Normally, I write blogs which I think would be very helpful for you. I try to include tips on what to do (or what NOT to do), links, data and facts, all organized so you can easily skim through it or at least look at the pretty pictures and be inspired. For almost a year, I’ve been struggling what to write about my experience in Machu Picchu, Peru. Truth is, I do not have any smart advice how to best enjoy Machu Picchu. Not even a “why I went to Machu Picchu twice and you should do that too.” All I have is my story and I share it with you now (FINALLY!).
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Arrive in Aguas Caliente
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It is Friday around noon when the train to Machu Picchu rolls in the tiny train station of Aguas Caliente (or Machu Picchu village). A guy from my super luxurious hotel is waiting for me and together we walk to the hotel.
We cross the railroad tracks and I enter the lobby of the Casa del Sol Hotel Machu Picchu.* I just checked out of my 14$ hostel dorm and now I’m checking into my 214$ luxury hotel! I must be insane! But I decided I deserve a treat and I feel like I’ll only go to Machu Picchu once, so why not make it an unforgettable experience?
The bed is crisp and fresh and the windows open towards the river, flowing beneath the hotel. I hear birds chirp and water flow, no traffic, no noise. I inspect the bathroom and feel excited about the bathtub and luxurious soaps on display. I’ll be using them tonight!
I check my phone for internet but I have no connection. It is 1.30 pm and I have the whole afternoon available. I flip through the pages of the Lonely Planet guide book but besides the hot springs, there is not much to do in Aguas Caliente. I decide to go into town to see if I can mail a postcard from here and figure out how the bus to the ruins of Machu Picchu works.
Read more: Solo but not single female traveller.
Aguas Caliente town
As soon as I leave the hotel, I stumble upon the main road with the busses to Machu Picchu and a booth that sells the bus tickets. Ok, check, figured that out. I find some postcards, look around in some book shops and mail the postcards. 2 o’clock. What shall I do for the remainder of the day?
I booked my ticket for Machu Picchu at a travel agent in Cusco and I would need to pick up my ticket today. As there was nothing in my hotel, I figured to ask if they know about it at the ticket office in town.
Quickly I find the sales office for Machu Picchu and walk in. Before I know it, the man behind the counter gestures at me and I ask if they already have a ticket on my name for tomorrow. He asks for my passport and looks in his computer.
Next to me, an elderly couple wants to buy tickets to Machu Picchu for this afternoon. As I wait, I overhear their conversation. You can enter the ruins until 4 pm and you need to leave them by 5 pm. I check my phone for the time. 2.15 pm. I could do that… right?!
As the man explains there is no ticket in my name for tomorrow, I ask him if I can get a ticket for today. He nods. Shows me the price and says I’ll get a discount because it is after 2 pm and hands me a ticket to Machu Picchu. Wait.. What? I’m going to Machu Picchu now? Today?!
No time to waste: on a bus to Machu Picchu
All I have with me is my camera, a bottle of water and my sunglasses. And some money. I quickly walk to the office that sells the bus tickets to Machu Picchu and anxiously wait in line. If this all goes smoothly, I could be at Machu Picchu around 3.30pm and still have 1,5 hours before it closes.
Is this madness? Quickly, I get my bus ticket and make a run for the bus that just pulls up. I’m able to snatch the last seat on the bus and we slowly climb up the hill towards Machu Picchu.
Read more: 3 countries of South America in 30 days
Arriving at Machu Picchu
In the bus, my heart is bouncing like crazy. Maybe it’s from running that small stretch, but maybe its from excitement. I feel weird. I always imagined going to Machu Picchu before sunrise and seeing the ruins for the first time with the first light of day. This will be different.
On the way up, I try to enjoy the ride. Ok, this is it, I’m telling myself: you’re going to see Machu Picchu today. I look at the green hills getting higher and higher. I’m amazed at the small road and the sharp turns the bus takes.
At the entrance, I hop off the bus and make it to the entrance gate. I read so much about it. Waiting in line for 1,5 hours to catch the bus. Then waiting at the entrance of Machu Picchu to get your ticket validated and then make a run for it to see the sun rise over the ruins.
My experience is nothing like that. The bus waited 3 minutes for me. 5 ticket validators wait for me to stamp my ticket. I’m the only one trying to make a dash for the ruins. I do stop myself to get one of those cool stamps of Machu Picchu in my passport. I’m not sure if I’d seen that if I would have arrived with the crowds in the morning. Lucky me.
Climb to the viewpoint to see Machu Picchu
I start the climb. The path is full of uneven rocks and I’m hot. My clothes are too warm for the type of weather and for this kind of exercise. Yes, that is right, I call it an exercise. I’m not talking about hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, I’m just talking about following the path from the entrance towards the view point.
I’m struggling. Maybe I want to go quicker than I can. I take a break to catch my breath. My heart is beating like a drum and I can feel the blood throbbing through my veins. I’m seriously so not fit enough to do this. I’m angry at myself. I blame the 2 weeks of constant diarrhea and vomiting that were my first two weeks in South America.
Why I cried the first time I saw Machu Picchu
And then, the path becomes wider and there is more light. I hear voices of other people. This must be it. I made it. Some butterflies escape the knob in my stomach. I get my phone because I feel this moment would make for a nice video. As I press play, I try to speak but I’m too much out of breath from the climb, I cannot say much. I’m filming with one hand and continue to walk.
And then I see it.
Tears well up in my eyes.
My throat swells up and prevents me from speaking.
I stop filming and just look at Machu Picchu.
I stare at the ruins, the green grass and the iconic silhouette of Huayna Picchu against the blue sky.
And then I feel the loneliness of so many years ago. I can feel the pain of the struggle I went through to heal myself to escape from the darkness. The icy sweat on my back reminds me of all the hard work I did to escape the never shrinking debts and the sacrifices I made to make my dreams come true.
This is it. I have worked so hard to be free again. Free from the depression, free from debts and free from burn-out. I am here, despite my Crohn’s disease and despite social stigmas that tell me what to do. I am here because I made it happen.
And I cry. Silently. From relief, from exhaustion, from excitement. Everything together.
Don’t believe me? Watch how I embarrassed myself with this little video that I made. I made it in Dutch as a “wish you were here” for my family. I put English subtitles below it.
Did I always dream of going to Machu Picchu? Not really. Of course, it was on my travel bucket list. But I think Machu Picchu was more the symbol of my travel to South America. Of following my dreams. Of becoming a new person.
Selfies at Machu Picchu
Although I feel the past 7 years of struggle flow through my body and mind, it only takes about a minute. I gather myself again and a big smile breaks through on my face. I am here! And I don’t care how crazy it is and how much the ticket and bus up to Machu Picchu costs, this moment is mine! I don’t care if I have to leave in 5 minutes or in an hour, this was 100% worth it.
There are only 5 other people walking around Machu Picchu at this time. The sun is casting a golden spell on the ruins and the sight is amazing. Screw the fact that you have to see Machu Picchu after hiking the Inca Trail for 4 days, getting up at 3 am to make a crazy run for the sun gate to see the sun rise over Machu Picchu. I had enough struggle, this is my moment.
I happily snap many pictures, cuddle with the llamas and talk with some other travellers who are wandering Machu Picchu in the late afternoon. We take turns of taking pictures of each other with the best back drop and I climb to the upper terraces to find more llamas.
How I got thrown out of Machu Picchu
I sit there for half an hour when a guide pops up and asks me if I want to walk with him. He looks quite official so I get up and walk towards him. He asks me a bunch of question where I am from, how long I travel in Peru, how long I’ve been at Machu Picchu. All the while, we’re walking down. As we come to the main path, he abruptly stops and says: you have to leave now. I check my phone for the time and realize it is after 5 pm already. I smile.
I’m being kicked out of Machu Picchu and I do not mind.
I leave Machu Picchu and they close the gates behind me (so I’d like to think- it feels that way anyways). The last bus down is waiting for me and I happily jump aboard to head down to Aguas Caliente.
End of part 1. Thank you for reading. As this story became rather long and it consists of 2 days, you can read more: