To say that I was excited about this day would be a huge understatement. Machu Picchu is somewhere which has fascinated me for years, and especially since I booked the trip – deciding to fly half way around the world to visit a ruin isn’t something I do every week!
I woke in the tent around 3am, well ahead of a 3:30am wake up “call”… I was so excited, I really couldn’t sleep much but that didn’t matter – today we would see Machu Picchu! I was dressed and packed by 3:15am, and as soon as I stepped out of my tent the porters set about dismantling it! I guess they were eager not to miss their train!
I had an awkward (cold) wait around whilst the rest of the group were woken and got ready for breakfast at 4am. Breakfast was quite quick – some brioche/cake and tea – since we needed to get out of there ASAP, and we were given snack packs with cheese sandwiches and a juice box to keep us going due to the early start.
By 4:15 we were on our way, but Israel announced we would be making a surprise visit, rather than joining the queue of other tours. Normally at this point the tours all head down to queue at the checkpoint, waiting for the 5:30am opening time before making their way to Machu Picchu as quickly as possible in an attempt to see the haze rise above the mountains. Instead, Israel planned to take us to Intipata – the ruin which we skipped yesterday due to the rain! It was fantastic being there before sunrise and we got to see the day lighten up as the sun rose on the horizon and the ruin revealed itself to us.
It was amazing watching the llamas wake up and the cloud rise from below us to above us, and truly magical to be the only group there at that time of day. Once day break happened we headed towards the checkpoint, which opened at 5:30, and were able to walk almost straight through – we hadn’t lost any time however, as we quickly caught up and overtook groups on the trail.
After the checkpoint it was just a short 1 1/2 hour hike to the “sun gate”, and our first view of Machu Picchu!
It was such an incredible feeling to see the view that i’d been lusting after since booking the trip, and I can’t put into words the feeling. It was overwhelming and magical to see the site, and to know that we had made it. We rested for 15 minutes at the Sun Gate before beginning our descent to Machu Picchu and on to the end of the Inca trail, which officially finishes on a large rock at the edge of Machu Picchu. We were so lucky with the weather, which was almost a cloudless sky. Perfect Machu Picchu weather – we had been warned along the trail that there is always a chance of a rainy day or cloud cover which can ruin the whole experience.
Along the descent we stopped at a couple of viewing points before finally reaching the “end of the inca trail” and posing for our obligatory photos from the typical spot!
The photos took a while since we had to queue, but it was worth it to get that iconic shot (which inevitably will be a Facebook profile photo at some point!), and as soon as these were over we headed quickly down to the entrance gate and the promise of “real” toilets, which were definitely a welcome sight after 3 days on the trail! Spending 1 sol on the toilet was possibly the best sol I spent whilst in Peru!
We had a reunion with Harold at a cafe outside the Machu Picchu gate, and were able to chill out before heading back into Machu Picchu. This time is important because you’re not allowed to take walking poles around Machu Picchu (for fear of damaging the ruin), so Harold had to stay outside with our stuff!
Once we had all rejuvenated and consumed our packed snack, we headed into Machu Picchu for a guided tour by Israel. It was fascinating to learn all about the discovery of MP and in particular Hiram Bingham, who is critical to the discovery story.
After the tour we were given free time to explore, and we went on a hunt for Llamas and photo opportunities. The site really is incredible and below is a small selection of the huge number of photos I took. I’ve tried to caption them appropriately, but the history is way larger than I can tell in a blog entry!
After we finished exploring, we headed out of the exit gate and were able to complete our passport page, with the final Machu Picchu stamp. Once the stamp is in there, it means the hike is officially over!
What an amazing journey it had been!
We took a 30 minute windy bus ride down the hill to the town of Machu Picchu, which is clearly a tourist down and set up for us – full of markets selling trinkets, and we were able to meet with Harold and our duffle bags from the tents (which had magically been transported there!)
I bought a t-shirt (“I survived the Inca trail”) and some postcards, and then we regrouped for lunch in a restaurant. It was a big group, with the original 7 of us together with 5 from another tour (which Mark, Katie and Simone were part of). Steffi and I shared some Nachos and then I had Veggie Burritos, before we made a presentation to Israel and passed over our appreciation to him as well. This was the last time we would see him, and it was really heartfelt to say goodbye after him guiding us through 4 amazing days of lives!
Once lunch was over we headed to the train station and caught a train back to Ollantaytambo. We have to take the tourist train, since the local train is not available unless you have Peruvian IDs. The train took an hour and a half and was really bumpy, but we were given drinks and snacks (Inca Cola, of course!). Most people slept through the journey, whilst I just took selfies!
I spent a lot of the journey chatting with Mike and Kirsten about how they had enjoyed the Lares trek, which sounds incredible and very different to the Inca trail – much more cultural and they spent time in houses filled with Guineapigs, and met hundreds of local children.
After the bumpy train ride, we switched to a bus ride for a bumpy 90 minute ride around windy streets to get back to Cusco. Our mini bus got pulled over in the main square in Cusco for driving there after dark – which apparently was a law which came into force just 3 days ago! Hardly fair, and our driver protested but ended up paying a hefty fine!
Once we got to the hotel, we showered and met again for a traditional post-trail evening – Peruvian pizza and wine in the hotel and then out on the town to enjoy the celebratory feeling of completing the trail!
Harold had arranged honeymoon gifts in the rooms of Al & Asfia and Mike & Kirsten, and the feeling throughout the group was one of elation as we headed first to the “Museo del Pisco” – which isn’t actually a museum, just a bar that serves amazing Peruvian cocktails.
Needless to say the cocktails went down well after the trail and the night became gradually more blurry, as Steffi and I decided to meet up with Harold in a club he had recommended…
After lots of dancing and drinking, we finally managed to complete the 24 hour challenge – at 3:30am, we had officially been up for 24 hours (although Steffi slept on the train, so she cheated!). An amazing feeling… Inca trail: done!