After a whirlwind of flights and touristic explorations, my family and I took the Peru Rail from Pachar* to Aguas Calientes in order to begin our ascent to the mountain. Because we decided to visit Machu Picchu in early January (during the rainy, off peak tourist season) we were able to make reservations on Peru Rail’s Vistadome and watch the scenery transform as we inched closer and closer to the Andes.
View from Belmond Sanctuary Lodge.
When we arrived in Aguas Calientes, the hub for backpacking hikers, we explored the surrounding markets and eventually made our way up to the Belmond Sanctuary Lodge for the evening. The Belmond Sanctuary Lodge is the only hotel directly located on Machu Picchu and offers an unforgettable view of the mountain with five-star accommodations – apparently this hotel is also a great spot for honeymooners, so take your lover(s)!
After spending a night recuperating from our travels, we woke up the next morning to the sound of POURING RAIN. While some mountain-goers were initially dismayed at the rain, I was ready to take on the day- I had packed some intense ponchos bought at R.E.I and had plenty of extra socks in my back pack. Fortunately, by the time the mountain opened for the first round of hikers (promptly at 7 am) the rain had dissipated and left the mountain in an eerie, almost magical haze. Before setting out on our hike, my mother had warned my twin brother and I to stick the main route in order to see the ruins.
View from the Inca Trail (going towards La Puerta del Sol).
While we did try to stick to the two-hour circuit of the mountain, Max and I had taken a slight detour and hiked 2 hours up the Andes in the opposite direction and made it to La Puerta del Sol. Although we had ventured far from the ruins we were rewarded with a magical view of the mountain chain that enhanced our experience on the Inca Trail. This portion of the trail was largely untouched by the hordes of tourist groups – probably because of the extremely difficult terrain…really one misstep and you’re down the mountain- which allowed us to feel one with the mountain. I know this sounds cliché, but it really did feel like were connected with the mountain because we were the ONLY ONES hiking on a semi-forgotten trail that ancient peoples, explorers, and tourists had been treading on for centuries.
Our hike towards La Puerta del Sol was hands down my favorite time in the mountain because we were able to feel the grandeur of the Inca’s palace from a unique vantage point. After realizing our mistake; however, Max and I retraced our steps and found the proper route through the ruins, which was exciting! At this point the sun was beaming on us (we have the sun burns to prove it) and the energy radiating off of all the enthusiastic hikers inspired us to keep on trekking!
While on the designated two-hour ruin circuit**, we passed by the iconic guardhouse, saw the terraces, the Intiwatana, and various sacred locations. Words cannot express how I felt while hiking through Machu Picchu because it is a one in a lifetime experience that leaves you speechless. Retracing the steps of Hiram Bingham, the Yale professor who rediscovered the Inca citadel in 1911, was incredible and being able to share this time with my dad (who’s one dream in life was to visit the mountain) was magical.
Needless to say, it was a wonderful opportunity that I will forever remember and cherish as I continue my studies in the hustle and bustle of New York City. I hope to one day return on foot and complete a 4-day hike to the mountain that begins in Ollantaytambo and follows the sacred Inca Trail. Till then I’ll keep my hiking shoes in prime condition and rally a group of friends to share the experience with!
Till next time!
*If you are interested in taking the Peru Rail to Machu Picchu make sure you make your reservations EARLY and plan according to the seasonal schedule. Peru Rail offers different services depending on whether it is the rainy or dry season!
Map of the Agricultural Sector.
Map of the Urban Sector.
** Maps outlining the paths to visit the ruins!