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Machu Picchu in Pictures

Machu Picchu
Machu Picchu (2,430 m) with Wayna Picchu (2,720 m) in background

The streets of Aguas Calientes were dark and empty at 4:20 AM when I met up with the others from the Salkantay Trek.

Together, we began the 20-minute walk down the road to the main entrance of Machu Picchu.

We arrived at 4:45 AM, just as the entrance was opened.

This is the same entrance used by the buses that shuttle people up and down the mountain, but we didn't just trek 4 days to hop on a bus at the last minute.

No, we banded together, and through the power of peer pressure, walked up the approximately 1,600 stone steps that lead to South America's most popular tourist attraction.

The walk took me 50 minutes, and I was sweating like a stuck pig by the time I'd reached the top.

The final gate doesn't open until 6 AM, so the early risers were all sitting around, catching their breath.

Kathy, the Australian from my group who'd visited Machu Picchu 3 times before, suggested I take a seat at the top of the stairs, right near the 4 turnstiles through which visitors pass.

Even though I wasn't the first person to reach the top, it didn't seem at all inappropriate for me to sit on the top stair.

While I was up there, two American girls spoke of how they'd been waiting up there for an hour.

Warning: If you're a cute foreign girl thinking of trying to sneak into Machu Picchu early, you can only get so far.

At 6 AM, I aligned myself with one of the turnstiles as the line behind me began to take shape. I was one of the first four people inside that day.

Once Kathy got in, she started running. I followed, and she led me to a lookout point where we had a few short minutes to enjoy Machu Picchu at sunrise before the rest of the day's 2,500 visitors showed up.

Visitors must bring their original passport to enter Machu Picchu
Visitors must bring their original passport to enter Machu Picchu. A commemorative stamp is available immediately inside the gate, on the left, but you have to ask for it.
My first view of Machu Picchu, without a single other person in the photo
My first view of Machu Picchu, without another person in the photo
Terraces used for farming
Terraces were constructed for farming
Can you imagine the amount of manual labor required to move all those rocks? Me either!
Can you imagine the amount of manual labor required to move all those rocks?
The rock quarry at Machu Picchu
Here you can see the quarry, the pile of large uncut rocks, which seems to be falling down the right side of the complex. Machu Picchu was never finished. It was abandoned by the Incas when the Spanish arrived.
The Incas were masterful stoneworkers
The Incas were masterful stoneworkers. They were so good at carving the rocks and fitting them together, they didn't need to use mortar.
The Incas even took into account earthquakes when they were designing and building Machu Picchu
The Incas even took into account earthquakes when they were designing and building Machu Picchu
Meet Wayna Picchu. Only 400 visitors are allowed to climb it every day, so you need to arrange your $10 ticket at least 5 days in advance (from Cusco)
Meet Wayna Picchu. Only 400 visitors are allowed to climb it every day, so you need to arrange your $10 ticket at least 5 days in advance (from Cusco)

After the initial rush of seeing Machu Picchu wore off, and we'd gotten some photos, it was time for the tour.

Lead by Daniel, our guide from the Salkantay Trek, we walked around the complex for about 2 hours.

While I appreciated the information he was relaying, it was a huge buzzkill, as I wanted to explore on my own.

But you can't have it both ways, at least not on a group tour.

At 10:30 AM, after refueling on some snacks outside the main gate, it was time to climb Wayna Picchu for a birdseye view of Machu Picchu.

When I first lay eyes on Wayna Picchu, I had no idea how I'd get up it. I'd heard there were ropes on the steep sections (actually they are steel cables), but from below, it looked impossibly steep.

But believe it or not, there is a trail that winds up the mountain face, and it only took me about 40 minutes to get up it.

As usual, it was walking down the steep trail that caused the most pain.

I took it extra slow, heartened by a grandmother who was also hobbled by knee pain but kept on trucking.

If it was 40 minutes to get up, and I spent 20 minutes at the top taking pictures, then it took me 60 minutes to get down, as I checked out 2 hours after I entered.

For safety reasons, there are two timed entrances to Wanya Picchu per day, 8:30 AM and 10:30 AM. Only 200 tickets are sold for each time (400 daily).

View of Machu Picchu from atop Wanya Picchu
View of Machu Picchu from atop Wayna Picchu
A wider view of Machu Picchu from atop Wayna Picchu. The road used by the buses to take visitors up and down (the easy way) can be seen on the left
A wider view of Machu Picchu from atop Wayna Picchu. The road used by the buses to take visitors up and down (the easy way) can be seen on the left. Trekkers who take the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu arrive along the trail which can be seen cutting across the upper left side of the mountain.

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Ericka

Tuesday 24th of June 2014

Hi Dave,

We are going to be in Cusco in about 3 weeks and loved your review of trekking to Machu Picchu. We now want to do the same! Just wondering, was the $180 + $10 for the 5D4N trek? I have looked at so many websites and all of them start at nearly $300 for the same sort of experience. Do you think it is safe enough to wait until we are in Cusco to book for the trek? Was it safe? It will be my husband and I, but still, just wondering if you have any tips? What about if we are just in Cusco for one day before the trek? Did some experience altitude sickness and are there any tips of handling this?

Thank you!

Dave

Tuesday 24th of June 2014

Yes, I think you can wait until you get to Cusco to book the trip, as long as you have at least a few days buffer (which are recommended anyways, as you'll want to acclimatize to the altitude before the trek).

Yes, the $180 was for the 5 day, 4 night trek, but that last night is actually spent in the town of Aguas Calientes in a hostel or inexpensive hotel. We had a few people per room, but it was only for a night. You could probably pay a bit extra to get a private room.

The trek is quite safe, the main concern for anyone would be altitude sickness, which is why I recommend taking at least 3 nights to acclimatize in Cusco if not 4 or 5. It'll probably depend on your overall travel schedule. Also, try to drink a liter of water for each 1,000 meters in altitude, and eat a lot at every meal of the trek. The first two days are the hardest.

As I wrote in the post, a woman who previously climbed Mt Kilimanjaro was suffering from altitude sickness on our first day because she only spent one night acclimatizing in Cusco before embarking on the trek. I can't stress enough how important it is to give your body time to adapt to the lower oxygen levels. It doesn't matter how fit you are, high altitudes (especially over 3,000 meters) affect everyone's body differently.

Alison

Saturday 23rd of November 2013

Wonderful insight.. I'm an "older" American woman and totally look forward to doing this trek solo in July 2014. You rocked the blog not to mention the trip and thanks so much for sharing. Water and chocolate, what's a gal not to like? Cheers… Keep Calm and Travel On…

Dave

Saturday 23rd of November 2013

Thanks Alison, I'm sure you'll have an amazing time too!

Colin

Friday 18th of October 2013

I believe these are the best Machu Picchu pics on all the web!

Jeff @ Go Travelzing

Friday 18th of October 2013

Great pictures. I am going there in December and can't wait. We plan to be there when it opens so hopefully we can get some great pictures like you.

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Monday 9th of September 2013

I'm planning a trip to MP in 2015 and I would like to thank you for the tips on how to at least attempt to get a picture without a flock of tourists involved... I do love those "whispers of history", but they are so often tuined by the inevitable chatter of tourists... Can't be helped, and of course everyone else has as much right to see things as me, but sometimes... Sometimes I wish I was at places like this all alone :-)

Dave

Tuesday 10th of September 2013

You're welcome Annie. I wasn't even the first person to arrive at the gate during the walk up before sunrise. I just made sure I was one of the first people lined up in front of the gate right before they began letting people in.

There were even people arriving by the shuttle bus before the gates opened, so it's not like you have to walk up on your own to have a shot at being the first inside.

Just remember, once they scan your ticket, RUN for it!!!

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