Once we arrived to Aguas Calientes we decided to change our itinerary. We were due to leave straight from Machu Picchu the following day to walk back to Hidro Electrica for the return bus to Cusco, but the little village of Aguas Calientes had so much character that we decided to book an extra night which ultimately left us way more time to explore Machu Picchu and enjoy a celebration in Aguas Calientes afterwards. In hindsight it was the best decision ever and I would recommend adding time on to anyone planning on visiting Machu Picchu!
The fourth day of our trip was D-day and there was a huge sense of excitement throughout the hostel….at 4am! The gates for Machu Picchu open after 5am and our guides were meeting us on the top for sunrise after 6. With the headlamps set we definitely had a spring in our step making our way from Aguas Calientes to the entrance of our climb (20 minute walk). We were within the first 20 people in the queue and were happy to enjoy our packed breakfast during the wait time! About ten minutes in the rain began to pour pour pour and we were drowned before we even got through the gate.
Once through the gates at 5, I was in for a surprise to learn there was 1,720 steps between us and our goal! The rain continued absolutely torrentially, right up until the point we got to the top and scanned our tickets through! We met our guide and enjoyed a tour of the ruins with him as the clouds lifted over the ruins and the sun began to shine. It was so surreal seeing the iconic picture that everyone is familiar with. I was so stunned at how huge the ruins are in reality-way bigger than anticipated.
In addition the setting is truley breathtaking. The iconic picture is such a small part of it! The ruins are completely surrounded by mountains and I am still to this moment stunning at how it was all constructed over 500 years ago-really amazing!!
We included a trip up Machu Picchu mountain in our tickets (I did not know at the time that it would be even more steps for an hour and half incline!!) however it was totally worth it once we reached the summit and the clouds eventually lifted to reveal the towns of Hidro Electrica and Aguas Calientes which we had visited, along with the infamous ruins hidden amongst the surrounding mountains.
Once we descended we took some time to visit the Inca bridge, and a walk through of the ruins themselves, accompanied by some very cute alpacas! It was almost 12hours later when we eventually decided to take on the descent via THOSE steps again! No doubt it was so much easier on the way down. I literally have over a thousand photos from that one day and it was very difficult to even just choose a few to post!
The night after our iconic trek we enjoyed a beautiful meal in a restaurant in Agua Calientes called The Tree House, desert and wine were definitely well deserved that night and we were coincidentally kitted in our matching alpaca wool jumpers (purchased at a market in Cusco) while eating Alpaca steaks and burgers – apologies to any vegetarians reading!
The decision to add an extra night left us time to casually walk the train tracks back to Hidro Electrica the following day before catching the seven hour bus to Cusco! I was definitely regretting not doing the train option at this point (leaves direct from Aguas calientes and takes a quarter of the time!) but the bus is a perfect option for those on a budget.
Overall, we couldn’t have had a better experience in seeing one of the wonders of the world! Doing the jungle trek was perfect for us and kept us guessing with different activities planned each day. Our initial reactions on reaching Machu Picchu itself and the first glimpse at the ruins as the clouds lifted, will stay with me forever – neither of us could have anticipated how surreal it would really be and I would recommend the trip to absolutely everyone!