Photo Diary: Pisac’s Three Lakes Hike

Peru

 

Photo Diary: Pisac’s Three Lakes

Kinsa Cocha is a set of three lakes outside of Pisac, Peru, and they make a perfect day trip from Cusco. The hike is less than two hours from the city, but definitely off the beaten tourist trail. Read more about our experience hiking Pisac’s three lakes, and check out Daniel’s photo diary below!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

by Aug 29, 2017

Cusco Budget Breakdown: Two Months in the City

Peru

 

Cusco Budget Breakdown: Two Months in the City

Money makes the world go round. If you’re like me, a LOT of your travel plans are based more on costs of living and flight prices instead of dream destinations. Lucky for us, Cusco is both cheap and absolutely amazing.

Daniel and I lived in the city for two months, during July and August 2017. Here is our detailed Cusco budget breakdown.

Travel

There is so much to see and do outside of Cusco. Because of that, we never flew to another city during our two month stay. Instead we only took day trips, and one five day trek to Machu Picchu. We work during the week and travel on weekends but we were still able to see a lot. Keep in mind only transportation and entrance fees are listed here, because each tour either provided meals in the cost or we packed our own. Here’s my Cusco budget breakdown for all of our travel during our two month stay in the city.

Temple of the Moon: It’s possible to walk to the temple from the city center and entrance is free. We only paid $11 per person for two optional horseback rides.

Rainbow Mountain: This day trip to Mount Vinicunca, one of Cusco’s most popular tourist destinations, included transportation, breakfast, lunch, and entrance into the park for only $21 each.

Huchuy Qosqo: The hike to these ruins is definitely off the beaten path. We paid $30 for a guide, but with my directions, you can visit it on your own. We also paid $14 for transportation for three, and $7 pp to enter the ruins.

Salkantay Trek to Machu Picchu: The Salkantay Trek was far and away our largest travel expense. With all the costs added up, I estimate we spent $260 pp for the 5 day trip. However, this did include accommodation, food, transport, guides, and entrance to Machu Picchu.

Kinsa Cocha, Pisac’s Three Lakes: This little known day trip to Pisac’s three lakes was one of my favorites. The hike is free and there are no entrance fees, so we only had to pay $40 total for taxis and transport.

Tourist Ticket: There are different options for the tourist ticket. We chose the most expensive 10 day ticket with 16 museums and ruins on it. It cost $41 each. We spread the destinations across two weekends because it included entrance to all of the sites listed below.

Sacred Valley Tour: Our day trip to the Sacred Valley was done through a tour agency. The trip included lunch, a guide, and transport to the Maras Moray ruins, Chinchero ruins, Ollantaytambo, and Pisac. All of these are on the tourist ticket and did not require any extra entrance fees. We paid $21 each for the tour, and an extra $3 each for entrance into the salt mines.

Sacsayhuaman: Sacsayhuaman is the first in a line of four ruins. Sacsayhuaman is within walking distance from Cusco and all the ruins are included in the tourist ticket. We only paid $5 for transportation.

Tipon and Piquillacta: These ruins are farther from Cusco and some of the least visited on the tourist ticket. We paid $4.25 each for transport to them.

Pisac: The Pisac Ruins are included in many Sacred Valley tours, but we chose to visit them on a separate day trip. They are included in the tourist ticket we purchased, so we only paid $10 for transportation.

One great thing about living in Cusco is that there is so much to see and do around the city that we never had to go far. This definitely kept our travel costs down while we lived here. In total, Daniel and I spent $900 of our Cusco budget on travel for all of our weekend activities, day trips, and our 5 day trek to Machu Picchu during our two month stay in Cusco.

Living Expenses

Furnished Apartment Rental: We found our apartment on AirBnb. It is a 2 bed/1 bath furnished apartment and is a 15 minute walk from the city center. We paid $424 a month for the place, which includes internet and utilities in the price. It’s definitely not the nicest apartment, but it’s clean and the location is great, which is all I can really ask for!

Grocery Budget: Our grocery budget hasn’t changed much from my last report in my Colombia budget breakdown. We’re still paying about $100 a week for groceries, the only difference is that the choices and value has gone down since we moved here. This budget reflects cooking most meals in our apartment and eating out for lunches and dinners on the weekends.

Eating Out: Definitely my biggest vice! We probably eat out way too much. I estimate that Daniel and I spend around $5 to $10 each on meals in the lower end restaurants and cafes in Cusco’s city center. In total, we usually spend about $200 a month for 5 or 6 meals out a week together.

Drinking: Alcohol is more expensive in Peru than it was in Colombia, and there are also more craft beer options to tempt me here. The local beer in Cusco is called Cusquena. It usually costs $3 per bottle in a bar, or $6 for a six pack in store. Craft beers are usually $3 or $4 in store and $5 or $6 in the bars and breweries. Wine is $5 and up for a bottle in the local markets, and rum and other liquors can be cheap too, maybe $3 for a small bottle. We mix and match between drinking in our apartment, in bars and clubs, and splurging on craft beers. In total, we spend about $200 a month on alcohol here.

Laundry: Our apartment doesn’t have a washing machine. If you live near the city center, though, there are a lot of little shops and hostels that will wash, dry, and fold laundry cheaply. We pay 50 cents per pound of clothes when we wash, which comes out to about $20/month for two people.

Phone: I use Sprint’s international plan and pay $30/month for unlimited international calls and texts, and 1gb of data. Daniel is a chump and just uses my phone.

Healthcare: I’m still on my parents healthcare for two more months (yikes!) so we only have to pay for one health insurance plan. Daniel’s travel insurance protects him everywhere except the US for $33/month.

Visa: If it’s free, it’s for me. In Peru, Americans can enter the country free and get a 6 month visa stamp at the airport for no extra cost.

In total, our living expenses for two months roughly add up to $1,300 a month for a couple living, eating, and drinking in the center of the city.

GRAND TOTAL: $1,750 per month

When we moved from Medellin to Cusco, the cost of food and alcohol went up, but our rent went down, and the cost of travel definitely decreased because we spent our weekends exploring nearby day trips instead of flying to new cities.

Keep in mind, our Cusco budget is not for everyone. We lower our costs by renting “long term” (most places give monthly discounts), cooking meals at home, and limiting our trips to the weekends instead of traveling every day. Still, this Cusco budget breakdown is definitely a great start for any backpacker or traveler planning a trip to Peru!

All my love,

Di

 

by Aug 28, 2017

Kinsa Cocha: Pisac’s Three Lakes

Peru

 

Kinsa Cocha: Pisac’s Three Lakes

If you have extra time in Peru, visiting Kinsa Cocha and Pisac’s three lakes is a perfect day trip. The lakes are easy to get to. Like Huchuy Qosqo and Llaullipata, they’re also totally off the tourist radar, which means that even though we visited on a weekend in high season, Daniel and I were the ONLY ones on the trail. The best part about the lakes is that you can get dropped off right at the first one, which means you can hike as much or as little as you want. They also lie in a valley, so the trek is flat and easy for all ages. Interested? Check out my experience at Kinsa Cocha, Pisac’s three lakes!

 

 

How To Get There

Pisac is a nearby tourist town in the Sacred Valley, so getting to the starting point of Pisac’s three lakes hike is easy. First, take a collectivo from Cusco to Pisac. Collectivos are shared vans, and cost only 4 soles/ $1.25 per person. They leave often and you can catch them anytime at the top of Puputi street. From there, it is a 45 minute drive to the town of Pisac. Once you arrive in Pisac, walk down the main street and, I promise, taxi drivers on the side of the road will stop you and ask where you need to go. Tell them you’re heading to the Kinsa Cocha Laguna and negotiate a price. It’s important to negotiate a round trip price and have your driver wait for you at the lakes. They are far off the beaten path and you won’t be able to catch a ride back home. We paid 115 soles / $35 usd for the entire trip, which was about 5 hours from start to finish. When you negotiate your price, make sure it’s to visit the Kinsa Cocha lake AND the Blue Lake (Laguna Azul). The third lake is about 3 km down the road from the first.

 

Lakes One and Two

Your driver will drop you at the first of Pisac’s thee lakes. Agree to a time with your driver for how long you want to hike (we chose three hours). From here, there are trails going around both sides  of the lake and you can choose your route. We decided to cross the bridge and begin our hike on the left side of the Kinsa Cocha lake. We walked along the lake for about 30 minutes, and then came to the area where the first lake connects with the second. Afterwards, we came out into a field with a large herd of alpacas! So cute! It was great to just sit and watch them graze for a bit before continuing.

 

 

After passing the first two lakes, Daniel and I walked further into the valley. I felt tiny and awed walking with the mountains rising up on both sides of me. It was such a beautiful hike. We walked to the end of the valley, then climbed up on the left side to walk back on the trails high above the green valley, overlooking the lakes in the distance as we returned toward them.

 

 

After we ate a picnic back near the alpaca field, we crossed to the other side of the valley. Now, we were climbing up the side of the mountains. Here the trail returns on the opposite side of the lakes than we had started out on. This time, though, we were walking high above them with a gorgeous view of the mountains, valley, lakes, and fields spread out below us. It was breathtaking. Our walk to the end of the valley and back, with time for a picnic, took three hours in total.

 

Lake Three

Once we returned to our taxi, he drove us 10 minutes more down the road to the third lake. It is possible to hike to this lake instead of walk, but it requires a steep and long walk up the mountainside. If you choose to walk, then when you arrive at the first lake, take the trail on the right side of the lake. Walk past the first two lakes, and eventually on your right you’ll see a dip between two peaks high above you. The trail goes up on switchbacks here. You’ll climb up the side of the mountain and get a view of the third lake once you reach the top. From here, you can walk down to the lake and return to your taxi on the road, or you can circle around the peak and back to the first lake to return.

However, I’m lazy and prefer to avoid strenuous uphill hikes when I can! That’s why we chose to take our taxi instead. Our driver dropped us off at the second lake, and we climbed up on the hillside to snap a few pics. The first two lakes and the first valley were more beautiful in my opinion, and you don’t need a lot of time at the third lake. After about 15 minutes, we headed back to the taxi and we returned to Pisac. The drive was 45 minutes down dirt roads, but the views were beautiful.

 

 

Exploring Pisac

We got back to Pisac in the late afternoon. It’s such a cute little town, so definitely make time to explore it, check out the large market, and grab a bite to eat in the local shops and cafes. Once you’re done chilling after the hike, just grab a collective back to Cusco where you got dropped off. 45 minutes later you’ll be back in the city, ready to relax after a beautiful day!

 

 

Seriously, a day trip to Pisac’s three lakes is stunning. They’re pretty cheap and easy to get to, and you’ll be able to enjoy them in peace and quiet, away from Cusco’s tourists. If you have an extra day or two in the city, I highly recommend a hike and a picnic at Pisac’s three lakes!

All my love,

Di

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by Aug 28, 2017

How To Get To Machu Picchu

Peru

 

How To Get To Machu Picchu

When I first arrived in Cusco, I seriously thought visiting Machu Picchu was going to be an easy day trip. I budgeted maybe $20 each and thought that would be enough. LOL. Unfortunately, Machu Picchu is unlike most other major tourist sites. There isn’t even road access to Aquas Calientes, the nearest town! If you are planning to visit Machu Picchu, you can do so by foot, bus, car, train, or even a combination of them all. Here I’ll break down the different options, length, and pricing for each choice.

 

How to Get to Machu Picchu by Foot

Hiking to Machu Picchu is a popular choice for many to reach the ruins. Most take three or four days to complete, so if you have plenty of time, this may be the option for you. The Salkantay Trek, the Inca Jungle Trek, and the Inca Trail are the three main routes to reach the Machu Picchu ruins. Each one includes camping gear, a guide, meals, entrance to Machu Picchu and transport back to Cusco, so they require minimal planning and boast maximum enjoyment of Peru’s beautiful landscapes. Which should you choose?

Inca Trail: The Inca Trail is by far the most popular choice, and for good reason. Walk along the original Inca road and visit plenty of ruins along the way. This is a must for any Incan aficionado or history buff. However, the government has recently implemented a new rule restricting the amount of tourists allowed on the trail every day, which means the Inca Trail gets booked out MONTHS in advance. If you have your heart set on doing this hike to Machu Picchu, start looking at booking it up to 6 months in advance or you may miss out. Another unintended outcome from the tourist restriction was a sharp price increase in tour costs as well. Right now, you can book the Inca Trail trek online for
$550 to $750 USD.  The tour has 2 day, 4 day, and 5 day options. Learn more about the Inca Trail here

Salkantay Trek: The Salkantay Trek is another great option. It combines comfortable camping (you won’t be hauling your tent or cooking your own meals) with breathtaking scenery. The Salkantay Trek may appeal to you if you’re on a budget, as base costs begin at only $185 USD. The trek can be done in either 4 or 5 days, and includes hikes to Humantay lake, a trek through the Salkantay pass, and both mountain and jungle scenery before culminating in a visit to Machu Picchu. Read more about my experience on the Salkantay Trek here.

Inca Jungle Trek: Are 10+ mile walks and nights spent sleeping in tents just a little too much for you? If so, the Inca Jungle Trek may be the perfect fit. First, it’s all hostels, all the way. Second, you can ditch the boring hiking for more adventurous activities. Every day of the trek includes something new. Day one begins with a two hour downhill mountain bike ride, day two includes white water rafting, and day three has ziplining on the itinerary. The Inca Jungle trek can be done in either 3 or 4 days, and prices start around $250 USD. Learn more about the Inca Jungle Trek here!

 

How to Get to Machu Picchu By Train

The easiest way to reach Machu Picchu is by train. Of course, it’s also one of the most expensive. The Peru Rail offers online ticket purchases. They sell out, so it’s best to purchase in advance so you can get the exact time, date, and train station you want. Yes, I said train station, because there are three different stops before reaching Aquas Calientes. The best option is to take the train from Cusco’s Poroy station, which is only about a 30 minute taxi ride from the city center. Prices for tickets from Cusco to Machu Picchu range from $50 USD to $150 USD… one way. Ollantaytambo is the second stop on the rail. If tickets to or from Cusco are sold out for your dates, this is the next option. The town is a two hour taxi ride (which will run you about $5pp for a collectivo, or $40 for a private car) from Cusco. If both options are sold out, Urabamaba, a small town in the Sacred Valley, is the third and final place to catch the train to Machu Picchu.

If you decide to take the train, it will range from 1.5 to 4 hours depending on the station and company that you book. The train will take you to Aquas Calientes, the last town before Machu Picchu. Aquas Calientes is surprisingly built up, and contains a large variety of hotels, restaurants, markets and shops. From Aquas Calientes, you will have to either walk or take a bus to Machu Picchu. The bus tickets cost $12 USD each, and walking takes about an hour on a steep uphill staircase.

If you are taking the train from Cusco, keep in mind which entrance ticket you have for Machu Picchu. New regulations stipulate that tourists can either purchase a morning entrance from 6am to 12pm, or an afternoon entrance from 12pm to 5pm. I suggest buying a morning ticket to avoid some of the crowds, and taking the train into Aguas Calientes the day before, so you can spend the night in town and maximize your time in the ruins the next day.

How to Get to Machu Picchu By Bus or Car

This is definitely the cheapest option to visit the ruins, but it’s also the least fun. This option only requires two days. Hydroelectica is the last town accessible by road before Machu Picchu, and it’s easy to book a bus or car to this stop. Some tour operators in Cusco offer roundtrip transport by bus for as little as $20pp. I don’t know if this price includes a night’s accommodation in Aguas Calientes, any meals, or entrance into Machu Picchu, so these are things to keep in mind to ask your tour operator upon booking.

Hydroelectrica is a 6 hour drive from Cusco. From here, you have two options. You can either pay $30pp for a one way train ticket to Aquas Calientes, or walk three hours along the train tracks to the town. There are plenty of people walking on the tracks, and even some shops and restaurants set up along them, so both options are good. Once you reach Aguas Calientes, you will spend the night in the town. The next morning, you can take the bus or walk up the mountain and enter Machu Picchu with the morning ticket. I recommend getting up to the ruins as early as possible, because you will need to leave them around 11am in order to walk all the way back to Hydroelectrica in time for the 3pm busses to return to Cusco. If you’d like more time, you can always buy a train ticket for $30 back to Hydroelectica instead and cut out the three hour walk.

 

Whew. Getting to Machu Picchu can be really complicated. It can be done by foot, train, bus or car, and it all depends on how much time and money you want to spend on the trip. Use this guide to assess your options and choose the route thats best for you!

All my love,

Di

Have you been to Machu Picchu? Did you go on a trek, by train, or by bus? Comment below to tell me about your experience!

by Aug 22, 2017

5 Day Salkantay Trek to Machu Picchu

Peru

 

5 Day Salkantay Trek to Machu Picchu

This past week, Daniel and I did the 5 day / 4 night Salkantay Trek to Machu Picchu. It was one of the best experiences of my life. Really. The trek combines the perfect mix of camping, hiking, comfort and social life along the trail and culminates in a visit to Machu Picchu, which was absolutely magical. If you’re thinking about about hiking the Salkantay trek to Machu Picchu, DO IT. This is what you’ll see…

 

 

The Stats

Cost: Our base cost for the Salkantay trek to Machu Picchu was $185, plus $12 more for a sleeping bag rental. The cost includes all meals on the trek except breakfast on the first day, lunch and dinner on the last day, all camping equipment except the sleeping bag, a hostel in Aquas Calientes, the entrance to Machu Picchu and a bus back to Cusco at the end of the trek. We spent extra money on water during the trek (which isn’t provided and is majorly marked up on the trail), alcohol at some of the campsites, tips for the guides/cook, snacks, and a bus up to Machu Picchu, which we opted to buy instead of walking the hour up to it. With all extra costs, we spent about $260 pp for the trek.

Distance: The total distance we walked was about 50 miles spread across 5 days.

Time: The trek began with a 4am pick up on Day 1, and ended with a 9:30 pm drop off in Cusco on Day 5.

Difficulty: The trek was difficult. Most people on the trail were in their 20’s and 30’s.

Temperature: Pack for everything. On the first night I slept in two pairs of pants, a shirt, sweater, jacket, hat, gloves and two pairs of socks and was still cold. Third night, I was in a t shirt and shorts. The temps change drastically so pack for very cold and very warm weather.

Altitude: The highest point on the trek was in the Salkantay Pass on Day 2, where we climbed to 15,200 feet.

Remote: The Salkantay trek to Machu Picchu is moderate, both in terms of crowds and accessibility. Its possible to buy food and water at the campsites and even at markets along some parts of the trail. It seemed most of the campsites were accessible by road as well.

Why Trek with a Tour: We met a couple people doing the trail on their own. It is clearly marked and definitely possible, but I’m so glad we chose a tour. It meant we never had to deal with carrying heavy bags, the tent set up, or any cooking. When factoring in the cost of the food provided, the entrance cost to Machu Picchu, and the transport costs to and from the trail, I don’t think the price difference between using a tour company or doing it on your own is that great at all, or worth all the extra work.

 

Day 1: Humantay Lake – 7.5 miles

Day 1 started with a 4am pick up at our apartment. We drove around Cusco picking up other groups until our bus was completely full, and we left the city around 5:30. We had a two hour drive to breakfast (which was not included and had to be purchased separately) and there we separated our day packs from our extra luggage. The extra luggage was carried by horses on the trek, so it has a strict limit of 5kg per person. If you want to go over, you can pay $1.25 per kg.

After breakfast, we drove another hour to the trailhead. Here, our group broke into two, one on the 5 day/4 night trek, and another who was doing it faster, in 4 days and 3 nights. Our group had two guides and 18 people from all over the world.

 

 

We began with a 20 minute uphill walk, but it quickly flattened out into an easy and beautiful hike. We walked along the mountainside, high up in the air, with water flowing next to us and condors flying above. It was the perfect peaceful start to our trek. After about 3 hours of hiking, we arrived at our first camp site. We ate lunch (which was great. All the food was surprisingly delicious), got our bags situated in our tents, and then headed out again to Humantay Lake. The lake was an hour uphill walk from the campsite and it was definitely tough. However, once we crested the final ridge and saw the view, it was clear it was worth it! The snowcapped peaks and glaciers melt into the cold lake, leaving it a beautiful blue green color, shining in the sun. Gorgeous.

 

 

After some group pictures and a rest, we headed back to the camp site for “happy hour” with popcorn and tea, a hot dinner, and an early bed time. The view of the stars and milky way was stunning, but unfortunately it was too cold to sit outside and enjoy it. We were too tired anyway, and passed out around 8 pm in order to prepare for our 5 am wake up call.

 

 

Day 2: Salkantay Pass – 12.5 miles

 

 

 

Day 2 is the hardest day of the trek. We woke up freeeeeezing, so I really enjoyed the delivery of coca tea straight to our tents to start the day. We ate a quick breakfast and were out walking by 6am. The day starts out with a 4.5 miles uphill trek to 15,200 feet, the highest point on the walk. It’s not as high as Rainbow Mountain, but definitely nothing to sneeze at.

The uphill battle was broken into four sections, each with some flat hiking between it (thank God), but it was still hard. Those 4.5 miles were beautiful, with views of the Salkantay glacier egging us on, but took four hours of hard hiking to complete. Once we did though, the feeling was amazing and the views were even better. From the top of the Salkantay pass, we saw valleys and peaks stretching out in both directions. It was a stunning and well earned reward.

 

 

After two more hours of hiking downhill, and we reached a small outpost where we ate lunch. After lunch, the trek continued for another three hours of downhill trekking (which is harder than it sounds) until we FINALLY finished our hike at 4:30pm that afternoon.

Now, for the strangest part of the Salkantay trek to Machu Picchu. As we began hiking downhill again, the climate around us completely changed. We went from dry, arid, mountaintops to a lush jungle within three hours. The temperatures rose and we started hearing birds chirping in the foliage around us.

 

 

The second campsite had a market with some beer and alcohol, and we celebrated completing the toughest day of the trek and the warming weather with a true happy hour and a hot dinner before passing out in our tents to prepare for the next long day ahead.

 

Day 3: The Jungle – 10.5 miles

 

 

Day 3 was easily my favorite day of the Salkantay trek to Machu Picchu. First because it was mostly flat with rolling hills. Second, it was WARM. And third, it was beautiful! We continued our hike into lower elevations, and we were rewarded with parrot sightings, humming birds, fern forests, green tree tunnels, and multiple waterfalls on our hike along the riverside. The hike took around 6 hours and ended with lunch in a small town.

Afterwards, we took a bus to our next campsite. From here, some of the group opted to bus another hour to check out the nearby hot springs in Santa Theresa for an additional $8, but Daniel and I chose to stay behind. It was nice to finally have an afternoon free to spend reading in the warm sun. The campsite also had a puppy AND a kitten to play with, so I was in heaven.

 

 

The only downside was the brutal bug situation. Some say they were mosquitos, others gnats, but either way we all got eaten alive. I usually don’t have much of a problem when camping and rarely get bug bites, but this was on another level. Layers of deet and even clothes couldn’t protect us. Cusco locals say you can always tell which tourists visited Machu Picchu because they have lines of bug bites up their arms and legs. Ugh.

 

 

On a happier note, though, apparently night 3 is the party night. The campground had a bar with 30 cent shots of Inka Tekila (yes, you read that right) and lit a huge bonfire for us to enjoy. One wild dance party later, and we were all waking up at 7 am with many, many regrets. Like me leaving our boots out all night to get rained on, Daniel being severely sleep deprived, and others who accidentally slept OUTSIDE their tents and were absolutely massacred by the bugs in the night. It was ridiculous, but an amazing release and a good time with our new trek friends.

 

Day 4: Aquas Calientes – 6.5 miles

 

 

Day 4 on the Salkantay trek to Macchu Pichu starts out with three different options. We had the choice to either pay $30 for ziplining, pay $3 for a bus, or carry ALL our luggage (extra bags included) for three hours along the side of the road. Our group split pretty evenly with half opting for the zip lining (which they said was a great time) and the other half, not surprisingly, choosing the bus. The bus took us to Hydroelectrica. This small “town” sits at the end of the train tracks and is the last place accessible by road before Machu Picchu. From here, your only choices to get to the town of Aquas Calientes at the base of Machu Picchu are by foot or by train.

 

 

We waited at Hydroelectrica for the zip lining crew, lounging on hammocks and eating ice cream sandwiches. When they arrived, we ate an early lunch and set off on our three hour journey for the afternoon. The walk was entirely flat, and entirely along the train tracks. It was shaded and had a river flowing along one side that a couple groups opted to jump in to to cool off. Two or three trains passed during our trip, and all in all it was a nice afternoon.

We reached Aquas Calientes, the small town at the base of Machu Picchu, and from the tracks it was another 20 minute walk into the pueblo and to our hotel. We arrived in the late afternoon. The town was much larger than I thought and really cute! It had tons of shops, restaurants, and winding cobblestone roads. I would have loved to explore it more, but at the time a hot shower and a nap were all that were on my mind.

 

 

We met up again with the tour group for dinner in one of the local restaurants, and afterwards it felt SO GOOD to sleep in a warm bed again!

 

Day 5: Machu Picchu – 12 miles

 

 

There are two different ways to get to Machu Picchu, by foot or by bus. Our group chose to walk, but we had purchased our $12 bus tickets with our tour so we decided to use them.

The group that walked left the hotel at 4am. The trail started near the train tracks 20 minutes from town, and is an hour uphill walk on a staircase. They arrived at Machu Picchu around 5:30 and waited for the gates to open at 6am to enter and begin their tour.

Daniel and I had a different experience. The first bus leaves for Machu Picchu at 5:30 so we thought we could get in line at 5am…. big mistake. When we arrived at the bus station, there were already at least 1,000 people in line ahead of us and we had to walk down the street for 15 minutes just to reach the back of it. Yikes. I was a little worried at this point, because we had to leave Machu Picchu around 11am to make it back to our bus in time, and I wasn’t sure what time we would make it up there.

The line moved at a moderate pace, and we were able to get on a bus at 7am after two hours of waiting. There is a lot of conflicting info online about the morning bus, but I’ll say this. We waited in line for 2 hours for the bus, and that cut into our time at the ruins. I wish we had gotten in line at 3:30am instead. We would have still waited two hours, but could have gotten on one of the first buses and been to Machu Picchu by sunrise. We were there in peak season, so maybe at other times of the year the lines are shorter, but my advice would be to show up earlier than we did for the bus.

 

 

So, we got to the ruins around 7:30am and had a bit over 3 hours to explore them. It wasn’t enough, and I wish we could have stayed later. If I did Salkantay Trek again, I would move my bus home back by one day, so I could enjoy Machu Picchu without constantly checking the time, and so I could spend more time in the town of Aguas Calientes. Oh well.

Back to the ruins – they were amazing. I saw them in textbooks and adventure guides my entire life, and while I was excited to see them, I wasn’t expecting anything special. But honestly, they were magical.

We started our solo tour by walking up toward the Sun Gate. This is the entrance that the Incas used from the original Inca Trail. It took about 45 minutes to reach it so we didn’t go all the way, but the walk had some of the most amazing views of the ruins and surrounding mountains from the entire park.

 

 

Afterwards, we headed back and explored the other parts of the upper levels of the ruins. Here is where you can get the famous view that everyone has a picture of. We sat for a bit just taking it all in and enjoying the moment. It was my favorite part of the day and one of my favorite parts of the entire trek. Actually, it was one of my favorite experiences of this entire South America trip if I’m being honest. It really was just a magical moment.

Our time was running out though, unfortunately, so we headed down into the ruins themselves. There is a marked trail through the ruins and we walked up onto the temple of the moon, took photos of some of the llama families just hanging out in the ruins, saw the Sacred Rock, which is carved in the image of the mountains behind it, and just enjoyed our time wandering through the ancient buildings surrounded by mountains on all sides. Machu Picchu is different from anywhere else because it’s not on a mountain side, but rather it was built in a small valley, high up in the air between two peaks.  It is open air on almost all sides and the surrounding mountains are stunning.

 

 

At 10:45 am we began our long trip home. If you’re planning on visiting the ruins during peak season like we did, try to get up to them as early as you can. Even at 11 am when we were on our way out I noticed the crowds had grown a lot, and was happy to be escaping them.

We walked for 30 minutes down the mountain staircase and back to the train tracks. From there, it was another three hour walk back to Hydroelectrica. Luckily, we had left our extra bags at our restaurant there the night before, so we didn’t have to lug those with us to Machu Picchu or back to the bus on the last day. We stopped for a burger at one of the small restaurants on the sides of the tracks, and made it back to Hydroelectrica just in time to grab our bags and get our 3pm bus home.

Just a word of warning, the bus situation is a little hectic. You don’t go home with your tour group. There were hundreds of people looking for the right one, and different drivers standing around with small lists of names. Not really sure why they think this is the most efficient way, but basically we just had to find as many drivers as we could and check their lists ourselves until we found our names. Luckily we did, and settled in for the six hour drive back to Cusco. As usual, the drive was along the side of a cliff and our driver was a maniac, taking hairpin turns on gravel roads at breakneck speeds. All you can do in that situation is close your eyes!

Finally, we arrived back in Cusco at 9:30pm, utterly exhausted. We grabbed a quick hot meal from KFC (don’t judge me) and finally passed out at home. It felt so good to sleep without a super early wake up call!

 

 

The Salkantay Trek to Machu Picchu is one of the most beautiful trails I’ve ever been on, and was one of the most satisfying, gorgeous, adventurous, strenuous and fun trips of my life! Visiting Machu Picchu is expensive no matter what option you chose, so if you have the time I highly recommend doing the Salkantay Trek. I promise, you won’t regret it!

All my love,

Di

 

by Aug 15, 2017

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