As I’ve described previously, this is part of my series of getting caught up on my South American adventures, and as such will be much shorter than my usual posts.
As I had a very undefined itinerary for the second half of my trip, I did not know when I would arrive in Cuzco and when I would be able to do my Machu Picchu trek. The famous route is the Inca Trail, but due to environmental concerns with erosion and overuse it is extremely regulated. Because of this you must acquire a permit several months ahead of time specifying exact dates. Instead, I opted to do the arguably more strenuous Salkantay Trek. It’s a four-day trek reaching a maximum elevation of about 4,600 meters (15,000 feet) eventually leading to the town of Aguas Calientes.
We arrived in Aguas Calientes moderately early on the last day and took some time in the eponymous hot springs relaxing. After dinner we all retired to bed for a short nap. We departed around four in the morning to climb the nearly 2000 stairs to reach the entrance to Machu Picchu at sunrise.
Before the trek, I was concerned that the beauty and splendor of Machu Picchu had been overhyped. I can now definitively tell you: it is that awesome. And I mean that in original sense of the word “inspiring awe”. The ancient stonework and the surrounding mountains make for a glorious sight in the early morning.
If any of you choose to visit Machu Picchu, I highly recommend doing the hike up the stairs. While arduous, you are able to enter the park as soon as it opens and explore with only a moderate number of other people. By the time 11:00am arrives with the loads of bus-riding tourists you will have largely gotten your fill and not feel bad relaxing in a secluded section until it is time to depart.
I also recommend the optional Huayna Picchu hike taking you to an extra peak far above the main structure. From there you are able to look down and bask in the grandiosity of the Incas. It also provides additional solace from the hoards of people arriving on busses.
My pictures cannot do justice to the experience of being there yourself: