There are places on this planet that have touched my heart so intensely and deeply that I actually had to cry because it felt so unreal to really be there. Like Machu Picchu, the legendary Inca ruins high in the Peruvian Andes. But like a lot of things in life, you will have to pay a certain price to be able to experience something most amazing…
I cannot recall how many years I had been dreaming of going and to breathe the air of myth, legend and adventure. It was such a dream come true when I finally placed my foot onto this magical piece of earth and walked the stony alleyways, feeling a mystic energy flowing through my body with every step I made.
Like every adventure, things start with how to get there. After we had disembarked the ship in Valparaiso, Chile, we had spent one day with our American and Dutch friends in Santiago before Rob and Lorraine continued to the Easter Islands, while Robert and Vivian returned back to Miami to finalize their Christmas shopping. I can still remember the day that we had reached Santiago. It was December 2015 and the airport workers were on a major strike, threatening the entire trip that I had spent so much time planning.
We were booked on the first flight from Santiago to Lima with direct connection to Cusco. That was an adventure, let me tell you. We made our way to the airport at around 3 am where masses of stranded passengers were standing in line. When we finally made it to the check-in counter, the lady informed us that our full-fare tickets had been changed into waiting list and that it was not sure if the could bring us to Cusco on that day. After negotiating several times, we were finally checked in. While having the first coffee of the day, my partner realized that the name on his boarding card was not his. It was the same last name, but the rest was somebody else. That was about 30 minutes prior to departure! So we rushed past the masses once again to the counter where after a few endless moments of shock the lady finally was able to give us the correct passes with which we ran through security to the boarding gate.
When we arrived in Lima, we were informed that we had to claim our luggage first and then proceed with it through customs before checking it in for the connecting flight to Cusco (since we were arriving from another country). I was not aware of this fact when we started the trip, so no wonder that we did not make it in time for our connection. We were booked on the next flight which was fine, since a few hours earlier it was more than questionable if we would make it at all or not.
Unfortunately, my partner lost his wallet during the stressful recheck-in process at Lima airport, as well as his European ID. Thank god, that the passport was still there, otherwise, our journey would have come to and end at this time.
Later on that day, we finally made it into Cusco where I suffered for the next two days tremendously from the high altitude sickness while trying to enjoy the official gateway to the magical Ollantaytambo Valley. Read about it here.
From Cusco, we took the train to Aguascalientes which is quite a touristic mountain village nestled into the Andes mountains. This is the base for everyone visiting Machu Picchu as well as arrival and departure point for any train connections.
We spent an additional night there before we took one of the earlier bus shuttles on Christmas Eve up to the entrance of Machu Picchu. It was a foggy and rainy start into the day and the view was quite limited. Still, it was a very special feeling that we actually made it here, despite all the barriers that had laid in our way. To get the best possible views onto the sanctuary itself, I had pre-booked a ticket for the Machu Picchu Mountain.
I had to do this climb by myself since my partner is generally afraid of heights (he once had to be rescued from the high ropes park onboard Carnival Sunshine in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean). So there was no chance to take him up to 3,050 meters above sea level. We split and arranged a time and place to meet up later again.
The incline up the mountain was hard! There were spots that were so narrow (without any barriers or handrails) that someone could easily fall down or faint. I had to be quite careful myself as the entire top of the mountain was covered long-time in the clouds. The view was extremely limited. And I was sweating like a pig.
It took me about two hours to finally reach the top. That was around noon on 24 December 2015. And as I did, the clouds suddenly broke open, revealing blue sky and the marvelous view into the mountain valley as well as onto the Machu Picchu sanctuary. It was unbelievable! Like a miracle. It almost seemed like the sky had waited just for me to finally arrive and to blow me away with this fantastic show of Mother Nature. It was such an emotional feeling to eyewitness this beautiful scenery. To stand up there as a 35 years old man who had been dreaming of coming to this sacred place since he first saw pictures of the ruins as a small boy. And then having the luck to catch just the right moment in time to actually see it from up above.
Thinking about it today, I still cannot believe how lucky I was and how grateful I still am to have been able to experience this after all the hassle that happened in advance.
I stayed for almost an hour up there, laying in the grass, closing my eyes and simply listening to the sounds around me.Then, it was time to climb back down. I was already one-third down, then guess what happened? I almost broke my left hand when I slipped on a rock and fell. I had my large camera in the other hand and all I could think about was to protect it and the pictures that I had shot with it. So I held it in front of it when I crashed onto a sharp edge of another stone. I got a nasty cut underneath my left thumb and it made a weird sound when I hit the rock. But in the end, I was lucky again and apart from bleeding pretty badly, nothing had happened.
The rest of the day we spent walking around the sanctuary and enjoying our very special Christmas Day which we finished in the evening with a wonderful dinner down in Aguascalientes. You can enjoy the full photo gallery here. This was probably one of my most memorable Christmas ever!
How to make your Machu Picchu Adventure happen:
- Most importantly, it is the timing that you have to take care of early. First, you will have to choose the season that you plan on visiting. Winter in the Northern Hemisphere means summer in the Southern Hemisphere.
- The advantage of months like November or December is that there are far fewer visitors to the sanctuary than during the high season. But this can result in high precipitation, cool temperatures and low clouds in the mountains while it might be warm and sunny down at the ocean shores.
- I recommend to reserve your entrance tickets for Machu Picchu well in advance! The official website shows you exactly how many tickets are left for each date. You will have to specify at the time of registration which of the different entrance tickets you would like. Note: If you decide for Machu Picchu and Machu Picchu Mountain (Montana), there are only two timeframes that you will be able to climb the mountain in: Between 8am and 9am or 9am to 10am. I took the second frame. Do not show up late! Your admittance will be refused, wherever you have paid for it or not. Personally, I believe the view is better from the Machu Picchu Mountain than from Huaynapicchu. At the time of the registration, you will also have to provide details of your travel documents.
- Looks like that these days tickets can be purchased online. Back in 2015, we had to pick them up and pay at the Ministerio de Cultura in Cusco. Check their opening hours in advance to avoid any bad surprises!
- Second most important is your train tickets! Perurail is the operator that will bring you from Cusco to Aguascalientes. Tickets book very early, so I recommend you fix your itinerary as soon as possible after you have completed your registration for Machu Picchu tickets. We decided for the Vistadome trains. They are a little more expensive than the regular one, but the cars have air-conditioning, additional ceiling windows as well as snack and beverage service. If you would like to upgrade your train experience, a ride on the legendary Hiram Bingham could be an idea!
- The day before you visit the sanctuary the latest, get yourself the bus shuttle tickets from the small stand at the corner of the street in Aguascalientes across from Toto´s House Restaurant. Remember to always have your passport with you, you will need it for every ticket that you plan to purchase.
- Plan enough time to relax and enjoy the surroundings. Aguascalientes might not be the prettiest place on earth, yet I would suggest at least two nights, one before and one after your visit to Machu Picchu, to get the most out of your experience.
- Pack proper shoes, a first aid kit with disinfection, a multifunctional jacket that heats and protects from wind and rain and even a rain wrap under which you can hide your camera should it suddenly begin to rain.
So now, go ahead and plan your very own exceptional adventure! You never know for how long this miracle will be there… Happy and safe travels, folks!