After three days on the Inca Trail, it was finally time to head out to Machu Picchu. The porters have to get a special train back from Machu Picchu before all the tourists so we were up early so they could pack up the site and catch the train. The porters almost woke us up with a literal bang as they managed to set light to one of the gas tanks. Thankfully they managed to put it out and so after this slight scare, we set off crazily early, in the pitch dark to walk down to the entrance to the Machu Picchu site.
A while back, you used to be able to get in at the checkpoint nearest to Machu Picchu in time to see the sunrise but after what sounds like a few pretty nasty accidents, they now wait for the sun to rise to let you in. This meant a fun wait in the cold and dark for a couple of hours! Thankfully there was plenty of space and my trusty Kindle kept me entertained for a good while. We were definitely glad though when the sun came up and we were in the gate and walking again
Intipunku – Sun Gate
At the start of this day’s walking, you wind your way up the mountain to the Sun Gate (Intipunku). With a number of groups all queuing at the checkpoint, everyone seems to set off almost at a race to get there before there’s too many crowds. You can definitely see how easy it would be for someone to have a serious accident as on the side of the path is pretty much a vertical drop all the way up.
One of the very famous landmarks en route to the Sun Gate are the Monkey Steps. Disappointingly not named because there are loads of monkeys there but because they are so steep and small that they force you to climb up using your hands and feet a bit like a monkey would. Being the competitive person I am, I set myself the challenge of going up them just on my feet!
After about an hour and a half of walking, we reached the Sun Gate and all got our first sight of Machu Picchu. After no views at all the day before, it was a welcome relief to see that after all the food and drink sacrifices we’d made to Mother Earth over the previous few days, Mother Earth was paying us back with better weather.
We hung out at the top of the Sun Gate for a while, briefly filling a fellow Leeds fan in on the results and of course going through the obligatory group photo shoot, before we then started to make our way down the final part of the trail into Machu Picchu itself. As you come down the path it’s a bit strange as you start to realise that although you’ve had a stupidly early start to the day and been pretty much the first through the checkpoint, you’re not going to be the first to Machu Picchu as literally hundreds of tourists (or lazy b******ds as we liked to call them) had got the train and were already in Machu Picchu. A few of the more hardy ones were starting to make their way up towards the Sun Gate and after four days of walking, squat toilets and camping – we couldn’t help but feel slightly aggrieved that they’d been able to take the easy way up!
Don’t get me wrong, Machu Picchu is an incredible place and its absolutely mind blowing to think what it would have been like back in Inca times…but…the whole place is just absolutely full of people. After a few days of pretty much having the Inca sites to ourselves, it was a shock to the system to simply see people let alone have them everywhere on the one place we were looking forward to being. It’s also a bit of a strange setup where you can only enter the site once, there’s no toilets inside and it’s all a big one way system. After Rudy had finished our tour of the site, we had to make a mercy dash for the toilets around the full one way system before then not being able to get back in. The Inca Trail was absolutely immense, Machu Picchu is beautiful but strangely it wasn’t really the climax of the trip for us. I think sitting as a group at Winayhuayna the day before watching the clouds roll through the valley with a rainbow across the mountains was the real highlight for me.
Finishing the Inca Trail was like getting back from summer camp, a strange mix of missing being out in nature and loving getting back to civilisation! After Machu Picchu, we took the short bus ride down the hill to Agues Calientes where we had lunch booked as a group. This was the start of what was to turn out to be quite a boozy afternoon (and late morning ?). After consuming more alcohol in Cusquenas and Pisco Sours as a group than we’d probably all had since arriving in Peru, it was time for a train back to Ollantaytambo and then a bus ride into Cusco. The drinking on the train and bus didn’t stop leading to one of the highlights of the trip – an improvised karaoke performance from Horace!
Getting back into Cusco didn’t stop the session either as after leaving an exhausted Sue in bed, I headed out to join the rest of the group in the ubiquitous Irish Pub (the highest Irish Pub in the world apparently). What followed was a lesson in why drinking a lot at altitude is a bad idea as I woke up at 3am feeling sick with the worst headache I’ve ever had!
We were really lucky to have such a great group to do the Inca Trail with and so although the next day was partly about sorting out things ready for the next leg of our trip (clean laundry is fast becoming the biggest luxury in the world to us), we spent some more time chilling and recharging around Cusco. We had an awesome lunch with a view up at Limbus Restaurant before one of the best meals we had in Peru at the Organika Cafe in the evening.
The only negative to the whole of this time back in Cusco was the fact that more people found bed bugs in their room at the Hotel Prisma (I’d definitely avoid this place in the future) so we ended up only staying one more night there and moving hotel for the last night as frankly it just freaked us out a bit! Thankfully, after this G Adventures have been fantastic an refunded the night at the hotel.
Leaving South America
Finally it was time for us to leave South America after our whistle stop tour. With most of our Inca Trail group staying on to do more things in South America, it was actually pretty sad to be leaving. I think we both could develop an itinerary for a whole year in South America now without revisiting anywhere we’ve already been.
One place that we’d do our best to avoid though would be Santiago Airport – 10 hours of hanging around with nothing to do was not a great way to end things but nothing could dampen our enthusiasm for South America (and in reality Chile would be high on our list of places to visit). The one saving grace though was that although we were leaving an amazing place, we were heading to my favourite country in the world, New Zealand!