After two and a half nights in Cuzco (we had arrived at 4.30am), we caught the early bus & train to Aguas Calientes, the base for Machu Picchu. Arriving around 11am, we tried to figure out if it was worth heading up the mountain that afternoon (for an additional US$70 each) just in case the weather was truly awful the following day when we had more time to explore. In the end, steady rain was falling when we arrived at the ticket office, so we opted to save the money and take our chances the following day. As we sat reading our books that afternoon, the sky got bluer and bluer and we got less and less sure of our decision.
When we got up at 4am the next morning, the darkness obscured the mist that was obscuring pretty much everything else. The day grew lighter and the rain heavier as we got off the bus and walked to the first viewing point where we caught a glimpse of the impressive site between swathes of mist, cloud and rain. We quickly snapped some photos, hoping this wouldn’t be the best view we’d get.
Instead of doing the 4-day Inca Trail, we had opted to do the 2-hour ascent of Huayna Picchu which rises 360m above the famous site, offering a great overview of it (or so we hear). Arriving at the top after a steep climb, we were presented with a complete white-out and persistent rain. We sheltered in a relatively dry cave for about half an hour, but the views hadn’t improved and we were starting to get chilly from the water seeping in through our not-so-waterproofs, so we began the descent. We did snatch a few views on the way up and down, but they still didn’t allow full appreciation of the site.
Back at the entrance, we ate an early lunch and did our best to dry off in the shelter that was available. We watched as some equally bedraggled tourists headed down the mountain for a visit to the hot springs. Tempting as it was to join them, we decided to wait it out and hope for a turn in the weather. At about midday the rain stopped and the first few patches of blue sky appeared. We set off for another loop of the lost city and were finally rewarded for our early start and perseverance – amazing views across the site and the surrounding mountains. We even started to dry off!
Machu Picchu is one of those places where you keep looking up and seeing it in a different way: the clouds drop and you sense that the whole site is floating; the clouds clear and you get a view to the river, the last part of the Inca trail, the full extent of another sheer-sided mountain; you notice another set of terraces; you observe the 600-year-old intricate handiwork of the Incas forming walls and watercourses. We felt we could have sat and watched it for days – surprising for a place that hasn’t really changed much in so many years!
We soaked up as much of the views and atmosphere as we could before heading back down to catch our train & bus back to Cuzco, incredibly pleased that our gamble hadn’t back-fired and that we’d had the privilege to seen one of the new wonders of the world in all its glory.
More photos here.