When does a walk become a hike?
a long walk, especially in the country or wilderness.
Seeing as I wasn’t sure if I’d ever been on a hike before, I decided against the four day walking and camping expedition along the Inka Trail, or even the short version for two. Instead, I decided I would walk up to Machu Picchu, instead of taking the $12 (each way) bus.
Machu Picchu has got to be the most expensive tourist attraction in South America. First the entrance ticket costs $40. The bus up the mountain costs $12 each way. And the 3 hour train ride from Cusco to Aguas Calientes (the town below Machu Picchu) costs $70-$300 each way!
I was horrified when I went to book train tickets online, and decided there must be a cheap way to get to Machu Picchu. The wonderful Google found me Machu Picchu en Bus – a six hour minibus ride from Cusco to Hidroeléctrica for $16 each way. Hidroeléctrica is 10km from Aguas Calientes, and you can either take a train to Aguas Calientes, or as many people do, you can walk alongside the track.
Two hours later, I wasn’t sure I’d made the best decision, although I had made it from Cusco for $16.
The next morning was a stupidly early start. People like to get to Machu Picchu for sunrise. Not that you can actually see the sunrise, as the clouds are low until late morning, but I read people start queueing for the bus at 3:30am (first one leaves at 5:30am). Or they start walking at 4:30am.
I set my alarm for 4am, and finally left the Inka House Hotel with my packed breakfast kindly made for me at 4:50am. When I got to the bridge there was a long line of people waiting to have their tickets checked, and a line of buses waiting for the bridge to open. The Russian boy from the minibus, who was celebrating his birthday with a bottle of champanski at the top of the mountain, spotted me, and let me queue jump.
We were allowed across the bridge and started the long, steep walk up to 2,430 m. I’d read that this was a moderate hike, but I would call it quite intense. The buses wind up the mountain along the road, while the hiking trail cuts right up the middle, with steps the whole way.
I think I got to the gate at 7am. I read on a blog, that you should walk left as soon as you enter. I walked left and got to a sign for Machu Picchu Mountain.
I realised this was the mountain I had a ticket to climb, as I’d left it too late to buy Machu Picchu only tickets (2500 per day), and was forced to pay extra for MP + Montaña (400 tickets per day). I hadn’t even considered actually going near this mountain, until I saw people at the gate, without tickets trying to persuade the guards to let them though.
1 hour 30 minutes, they said. I checked in at 8:04am. I checked out at 12:50pm. It was a long, long way. That walk up to Machu Picchu was nothing.
This was soooo steep, with huge steps to the highest mountain around, at 3,082m.
I’m still not sure why, but once I’d started I didn’t want to give up until I got right to the top. It was actually quite exciting.
All along the way you’d meet people, who would say “hola!”, and give you some advice – “walk in a zigzag”, “go at your own speed” , “nearly there!”
People from along the way even congratulated you at the top, “yay, you made it!”
It was even exciting on the way back down, seeing people’s sweaty faces asking me “how much longer,” knowing I’d already done it.
Back at the bottom it was a different world. From independent hikers up the mountain, to groups of tourists following their guides, and having their postcard photo taken, before getting back in the long queue for the bus back to Aguas Calientes.
Although I haven’t moved from the bed since I got to the hotel, it felt like I had achieved something getting there (and back) by myself – compared to feeling like I’d cheated a bit, when I got to Sugarloaf mountain in Rio by cable car.
I’ll be doing 3 peak challenges next.