We were a bit worried when we awoke to the sound of rain on the roof this morning. A rainy day wasn't what we were hoping for on our first trip to Machu Picchu. But by the time we finished breakfast, the rain had let up and Pepe escorted us to the bus where we met our Machu Picchu guide, Wagner. Only specially licensed guides are allowed to show tourists around Machu Picchu but Pepe assured us that Wagner was the best.
The only way to get to the site is to walk or take the bus up the "Hiram Bingham" highway (named after the guy who "re-discovered" Machu Picchu in the early 1900's). The ride takes 20 minutes going up along steep switch backs that only have room for one bus at a time. The drivers must be in contact by radio as they always seemed to stop at strategic spots to let the guy going the other direction get by. Only 2500 people a day are allowed into Machu Picchu and tickets have to be purchased before you get to the site, no tickets available at the door! Unfortunately, our friend Ann found this out the hard way when her e-ticket purchased online didn't work and she had to go all the way back down to Aguas Calientes and buy both the entry ticket and another return bus ticket. And she missed the free guided tour with our group, probably more disappointing than the hassle and cost as Pepe proved to be right, Wagner was an excellent guide.
The rain had stopped when we arrived but it was still overcast and there was lots of low cloud and mist. This was actually a good thing, made for a more "mystical" experience. Machu Picchu was everything we expected and more. It is hard to describe, a very special place. The structures are amazing but it is the setting that makes it really spectacular. Hiram Bingham summed it up pretty well after his discovery in 1911:
"Tremendous green precipices fell away to the white rapids of the Urumamba below. Immediately in front, on the north side of the valley, was a great granite cliff rising 2000 feet sheer. To the left was the solitary peak of Huayna Picchu, surrounded by seemingly inaccessible precipices. On all sides were rocky cliffs. Beyond them cloud-capped mountains rose thousands of feet above us".
Definitely an incredible setting! Wagner showed us around the most important areas of the complex and not only did we learn about Incan history, we learned about geology, astronomy and earthquake theory. It was a great tour. After a couple of hours, Wagner said goodbye and we were on our own to check out the site. Barb, Kevin and the two of us set off for the Sun Gate, the place that people hiking "The" Inca Trail enter the site and also the location of all the "postcard" photos that you see with Huayna Picchu Mountain in the background. It was a good hike to get there with amazing views along the way.
After returning from the Sun Gate, we hopped back on the bus and returned to Aguas Calientes for a final lunch with our group. We had arranged to stay an extra night but they were all heading back to Cusco and then home. We had a few more laughs over another great meal and then said goodbye at the train station. The things that really make a trip like our MLP trip great are the other trip members and the guides. We lucked out on both counts on this trip!
After seeing everyone off, we returned to the Inkaterra Hotel where we enjoyed the grounds, relaxed, met up with Ann for a beer and then had another great meal in the hotel restaurant. We purchased tickets to get back into Machu Picchu tomorrow and also to climb to the top of Huayna Pichhu (requires an extra permit). Then we'll be on our way back to Cusco tomorrow afternoon.