Machu Picchu man. Holy moly. I could not believe that I was going to be seeing something in a few days that I had only every dreamed of seeing. There’s no feeling like knowing that you’re about to see something that is known as one of the seven wonders of the world. It’s honestly surreal. But getting to it was very real, and a tad terrifying.
I’m a broke college student, so of course I researched all of the possible ways to get to Machu Picchu that didn’t leave me with no money. A train ticket to Aguas Calientes, the town right next to it, was about $90. ONE WAY. And I’m not about that life.
So instead, I rode in a van on a terrifying winding road up a mountain. Which was $20 for both ways. As we barreled around corners, I held my breath and internally prepared for plummeting over the side of the cliff or head on into a bus. I honestly contemplated who’s hand I was going to grab when we went over, because I refused to fall off a cliff without holding someone’s hand dangit. I suppose you really do pay for quality, but I wouldn’t change that experience for anything. Even when we met a truck that was rounding the corner and had to back up on the side of the cliff because there wasn’t enough room for two cars. Adventure, am I right?
After undoubtedly the most terrifying car ride of my life, we arrived at the Hydroelectrica train tracks. I swung my backpack onto my back and prepared to walk three hours to Aguas Calientes with a lady from Spain who I had met the day before. Looking back, that hike was one of my favorite parts of the trip. I felt like I had been plopped right into the middle of Jurassic Park. I kept waiting for a dinosaur to just pop out and run in front of me. Or an Inca.
Either way, when I saw the tourists barreling past me on the train, and I pressed myself against the cliff wall and watched, I felt powerful and competent. I was going to walk to Machu Picchu the cheapest way, and I was doing it on my own two feet without a guide.
I decided to stay at the same hostel as my traveling companion, and we went to bed early, and prepared ourselves to wake up at 4 in the morning to catch the early bus to Machu Picchu.
We were one of the first people to arrive at Machu Picchu, but sadly, there was so much fog that it was mostly covered up. But there was something magical about the way the mountains and ruins were shrouded in mist, and I imagined the Incas waking up to the misty mountains each morning.
I had bought a ticket for Montana Machu Picchu, which is different that just the regular ticket for Machu Picchu, and I waited in line with five other people who were itching for the gates to open so we could some of the first people to reach the highest point at Machu Picchu.
Hardest. Hike. Ever. Okay, I would be taking back those words later when I was on my Colca Canyon hike. But still, it was two hours of nonstop stairs. But so incredibly worth it.
That tallest mountain there? That’s the very top of Montana Machu Picchu. But I don’t think there’s a better view there.
I was the second person to make it to the top, and it was one of those moments that you know you’ll remember for the rest of you life. It was surreal to be standing up there practically by yourself, and seeing one of the wonders of the world with no one around you.
Agh. Freakin’ magical.
And then there was the hike down. And by the time I got down, the swarms of people had arrived, and it was a tad less magical, and a bit more like Disney World. Crowds of people, selfie sticks, tour groups. I wasn’t a fan. So I set off by myself and found a building that wasn’t interesting enough for tour groups, climbed to the second floor, and sat myself down and just soaked in the mountains and scenery around me.
By the end of the day, I was completely exhausted. Machu Picchu is not for the faint of heart, or the not somewhat in shape. I considered myself pretty in shape until the next day when my legs and feet were screaming at me.
However, my wallet didn’t care if I would have much rather taken a train ride back, and the next day I was setting off again to hike back to the Hydroelectrica, and take an 8 hour van ride back to Cusco. But hey, I survived. And was ready for an overnight bus ride to Arequipa the next night to see what awaited me there. First wonder of the world – check.
Where I stayed:
Casa Machu Picchu Hostel Price: $8 a night for a 6 bed dorm
Pros: Free breakfast, wifi, beautiful view at breakfast of the river Cons: You can’t leave the hostel unless the owner lets you out, and me and 5 other guests had to wait an hour for the owner to let us out.
Stuff to do: Eat. Rest. Get ready for a long day at Machu Picchu! Aguas Calientes is completely overtaken by tourists, and there’s not too much to do. But it’s usually just going to be a quick stop, but there is a big market. However, things are cheaper in Cusco.
Places to eat: There are A TON of options. A lot of them are overpriced, but if you do some searching, you can barter for a lower price with the restaurant owners since there’s so much competition. If you want to find snacks, go to the local market, where you can get a whole bunch of fruit or bread for your day at Machu Picchu.