(I have to apologize in advance…this is a very long post. Not huge amounts of text, but there are lots and lots of pictures and videos ;])
We woke up at 5:00 on Monday morning, so that we could catch the first bus from Aguascalientes to Machu Picchu at 5:30. Even at that ungodly hour, there was a huge line of people waiting to go the rest of the way up the mountain. And the line continued once we arrived at the entrance. Despite the unexpected amount of people, however, our timing was actually pretty good. We made it to the entrance gate by the time Machu Picchu opened at 6:00, which gave us a little bit of time to walk around the grounds before there were too many people, like there would be in the afternoon. We were a bit nervous at first – it had poured most of the night before, and we were worried that it would continue into the day. But it turned out to just be cloudy, which helped with the heat and actually made it quite a nice day.
Here are a few videos from Machu Picchu itself:
So at 7:00, we made our way to the entrance of Huayna Picchu, a neighboring mountain. That was our entrance time to begin our ascent – they only allow 400 people on Huayna Picchu a day, and we were fortunate enough to snag entrance passes by buying our tickets over a month before we left. There were 2 options, an easy and a hard climb; of course we chose the harder one. I couldn’t come all this way and then take the easy way up the mountain! :-). While we waited to be let in, we struck up a conversation with a fascinating couple from California, Kim and Sally. Kim is a photographer, and he has been all over the world taking pictures of different news and travel stories. Together, they’re an intrepid traveling couple who has seen nearly every country in the world together. They became our buddies for the rest of the climb – when one of us got tired, the others would encourage them to keep pushing, so we all made it up to the top.
The encouragement was definitely needed. The climb was…challenging, to say the least. Thousands of stairs stood between us and our goal. And these were no ordinary stairs. Some were nearly two feet high, others so narrow that even my tiny feet couldn’t fit sideways on them. Often there were sheer cliffs that fell away just inches from where the side of the steps ended. My fear of heights was definitely kicking in with a vengeance. And of course, don’t forget to factor in the altitude – Huayna Picchu stands over 8500 feet above sea level. It’s truly amazing how much high altitude messes with your body when you’re not used to it. Caro and I are both in fairly good shape, but we still had to stop every few minutes or so just to catch our breaths.
Here’s an example of some of the stairs, tunnels, and ladders we had to climb to get to Huayna Picchu:
But getting to the top made all of the effort worth it. When we first got there the entire mountain was shrouded in fog, so we had to wait a while before the clouds cleared and we could catch a decent view. But it was truly gorgeous. And, although the clouds were a bit frustrating at times, I kind of liked them – they added to the mystery and excitement of the whole experience.
Coming down, though, while physically easier, was wayyyyy harder for me. Fears of heights are much more applicable when you are going down instead of up. By the time we got to the bottom my poor legs were like jello from having been shaking the entire way down. But I did it!! I was really proud of myself :). After the climb, we spent a few more hours at Machu Picchu itself. We learned a ton about it without even having to pay for a guide – the advantage of understanding both English and Spanish is that you can sidle up to pretty much any tour and hear what the guide is saying without having to pay for anything ;).