Peru is an important tourist destination in South America. We soon started noticing the dozens of tour buses accompanying and passing us by. We decided to try the tour thing our self and joined one in Lima. It was supposed to be a two-week trip, but we left the group after just four days. We could not stand it any longer: the early mornings, hearing Dutch the entire time and traveling on a specific bus that goes from one touristy place to the next. We just needed freedom and the feeling of actually being in Peru, a Spanish speaking country.

Ancient Mystery

Machu Picchu is a different story. Visiting these ruins has been a childhood dream ever since I saw the ruins in a Belgian comic book “Jommeke”. We had to go there. I wanted to feel the magical and mysterious vibe the ruins held for me. This city, that was never found nor destroyed by the Spaniards, was lying amidst these strange mountains of Peru. When traveling by train to the ruins, the landscape changes and mountains grow. Next to the train rail, the Urubamba river meanders over a rocky riverbed. You feel yourself nearing the site because of these specific mountain formations. It would have been great to walk the trail, but we didn’t want to walk it along with 400 other people. So we decided to take the train, which wasn’t less touristic. Our train journey to Machu Picchu started in Cusco: the main hub for visiting the ruins.

Getting to Cusco

A seven-hour bus trip takes us from Puno to Cusco. We studied a city map of Cusco and know exactly where we need to go. After walking 15 meters, we start doubting. A dingy roadside restaurant is a perfect place to have a drink and ask directions. Our plan fails miserably. The girl working at the restaurant doesn’t know any of the street names. She probably doesn’t even live in Cusco. Even the people in the streets are doubtful. Are we actually in Cusco? One guy seems to know. He says we should get a taxi because the city center is far away. We don’t plan on paying a taxi. Only carrying our day pack, we can easily walk a few kilometers. If only someone knew the right direction. After a while, we succeed and two hours later we finally reach the hostel we were looking for.

Cusco

The first night we find a Dutch guy who owns a restaurant in the old town of Cusco. Without a doubt, we enter the place and order french fries and “bitterballen”. It had nothing to do with the tasty “bitterballen”, but I end up being sick for a few days and we don’t get much time to go for extended walks. We stay in the city center and I don’t regret it. Cusco is a wonderful ancient city with many cobblestoned streets, street artists and small shops. We use our time to reassure tickets on the train to Aguas Calientes and guess there must be cheaper ways to go there. The train is very expensive and filled with noisy tourists, but we give it a go.

The route to Aguas Calientes

The train to Aguas Calientes leaves from Poroy station, short for the Spanish “Por Hoy Estamos Aqui”, meaning “Today we are here”. We’re practically alone in the train and don’t understand the warnings about reassuring tickets early. Maybe in high season, but today there’s no reason for it. A stewardess brings cookies and tea, probably because she felt bad we paid so much for this ride. The trip is very scenic and we get a lot of time to watch the scenery since the train is going very slow. It takes us a few hours to travel 40 kilometers. I can’t complain. I enjoyed every minute of the trip and have been looking outside the entire time. Seeing the Urubamba river next to you the entire time, while the mountains change to the typical Machu Picchu mountains. Perfect! A few hours later, we arrive in Aguas Calientes.

Aguas Calientes

This village is the closest accommodation to the ruins and every tourist passes here. Leaving the station, there is no way around the massive souvenir market. Prices here are much higher than in other places. The visitors only stay for one or two nights here, to never return again. We discover that the quality standard for budget accommodation and the food is pretty low. The owners know you’ll be staying anyway because you don’t have a choice. Every hotel and hostel are booked weeks or months in advance. We didn’t book anything and were lucky to find an available room in a dodgy but expensive hostel. In the end, we only used the place to get some sleep, before we visited the ruins the next day. We didn’t want to stay any longer in Aguas Calientes. That’s a pity since the region is so stunning. The village just isn’t.

Machu Picchu

Every activity that has anything to do with Machu Picchu has a daily visitor limit. This means you have to book a ticket in advance to make sure you’ll get in. One bus after the other is leaving Aguas Calientes to take visitor up the mountain. The 8-kilometer ride zigzags straight up the mountain. After each turn, the view keeps getting better. The further away we are from Aguas Calientes the cozier the little town looks. Apparently, this is the time the crowds arrive, just like us. Obviously, we’re not the only people who think Machu Picchu is a magical place to go. Hundreds of people can take away all of that magic in an instant. Next to the entrance is a little restaurant that sells hamburgers and other food for the price of a healthy horse. We pass the guards, security post and then we’re finally in!

Wandering the ruins

The site is neat and well maintained. On most places, it is possible to avoid crowds and even be just by yourself. We enjoy the scenery a lot. The surrounding mountain range is so powerful and protecting, with clouds covering the peaks. The amount of people trying to make the recognizable photograph with Machu Picchu in the background is higher the number of church visitors in the entire country of Belgium. To make a good photo, you need to practice a lot of patience, but if you are, it will work. It’s weird when you think about it. The first non Peruvian person discovering this place needed a lot of persuading his fellow travelers that this place was really worth the hike. They didn’t believe him and didn’t feel like hiking a few days to see some rocks and deserted buildings. Nobody needs any persuading these days.

Practical information

Maximum visitor limit Machu Picchu 2500 people per day
Maximum visitor limit to start the Inca Trail 400 people per day
Maximum amount of people to climb Huayna Picchu 400 people per day

 

You need to buy tickets to Machu Picchu before you arrive because of the visitor restrictions. This is a link to the Machu Picchu website where you can buy tickets. You can only take a 20-liter backpack into the ruins.