STOP 37 | Day 115 to 116 |
Departing Puno we headed to Cusco on an 8.5 hour overnight bus ride. Being at high altitude for the last week, J was starting the feel the effects and wasn’t particularly enthused about an overnight bus. Again we went with Bolivia Hop and it was a comfortable and seamless trip. When we arrived in Cusco at 7am we were fortunate that our hotel room was available so we could get a bit more shuteye.
Later in the morning we sourced a tour organizer (Loki Travel) for our trip to Machu Picchu. Originally we were planning to get all the tickets and organize the trip ourselves, but we were glad we used a tour company as it took the pain and stress out of the equation. Uber is available in Cusco so getting to Loki Travel (part of the Loki Hostel brand) to book our tour was easy. Loki Travel offered a full day trip for $250USD per person, which was reasonable given the multiple modes of transportation we needed to take and the inclusion of meals and a tour guide.
With our tour booked we headed to Jack’s Cafe (an Australian cafe, so we had to check it out) for brunch. Jack’s Cafe is a popular touristy spot, offering hearty portions and a great all day (western) breakfast menu! The caramelized banana pancakes, avocado toast and lattes reminded us of a weekend brunch in NYC. J decided to rest for the remainder of the day, so A joined a free walking tour (with Free Tours By Foot Cusco).
Cusco, was once the capital of the Inca Empire. It would have been a city more impressive than Machu Picchu, however only limited Incan wall ruins remain today. Most of the original city of Cusco was destroyed and replaced with Spanish colonial architecture after the Spanish invasion. The tour started in Plaza Regocijo-Kusipata near City Hall. We then headed to San Pedro Market, outside the market there are lots of street vendors and local shops selling anything and everything you could imagine (lots of souvenirs). Inside the market there are stalls selling local food and juices, fresh vegetables, raw meats and spices. The tour guide informed us of the various local foods – the most popular dish with locals being a cooked guinea pig! Potatoes are also a favorite of Peru, with over 3,000 different types of potatoes in the country. He also warned us that most of the sweaters that are found in the souvenir shops are not actually alpaca, especially if they are cheap. We also walked to see some of the original Incan architecture. It was surprising how evenly built the Incan walls were, with each block fitting seamlessly and no mortar connecting the pieces. You could clearly tell the difference between the original walls and the restorations that were made.
The next day we had an early morning pick up to head to Machu Picchu. From Cusco to Machu Picchu we took a car to Ollantaytambo (~2 hours), train to Aguas Calientes (~2 hours) and lastly a bus up to Machu Picchu (~20 minutes). It was raining fairly hard as we left Cusco so we were a little apprehensive as to how our day at Machu Picchu would be. As we were the only people signed up for the tour, Loki Travel arranged a private car to take us to Ollantaytambo train station. However, the driver was eager to find some other passengers for the trip so we waited around for a while before we finally left Cusco with another passenger. We were slightly worried that we would miss our 7:45am train, but our driver expertly (or so we were hoping) sped around the curvy mountainside roads to Ollantaytambo arriving with time to spare. There are two companies which offer trains to Aguas Calientes, PeruRail and Inca Rail. The cost per ticket ($50-$160USD) depending on the type of train you are on and the time of departure. We were on the expedition class which was very comfortable and given the time wasn’t very packed. They served a snack and drink on the train. It was quite an amazing train ride through the mountains and beside the running rivers. Once we arrived in Aguas Calientes we had a bit of an issue finding our tour guide, between incorrect directions and a power outage in the city it was a frustrating few hours trying to figure out where to go. However, we finally met someone from the company who got us on the bus up to Machu Picchu. As annoying as it was, we were still on schedule given our ticket was for the afternoon entrance (12pm to 5:30pm). Our tour guide, Daniel, took us around the ruins for 1.5 hours and was very informative. Machu Picchu was built by the Incas in the 1400s, but was abandoned with the Spanish Conquest. The Incas had blocked off and hidden routes towards Machu Picchu in order to prevent the Spanish from discovering the royal estate. We were impressed with all the engineering the Incas used in building the grounds. We saw evidence of detailed hydro engineering, with natural streams intricately flowing through the infrastructure. They also used terraced farming areas which adapted agriculture for the steep mountainside and reinforced the area. The construction of the structures also indicated what type of building it was. With palaces and temples having polished rock surfaces versus common residences having a rough finish. There are also many hidden symbols within Machu Picchu. For example you can note a man’s face when you rotate the iconic postcard shot 90 degrees counterclockwise. Also historians believe Machu Picchu was built in the shape of a condor (one of the three sacred animals of the Incas). It is said that Cusco replicates the shape of a puma, leaving the city of the last animal, a snake, yet to be discovered. We highly recommend having a tour guide, as all the information was great in appreciating this wonder. The tickets allow for one re-entry, so we walked around again, taking our time to enjoy the views. We found the best views near The Watchman’s Hut (without having to hike very far). It can be quite overwhelming when researching all the options on how you visit to Machu Picchu. Factors to consider are your appetite for hiking/ruins, time and cost constraints and if you want to see the views from Huayna/Machu Picchu peaks. We didn’t find the day trip to be too rushed or packed.
We chose to take bus back down, given J wasn’t feeling the best for a hike. However, it is an option to hike down, with an estimated time of approximately 1 hour. The tour also included a meal at El Gabriel – it was a filling meal including an appetizer, entree and drink. Our favorite dish was the ceviche, which is a traditional Peruvian dish. So popular it has a holiday declared in its honor! The trip back to Cusco was very seamless as we got on a 6:20PM train, getting back to our hotel in Cusco before 10PM. The train that we took back was a more popular option, as the park closes at 5:30PM. Overall it was a successful day visiting Machu Picchu and recommended for anyone wanting to do the trip efficiently and in comfort.