One of the things we most dreaded and most looked forward to was Machu Picchu. We dreaded it because it is has turned into an overpriced tourist black hole. We looked forward to it because, hell, it is Machu Picchu! Isn’t this place on most peoples bucket list? It was on ours. And we drove to it! This is the biggest tourist destination in South America for a reason (we hope), it was a place we felt we had to see.
There are many ways to get to Machu Picchu, and most of them are ridiculously expensive (I am comparing this to the rest of Peru outside the Sacred Valley). The thing is, there are no roads that go all the way to Machu Picchu. You have to take a train in or hike in on the Inca trail or the “other Inca trails” which still require guides and tours, (both options are not cheap, the train is about $150 US a person roundtrip).
We had planned to drive to the end of the road and then hike the three hours to Aguas Calientes, the town that is the overnight stay closest to the ruins. This is what most overlanders do, and is the most economical way to see the ruins. After the Galapagos, our budget needed a bit of downsizing, so we were all in for doing this on the cheap.
The drive to Machu Picchu was spectacular. Sam and I took a small dirt road from Cusco that wound through valleys cut by rivers and through some fun single track road where not a bus full of tourists was to be found. In fact, we were the only ones on this road since it was under construction (oops…). Our little side road connected with the main road and we started passing Inca ruins, deep green valleys and snow capped peaks. It was an awesome drive.
About two hours into our dive we passed two people on motorcycles. They waved frantically at us and we realized it was our Swiss friends Karin and Marcus (who we had not seen since Ecuador). We tried to pull over and chat with them, but the road was too narrow and full of traffic so we decided to keep driving on and catch up with them later.
The one odd thing was they were going the wrong direction…..We had heard they were heading to Machu Picchu also through the overlander grapevine, but as they passed us going the wrong way we did not give it much thought. We assumed they were on their way back.
We drove for another hour and a half and started seeing a strange site. Cars. Lines of cars for over a mile. What the hell? We stopped the XP and Sam got out to see what was going on. He was gone for a long time and when he got back his face was a bit grim. He told me there was a huge landslide blocking the road. HUGE. He said he was certain it would take days to dig out. We debated popping our top and waiting (did not sound fun since it was near freezing and had started raining) or heading back to Ollantaytambo to destroy our budget and catch a late night train to Aguas Calients.
The thing is, the weather had been hit or miss the last few weeks, it was rainy season in Peru. Monday (the next day) was supposed to be the only rain free day of the entire week. We were kind of on a mission to get to Machu Picchu before the rain storms hit.
We drove back the hour and a half to Ollantaytambo and purchased our tickets (which cost almost $300 roundtrip for a lousy 2 hour train ride!!!!!!) The train was huge and we had assigned seating, as we got on the late night train we saw the people in the seat in front of us were our friends Karin and Marcus! WTF!!!!! What are the chances? We were super excited to see them and they told us that they were frantically waving at us to warn us about the landslide. Oops. They even turned around and chased us for a few kilometers but could not catch up with the traffic. We did not even see them….
Oh, well, the three hour drive roundtrip was pretty at least….We arrived in Aguas Calientes at almost midnight and found a super cheap hotel (so cheap you had to pay extra for toilet paper and bath towels!!!). We had originally planned to try to see the sunrise over Machu Picchu and wake up at 4am, but now we just wanted to sleep in and get there when we were rested.
The next morning around nine AM we woke to a perfect sunny day and we bought our overpriced entrance tickets (around $38 each) and then bought the $10 each bus tickets each way (so $40 round trip to ruins).
As we were sulking about the cost of everything on our way to the buses we looked up to see our favorite road friends Toby and Chloe!!! I literally screamed HOW IS THIS POSSIBLE ???? I jumped around with joy like a crazy person in the middle of town, so happy to see them. We did not know they were going to be here, and we had not seen them since early Ecuador.
I decided that the universe had put us together to experience this day with two of our favorite people. They got ahead of us when we went to the Galapagos and we missed them constantly and were sure we would never see them again. We were all super excited to be here together and we made plans to meet up in the ruins at 1 PM (they have a dog, so they had to go later than us so Tia was not left alone all day).
The thing about Machu Picchu is that even though it is crazy expensive, full of gringos and impossible to get to, once we walked off the overpriced bus, our first view of the site was so spectacular, that all of that fell away and we knew why so many people come here. Sam and I looked at each other, smiled, laughed, hugged and both immediately agreed, it was just as good as we had hoped. To be honest, it was actually even more spectacular than I had imagined.
The morning at the site is very busy with tourists arriving in large groups so we decided to take the long hike up to the sun gate and wait there until lunch. The walk up was hard enough that not many people go up, and the views from the top down onto Machu Picchu were worth every uphill, sweaty minute.
At the bottom of the sun gate trail we literally bumped into Toby and Chloe two hours before our meet up time. I might have screamed in happiness again….We were destined to spend this day with them. We all went over to a nice place in the shade and pulled our sandwiches out and caught up on a few months of travel tales with an insanely epic view.
After a very long lunch we decided to hike to the Inca Bridge together. The hike is easy and the views of the valleys were pretty spectacular.
Finally, at about 3:30, we finally head down into the ruins that had been almost emptied of tourists. Also, at this hour the lighting was getting perfect. We underestimated the size of the ruins and were a bit amazed and overwhelmed at how much there was to see once you got inside. They were very impressive and extensive.
This experience was one of our favorites of the trip. The entire day was perfect, and a large part of that was because of the great energy we always get from Toby and Chloe. We are a fierce-some foursome. We all laughed way too much, but we also were all a bit overwhelmed and grateful for this trip and this experience. A lot of people visit Machu Picchu every year, but very few drive to it from California and get to experience it with great friends.
Oh, and as we were leaving Agua Calients the next morning the skies we a horrible overcast grey and it started to rain. We did get the last sunny day for a while. And Toby and Chloe eventually got past the landslide blocking the road and we road back on our overpriced touristy train.
The crazy thing is, I am writing this in Patagonia, and we have not seen Toby and Chloe since this day, and are not sure if we will see them again on this trip. We wanted to spend the majority of our final months of the trip in Patagonia, so we passed them in Peru and have been ahead ever since. This makes us both super sad, but also so thankful the universe put us together for this day. We might not see them again in South America, but we will always have Machu Picchu.