One of the items on my bucket list is to visit all 7 Wonders of the New World. So far, I've only had a chance to visit a few, so this marks 3/7 for me (Colosseum and Chichen Itza)! I'm not in such a huge rush since I have the rest of my life to see everything else, but visiting Machu Picchu was a very special trip to me because it was my very first trip to South America. For those who have seen this wonder, you know that it is not easy by any means to get there. A flight to Lima, another flight to Cusco, a 2 hour taxi ride through the Sacred Valley to a town called Ollantaytambo, another 1.5 hour train ride to Aguas Calientes, a 20 minute bus ride up in the clouds, and you have finally reached the entrance of Machu Picchu! It takes a lot of time, effort, and money before the adventure even begins, but wow was it the most incredible experience. I want to keep this post readable and not make it excessively long, so I'm going to touch on some major points about Aguas Calientes and some tips about climbing Machu Picchu itself, along with suggestions on what to pack!
Aguas Calientes = "Hot Water"
This tiny village only has a population of about 1600 and is a major hub for those who come to climb Machu Picchu. It's not really easy to get here as I mentioned before, but there are a few different options that you can take. After arriving in Cusco, many people choose to take a collectivo (or mini van) that costs only <$10 USD near the bus station, although we opted to take a private taxi since we were unsure about the safety of the vans after doing extensive research. We took an incredible 2 hour ride through the Sacred Valley to Ollantaytambo to catch a train to Aguas Calientes. The collectivo takes a similar route but gets you there a bit slower, though it is cheap and convenient.
This small town had some of the most friendly people I have ever met in my life. We befriended our hostel manager, had private Pisco sour lessons from our waiter at a restaurant called Inca Wasi, and chatted with so many locals that taught us a lot about Peruvian culture and lifestyle. If you do come here, make sure you spend at least a day exploring the town itself and browse the colorful markets. There are also a ton of awesome restaurants so you will never run out of options. Another random but fun fact is that there are many stray dogs running around the town.. After talking to a few locals, we found out that most of the dogs actually have owners and they just come out to play everyday before returning home. They are harmless though, so no worries! Aguas is perhaps one of the most unique towns I have ever been to (rivals with Hallstatt) with all around amazing people and great food.
Machu Picchu Most people come to Machu Picchu and only climb the steps to see the classic view of the ruins. You can actually climb the mountains behind this scenic view too, although you have to get tickets in advance since they sell out very quickly and only limited quantities are available everyday. They limit it to only a couple hundred with two time slot options for climbing Wayna Picchu or Montaña. Tickets cost about $45 USD, which isn't the cheapest hike, but a must-do if you are going to come all the way to Peru. We only climbed Wayna Picchu, which took about 2 hours up and 1.5 hours down (going pretty slow and taking a lot of breaks in between). The fog is pretty heavy in the morning, but usually clears up by afternoon. Unfortunately for us, the day we chose to climb it, we weren't able to see much except for clouds, though the feeling of flying is pretty incredible itself. If you are going to do either hike, I would make sure to pack water, granola bars, and a light jacket just in case it decides to drizzle or rain on your parade.
What to Wear!
Packing for Peru is honestly unlike any other trip I have ever packed for, only because the weather was so different in Lima (hot, humid), Cusco (breezy, windy, warm) and Aguas Calientes (rainy, warm). For this part of the trip (we should really call it the highlight of Peru), I made sure to pack my lightweight rain jacket I bought on Amazon. I loved the color, the deep front, kangaroo pocket and the fact that I could just stuff it into my backpack without bulking it up. I actually never owned a rain jacket before this but found it to be the biggest lifesaver and will be using it for years to come. I packed two pairs of Nike sneakers since we were visiting Machu Picchu for two consecutive days, and wanted to be sure I had an extra in case one was too uncomfortable or if one flew off the mountain? I guess you can never be too prepared... I also wore Under Armour leggings and a tank with a sports bra under my jacket. My choices were pretty standard for hiking, though I still wanted to look put together. One of the days, I wore a white tank top with a pink sports bra under, and the next I wore a mint blue tank top with a black sports bra under. I paired this outfit with a yellow headband I bought in Lima, which held my hair back during the hike. My biggest tip is to bring a lightweight, foldable backpack. I purchased one on Amazon, and it was probably an even better investment than my rain jacket. It was cheap, but so roomy and light that I was able to fit everything I needed with ease. What you will pack obviously depends on the time of year you are going and what the weather forecast will be. March is the tail end of rainy season unfortunately, but it was manageable and we got to see what we came here for.
That was probably the most condensed version of my few days in Aguas Calientes and Machu Picchu I could possibly write, but I could go on for days since there was so much to do and so much to see!
P.S. This picture took a lot of effort to take and may or may not have required chasing llamas