The day had arrived. The alarm went off 4.30am, we forced breakfast down, our bags were collected and we departed Cusco at 5.55am. We were going to tick off the highest item on our Bucket List. We’d been delayed a year, got through a worldwide pandemic and avoided rail strikes here in Peru. We were going to Maccu Piccu today.
First we had a long journey to get there. We travelled by mini bus for an hour an half on VERY bumpy and windy roads to get to the train at Ollanta. I don’t normally suffer with travel sickness, but let me tell you, this nearly broke me!
We then boarded a vista dome carriage on the train from Ollanta to Aguas Calientes. This journey was exceeding scenic and followed the River Amazon from mountain scenes deep into the jungle. We saw the scenery change from dramatic pistes of the Andes into lush green vegetation. It was truly breathtaking and once more we had to remind ourselves that Peru is just once of the most diverse and truly spectacular places in the world.
When we arrived at Aguas Calientes, we made the short journey to the official bus up the mountain to the official entrance of Maccu Piccu. It was at this point, that the gravitas of what was happening and where we were started to hit not just me, but others in our group. I won’t lie. I had a good cry as we ascended the mountain. The scenery was like something out of the film Avatar. It was just awesome and I really don’t say that lightly.
Off the bus, it was time to hand our tickets over and make the slow ascent the last few hundred feet by foot. GRJ and Lima Tours had been fantastic in arranging additional help for the less mobile in our group, and that sort of additional care and attention really didn’t go unnoticed by us all. The altitude wasn’t as high as it was around Colca but the humidity and the heat was quite intense. We were supposed to be wearing masks, but thankfully the rangers seemed to not be too bothered as it was hard going getting up all the steps in those conditions whilst wearing a mask.
The view. That view. I still don’t think I can fully describe how sensational it was to get that first view of Macchu Piccu in real life without crying. Many of us became so overwhelmed that we’d made it. We all had our own stories behind not only wanting to visit but also the setbacks and delays due to covid too. It was just the best feeling I’ve ever experienced to be here in real life. And it surpassed any expectation we had- and let me tell you the expectations were high already.
After many many photos and just standing in awe, we made our way through the extensive grounds of Macchu Piccu. Thats the thing, you may think it’s just one view, but tis not, there are so many areas of the site to explore, historic inca walls to admire, stories to be heard. The site is well managed in a one way system and we were up there for nearly 3 hours in the end. Absolutely phenomenal. Thanks to Rom , our guide who accompanied us through the site with care, humour, and a wealth of knowledge. You made our dreams come true that day.
After our visit, we had an hour or so to kill before our train back. We went for a group lunch and some nice cold beers which did not touch the sides. Keith and I had alpaca pizza and we were treated to some more traditional live music.
What a completely perfect day. We felt like the luckiest people in the world, and the fact that the moment we stepped off the bus after our descent the heavens opened just heightened that feeling of being extraordinarily lucky.
Our train journey back was a quiet affair, everyone was processing the day. The staff put on a fashion show and I couldn’t resist buying a nice alpaca scarf, much to the amusement of the rest of our group who I think thought I was addicted to spending money and or souvenirs.
We got caught in traffic leaving Ollanta and arrived back to our hotel around 8pm- a very long and emotional day! We managed a group meal in our new hotel, which was beautiful by the way before a couple of beers with Rom our guide at the bar and then an early night.
How do you follow a day like we experienced yesterday? That was the question on everyone’s minds at breakfast this morning!
Our itinerary was a day exploring the Sacred Valley, but our visit coincided with a national holiday and as such our timetable was changed slightly. To our advantage we felt. We enjoyed time exploring Ollentayambo by foot- a really picturesque small town with cobbled streets and colourful pom pom bunting.
The festivities of the holiday meant that we could enjoy the parade and found it amazing to see the different costumes that all the local groups wore. They were colourful and many had masks on. We saw lots of musicians in the parade – interesting to see so many saxophones too.
We saw more inca temples and ruins at Ollentaytambo Fortress too.
We stopped to see how a local drink was made and also visited a local persons house. So very interesting.
We also went on a visit to a local textile place where we got to see ladies weaving and learnt about how they dye the wool from natural dies etc. The intricate work involved is outstanding.
It was nice to have a lower paced day following the long day we’d had yesterday, and although it big boots to follow, we all really enjoyed the day. It was nice to have some time at the hotel to regroup. The hotel was extremely pretty and also had a couple of really nice restaurant areas. It was an ideal place to regroup.
Monday morning arrived all too soon and it was time to make our way back to Cusco. The end of the trip was looming and I already was feeling overwhelmed with sadness that the adventure was coming to an end. Monday was predominately a travel day, although we did stop at a silver jewellers and also a nice little market.
We also made a stop on the outskirts of Cusco to the viewpoint high above Cusco. There was also more inca walls here which were again really in great condition.
The rest of our day was spent at leisure in Cusco. We tried the national dish of Peru- Guinea Pig. Well, it was an experience! I wouldn’t say it was my favourite meal I’ve eaten but we found the experience very authentic and different!
We pottered around, had a couple of drinks, and just were trying to process what an incredible trip it had been. Our travel buddies who were continuing on to Galapados Islands has paperwork to do, and those travelling straight home needed to pack. We were doing a 2 night extension in Lima- away from GJR, and despite this and our adventure not quite being over, I still sat in the plaza de armas and cried and cried and cried! I had never experienced such sadness at leaving a country to this degree. Peru has certainly stolen my heart.
Our final evening as a group and our tour manager has arranged a lovely meal at the hotel for us. Bill had been tremendous. Really really brilliant. He organised a cake for Keith’s birthday which we were celebrating at the end of the week, also for the wedding anniversary for some of our travel companions. I thought that was so thoughtful, thanks Bill if you’re reading.
Tuesday came too soon. Our friends travelling to the Galapagos Islands left earlier than us. We were transported to the airport by Rom, and saying bye to him was when my tears restarted. They fell for four hours. I couldn’t stop! We flew from Cusco to Lima as a mini group with Bill, and then at Lima we waved goodbye to those travelling back to the Uk. Bill came out to make sure our transfer was waiting for us. I felt SO sad to say bye to Bill. We’d been following him for 2 weeks and he’d been there every step of the way to hold our hands. A true credit to Great Rail Journeys. Thanks Bill for everything.
WE didn’t have time to be too upset though, we were being whisked back to Miraflores in Lima for a ‘crazy day’! Stay tuned for that!