does everybody as there are no roads leading there. Train ride is quite nice and I would recommend at least going one way on the Vistadome train as it provides stunning views! (Albeit not being the cheapest option). Aguas Calientes is a small town, and has no more space to grow horizontally, so it looks like it is growing vertically. I had booked a place called Cusibackpacker B&B based on a relatively large number of reasonable reviews I had found, and the fact that it was not the most expensive place in town. When I got to their front door, there was a little sign indicating that they were closed for business and now in a different location under a different name, the Machupicchu Royal, which sounded promising, but I was still annoyed a bit that I had not been informed ahead of my arrival, for which there had been plenty of time as I had booked 3 or 4 days before going. After walking back across town I finally found the new place, and at check in is where the shadiness started, I had booked a private room, but they wanted to set me up in a dorm. After insisting that I had indeed booked a private room, I was shown to one, with no furnishings other than the beds. The windows were open, and it looked like a reasonably clean and nice place. However when I laid down on the bed to rest a bit, the bed itself, the blankets and pillow turned out to be smelling quite moldy, just as when you forget to take your clothes out of the washer and they adopt quite a moldy smell.. Not very nice to sleep in. At first I did not say anything as it was not overpowering. But when I got back form a little walk it was even more intense, so after letting the front desk know, they changed me to a different room, which again had all windows open, and thus smelled ok. I got a fresh pillow as well, and went for dinner. Upon my return this room had just the same smell, as I had closed the windows as otherwise anyone could have come into the room from the corridors to which the windows led. Not only was the moldy smell quite strong, it got cold as hell, as there no isolation whatsoever. I slept in my clothes and under the provided blanket and still woke around 4 am shaking cold. So I checked out the next morning instead of staying 4 nights and went ahead and booked a relatively expensive hotel, which provided a small electrical heater in the room, hot water in the shower and reasonably isolated windows.
After checking into the new place early in the morning I went to the thermal baths to heat my bones again, and the thermal baths turned out to be quite reasonable and relatively cheap for 10 soles you can pretty much stay the entire day. Be sure to bring your own bottle of water or whatever you like to drink as although there is a bar it is as most food and drink in town totally overpriced.
Following a good night’s sleep I headed up to Machu Picchu by bus at 5:30 am on Saturday, and as it was very busy got up to the first terraces just in time to watch the sun rise over the mountain, which is quite a sight to behold! Amazing scenery! I stayed on that same spot for a little while, as the suns heat dissipated the small clouds, and rose new banks of fog from the valley which made for a gorgeous play over the Machu Picchu town ruins. One moment covered in thick fog, barely visible, the next clearing up again, just to be recovered a little while later. Following about 30 or 45 minutes of this play I looked around and noticed that the fewest people were heading up to Intipunku, one of the old entrances to the town, where the Inka trail actually comes into town, so that is where I headed first. It took me a good hour to get up there, as it all is quite high and the air is quite thin, and I have to admit, I am not in the best of shapes! But the walk was more than worth it, providing stunning views of the whole town, of the face behind the town, and of Waynapicchu as well!
After enjoying the view for a while I headed back down with the intention of then heading up to Machu Picchu Mountain which it turned out required a separate reservation as they only let 400 people a day climb it. I was aware that Waynapicchu was limited to a few hundred a people (actually 2 groups of 200) per day but did not know about the mountain, so that was a bit of a bummer, but I did not let it bring me down, instead I headed in the direction of the Inka Bridge, and on the way found a nice boulder sitting on one of the terraces so I decided to sit there for a while and meditate a bit with a stunning view of the surrounding mountains and valley! As I was sitting there in my black cape one lady ended up calling me Santo de Muerto (saint of death) and a few other tourist took pictures… I should have asked for a few soles as the locals do when you want to take a picture, but I just smiled and let it go.
A little later I went to the Inka Bridge which is one tiny bridge and from the looks of it leads to nowhere or maybe to a long abandoned tiny walkway, but was very interesting to see nonetheless! After that it was around 11, and I decided to have one of my concealed snacks, and headed back to discover the town of Machu Picchu itself! The ruins are amazing and the precision with which the Inka’s built this town is absolutely phenomenal! The stones and how precisely they are carved and placed on each other is something rarely seen in modern day buildings! The town is crawling with tourist, but if you have a bit of patience you can take a lot of nice pictures without anyone in them! Around 1 it started to rain a bit and I found shelter under a rock where a couple from Chile was hanging out as well, I talked with them for a while and they turned out to be very nice people. I ended up walking around a bit with them after the rain had stopped.
A little later I ended up walking alone again, as the couple had left for their train, and I ended up in a nice little quiet spot where I saw a few Machu Picchu arboreal chinchilla rats, (Cuscomys oblativa), funny little creatures. Besides a few Lamas and birds these were the only animals is saw up on the mountain.
Around 4pm I headed back down to Aguas Calientes which is about an hour walk if you are not going to slow and goes down mostly steps, for about a 1000 meter drop, so quite intense.
Back in town I went for an Alpaca steak which turns out to be some of the most delicious meat I have had in quite a while so if you ever get the chance to have one, do so! Sunday I spent all day in bed as my legs were quite sore, and on Monday morning before getting back on the train I went looking for the local waterfall, which in the end I did miss, but ended up seeing Machu Picchu again from below on the back side, which was a very gnarly view as well!
Overall I would definitely recommend visiting Machu Picchu if you are in Peru! Be sure to go for at least 2 days on the mountain and have a reservation for Waynapicchu as from what I gather there are some amazing places up there as well that I have unfortunately missed! Be sure to have a decent budget for your stay in Aguas Calientes, as you’ll want to stay in one of the better hotels as with all the walking there is to be done, you’ll need some good rest at night. Be sure to take the Vistadome train at least one way, as there are some amazing sights to behold on the way to Aguas Calientes as well. My final recommendation would be to go in the off-season as then the visitor numbers are limited to 3500 per day, as I overheard a guide say that in high season although the official limit is still 3500 they often let in up to 5000 people. Below you can find a small selection of photos which I’ll hope you’ll enjoy! In any case you’d be better off to go visit yourself as the images hardly capture the magic of the mountain! Machu Picchu is indeed one of the nicest spots I have seen in Peru to date, as it was never discovered by the Spaniards, and thus there are no churches or crosses or statues of Jesus around. So if you want to witness old Inka ruins with a lot of flair, this is indeed the place to go to. Be sure to take your time so you get to see all of it, and not just the main ruins.