Finally there, standing on top of a small hill and watching the sun rise from the horizon, I was overwhelmed with feelings. Machu Picchu, its sheer beauty and spectacular setting, is really something out of this world.
Just getting to Macchu Picchu can be a frustrating thing. Forget the Inca trail, because you must reserve a spot with a licensed tour operator, months and years ahead. If you just have 2-3 days at your disposal (like me), then your only option is to take the train. Expect to pay a high price for the train tickets, especially if you (like me) just arrive Cuzco the day before and order your tickets. I paid a crazy 150 USD to a tour agency in Cuzco and that only covered the train (return), bus shuttle Ollantaytambo and one night of "budget accommodation" in Aguas Calientes. The pricey entrance ticket to Machu Picchu (another 50 USD) was not even included.
I spent the first day and night in Aguas Calientes. On the second day I woke up before sunrise and jumped on one of the first buses to Macchu Picchu (30 minutes). Already at 6am there were a long line of tourists outside the entrance, waiting to get inside the gate. Even though I bought my entrance ticket one day in advance (in Aguas Calientes), I had to stand in that long line for about 30 minutes, before they let me through the gate. I hurried up to the famous view point and was just in time to see the sunrise revealing the most spectacular view I have ever seen.
I felt there were a lot of tourists, but it's supposed to be much worse at noon, when all the day trippers arrive from Cuzco. When all the tourists walked down from the view point and got spread around in the citadel, it actually got a lot better. I was able to walk among the ruins, pretty much alone at times. Eventually I had done the entire circuit inside the citadel and I decided to hike up Cerro Machu Picchu (3051m), a peak which is completely free of charge in contrary to Huayna Picchu (2720m). The latter one is outrageous expensive and there is even a limit (max 400 person a day, so buy your ticket well ahead!!). So how come Cerro Machu Picchu is not as popular? Even Lonely Planet states that this as a much more beautiful hike than Huayna Picchu. When I checked into the guest book at the start of the hike, I could only see 8 persons who had checked in before of me.
The trail to Cerro Machu Picchu was of surprisingly good quality as well as easy to follow. There were even ongoing construction work to improve the trail. So for how long time this trail will remain free of charge, is a big question. I arrived to the summit in less than one hour (2 hour is normal time). I had the entire place for myself and could sit and enjoy the spectacular view of the surrounding mountains, valleys and rivers, in addition to Machu Picchu far below.
I walked down to Machu Picchu again, and visited the Inca Bridge a short 15 minutes walk from the ruins. The bridge is considered to have been of vital strategic importance for the defense of the citadel. Here the Incas left a twenty foot gap in the carved cliff edge. The space, gaping out over a huge drop, was bridged by a pair of tree trunks. In times of danger, the Incas had only to withdraw the trunks to make this part of the citadel unassailable.
At noon I left Machu Picchu, before the huge masses of day trippers was expected to arrive. Instead of taking the expensive shuttle bus back to Aguas Calientes, I decided to walk back, which took approx one hour. Then I was hanging out in Aguas Calientes for some few hours before I took the train and bus back to Cuzco.
Machu Picchu at EveryTrail