Machu Picchu – Trip Report

The primary objective of my journey to Peru and Chile was to visit Machu Picchu, the best preserved example of an Inka community.  This is a long post but is comparatively short on text and long on pictures.

Other posts about the trip to Peru and Chile:

Palacio del Inka, Cusco, Peru – A Starwood Luxury Collection Hotel

LATAM Airlines 767-300 Business Class, Miami, FL (MIA) to Lima, Peru (LIM)

LATAM Airlines 787-8 Business Class Lima, Peru (LIM) to Santiago, Chile (SCL)

American Airlines 777-200 First Class – Santiago, Chile (SCL) to Miami, FL (MIA)

First Look – American Airlines Renovated D-15 Admirals Club, Miami International (MIA)

Train from Cusco (Poroy) to Machu Picchu (Aguas Calientes)

Machu Picchu lies approximately 50 miles or 80 km northwest of Cusco, Peru, the capitol of the Inka Empire.  The easiest way to go from Cusco to Machu Picchu is by train.

Trains depart from the station in Poroy, which is a 30-minute drive from central Cusco in good traffic.  The train arrives in Aguas Calientes, the closest city to Machu Picchu, 3.5 hours after departing Poroy.  A bus ride or hiking completes the final few miles to Machu Picchu.

Because the trip takes so long, those wanting to return to Cusco on the same day must depart early.

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Boarding at Poroy at 6:07 a.m.

Three rail companies provide transportation from Poroy.  Heavy demand requires buying tickets through a tour company or online well in advance of your desired travel date.2016-11-02-06-08-29

The trip to Aguas Calientes is itself a great experience.

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PeruRail coach
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Every seat would be filled.  You can put a backpack in the space behind the seat.

The train follows a route past farms and small settlements, the Urubamba (Sacred) River, and hills with steep canyons and occasional glimpses of high Andes peaks.img_15142016-11-02-08-18-16img_15152016-11-02-07-20-24

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Urubamba River – the Sacred River
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Ollantaytambo train station
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Even though Cusco lies at over 11,200 feet, it never snows there. The high peaks of the Andes block the moisture from the humid subtropical region to the east making much of the area around Cusco a high desert.

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Peru Rail serves a light lunch on the trip

At one point you can see a portion of the trail the Inka used to access Machu Picchu.  It is a three-day hike on the Inka Trail from Ollantaytambo to Machu Picchu.

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Inka Trail

Bus from Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu

In Aguas Calientes I met John, my guide.  We boarded a bus for a 20-minute, somewhat perilous ride up the mountain.  Hiking to Machu Picchu is also an option for the physically fit who have an extra two hours to kill.  You’re going from roughly 6,800 feet at Aguas Calientes to almost 8,000 feet at Machu Picchu.

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Transferring to buses at Aguas Calientes
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Views on the bus are stunning
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From Machu Picchu you can see numerous switchbacks the dirt road takes up the mountain. There are no guardrails.

Machu Picchu

Arriving at Machu Picchu after a four-hour journey, I got to stretch my legs on a short climb.2016-11-02-10-50-222016-11-02-10-48-54

The climb is rewarded with more breathtaking views. 2016-11-02-10-56-282016-11-02-10-52-19

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Scratch one bucket-list item baby!  (best Dick Vitale voice)
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John Alexis Mendoza Quispe

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The precise nature and purpose of Machu Picchu remains unknown.  Many experts believe it was a royal estate for Inka Emperor Pachacuti Inka Yupanqui.  It seems to be generally accepted that the facilities at Machu Picchu could support around 300 Inka.  It looks bigger than that.

After enjoying the views from above, John and I worked our way into the settlement itself.

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The main entrance
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What looks like it may have been a plaza or area for royal ceremonies.  Or perhaps the Inca played a game like football.
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The quarry where stone was cut

Terraces turn steep hillsides into acres of tillable land. 2016-11-02-14-34-252016-11-02-11-32-532016-11-02-14-36-25

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Terraces and the Urubamba river below

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A small coca plant, one of the Inka’s main crops

One of the most important structures is the Temple of the Sun.  At sunrise on June 21, light enters one of the windows and strikes a stone on the floor indicating the summer solstice.

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Temple of the Sun
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Temple of the Sun from above
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The Inka Trail is visible as a thin line on the hill next to Machu Picchu

After a couple of hours we paused our “exploration” and headed to the restaurant near the bus loading zone for a great buffet lunch.

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The Inka ate one meal a day  – but they also had coca leaves to munch on. Seconds coming up.

The delicious lunch gave me the energy for another two hours at Machu Picchu.

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Water was in abundant supply thanks to aqueducts connected to a spring on an adjoining mountain.
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Storage building with a reconstructed thatch roof
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The Temple of the Condor. Natural rock formations created vertical wings and head and feathers on the ground. The head served as a sacrificial altar.

Now, the only residents of Machu Picchu are llamas and chinchillas.

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Momma llama
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Chinchilla making a quick escape

Train to Poroy

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PeruRail train at Aguas Calientes

At 4 p.m. we left Machu Picchu to catch a bus to Aguas Calientes.  John and I said farewell at the train station.  We would meet at the hotel early the next morning for a tour of the Sacred Valley.

On the trip to Poroy, PeruRail once again served light snacks.2016-11-02-17-46-51img_1686

The highlight of the trip was a surprise fashion show presented by the staff who seated and served us.

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The show started with a man dressed as a demon who enticed some of the passengers to dance.

Then other staff members came through wearing versatile alpaca outfits. 2016-11-02-18-20-122016-11-02-18-22-252016-11-02-18-28-11

It was a good show.  I wonder when airlines will start doing this to boost duty free sales. That idea might work well on some Asian carriers – American, United and Delta not so much.

Short Final

Machu Picchu and the journey there was more impressive than I had imagined.  The Inka had superb engineering skills to move, carve and place stone.  They used no mortar yet their work remains despite numerous devastating earthquakes that leveled structures produced by modern technology.

Next is a review of the trip to the Sacred Valley.

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