We were off to Aguas Calientes and our long-anticipated visit to Machu Picchu, the “Lost City of the Incas.”
It was an early morning departure from the Hotel Marquese in Cusco for the five-hour journey on PeruRail’s Vistadome service. We could have walked the Inca Trail — four days three nights of hard, high altitude hiking — or taken a 12 hour bus ride but I’m happy we chose the train. Great service, spectacular views and a comfortable ride.
A note on train travel… ordinary local trains run this route but are not intended for tourists. Unhappy that they could not access their own trains, local residents have occasionally blocked service for days at a time. In response to this, certain trains and train stations are off-limits to outsiders and everyone has their ID or passport checked before boarding. So you don’t have a choice but to take the official tourist train (or walk!).
As I said, the Andean scenery is spectacular and there was one remarkable spot where the train reversed direction a couple of times to ascend parallel tracks and climb a steep grade. Another highlight was the Skylodge, a nice little hotel 400 feet up a sheer rock cliff. Maybe next time.
We pulled in to Aguas Calientes, checked into our hotel and headed out on a 15 km hike along the railway track and road beside the Urubamba River to Mandor Waterfall, site of Hiram Bingham’s 1911 base camp. It was quite a walk and, though the coarse railway ballast was hard on the feet, the destination was worth it. I am quite proud of the record we set: our guide Christian said we were the slowest group he had ever escorted. What can I say? There were lots of photo opportunities and I took my time! And I walked slowly.
It was back to the town for food and a dip in the town’s crowded, dirty, expensive and not-to-be recommended and not-very-hot hot spring. We went to bed early for a five am bus to Machu Picchu. Finally!