There are no official roads to the town of Aguas Calientes, which is the base camp of Machu Picchu. You can only get there by train, and the train station is located in a town called Ollantaytambo in the Sacred Valley. To get to the Sacred Valley from Cuzco, you have to drive over the mountain range between them. We literally drove through clouds. It was amazing.
(The other way to Machu Picchu is the Inca Trail. A four day hiking tour leads you straight to this lost city. I have friends who did it. When I asked them how it was, they said they didn’t know how they were still standing.) The Sacred Valley is known for having very fertile land. The biggest corn kernels I have ever seen are found in the Sacred Valley.
The train system is catered to tourists, and you pay for it. A ticket to Aguas Calientes costs about $65 US for a foreigner, whereas a Peruvian pays around $10. Talk about injusticia. But to see one of the Seven Wonders of the World?! It’s worth the money.
Our taxi driver told us that when Leonardo DiCaprio visited Machu Picchu with his family, he bought every seat on the train and then paid extra for them to have a few hours alone in Machu Picchu.
Machu Picchu was built in 1462 but abandoned about 100 years later. There is no record that the Spaniards knew this Incan city existed, which is why it wasn’t destroyed like most other Incan cities. Apparently the locals knew of its existence and a few foreigners did visit the city throughout the years, but the first person to take his discovery to the world was Hiram Bingham in 1911. He named it “The Lost City of the Incas”.
No one knows exactly what this city was for, but speculation is that it was an estate of the Incan emperor. Even walking around the city, it has an air of mystery. We got there before the masses of tourists arrived. (If you ever have the chance to go, I highly recommend getting there early.) The silence is remarkable, and we watched the sun stream across the mountains as we ate our breakfast.
What used to be homes of the Incans are now inhabited by llamas.
We took a guided tour to get a history lesson of the city and its culture, but we actually cut out of the tour about 25 minutes early. Why you ask? It was time for another adventure…