Today we would go to Machu Picchu! The morning was Wednesday, February 1st, 2017, and after checking out of the hotel and taking only what we really needed, we again took the bus to Ollantaytambo. We left earlier than we had planned because of reports of protesters from Cusco who would be trying to shut down the highways! After weaving the bus through various boulders and tree stumps in the road, we made it to Ollantaytambo, where we caught the train for a 90-minute ride down the Willkanuta River in the Sacred Valley, through tall trees, rocky outcrops with hanging orchids and bromeliads to the village of Aguas Calientes. All along the way there is evidence of the Incas reforming the landscape with terraces, villages and ruins. This Village is the closest access point to Machu Picchu, which is still ~3.7 miles away, and can only be accessed via Park bus and by foot. The town is named for some warm natural springs located there, but we did not visit these. Upon arriving, we checked into the El Mapi Hotel, located in the center of town, near the town square. Since we ate a box lunch aboard the train, we immediately caught the Park Bus for the “switch-back” ride up the side of the mountain to the Park’s Entrance, and then climbed another 500’ up to the “overlook” to survey the sight of Machu Picchu. Cesar took us on a 3-hour walking investigation of the ancient city, its history, rediscovery and significance. After the tour, we returned to the hotel to enjoy a free drink and Happy Hour, before assembling for a short walk across the street to the Inca Wasi Restaurant and Pizzeria.
Thursday morning, after breakfast, Julie and I chose to go back up to Machu Picchu to hike up to the Sun Gate, “Inti Punku”. We were joined by a local OAT guide, Yessica, and one other traveler, Nancy. After getting to the “Caretaker’s Hut” past the “overlook” we began the ascent to the Sun Gate. From there, the trail followed the originally-placed stones of the Inca Trail. The Sun Gate trail follows a path which is is modest in angle, and offers spectacular views of the valley, surrounding mountains, and Machu Picchu all along the way. We passed dozens of types of orchids, and stopped regularly to take pictures of them and the view. As we approached the Sun Gate, the trail became a little steeper. Reportedly, Incan Imperial guards used the Sun Gate to control entrance to Machu Picchu, and for this reason it was believed that Machu Picchu only welcomed selected visitors of the imperial elite. We made it to the Gate in a little over 90 minutes, spent a half-hour there, and then descended to Machu Picchu before returning to the hotel and meeting the rest of our group for lunch. After lunch, we caught the train for the 2-hour ride back to Ollantaytambo, where we re-boarded our bus, picked-up the rest of our luggage, and made the trip back to Cusco, and re-checked back in to the Jose Antonio hotel where we all gathered for dinner.
On Friday, after breakfast, we took a walking tour to the main square, Plaza de Armes, which was beautifully landscaped, surrounded by shops and restaurants, and full of people. From here, we toured the Cathedral and then walked to the historic Plaza Regocijo, surrounded by its churches, government buildings and shops.
We were then on our own, and so a group of us made our way to Cicciolina’s for lunch. Afterwards, Julie and I went on to explore and shop at the local Artisan’s Market, before returning to the hotel and going out with friends for a relaxed Italian meal.
Saturday, we traveled to a steep hill that overlooks the city which contains a series of fortified archeological sites. The first site, Sacsayhuaman, dates to the 13th century, and is a series of huge stone mounds that once housed great towers.
Many of the stones have long-since been taken and used in construction within the town, but the larger carved and fit stones remain. Here we were treated to a local scouting group or children sponsored by the town’s Fire Department, hiking and singing as they made their way. We also were reluctant witnesses to Llama’s mating, the first in a long string of animal mating observations along our trip. Love must have been in the air! After visiting Sacsayhuaman, we traveled a very short distance to Qenqo, a labyrinth of tunnels and altars carved in the stone whose historic use is still unclear. From there, we went to an Alpaca shop that offer all types of Alpaca clothing and linens of a range of quality and prices. For lunch, we decided to check out a restaurant located near the Main Square named “Baco”, on recommendation of a friend. Unfortunately, it was closed until 3pm, and so we ate at a restaurant on the Square called “The Inca Grill”, where a very nice meal before spending the afternoon shopping and packing. That night was our “Farewell Dinner” for Peru, but since we were all traveling to Ecuador, it was really a farewell to our Guide, Cesar!
On Sunday morning, we all went to the airport and caught a flight from Cusco to Lima and then to the city of Quito in Ecuador, from which we would enjoy the second leg of our adventure.