Having talked to a few different tour companies and eventually booking our two-day Machu Picchu trip we woke early and excited on the morning of our adventure.
8am was the meeting time and having left half our stuff locked away in our hostel we grabbed our lightened bags and went to meet our collectivo (minibus). Being the keen beans that we are we arrived first, despite only being five minutes early our arrival made the guy running the agency look even more flustered than before. Despite this potential warning sign we happily waited for our group to arrive.
Soon we were joined by a friendly Dutch couple, a Chilean guy and his Russian girlfriend, a guy from Japan and another from Germany. As time ticked by our multi-national group got more and more anxious to get going as we knew we also had a long journey followed by a long hike to complete that day. Eventually after a bit of too-ing and fro-ing our collectivo eventually arrived, looking a little bashed up and 2 hours late…
Never-the-less we all piled in and began the 6hr journey through the Andes. Our collectivo wound its way through Cusco’s cobbled streets and up through the shanty towns that covered the surrounding hills. After an hour or so of speeding through remote villages and vast valleys the bus pulled over, expecting just a quick loo break and a stretch of the legs everyone was ready to get going again within 5 minutes, the driver had other ideas… We returned to find that our minibus, just a sixth of the way into the journey, was now missing a tyre.
After watching with trepidation as the wheel was fiddled with and the axel was bashed a bit with a spanner (totalling about an hour of work) our group could do nothing but laugh in disbelief at our situation. Eventually the driver put the wheel back together and declared the bus fixed (even though there had been no apparent problem before) and we all crammed back on. Speedy Gonzalez was obviously keen to make up for lost time, especially as we were now more than 3 hours delayed, so we set off once again on the tight, twisting, steep mountain roads at an average speed of 100kph!
In all the journey was pretty horrendous; the mountain roads, whilst stunning, are treacherous and our driver was determined to speed along, even if that meant whizzing through fog so thick you couldn’t see more than 10m ahead, overtaking lorries on one-lane roads and taking speed bumps at full speed! The last hour of the drive however was by far the worst – never have I been more scared in my life. Fact.
You turn of the main road and drive the last 30km or so along the craziest, most dangerous excuse for a road. Carved into the edge of a sheer cliff face with a cascading river hundreds of feet below I defy anyone to feel comfortable racing along the eroding single track lane, especially as the tight corners meant a few near-miss head-on collisions.
Thank god we made it along the deadly road to the drop off point.
Here’s the thing – the disorganisation of the whole transport scenario is verging on unbelievable, but nothing can take away from the spectacular surroundings. So you get dropped off at the bottom of a valley (even though you are still around 2000m above sea level), right by the river and the hydroelectric plant.
Then, after signing in at the giant Machu Picchu visitors books , the guys ‘organising’ the groups pointed to the railway tracks heading up into the mountains and in very minimal English instructed us to follow for 2/3 hours until we reached the tiny town of Aguas Calientes.
All our delays throughout the day had begun to add up so we were now starting our hike later than expected. By the time we got going It was around 4pm, knowing that it would be dark by 6pm we liberally applied bug spray and set off up in to the mountains once again. After such a long day of travelling in the minibus it felt so good to stretch our legs, we decided to tackle the hike at quite a pace so as to get to the village before sunset.
A couple of hours later we were rounding the final corner to discover the most incredible, higgaldy-piggaldey village of Aguas Calientes perched high over the cascading river. The glinting village lights were definitely a welcome sight after the day’s adventures, delays, journey and hike.
We headed to the little town square and tried to find our guy who (hopefully) would tell us where we were spending the night. Whilst we were waiting, a young family asked, in shy broken English, if we could take a photo of them. Obviously we were more than happy to but as I went to take their camera the mum corrected me… no, she had wanted us to be in a picture with her two children!
After our slightly odd photo request we stumbled across the guy who just a few hours before were directing us up the track, he then told us to follow his friend, who showed us to a tiny little room in a guesthouse, door open, keys inside and told us that was our place for the night.
This sounds so surreal now – but after the day’s madness we were so tired and just really wanted a wash and a sleep! First though we had to reunite with our minibus group to hear the plan for tomorrow – we sat through a strange dinner and tried to follow the rapid Spanish instructions for the next day.
Everyone was keen to go and rest their heads knowing we had a 4:30am start the next day and we were fast approaching midnight.
After a quick rest, the alarm was soon blaring and we were shuffling around in the dark getting ourselves ready for the climb up the Machu Picchu. We set off through the sleeping village and made our way to the start of the infamous climb. Soon we were in amongst other early risers and making our way up the 2000+ steps…
Needless to say it was hard work; especially at 5am, after only 4hrs of sleep and having barely eaten the day before. Nevertheless we powered on and remarkably we mad it to the top in about an hour. After a quick rest and refreshment we were making our way to the entrance.
We made it in to the site around 6am, just as the sun was rising over the top of the mountains and the clouds were dispersing. We found our guide who spoke incredible English and set off, luckily there were only about 10 of us in our group so we had really intimate and detailed tour. In the past I have been a little sceptical of such strictly organised ‘tours’, however, to make the most of your time, I would really recommend a guide – there a so many hidden features and little facts that you would never be able to discover on your own!
If your planning on going to Machu Picchu, I can’t describe enough how worthwhile it is going for when the gates open at 6am – you do the climb in the relative cool before sunrise, you are the first to see the spectacular sight, the sunrise is magical and by the time your tour is done and you have taken your pictures hordes of tourists begin to arrive. Trust me 6am-9am is the peak time!
The pictures do a way better job of describing the sight than words ever could.
After a long morning exploring, snapping away and befriending the alpacas it was time to begin the long hike back down to the hydroelectric plant pick-up point.
We made our way down the 2000 steps and followed the track between the river and the railway all the way back down to the valley. Exhausted after the two day adventure we were ready to hop back in a minibus and tackle the crazy mountain roads once again for the 6hr ride home.
Inevitably it wasn’t that simple, there appeared to be mix-up after mix-up and mass disorganisation which meant everyone was waiting around for ages. Eventually they managed to load all the tired travellers onto the collectivo’s, with us inevitably being last and we began the long ride, starting with the death road, back to Cusco.
Once again our delayed departure had some knock on effects – bad weather was rolling in, heavy rain and mist were making the roads even more dangerous than before and our driver was determined not to use his lights or windscreen wipers. Eventually we managed to communicate with him before we shot off the side of the mountain.
Finally, after our truly nerve-wracking ride home, we made it back to a rainy Cusco just after 11pm – shattered and starving we grabbed some food and headed straight to bed.
After our crazy epic adventure I do have a couple of top tips to pass on…
- All the tour agencies seem to offer the exact same options, from just transport to a full 4 day tour – we shopped about, but needn’t have bothered as for our 2 day trip (transport, entry, overnight stay and some food, which we didn’t actually get) was $100 each.
- If you get car sick you MUST take plenty of remedy to help you along the journey – thankfully we don’t but the journey can most definitely not be underestimated!
- Ask to leave most of your stuff in your hostels luggage store in Cusco as you have to keep your backpacks with you at all times and it really pays off to have a lightened load.
- Take plenty of cash and snacks – we underestimated how much we would need – therefore we barely ate on day 1 and on day 2, after hours of trekking, we didn’t have enough cash to afford both a trip to the loo (which always costs) and a drink or snack – which resulted in 2 very hungry, thirsty, tired and irritable travellers on the way home.
- Make sure you go crazy on bug repellent – even though we did we got eaten alive which led to big, sore bites and crazy itching!!
Hope you enjoyed the epic story of our adventure and all the beautiful pictures!