The Dizzy Heights of Machu Picchu, with a Firework Finish!
By Jane McLellan
Last updated: 1st September 2011
Heading off for my Peruvian adventure at Machu Picchu I travelled on the famous Backpacker train service from Ollantaytambo, which has been set up especially for travellers and is a lot of fun. The seats are really comfortable and you’re also lucky enough to receive a free drink and snack. The train is designed to give passengers the best views possible, with large windows along the side and even in the roof! I got a bit dizzy from spinning my head around trying to look at everything! The scenery was breathtaking as we travelled past beautiful rivers, rugged gorges and snow-capped mountains. Time flew past, and within two hours we had arrived at Aguas Calientes, the base point for any trips to the lost city of Machu Picchu.
I took the incredible opportunity of catching the sunrise at Machu Picchu…At 3:30am my alarm went off and fifteen minutes later I was eating breakfast with a couple of Irish girls who were also in my group, ready to catch one of the first six buses to Machu Picchu. If we managed to do this, we were pretty much guaranteed to get a ticket to climb Wayna Picchu, the mountain that rises up behind Machu Picchu. Access is limited to just 400 people per day, so I knew we had to get there at the crack of dawn.
At 4am we joined the crowds of people outside the bus station. It was still dark outside and the town was starkly set against the eerie backdrop of cliffs and low cloud. After queuing for 90 minutes, we eventually got on the third bus – result! The bus snaked its way up the steep hill, through the mountains and we reached the site for sunrise. Our ticket was stamped allowing us access to Wayna Picchu, so our bleary-eyed start paid off.
If you are not interested in climbing Wayna Picchu you can simply wake up, have breakfast, stroll down to the bus depot, buy your ticket and jump on a bus whenever you feel like it (they leave frequently). Alternatively you can hike to the ruins by following the main road and climbing up the steps. You might save yourself the early-morning start but for me the sunrise was more than worth it!
I can honestly say that this day was one of my best travel experiences ever. When I saw Machu Picchu for the first time, I felt like I’d stopped breathing for a few seconds. It was unbelievable that I was seeing this wonder with my own eyes! As the sun started to appear, despite the low cloud and wispy mist, the view was amazing. We had an hour to spare before our guided tour started so we took lots of photos and excitedly explored as much as we could.
The guided tour of the area was really interesting. Pedro, our comical tour guide, showed us around and enthusiastically shared a lot of information about the history of the ruins.
After the tour, we made our way to Wayna Picchu. The first 200 people can climb at 7am and another 200 after 10am, but you must start before noon. It takes about an hour to reach the top and is a steep climb with many steps. I found the climb quite hard, but this was mainly due to the heat. It was well worth the struggle when we reached the top, as we were rewarded with stunning views spanning out across the whole area. We sat on a ledge for hours and took in the incredible view, but I still couldn’t believe that what I was seeing was really just in front of my eyes. I will never forget Wayna Picchu, it was the experience of a lifetime.
After lunch we decided to walk to Intipunku, commonly known as the Sun Gate. It took around an hour to reach it but once again we were rewarded with breathtaking views across the ruins and the cloud forest. By 4pm we were shattered. We had the option to walk back to Aguas Calientes but it was so hot and we were all tired and dehydrated, so we opted to pay $7 and get the bus back.
After a shower back at the hostel, it was time for a quick bite to eat before jumping on the train to Cusco. We arrived back at around 11pm, just in time for the fireworks! It was 5th November and my accommodation had organised a small bonfire and fireworks – the perfect end to a perfect day!