Waking up at 3:30AM the day of our ascent to Machu Picchu wasn’t as difficult as I thought it would be because I was so excited to finally be at our destination. Lara and I joined our hiking companions in the line for the buses to the top. Santiago had told us to get in line by 4:10AM to avoid a long wait and he was right! Within minutes the line snaked 6 and 7 blocks back. The first bus arrived at 5:30AM to take us to the top, arriving right when the gates opened at 6AM. We’d made it!
Walking through the gates to Machu Picchu was absolutely thrilling! Seeing the sunrise peek over the hillsides, and slowly fill the valley with light was an amazing experience. Especially since the place wasn’t yet filled with tourists. It was hard to know where to look first!
Ohhhhh look! Llamas!!
Touring these beautiful, ancient ruins was extremely interesting. We learned how the Incas had cleverly created hybrid crops using a climate-controlled terrace system, then distributed the seeds to local communities, ensuring they were indebted to the Incas for their primary food source. Machu Picchu is truly just as impressive as it looks in the pictures. We spent two hours rambling through the ruins of temples, houses, terraces, and quarries of this once mighty empire. I tried to imagine the daily life of this people and how they adapted to their lofty lifestyle, until the Spanish conquistadors came blazing through.
Weary from the previous day’s exertions, Lara and I were determined to take advantage of our Huayanapicchu permits (though I wasn’t sure I’d make it further than 10 steps). Although the views across the valley were breathtaking, the extra 800 steps up the mountain were not doing it for me. My calves were crackling beneath my skin and I turned back to enjoy the view while Lara trekked on uphill.
Not having the spare change for the bus back down, Lara and I chose to hike the 1,000 foot descent through the jungle to the valley in which Aguas Calientes is nestled. This was murder on my quads and calves, but knowing it was the final exertion saw me through it!
After reaching Aguas Calientes, we tucked into a celebratory lunch and spent a few hours lounging around town people watching before catching our train back to Cusco.