We left our hotel at 4:15AM to get to the entrance gates for Machu Picchu. We had decided to walk up and on our way we passed the line of buses waiting to fill up. A few people had already begun to wait in line for them. The gates into the park opened to hikers at 4:50AM and the buses started out from Aguas Calientes at 5:30AM. Once they started, bus loads would begin arriving at the main entrance of the Lost City around 5:45AM. 30 people every 10 minutes or so would be dumped off and lining up to get in. We wanted to be way ahead of them.
About 15 of us waited outside of the gates while the guard rolled up the trip wires attached to water bottles that would fall to the floor in his guard shack if someone tried to enter while he was sleeping. I guess you can´t expect the highest in technology at the gates of an ancient civilization. Once he let us in, a few people charged ahead but the majority of us clipped along at a steady pace. It wasn’t necessarily an easy climb and, though we were at a lower elevation than what we had been at in Cuzco, the altitude still took its toll. Despite the cool temperature, I was soaked in sweat. I was loving it, though. We weren’t on the Inca Trail but I felt like we were definitely earning our right to be there.
Wisps of fog were curling around the peaks of Machu and Huayna. They stretched upwards to dizzying heights. The gaping Urubamba River that we had trekked alongside the afternoon before was made to look like a spaghetti noodle from that distance. Just as daylight was breaking, I spotted the ruins just above us through a parting in the trees. The sounds of the buses winding their way up the switchbacks were nearing and we were just moments away. We popped out of the trees at the entrance to the Lost City, drenched in sweat and gasping to catch our breath, behind only one tour bus and well before the sun rose over Machu Picchu.
We walked to the highest point of the ruins and settled in. Just as we got comfortable, the sun began breaking through the clouds above Machu Picchu and rays of lights started gleaming off the sheer face of Huayna Picchu. The day before had been long but not hard. The hike that morning had been hard but not long. It wasn’t as if we´d accomplished some major feat to be there. But in that moment I could feel each moment that had come before it; the culmination of all that led to me sitting on the edge of that awe-inspiring ancient city, with my love, watching the sun come up. I will never forget that feeling. Tracking sunrise, indeed.
As sunlight spread over the ruins, more and more tourists began streaming through the gates and before you knew it people were everywhere. We spent some time blending in as tourists. We snapped photos with the llamas and poked around the old stone buildings. The ruins really are damned impressive. There are modern cities that I’ve been to that are not as well planned nor built.
As the 7:00 hour approached, we began to rally for our next climb – up the steep slope of Huayna Picchu. I struggled with the first part of the hike. Once I heard those buses start up, I had booked it up the first trail that morning and I was feeling the woozy effects of a stomach full of lactic acid but deplete of food. We took it slowly until the nausea passed and paused often to take in the ever more incredible view of the Lost City now far below us. The Urubamba was now only a piece of string threading through the valley below. At the top, a narrow and jagged peak, were even more ruins. We used ropes to steady ourselves on narrow, steep stairways, we crawled through a tiny cave entrance, and we shimmied down sheer stone walls. I was the happiest girl in all of the land.
As we worked our way back down Huayna Picchu and back into the ruins, I checked my watch. Everything that we had experienced and it wasn’t even 11:00AM. We caught the bus down the hill and had them drop us off at the gate we’d started from that morning. From there we started our trek back along the railroad tracks to the hydro-electric station. It was still a fun walk but we were a lot more quiet than we´d been only 24 hours before. We did stop by Walter’s but this time only for a small beer and a hug goodbye, of course. At the station, we caught up with our tour van and wound our way back along those mountain roads to Cuzco (S30 each). In the end, three awesome days of adventure. In a word, epic.
Tips and Totals:
Minus beer stops and dinner in Aguas, we spent about S280/USD100 each. Not too shabby.
New policies at Machu Picchu allow for only 2,500 visitors per day into the ruins and only 450 per day to climb Huayna Picchu. It is highly recommended that you buy your tickets in advance if you plan this trip yourself. You can purchase tickets at www.machupicchu.gob.pe and the website www.machupicchutickets.com was very helpful in walking us through the confusing purchasing process step-by-step. Our tickets, including Huayna, were S150 per person.
Signs everywhere told us you could not take food into the ruins. Just put it in your backpack. They don’t check and people were snacking all over the place. But, PLEASE, don’t litter! Pack it in, pack it out! The snack bar outside of the entrance was reasonably priced, as well.
More amazing pics from Zach are below and I just caught him uploading even more at http://www.zachsinay.smugmug.com…