Today was a very busy day but it was one of my favorite days of my trip if not one of my favorite days ever. I started the day with a 5:20AM flight out of Lima to Cusco, Peru. My flight landed at 7:00AM which meant I had an hour to check into my hotel and then make it to the train station. Luckily, this was one airport in Central / South America that was not an hour outside of town. Within five minutes I was at my hotel, Sonesta Hotel Cusco, and was able to drop off my things and reduce the weight of my backpack substantially for the day. I called an Uber and headed off on the thirty-minute drive to Cusco Poroy station which is on the edge of town. Be careful when calling an Uber in Cusco as taxi drivers will try to pretend they are your Uber driver - this happened to me when leaving the airport but it was not a big deal as it was such a short ride. Always check the license to make sure you are getting in the right car! I was in a hurry and forgot, but it was a nice reminder to make sure I do so in the future to avoid it ever potentially being a problem.
The drive to Cusco Poroy station was winding and very highly elevated. At one point we were up in the clouds! I was regretting not dressing warmer when I arrived at the station and it was freezing. However, light clothing would pay off later in the day. I made it to the train station with about twenty minutes to spare. I boarded the train and luckily had an empty seat next to me for the trip. The man sitting across from me was really cool - he was an American who is also traveling around the world and spent time working in Antarctica. So many of the tourists were actually American it was a little surprising. However, it was also the Fourth of July so it was kind of nice to be surrounded by other Americans for the day.
The train ride in itself was an amazing start to the Machu Picchu journey. Other than hiking it is the only way to visit Machu Picchu. The train winds through the mountainous terrain, and the train cars have huge almost floor to ceiling windows to allow you to enjoy the stunning views. You lose cell service almost the second you depart from Cusco, but it does not matter because you spend the entire four-hour train ride staring out the window. The train also played traditional music and would talk about interesting places that the train was passing by. I rode on a PeruRail train. They served a meal on the train which was much appreciated. It wasn’t the best food ever, but it was something.
After the long ride, I arrived in Aguas Calientes, the town below Machu Picchu. When you exit the train you walk through a giant touristy market to get to town. You can ask anyone where to go for the bus up the mountain and they will point you in the right direction. Basically, just look for the main street with all of the busses and you’ll have no trouble finding it. The bus is another expense to consider, costing $50 round trip for the ride. It may seem steep, but when you see how steep the drive is you are willing to pay that much. The drive takes over thirty minutes, and it is literally straight up the side of a mountain. The bus winds and winds over and over and the faint of heart should not look out the window at the sheer drop (with no railing) from the side of the bus. After the ride, you finally make it to the entrance. I bought my ticket ahead of time so I don’t know the specifics on buying tickets at the gate.
Just when you finally think you’ve made it to Machu Picchu, you get hit with a major uphill hike. It took me probably thirty minutes of walking up to finally reach the top, and by that point, I was very glad to have dressed lightly for the day. The hike is not too bad, as people of all ages were making it, but it definitely wears you down. However, it was 110% worth it. All of the travel today was. When you finally get to the top and look out and see Machu Picchu it’s such an amazing feeling.
I only had about three hours before I needed to head back down, so I spent tons of time just walking around. I first walked around above Machu Picchu with more of an overhead look down onto it. This area is the best for taking pictures (I took literally hundreds today) and for meeting llamas. The llamas are very friendly and photogenic. There are also ruins all along this area as well. I then made my way to walk around the actual ruins for a bit.
My only complaint was the lack of information/maps at Machu Picchu. Many people (with much larger budgets) had guides, so it was almost impossible not to overhear information which was a plus. I definitely had lots of reading to do when I got back tonight about the history of Machu Picchu (which is super interesting and you should definitely check out; one fun fact is that Machu Picchu went undiscovered until 1911!).
After thoroughly exploring the main area I started the journey back down. The walk down was much easier, though the bus ride down was just as terrifying. I was a little early to the train station so I walked around the market for a little while and bought a few inexpensive souvenirs. I boarded the train and my seat was in the middle of a family of four, so the train found a seat for me to move to allow that family to all sit together. I was pretty excited about it because the family had a very, very excited but would have gotten old very quickly seven year old, and because I moved to sit with an awesome family of three from Chicago!
They were so cool; we literally talked the entire four-hour train ride back. I laughed so much and just had such a great time talking with them about anything and everything. Meeting people when you travel is one of the best parts about it, and tonight reminded me of that. I left the train with a giant smile on my face from laughing so hard during the ride from our great conversations! There is also a weird fashion show put on by the train that involved a very smelly man in a bird costume that was pretty hilarious on its own.
After making it back to town I bargained with a taxi driver to get a reasonable rate, as there were no Ubers within range at such a late time. I was exhausted by this point and so happy to make it back to Sonesta Hotel Cusco. Until I walked in my room and none of my things were there. I was panicked for about thirty seconds until I remembered an email I got from my contact at the hotel, Adriana, that they had moved me to a new room with a “surprise”. I walked with a still elevated heart rate back to the front desk and they gave me my new room number and key with no problems at all.
And the new room was definitely worth a moment of shock - Sonesta Hotel Cusco did one of the sweetest things that I have ever seen. Remember how it was the Fourth of July? They decorated my room for the Fourth! There were balloons all over my room, a sweet note, an American flag cut-out, and yummy chocolates to help celebrate. I honestly could not believe the kindness when I arrived back from my long day visiting Machu Picchu. The smile on my face was, once again, huge. It was such an incredibly kind and thoughtful gesture and I can never thank Sonesta Hotel Cusco enough! It was the perfect ending to an incredible day.
My new room was great even without the surprise - it’s much bigger with a balcony that looks out over the city. I can safely say that Sonesta Hotel Cusco is without a doubt one of my favorite hotels on my trip so far. I can’t thank them enough for sponsoring this night of my trip. If you ever visit Machu Picchu, be sure to look them up! After such a long day I fell asleep almost instantly. Thankfully tomorrow morning is not a super early day, but I am very excited to head to the highest altitude capital city in the world: La Paz.
Overall, I had an amazing day filled with incredible experiences and the kindest people. I would definitely love to visit Machu Picchu again in the future and spend much more time exploring it. But even just getting to spend a few hours was such an amazing experience. I cannot emphasize enough how amazing that it is to see in person. You should definitely add this one to your bucket list, and if you ever have the chance to visit you should without hesitation take it. It is worth all of the effort and then some!
25 countries down, 172 to go.
Read about my first day in Peru here.
To learn more about Sonesta Hotel Cusco click here.