Per aspera ad astra

13°09′S 72°32′W: Machu Girl

August 20th, 2009

I figured I’d start my first Peru post with the highlight of my experience: my trip to the Incan ruins of Machu Picchu.

My two travel companions and I set off from Cuzco on Saturday afternoon, taking a cab from our hostel to the train station at Ollantaytambo (mostly known as the starting point of the Inca Trail). The Peruvian government has a pretty strong monopoly on the ways to get to Machu Picchu- train or hike- so costs are high. This is great for the government, but not so great for budget travelers and a mixed blessing for the site itself (less visitors= less damage, but the money isn’t necessarily going to preservation).

The train ride from Ollanta to Aguas Calientes took about an hour and a half, in addition to our hour and a half (more comfortable) taxi ride– all to get to Machu Picchu, which is only 80 km (50 miles) from Cuzco. Aguas Calientes itself is a bit of a tourist trap. Overpriced souvenirs, Mexican/Chinese/Peruvian food (plus pizza!) on every menu, and

I woke up at 4 to get ready, down a quick cup of coffee, and stand in line for the bus (which starts at 5). Running a little behind, we arrived at Machu Picchu around 6:15 (sounds early, eh? We weren’t even in the first few hundred people there). Walked up in time to see the sun just starting to hit the ruins.

We headed over to Huayna Picchu (the big mountain in back) right away in hopes of being able to hike up to the top (they only allow 400 people to climb a day)- only to find this line and learn that, at 6:30am, we were too late to get one of the coveted spots.

No worries though- we found an alternate (and much less crowded) trail to hike along before exploring the actual site. Along the way, we found a few precipitous points…

a few leaps of faith…

and a bridge that, even without the sign, I wouldn’t have wanted to attempt without a rope firmly affixing me to the wall.

After a short walk around the area and a snack (shh- food isn’t allowed!), we ventured back to actual Machu Picchu, where the llamas are just sitting around, hanging out.

And hey, if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.

Needless to say, what followed were dozens of photos that thousands of people have taken before. But it’s really just an awe-inspiring archaeological feat in an awe-inspiring environment- what can I do?

As the day progressed, more and more crowds started showing up (statistics say that between two and three thousand visitors can see Machu Picchu daily in high season). The llamas were unperturbed.

After spending several hours of hiking and taking photos, and eavesdropping on other tour groups, we headed back to Aguas Calientes around two o’clock. Of course, I took the opportunity to take one more death-defying photo (behind me is a straight drop to the forest below) before we hiked (down the longest set of stairs I’ve ever seen) back to town.


  1. Barb says

    What a great experience….you lucky gal!
    Thanks for letting me view places that I will NEVER get to!
    LOVE YA!

    August 21st, 2009 | #

  2. Aunt Linda says

    hi amanda,
    barb was just showing me your blog. nice pics yummy looking food creations cute cat maachu piichu fantastic!
    enjoy your spring/summer,
    aunt linda

    May 20th, 2010 | #

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