Peru - Aguas Calientes - Machu Picchu

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.


Vistadome Train

View on a snow covered mountain

Fountain in Aguas Calientes

Thermal Baths in Aguas Calientes

Sun Rise

Machu Picchu arboreal chinchilla rat, (Cuscomys oblativa)





sky reflector used to watch the stars

entrance to the temple of the sun

Inka House


me at the edge

Stone Wall and stairs


falling apart


Temple of the 3 windows



temple of the sun





a room with a view

between 2 houses

Some more of the Town


Staircase to Intipunku

Agricultural Terraces

Foundation Terraces

Inka Bridge

Inka Bridge

on the way to Inka Bridge

Town and Waynapicchu


on the way to Inka Bridge

VIew of the town, the face and Waynapicchu

some more view of the town


View from Intipunku


More view from Intipunku

More view from Intipunku

View from Intipunku

Clouded from Intipunku

Fog lifting


on the way to Intipunki

rising fog

covered in fog



face on Machu Picchu

fog on Machu Picchu

the town

Fog rolling in on Machu Picchu

View of Machu Picchu

River around Machu Picchu

Could not resist one tourist shot





Costa Rica - a few concluding thoughts

So it has been a few days since I left Costa Rica, and I figured it was time for a few concluding thoughts!Costa Rica as a whole is one hell of a charming country, it has been running on only renewable energy for all of 2015, which granted has only been 3 months, but I consider this to be one hell of an achievement, as to my knowledge, no other country has been able to do this even for only a few days, let alone a few months at a time. Add the facts that Costa Rica has had no standing army since 1949, and that essentially the whole country is organic in its farming efforts,  and you have one hell of a peaceful country!

Food over there was always delicious, mostly due to the fact that it’s all organic as mentioned above, and you can live a very healthy life there! Of course poverty is still an issue, as most locals do not make a lot of money, and their main diet is rice and beans for breakfast, lunch and dinner, but they are nonetheless much happier people than what you see in so called developed countries! In this domain the story that struck me most, was that of the owner of La Colina in Manuel Antonio. The owner an American expat who used to live in Russia where he met his wife and where they had a child, who turned out to be pretty much allergic to everything, and was sick most of the time. They then moved to Costa Rica where there child has since been pretty much allergy free, and she can even eat foods that back in Russia would have sent her straight to the hospital.  Decide for yourself whether organic is worth the trouble or not, in my humble opinion it sure pays off for the country as a whole, as well as for the people that live there.

The Pacific coast in my opinion is a little overdeveloped as far as tourism goes, and somewhat too Americanised, but still is very charming, and has some of the best sunsets I have ever had the pleasure to witness! The national parks as well as the abundance of private reserves make it clear that as a whole the country has recognized that preserving nature is the way to go. Costa Rica, despite being relatively small has about 6% of the worlds’ biodiversity, and they work hard to maintain that level!

The Caribbean coast seems a little less developed and thus for me had even more charm than the rest! So if you want to experience raw and well preserved nature, be sure to head down the east coast of the country, especially down to the Manzanillo Wild Life Reserve where I got very lucky and saw what was probably a free living black Jaguarundi, something quite rare to happen, so take some time, and just quietly walk about the reserve, you may just get lucky!

If you plan on visiting large parts of the country, my recommendation would be to start on the Pacific coast for the sunsets, and then to head east through the country, as if you do it the other way around, the Pacific coast might turn out to disappoint you a little, but if you start there, you have memories of amazing sunsets, and all the rest just gets better the further east you head.

If you have food allergies or intolerances, consider visiting Costa Rica, as you might just be able to enjoy foods that you had to avoid for quite a while, in my case as I do not digest wheat very well, in Costa Rica I had my first slice of Pizza in forever and did not get sick at all. So that is a big plus! I am currently in Peru, and already miss the healthy cuisine of Costa Rica!

The people whether the local Ticos or the expats are all more than friendly, and crime seems to be at a very low level, not sure how it is in the capital, San Jose as I did not spend any time there, but for the rest I can assure you that it is as safe a country as it gets.

The only thing I mildly regret is not having seen the Tortuguero National Park, and the rest of the northern Caribbean coast, as I stayed longer down in the south of the Caribbean coast than I had planned, and I was coming to the end of my 90 day tourist visa but that is at least one reason to eventually return to Costa Rica at least one more time!

So whether you are setting out for a vacation or considering leaving your country behind for good, I think Costa Rica is an excellent choice!