We booked the Vistadome train - more windows to see from, less overhead bin space. We'd left our big luggage in Cusco and only had a small backpack with us, so we were able to stuff it under our feet.
This train really doesn't go very fast - it's a couple hours for not so many miles. We settled in and met our seatmates, including Father John Paul, who was visiting from VA. He came to visit a family from his parish in VA, who were living in Peru as expats. They were all seated next to us too - Dad in the military, Mom, and two kids. The daughter, Sofia, sat next to us and had a sad incident spilling pineapple juice all over herself. We told her that at least she'd smell nice. She later told us all about her international school in Lima and the annual trips each grade takes, like to MP and the Amazon and such. Pretty cool. They were a really nice family.
Then we arrived in Aguas Calientes. It was a maze through the markets to get into the town and streets.
Up the hill to the edge of town to find our hostel.
We walked through town to find a lunch we could take with us, since food is pretty expensive at the site. We grabbed some empanadas and drinks to go, then headed over to the bus station. Nearly $20 to take the bus round trip, but it sure beats walking very steep stairs for 2 hours.
It was around noon, so only 2 other people on the bus with us. Half hour ride with crazy switch backs. These mountains are something else - so different from the ones where I live.
The grounds aren't the big, I suppose, but there is a lot to explore within the park - hiking trails and mountains to climb. We decided to hike out towards the Sun Gate to see the views as if we'd come off the Inca Trail. I'm pretty glad we didn't actually do the Inca Trail. Slight relief when it was all booked months in advance and we were too late.
We probably hiked most of the trail, but it was kinda long and we were hot, so we came back down into the main area. Lllamas and making dance videos awaited us.
This guy wanted nothing to do with me.
This first day was all about wandering around - no tour guide, just our guide book and trying to see what we could see.
It's pretty amazing how they made all those stones fit together just right.
There may be a lot of these mountain photos, but I really couldn't get over their grandeur.
Then we got ridiculous and started doing jumping photos. There are not the most flattering, but I'll share anyway.
This photo below is one of my favorites.
My Machu Picchu advice - don't try and rush this as a one day trip. A lot of people do that, and they have to head out of the park around 3 in order to catch the train back to Cusco. Stay another night in Aguas and stay in the park til it closes at 5. Fewer people, and the way these clouds roll in and how the light hits and how the sky is - it was pretty amazing. Those last couple hours were so great.
Hiram Bingham - the man, the myth, the legend. So many stories floating around about what this site actually is - who really knows?
We headed out of the park finally and stamped our passports. Definitely more than 2 people on the bus going back, but the wait wasn't bad. We chatted with a tour guide on the way down who gave us some good dinner advice.
We came back to the hostel, got our Instagram on, then changed into swimsuits to hit the hot springs. We rented a towel on the way, since we didn't want to stink up our hostel towels in the sulfur. It was a bit of a hike, and when we got there, the only hot pool was crowded with the party crew. Eh, no thanks.
We hung out in the lukewarm pool for a few minutes then left. Kinda underwhelming. On the walk back, we ran into a couple guys from Arizona. I think I made a comment about a baseball hat one was wearing, and we kicked off a conversation. Kinda wish we hadn't. One of the guys was a news anchor who wanted to interview us about our visit to Machu Picchu, and it'd air on local Tuscon news. He was way too excited about it, and one of his buddies whispered to me that the guy would probably get to write off his whole trip if he got a work story out of it. He needed AZ natives, which I wasn't exactly anymore, and we didn't hike the Inca Trail and he wanted us to stretch some details. We gave them our contact info and said we'd meet up the next day in the park, but.....yeah, we didn't....
We rinsed that grossness hot springs stuff off then headed out for dinner at the recommended place - Indio Feliz, run by a French guy. After walking down the streets of Aguas and getting hassled at every place, and realizing that every single place has exactly the same menu, this place was a breath of fresh air.
All I wanted was some fresh veggies. This plate delivered.
I had a steak of some sort.
Meg had mango fish.
And of course, dessert. Followed by an awesome Celine Dion lip sync by Meghan.
The tacky sign with a pirate may throw you off, but this is easily the best place to eat in Aguas.
As we were falling asleep, we debated whether or not to do the sunrise thing at Machu Picchu. That would mean waking up at 3am or so and heading over to catch the bus. I'd heard there could be long lines for the bus, and if you missed the first bus, you missed the sunrise.
We decided against going, and that was a smart decision. It can be so cloudy in the morning, and the mountains are so tall that by the time the sun gets over them, it's way above the horizon and the cool colors. So not worth it.
Breakfast at the hostel. I think we were the last ones to eat.
We checked out of our room and got a locker to leave our stuff in - someone even left us a lock. Back up the mountain we went on the bus.
We had reserved tickets to hike Machu Picchu Mountain that morning. It's only open til noon and takes a couple hours to get to the top, so you've gotta get a move on. Most people try and hike Huayna Picchu (the one in the photo below), but it sells out so quickly. I was glad to do the other one, so you can have the view of HP in the background among the ruins.
Stopping for one of the many breathers. Not gonna lie - this hike was kinda hard. It was a gain of about 2000 feet.
The sun was out and it wasn't too terribly hot, but we were glad for some shade and cool breezes along the way.
Finally hit the top.
Going down was much easier. Somewhere along the way I cut my finger, and a girl came to the rescue with a first aid kit and a bandaid. Also, we passed one of the guards heading up to the top to herd everyone out by noon. I'd hate to have that job. We also ran into one of the AZ guys - not the news caster, but his friend. We never did find that guy and his cameraman...ooops.
We headed back to the entrance to hire a guide. Most of them were already out for the day, but we found one who said she speaks English. Eh....not so much. I'm glad we got a guide though - we saw some things we wouldn't have seen, and we learned a little bit. Sometimes it was just easier for her to say it in Spanish, then I could tell Meghan, but I think we all got along pretty well.
Their fountain systems were impressive.
How'd they get that stone so smooth?
Water mirrors for looking at the night sky.
I really didn't want to leave, but it was time to head down and catch our train. Machu Picchu really does live up to the hype - I was amazed the entire time. This place is magnificent.
Back to town to grab our stuff. We were sweaty and dirty and cleaned off with wipes. The train station was so crazy crowded.
We browsed the markets while we waited - so many pretty things to buy, but I think I resisted.
On the looong ride back (4+ hours), we were stuck next to the most obnoxious, loud, American girl ever. Oh man - the girl on the far left. Everyone told her to shush, but she was drunk and didn't care. People complained to the train conductor, some European guy yelled at her, it was not fun. We were all so tired and just wanted some peace and quiet.
Finally made it back to Cusco - we had to cab into town (overpriced) to grab our luggage from our first hotel, then we cabbed over to our Airbnb place to stay with an American family. More Cusco adventures up next.