After the two days of strike, and changing our train tickets twice, the final day arrived. We would finally go to Machu Picchu! The initial plan was to arrive the previous day in the afternoon, enjoy the evening in Aguas Calientes, visit the ruins the next day and return afterwards directly to Cusco. Instead, we were now forced to take a mid-afternoon train, go straight into the ruins, enjoy the two hours before the site closes, go back to Aguas Calientes and return in a night train to Ollantaytambo, all in the same day!. I guess it’s better than what other tourist got, which was to catch the return flight to their country with no visit and losing the ticket money.
After a relaxed breakfast in the hotel, we slowly walked to the train station, but instead of using the back access we knew, usually empty and with no security, we were forced to use the standard entry for ticket control. That was a bit chaotic, full of street sellers, people doing queues to change tickets, enter in the station, or just waiting there.
You would think that after so many years doing this, and with so many tourists doing this journey daily, the process would be pretty optimised, but you would be wrong. There are two train companies, Inca Rail and Peru Rail, and they both departure within minutes of each other.
Since the station has a very narrow platform, that means total chaos. People don’t know which one is their train, try to board on the wrong one, one train has to departure before the next one can come in since they both won’t fit at the same time, etc.
Our train, from Peru Rail, was the second to leave, and we did with a bit of delay. The landscape is amazing, through a narrow valley following the Urubamba river with massive mountains in the horizon and very vertical walls on both sides.
The famous “inca trail” that many take to approach Machu Picchu just follows this same valley, but usually on the other side of the river, and going up and down whenever there is no path next to the river. We saw several inca ruins on the way, mostly terraces but also a few scattered buildings high up.
The trip is not long, slightly above one hour, but mostly because the tracks are in such a bad condition that the train could not go any faster. In cases like this I always wonder what they do with the millions of dollars they receive every year from all the visitors, as this line was open in 1985 but the tracks show no investment since then. The train had of course no air conditioning so we were roasting inside.
Since most of our fellow passengers were in a similar situation to ours, as soon as we arrived we all rushed to the queue to catch the bus to the ruins. While Susanne waited there with the kids, I was lucky to find the ticket office faster than the rest so I could avoid a massive queue that was forming behind me.
The bus then took us up to the ruins on an amazingly built path zig-zagging up the mountain, with frequent crossing with other buses going down, which made it “interesting”, although the bus driver was very skillful and professional. You can also walk this path up, in about two hours, but that was a luxury we could not afford.
We finally made it to the ruins entrance at about 15:30, and the ruins close at 17:00, so we had barely 1.5 hours to visit the whole thing. With kids. And hundreds of steep stairs. But we made it!.
While most people went directly to the ruins themselves, we took a diversion that would normally take you to the Sun Gate, which is now apparently closed for restoration.
But this would allow us to approach Machu Picchu from above, meaning we have done most of the climbing first and now we would be slowly going down along all the buildings and sights.
That also meant we got the classic picture at the beginning, and now we could just relax and properly enjoy the visit.
You can find more information about the site in Wikipedia. Our opinion is that the site is definitely worth the visit, even if the tickets and the price of all the services associated with it are most of the times abusive.
You will find similar ruins everywhere in and around the Sacred Valley, but the combination with the amazing location is what makes Machu Picchu unique.
After the visit, we went back down to Aguas Calientes, not before waiting a long queue for the buses with all the other people that, like us, stayed in the ruins until the very last minute.
Back in the village, we had something to eat, the kids played in the main square, we enjoyed the big show that is formed whenever a new train with fresh tourists arrive, and we then took the train back to Ollantaytambo.
Since it was already dark, we could not enjoy the views, so nearly everybody fell sleep. We then had to carry the kids back to the hostel, in the dark, following our secret back alley.
The next day we got ready to, finally, go back to Cusco.