Of course I wanted to go to Machu Picchu. This was the reason I was in Peru: I couldn’t decide between going to Peru and Chile, and my boyfriend picked Peru because he wanted to go to Machu Picchu. So of course I would go. It’s the #1 tourist destination in Peru.
But it’s not easy to go. In fact, I describe the prep to Wayne as “a dark cloud hanging over our trip.”
We headed to the train station to get tickets – only to learn that was the locals’ only train. We got advice and picked up our tickets from the Ministry of Culture – we got the full deal including the hike to Waynapicchu at 7am (which is the time you want – it gets sunnier and hotter and it’s a pretty difficult hike.
Then we went to Peru Rail (as Jon pointed out to us, it’s in Plaza de las Armas in between McDonald’s (ugh) and KFC (ugh)), and the prices were absurd. $218USD for two round-trip tickets. We went to Inka Rail, where the tickets were just $160USD for two round-trip tickets. So we bought them – make sure you buy them in advance as we got the last two tickets on our train (and they weren’t next to each other, although the conductor arranged is so that we could sit together). And buy your tickets in advance as much as you can for Machu Picchu as well – we were fine because we were in the low season, but during the dry season (especially June, July, August), you really need to buy them in advance because there is a limited number of tickets per day. You can also buy them online and print out the tickets.
So it was a hassle and yes, expensive. (When you figure that I can eat a big meal for $2 or $3 USD, you understand why those costs are so ridiculous for Peru.)
The trains weren’t running direct from Cusco to Machu Picchu either – you could buy the costly Peru Rail bus to the train in Ollyantaytambo, but instead, you can take a combi (5 soles) or a collectivo (10 soles). We hopped in a cab, asking it to take us to the combis and collectivos. The driver bargained with us, and he ended up driving us all to way to Ollanta, including a stop in Salinas so we could see the salt pans (very cool).
We arrived at the main square of Ollanta and it was lightly drizzling. We had a small meal with juice, and then we walked to the local Inca ruins which were incredibly beautiful. This was the site of a Inca-Spanish battle, with the Inca winning – they let their water stores loose and flooded the fields and the Spaniard’s horses couldn’t charge. Wooohooo!
After we walked around the ruins, we still had time to kill, so we got another small meal at the amazing Hearts Café – probably the best meal we had in all of Peru. And then we walked down to the train station and boarded the scenic ride to Machu Picchu. (Actually, the town of Aguas Calientes, which is where you need to stay if you want to get to Machu Picchu when the gates open.)
On the way back, it was a little different. We were both extremely exhausted from having woken up at 4am, hiked from 4:40a.m. until 1:30 p.m., and I was on the starts of food poisoning. Yes, food poisoning. How miserable.
We arrive and after a bit of seat shuffling, were sitting across from each other and next to these horrible middle-aged Canadian couple. The guy took up half my seat, which made my ill ride even more miserable, and they said things like, “Now, not to stereotypes, but some groups of certain kinds of people…” I wanted them to shut up as I felt wretched.
After the train ride ended, we scrambled off nearly last and ended up in a miserable collectivo ride back to Cusco. As I was really sick, I tried to pass out and focused my waking moments on not throwing up all over myself and Wayne. Lucky for us, our driver couldn’t find anyone else so we had the whole back seat to ourselves.
When we finally arrived in Cusco, I didn’t care that a place like Machu Picchu existed. I spent the rest of the evening getting sick and sleeping the miserable sleep of the sick. It was horrendous. Poor Wayne took care of me, Googling “salmonella poisoning” in between, as we wondered about those delicious pisco sours (which contain raw egg).