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The Peru Chronicles: Machu Picchu – We Made It!

Even with all of the awesome places we visited and things we saw, Machu Picchu still felt like it was the main event and climax of our trip. For many people Machu Picchu is the entire reason for their trip to Peru in the first place. While many people think of the ruins as ancient, the truth is that they’re actually not as old as you may think – they were built around 1450, and then discovered and made known to the outside world by an American historian in 1911. It is an incredible sight to see – a green city built atop a mountain in the mist. It was likely not, as one of my neighbors tried to convince us, “that one place that I saw on the History Channel that was built by aliens.”

machu picchu peru

yes, we actually took this picture

Getting into Machu Picchu can be a little confusing and will take some time (I will give additional details in a different post). Our journey was fairly typical and went something like this: We left Cusco at 6am by taxi to ride 30 minutes to the town of Poroy. From there, we hopped on the PeruRail train that lasted about 3 hours as it took us into the town of Aguas Calientes. From Aguas Calientes, you will have a 20minute bus ride, or 90minute hike to get into Machu Picchu. You may not want to go into Machu Picchu the same day that you arrive in Aguas Calientes. We bought our entrance tickets to Machu Picchu and our PeruRail train tickets to Aguas Calientes well in advance online. We bought our bus tickets into Machu Picchu upon arrival in Aguas Calientes.

We arrived in Aguas Calientes right around lunchtime and used the afternoon to check into our hostel, rest a bit, and explore the very limited city of Aguas Calientes. Everywhere is walkable in Aguas Calientes and it is all situated along one main drag, Pachacutec. It’s all restaurants, hostels, massage places, and little convenience stores We had plenty of time to wander through the main market and town square, eat some food and play Jenga (I don’t know why, but nearly every restaurant had a Jenga set at every table!), and purchase our bus tickets to go into Machu Picchu the following morning.

[Note: Along with a Jenga set, nearly every restaurant has a “carta turistica” or tourist menu. This is usually a good deal where you will be able to select an appetizer, entree, and dessert for a total of around 15-20soles. Most restaurants will also have a happy hour special where for 15-20 soles, you can get 4 cervezas!]

perurail machu picchu peru

train ride to aguas calientes

got a little creative with the jenga blocks

we got a little creative with the jenga blocks

 

We retired early to our hostel – Hostal Pakarina – which was a perfect little spot for us. It is right on Pachacutec, just a few blocks up the street from the main plaza and the location where all of the buses depart to go up to Machu Picchu. We woke up around 5am to get ready and walked down to the bus pick-up point. The buses start running around 5:30am but there will probably be a long line starting even before then. However, there are several buses and they run every 10minutes or so, which helps the line move pretty steadily. [Note: there is a trail that you can hike to/from Machu Picchu from Aguas Calientes. It is advertised as a 60minute hike, but we hiked back down the mountain at a good clip and it took us about 90minutes, and it was fairly strenuous. I would guess that going up the mountain into Machu Picchu would take even longer and be even more strenuous. I would recommend taking the bus up and then hiking back if you want to hike; if you hike up, you may be too tired to fully enjoy the experience.] [Additional Note: The bus rides up into Machu Picchu are about 20minutes, and even by Peruvian standards are incredibly treacherous and full of hair-pin turns on a single lane dirt road. You may not want to look out the window!]

almost like it was our honeymoon or something

almost like it was our honeymoon at the hostel…

from the bus stop

from the bus stop

 

Because Machu Picchu is so unique, I find it difficult to describe. There is absolutely something mystic and awe-inspiring to be standing on top of a mountain in the mist looking at a bright green stone city that was built hundreds of years ago. I would recommend arriving early if possible – it’s incredible to see the mist with the sunrise, and it’s a little bit more tranquil early in the morning.

As you go into Machu Picchu, there are plenty of guides hanging out that you can pay to show you around and give tours of the ruins. We elected to stick to the map that we had and use that as a guide to walk and explore the ruins. When we first entered, we admired the absolutely incredible sights of the city and adjacent mountains in the mist. Several pictures later, we decided to head to the sun gate which is where you would enter if you were coming in from the multi-day Incan Trail hike. It’s another example where the Incans were incredibly resourceful and accurate enough to plan the sun gate so that at certain times of the year, the sun beams directly through it and onto the city. The ruins actually span an impressive distance, and getting to the sun gate was quite a hike even within the ruins. That along with just walking around and exploring the rest of the ruins is a lot of hiking and stairs!

machu picchu peru

machu picchu

machu picchu peru

among the clouds

 

As we made it to the sun gate, a guy in his 60’s offered up a pretty great quote: “Fuck Everest. This is where it’s at – This is impressive.”

sun gate machu picchu

sun gate

sun gate machu picchu

almost to the sun gate

sun gate machu picchu

from atop the sun gate; the zig zag is the dirt road that the buses go up and down on

 

Yes, there were plenty of llamas and alpacas roaming throughout the ruins.

We were in Machu Picchu before 7am, and after our hike to the sun gate and back and one loop through the ruins, it was a bit after noon and we were pretty exhausted. We elected not to hike up Huayna Picchu, the mountain right next to the ruins that towers above Machu Picchu. This looks like it would give an awesome view, but it is also a challenging hike – we were glad we decided not to do it. [Note: You need to pay an entrance fee to hike this mountain, and you should do that in advance, when you buy your Machu Picchu entrance tickets.]

So after about 5 hours of hiking and exploring within the ruins, we decided that we had probably seen all we would enjoy seeing. We also knew that we had a long hike down the mountain back to our hostel in Aguas Calientes – we had decided ahead of time that we would take the bus up the mountain in the morning into Machu Picchu, and then take the “easy” hike down the mountain back into town. It turns out that the advertised 40-60minute hike, was much more like a 90+minute hike, even while going at a good clip.

So we arrived back in Aguas Calientes to our hostel on wobbly legs with quivering calves. We were exhausted. We enjoyed some food and drinks and then passed out early so that we could catch our early train the following morning back to Ollantaytambo. And from Ollantaytambo an hour and a half bus ride back into Cusco. Did I mention that it can be a little tricky getting into and out of Machu Picchu…

machu picchu peru

machu picchu peru

machu picchu peru

machu picchu peru

macchu picchu urubamba river

But it was so worth it. After our visit to the Sacred Valley in Cusco, we wondered if Machu Picchu could really be that much more impressive than what we saw. This was really just us being that impressed by those ruins at the time. But after our trip to Machu Picchu, I think we can absolutely say that it was, without question, that much more impressive. The combination of the mountains, the city, the greens, the mist, and the overall aura was magnificent.

Machu Picchu, the landmark that brings so many tourists into Peru is a legitimate and worthwhile reason to take a trip to Peru. It’s not the only thing you should see or do while in Peru, but it is something that you have to do while in Peru. We loved it. Even now, looking back just a few short months ago, it’s hard to believe that we were exploring the city on top of the mountain among the mist. Truly incredible.

 

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The Peru Chronicles: Our Route and Itinerary

Now you know a little bit about the “How and Why” of our choice to head to Peru. Beautiful place, plenty to do, great people and food, and very cost effective. That whole “plenty to do” part actually made our trip a little bit tricky as we were planning.  Perhaps “plenty to do” really means that there’s just way too much to see and do in one trip (even with two weeks!). But that’s not a terrible problem to have… The main concern was trying to find a good balance between seeing as much as possible while not exhausting ourselves with too much travel and not enough time spent in any one place.  In the end, I think that we achieved that goal. We put together a fairly aggressive itinerary to keep ourselves on the move and see a lot, but we never got to the point where we were overly exhausted or running on fumes.

trip through peru

 

The map above shows our travel route. As you can see, it’s actually quite convenient as we were able to do a loop starting and ending in Lima – where we flew into and out of from Fort Lauderdale. The cities were also nicely situated; most of the bus rides between cities were between 4-6 hours, which wasn’t bad at all. The longest was from Ica to Arequipa (~11 hours) and we actually decided to take the bus through the night and sleep through most of that leg. [Note: The buses are actually quite nice – the seats recline nearly all the way, they provide little pillows and blankets, they have little meals/snacks included, and they show movies. It’s really nicer than almost any normal airline that you will find.]

We planned for about two days in each city, and we gave ourselves about a one day buffer so that we would have a little wiggle room if we wanted to slightly extend a stay, or – more realistically in South America – if we somehow lost a day due to travel complications. [Note: When traveling in South America, sometimes things do happen – there are strikes, routes get cancelled, roads close, etc. You should probably try to have at least some time built in as a buffer, and also go in with the mindset that you need to be flexible and things may shift slightly.] We felt very fortunate in that we did not face any significant travel complications – no missed or cancelled buses or flights (just some slight delays). [#WinningInSouthAmerica]  Below is the itinerary of what we actually did; our initial itinerary going into the trip had one extra stop scheduled that we decided not to do when we got down there – again, be flexible and open to some slight shifting here and there based on your energy level to travel, what you hear from others is worth/not worth seeing, and any unforeseeable hurdles along the way.

peru itinerary

peru itinerary

Could we have squeezed in another place or two? Possibly. Could we have done the same trip in a shorter amount of time? Maybe we could have seen the same places in 11-12 days versus 14, though it would have felt rushed. Could we have spent more time in certain places? Absolutely – we could have stayed another day or more in a couple of different cities. However in the end, we felt like we really got a nice feel for most of the places we visited, and that we got the highlights in those places. Obviously there were restaurants, tours, and sights that we had to miss out on, but I don’t think we regretted anything that we did. We didn’t feel like we wasted any of our days, and we didn’t feel like we went to any places that weren’t worth the trip.  So the traveling was about right for us with the above route and above itinerary.

 

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Probably wouldn’t recommend traveling via carriage…

 

 

 

 

 
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Posted by on September 30, 2015 in Advice, Budget/$$, Food, Projects/Activities, Uncategorized

 

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The Peru Chronicles: Background

Friends, family, and those who follow me on social media are probably all aware that Em and I recently spent a chunk of time in Peru. In short, it was an incredible two week trip filled with amazing people, fantastic food, and tons of memorable adventures and experiences. The plan is to document some of those memories here on the old blog, along with some additional tips and info for those who may be interested. There will be plenty of pictures as well (I actually took enough pictures that my phone wouldn’t work until I cleared some space!). Be sure to check out our video at the bottom!

 

machu picchu peru

Yes, we were actually here and took this picture! So amazing, and the picture doesn’t even do it justice…

 

Why Peru? The Long Story:

I spent a semester abroad (~5months) in Buenos Aires, Argentina in 2007. I absolutely loved everything about my experience while there – from the people (my norteamericanos that I traveled with as well as the locals I met down there), the food, the culture, the history, and all of my other adventures. Near the end of my time in Argentina, I was able to take a short jaunt through Peru – about 10-12 days, where a buddy and I stopped in several different small towns and absolutely loved it. A Peruvian friend, Marita, (that I met in Argentina) helped us plan our trip. We saw a lot, but definitely not everything!

2007

Crew from 2007 in Argentina!

I met my wife at college the semester I returned from Argentina. Fresh off my travels, I was constantly talking about South America – specifically Argentina and Peru, of course. Again, the food, the people, the sights, and everything else that came with it. I must have talked it up enough that I got her relatively excited about South America as well. We always talked about going down and making some memories for the two of us in South America.

Flash forward about 6-7 years – I asked her to marry me, and she said yes. One of my wedding responsibilities was deciding on and planning the honeymoon location (pending honey’s approval). South America wasn’t really a consideration for the honeymoon – we knew that we wanted to relax and enjoy leisurely fun in the sun with cocktails. But we also knew that we wanted to make it to South America before kids were on the table at all. So we started putting a little money away each month – our “Honey Money” – to take cover both our island honeymoon trip and the trip to South America that we knew we were going to attempt before even thinking about kids.

The Decision:

When it came down to deciding where in South America – we knew that we were between Argentina and Peru. I knew both of these places relatively well – a substantial amount of time spent in Argentina, and a trip through Peru with a friend in Lima who I knew would be a great resource and help to us. I also knew that both are quite safe to travel in (of course, you always need to be careful and a savvy traveler regardless of your location), and both had plenty to see and do. In the end, there were several reasons we ended up choosing Peru over Argentina.

Cost/expense (one of the most important): We were able to get round trip airfare from Ft. Lauderdale to Lima for $400 / person. That was literally half the price of the airfare from Ft. Lauderdale to Buenos Aires. [Note: We saw some prices as low as $350 round trip, but for different dates than we needed.]  In addition, the US dollar is strong right now in comparison to the Peruvian sol ($1US = ~ 3.25 soles), which means you get a lot of bang for your buck once down there. And you can – and should – think in terms of soles (Peruvian) while there…you can get a very tasty steak dinner for 20-30 soles (about $6-10 US), so it truly is a good exchange rate that is hugely beneficial for us.

Things to see / do and location: There is so much to see and down in Peru (I will be telling you all about some of these places and things!) and most are all within a reasonable distance that can be traveled within a reasonable time frame. Argentina has plenty to see and do, but it is also more spread out – you will lose a handful of days to travel and it will be quite expensive if you try to make it to Buenos Aires, Patagonia, Bariloche, Iguazu Falls, Mendoza, and Cordoba (all very cool places in Argentina – but all spaced quite far apart – you would likely have to fly from place to place). However, in Peru, we were able to hit several cities – each with its own history, feel, and sites to see – without losing much, if any, time travelling and without spending a ton of extra money flying from location to location to location. You can see city, small town South America, ocean, cliff, countryside, mountains, desert, and jungle, all with easy, affordable bus trips from city to city. We were able to see a lot, on a reasonable budget, without losing days to travel and flights.

People: I mentioned a dear friend of mine who lived in Lima and was happy to host us while in Lima as well as help plan certain sections of the trip and give recommendations. She was absolutely fantastic and we can’t thank Marita enough for everything she did! When I mention people, I also mean Peruvian people in general; they tend to be very kind and welcoming – es una gente muy carinosa!

friends

Friends in Lima. We look like the grandparents surrounded by our family!

Food: It’s all about the food, and the food in Peru is amazing! Argentina has a wide-reaching reputation of great wine and food, particularly steak. I will say that the food in Argentina was good, though it may not have fully lived up to its reputation. I remember being more impressed with the food in Peru during my travels in 2007, and this trip absolutely solidified this assessment. The cuisine is so flavorful with lots of vibrant tastes and dishes – don’t worry, I will be sure to recap some of our favorite meals we had while there!

 

peru dinner

One of our best meals of the trip – “La Trilogia” at Zig Zag restaurant in Arequipa. Three meats – alpaca, beef, and lamb,

along with delicious dipping sauces and quinoa.

So check out our video recap below (while it is a pretty cool video with some amazing footage, it’s just not possible to describe and capture the actual experience of being there – seeing, tasting, and hearing everything in person!). And be sure to stay tuned for more posts on some of our adventures in Peru! Such an awesome trip with so many great experiences.

 
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Posted by on September 27, 2015 in Advice, Budget/$$, Food, Projects/Activities, Uncategorized

 

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