Saturday, July 23, 2011

Machu Picchu, Peru

One of the reasons people travel to South America is to see the lost Incan city of Machu Picchu; I was no different in this regard. Here's how it went.

Peru Rail has a monopoly on the trains from Cuzco to Machu Picchu; however, they're extremely efficient, very comfortable, and they have sunroofs so you can view the dramatic mountains. When planning your trip, these train tickets are the most important thing to book early, because if you wait until last minute, you very well might get stuck paying $200 each way for the luxury train (my train cost $70 each way, because the $50 one was sold out).

I wish I had time to do the Inca Trail (the start of which is visible from the train), but it takes four days and about $400 to $500. Another time...

The train ride leaves dusty Cuzco behind and descends (yes, MP is lower in altitude) towards a much more green landscape.

Minor ruins, visible from the train

Not quite jungle, but still neat

Arrival in Aguas Calientes, the town beneath Machu Picchu

Heavily touristed, but still a nice place to walk around (once you get out of the maze-like shops that greet you as soon as you exit the train).

The main square in town; the MP ticket office is to the right of the church. This is where everyone goes after they check into their hotels. You CANNOT buy entrance tickets at Machu Picchu itself, so know before you go.

I hadn't eaten yet, so I had lunch... AND my first Pisco sour ever (I've been waiting years for this; had to have it in Peru).

Class is dismissed right outside my restaurant.

Another thing to remember when you visit the ticket office = BRING YOUR PASSPORT AND PERUVIAN CASH. They print your name on the ticket, so that no one else can use it. Credit cards are NOT accepted (see below for the one ATM in town).

The front of the ticket office (don't go in the cultural center to the left of the church... this is to the right of the church).

Back down towards the train station is the ONLY ATM in town. You're best bringing the 126 soles (US$46) from Cuzco to avoid the hassle.

After paying an addition US$15 for the roundtrip bus ride (each way 20 min.), I arrived at the entrance to Machu Picchu. Fortunately, most of the people here were leaving for the day (I arrived at 2pm, three hours before closing).

"C'mon, what are you waiting for?" (he seems to say...)

First impressions are everything.

Huayna Picchu in the background (400 people a day are allowed to climb it).

From here on out, I won't label most of the pictures = just enjoy them.

Be careful in MP = there aren't fences to keep you from falling to your death (this is at least a 25 foot drop).

This was the condor temple (not sure if temple is the right word); the rocks represent its wings.

Sacred Plaza

An alpaca I believe...

The intihuatana, a stone that points to the sun on the solstice

The gate to Huayna Picchu, accessible only if you have a ticket (I didn't; you have to get up at 3:30am to have a chance).

Weird critter in the ruins

These hikers had completed the Inca Trail.

Back in Aguas Calientes the next day, I had an amazing lunch called trout carpassion = raw trout carpaccio served with a passion fruit sauce. Outstanding.

I just took it easy on the second day in A.C. I would have gone back to MP, but the cost was a little too much ($61 US each time you go).

Instead I caught a bit of soccer next to my hostel.

And I went to the hot springs that give the town its name, before catching the train back to Cuzco at around 5pm.

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