While our breakfast on the glass-roofed top floor of our hotel would normally include dramatic views of the mountains encircling Aguas Calientes, a 5 AM wake-up call showed nothing but pitch black. Such an early breakfast was necessitated by our morning tickets to Machu Picchu: we were allowed access from 6 AM to 12 PM. A recent development, these tickets are designed to help, however ineffectually, with the huge crowds of tourists flocking to one of the world’s iconic architectural and archeological sites. Exiting our hotel, a short walk put us at the back of, already at 6 AM, a line that stretched blocks to board the buses that ferry visitors to the site itself.
The 30 minute ride involved navigating a dozen or so switchbacks with precipitous drops. Not for the first time was the group impressed with the blithely aggressive bus drivers. Once at the summit, we spent the next several hours touring the site, its exact purpose still an unsettled question. Even though pictures cannot capture the truly awesome nature of the ruins, hugged by river deep below and rings of mountains above, here is a perhaps excessively long selection.
And, of course, the classic shot of Machu Picchu:
Our too-short tour completed, we ate lunch at the rather jarringly placed hotel just beneath the ruins. Retracing our bus ride down, we found ourselves in Aguas Calientes with a couple of hours to wander around before our long train ride back to Cusco. Some students camped out in a French bakery and had hot chocolate and pastries. Some wandered the extensive market stalls and purchased a dazzling array of llama-themed merchandise. Others sat by the river and admired the ridiculously dramatic scenery and watched the crowds of locals and tourists.
One of Aguas Calientes’ many narrow, steep streets:
The train station:
A 3-hour train ride up to Cusco, followed by a bus to and dinner at our hotel in the old town center ended the day.
Some sleep, some read, some watch the scenery on the way to Cusco: