Travel Spotlight: Machu Picchu and Aguas Calientes, Peru

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Machu Picchu and Aguas Calientes, Peru

January 2016

Introduction

One of the absolute highlights of our time in Peru was visiting Machu Picchu, the phenomenal fifteenth-century Inca ruin near the Sacred Valley in Peru.  It doesn’t fit into the typical “City Spotlight” format, but is deserving of its own post.

If you don’t believe me, let the photos do the talking.

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Getting There

We booked train tickets on PeruRail’s Expedition train prior to arriving in Peru, and we exchanged our reservation for vouchers while we were in Cusco.  The train left from Ollantaytambo very early the morning we visited Machu Picchu and took us right into the heart of Aguas Caleintes, the town at the base of the mountains in which Machu Picchu is situated. From there, we paid for a shuttle bus to the top of the mountain for less than $10 each to take us on the thirty-minute drive up the mountain.

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Visiting

Machu Picchu is crowded, but it’s absolutely magnificent. I would go so far as to say that no trip to Peru would really be complete without a visit to the site.  We knew a decent amount about the citadel, so we skipped paying a guide, but I’m sure that having a guide would be a nice additional experience.  Archaeolgoists largely guess at some of the history of Machu Picchu, but it is not the “Lost City of the Incas” – that is essential to know.

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Climbing Huayna Picchu

One of the things about our visit that was most significant was climbing to the high peak that looms over Machu Picchu called Huayna Picchu – it is the mountain you see in the background of all of those iconic Machu Picchu photos (taken from the mountain on the opposite side).  Located at 8,920 feet above sea level, and 1,180 feet above Machu Picchu, the peak is a bit of a trek, but it absolutely worth a visit. The number of visitors into Huayna Picchu each day is restricted, so tickets must be purchased in advance, particularly if you’re not visiting with an organized group.

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Was It Worth the Time and Money?

Yes.  Despite the cost of the train, the shuttle, the entry fee, the additional fee to climb Huayna Picchu, and the harrowing trek, this was absolutely magical in its own way. There are lots of people at Machu Picchu, but there is something awe-inspiring about taking in the terraces and buildings and marveling at mankind’s ability to build with limited technology.

And should you climb Huayna Picchu? Yes. It’s challenging if you’re not an avid hiker, but the views are spectacular.  And back in Aguas Calientes, you can find pizza.

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