Warning: This is a very long blog post and is part 2 of 2. Part 1 is here. If there was one day of our trip to Peru that I could do over again, it would be the day we visited Machu Picchu.
Our Machu Picchu tickets had a beginning entrance time of 8am but due to the near-riot at the train station and the extra-long queue for the shuttle bus, we finally got into the citadel at 10:30am.
The Machu Picchu shuttle bus from Aguas Calientes will drop you off in the cul-du-sac at the Machu Picchu citadel entrance (the only entrance for Machu Picchu).
The Machu Picchu ticket collectors are located at the top of a staircase which you can see from the cul-du-sac but between you and the ticket collectors will be a massive blob of people. For us, the group of people consisted of those who had beginning entrance times of 8am, 9am, 10am, and 11am.
There are no roped queues leading to the ticket collectors so pick the path of least resistance and prepare yourself for a mildly aggressive scenario.
In addition to there being no roped queues, there are no “priority” or “fast track” queues for ticket holders with beginning entrance times that have already passed (in our situation beginning entrance times of 8am, 9am, and 10am).
All ticket holders are treated equally and if you think you can sweet-talk your way to the front of the crowd by showing people your ticket with an already-passed entrance time, forget it. It took us about 20 minutes to get to the ticket collectors. They verified our tickets and passports and it was smooth sailing from that point on.
Protip: There are no toilets beyond the ticket collectors. It is very wise to use the toilets prior to entering the citadel because you will be in there for hours. Trust me. You don’t want to be that girl hiking up a mountain who has becomes so desperate that she pees on the trail!
On the other side of the ticket collectors is a narrow path that leads to the citadel with Huayna Picchu mountain (Waynapicchu) in the distance. My first observation was “Wow! This place is incredibly big!” As with many sites in Peru, the photos I’d seen online did not properly show the scale of the site. It is really, really big!
And it was really, really foggy!
The weather moved quickly on the day of our visit but it never fully cleared. One minute it was dark gray fog and the next minute it was light white fog and the next minute it was pockets of fluffy clouds. Never a blue sky though.
As soon as there was a break in the fog, I saw the steep craggy mountains in the backdrop. They were like daggers shooting out of the earth. I realized how high up we were and I was bewildered as to why the Incas chose this site and also how in the hell they built the citadel.
Once inside the citadel, we modified our itinerary because we were battling the clock. Our original plan was to leisurely stroll around the citadel until 10am, at which time we would go to the Huayna Picchu mountain entrance. However, since we got into the citadel at 10:30am and our Huayna Picchu mountain entrance period was from 10-11am, the mountain had to be our top priority.
The entrance to Huayna Picchu mountain is on the opposite side of the citadel as the Machu Picchu entrance. To get there, you will walk through the citadel and it is a 10-minute walk on the most direct trail with periodic stops to take photos.
As with everything regarding this day trip, the Huayna Picchu mountain entrance was not what I expected. There is a manned hut at the entrance where you must show your ticket and write your name and passport number in a book, you know, for those instances when someone falls off the mountain and never returns to the hut to sign out.
Also, there was a queue at the hut! Get ready to queue!
Whilst queuing, we studied the large and confusing map on the side of the hut. There are a few different hikes on the mountain ranging from 45 minutes to four hours. To be honest, I am still completely confused by the hikes on this mountain.
What I can tell you is that we attempted to hike to the summit. Due to my confusion, I thought the hike was two hours roundtrip but I believe in reality it is two hours one-way. Even when I Google this hike today, I get mixed results. Some sites say that it takes one hour to get to the summit, others say two hours. We hiked for about 45 minutes and I think we were just short of the half-way point.
The hike is physically exhausting and dangerous. It is difficult like Angel’s Landing in Zion National Park but for different reasons.
Angel’s Landing is a technically challenging hike even though it does not require any special climbing gear. There are a lot of steel ropes and extremely narrow areas along the spine and most of the trail is only wide enough to allow for one-way traffic. It is dangerous in that one wrong step and you will almost certainly fall to your death. You can read more about my experience here.
Huayna Picchu is a physically challenging hike and, as with almost everything I had read about Machu Picchu, no website properly described the difficulty level and there is a lot of misinformation out there.
The elevation gain of the Huayna Picchu hike is 1,000 ft / 360 m over a distance of 1.2 mi / 2 km. It is like climbing an uneven and narrow staircase (many sections only allow for one-way traffic) for 1.2 miles at an elevation of 7,972 ft / 2,430 m. It is hard and one wrong step and off the mountainside you go!
Like Angel’s Landing, there are steel ropes in some sections and there are sections where you must scramble on all fours. Inclement weather like rain and dense fog will turn the gravel into mud and make the stone steps and exposed path extremely slippery. Combine all of this and you’ve got a Top 20 Most Dangerous Hike on your hands.
Given all of the factors that were at play (fog, rain, etc.), we turned around at about the half-way point. I regret not researching this hike and understanding what I was getting myself into. I assumed that since this was a major tourist attraction, the hike would be no problem but this hike is indeed a problem if you are not mentally prepared for it.
Protip: It only takes a few minutes to start sweating on the hike, so wear less layers than you think you will need. I wore a tank top, a thermal long-sleeve shirt, a light sweatshirt, and a rain jacket. I would have been more comfortable only wearing a tank top and carrying my rain jacket. I was so hot and my layers were unnecessary extra weight.
It took us about 30 minutes to descend due to trail traffic and slippery rocks. I think we were all happy to be back at the citadel. We spent the rest of our time taking photos (ugh, fog!). Due to the size of the citadel, it never felt overcrowded even though there were hundreds of people there.
One of my regrets about our time at the citadel was that we did not explore all of the paths. Again, time and that whole no-toilet thing worked against us. I would have liked to climb up the layered terraces (the path we chose cut through the middle section of the terraces).
After exiting the citadel, Sara and I joined the extremely long shuttle bus queue whilst Jessi joined the queue to get a Machu Picchu passport stamp. We waiting in the queue for about 15 minutes. Given the number of visitors, the shuttle buses run as efficiently as possible, however, I can’t help but think that a funicular would be a much more pleasant experience for visitors (not to mention less pollution!).
Eventually, our shuttle bus got us back to Aguas Calientes. Damn that drive is dangerous and is not something I would like to do in the rain because I’m not entirely sure the bus tires actually had any tread depth.
We had about two hours to burn before our train departed so we went to a brewery for much-needed food and alcohol. I drank beer and Sara and Jessi drank the national drink, pisco sour. Pisco sour tastes like a whiskey mojito and it’s made with a raw egg white to give it the foam/froth top. It wasn’t my cuppa tea, mostly because I could not mentally get over the raw egg factor. Regardless, it is really easy to get buzzed at high elevations!
Next, Sacred Valley.