Written by Groupit Travel's Carryn Kliesen at One Wildlife Blog
That being said, you should go to Machu Picchu. It is spectacular and the views are awesome. Most people do the Inca Trail which you have to reserve months in advance because it's so crowded, or do the Lares trek which is the same distance, a little easier on the knees, and a lot less crowded (this is the authentic Peruvian option).
Since I was traveling with my family and we were short on time, we decided to take the train so we caught a local bus from Pisac to Ollantaytambo in the morning and waited for our train that would leave at 3:30. Olly (which is much easier to pronounce) is separated into two sections: The main square and the train station. We first went to the ticket office to get our passes and store our bags (so we wouldn’t look quite so touristy) and then returned via tuk-tuk to the plaza. The driver convinced us he could take all four of us at one time so we squeezed into the back and my sister sat side saddle on the front seat beside the driver. The tuk-tuk barely made it up the hill. We ate in the square at one of the many restaurants offering pizza and sandwiches alongside grilled alpaca and then walked the mile back to the ticket office to wait.
I had gotten us tickets on the Vistadome, a train with windows on the ceiling meant to create a panoramic view. This was really helpful since the right side of the train ran along a steep cliff face that blocked most of the scenery for us. It was only a two hour ride. To get out of the station we had to pass through a series of tunnels created by the most souvenirs I’ve ever seen crammed into a small space. There were no signs directing us out; I think the point is to have people wander in circles until they break down and buy something. We found daylight and then the bus station where we purchased tickets for the next morning. You don’t buy them for a specific time, you just buy them and are expected to get in line at the crack of dawn to get your seat.
Our hotel was not in the center of town so things were quiet and our room opened onto the river. I pulled out what I thought were our tickets for the next day and decided I should check the website to make sure I had gotten it right. I had not. At the computer cafe I discovered that since we had not printed our tickets at home (because the reservation system had not allowed me to), our reservations had been cancelled. After a brief panic attack, I collected myself and scanned the website for what I should do. It mentioned tickets were available at the Cultural Center so I asked the clerk where I would find that and pushed my way through the crowd to get there. Thank goodness it was open. The man made a new reservation for us and I proudly returned to share my triumph with my family.
As we began, my dad quickly realized his knees were not going to survive the climb and agreed to meet us in three hours time back at the entrance. The higher we got, the steeper it became until we were climbing the stairs with all fours. We stopped every few minutes to rest (since none of us had ever actually climbed a real mountain before) and take in the views. There were mountains all around us, some snowcapped, some broken off in violent ridges. There were the remains of ancient terraces still visible on some. The trail was surrounded by beautiful plants - there were even epiphytic Bromeliads which are some of my favorites as they remind me of the Amazon.
I guess all the guides quit around noon because we couldn’t find anyone to tell us what we were looking at. We circled the ruins and followed Viscachas (Andean Chinchillas) through passages. The architecture of the place is remarkable; There are canals leading to fountains throughout the entire city, agricultural terraces are woven throughout urban structures, and many of the buildings are built with perfectly fitted stones. I can understand why “It was built by aliens” is a popular theory. It seems impossible that such an intricate city was constructed with little more than hand tools.
Join Carryn for her exclusive, small-group Inca Discovery with Lares Trek in January 2017!
Contact her at 919-578-9028, ext. 119 or by email for more information - only a few spots left!