Pretty much everything I read about Machu Picchu as far as logistics matched up when we finally got there:
– Aguas Calientes, the gateway town to Machu (think Estes Park to rocky mountain national park) was a bit honky tonk but not without charm. we sat in the Plaza and had fun people watching and playing “name that nationality” since people come there from all over the world. We really liked the place we stayed, Gringo Bill’s, which used to be an old backpacker hotel but now feels like a mix between that and a boutique hotel, complete with psychedelic wall murals ( some mildly pornographic like the one in our room of a couple in the act) and plush bed linens. The place was laid out all helter shelter with rooms in odd places and open air areas scattered throughout. Our room had a balcony opening onto the sidewalk. It was not as noisy as feared. just a little. They also served the best scrambled eggs to date (and we have been served them every morning of this trip.) We had a good dinner at Indio Feliz, whose every inch was decorated with eye catching stuff. Highlights include lots of on the house items/sides including homemade potato chips and bread rolls with density (the Peruvian bread is airier). we had some cusquenia (beer) and a small pizza at Inka Wasi, a little away from the tackier stuff and across from the swanky El Mapi Hotel (think The James Hotel.) The town also has an other worldy feel because of its setting, a small patch of flatland, or flatter land, surrounded by huge conical shaped mountains.
– Machu Picchu was best at 6 am when there were relatively few tourists and the sun broke through the clouds draping an intense light on the green lawns of the ruins and the trademark jagged mountain looming over them. It was indeed a good idea to get a guide to explain things since there is little else In the way of explanation. We found Felix (or more accurately he found us) right after we got off the bus from Aguas and we think we did well. His English was excellent (this isn’t always the case with guides as we found out at Pisaq, where our guide couldn’t really go off script in English so she couldn’t answer questions) and he seemed very
Knowledgeable (although we noticed that the content of the spiels varies by guide.) we paid $46 for -a two hour tour, plus Felix gave me his walking stick which I found invaluable when we hiked to the Sun Gate, which was a perfect 2 hour hike, not too rigorous, although I feel like I have been walking on cobblestones or jagged stones for days. and I have.
– we did bring in some water in a plastic bottle and some crackers, which is technically verboten but we weren’t alone. And we were discrete. There is a nice restaurant and a somewhat pricy snack bar outside the gate. you do have to pay one sole, about 38 cents, to use the toilet. Whatever.
– It did seem wise to buy the Machu Picchu tix in advance. a guy at our hotel ran into a problem when he tried to buy a tix in Aguas ( I think) because he didn’t have cash and no credit cards allowed. We bought the bus tix the nite before and didn’t have to wait long for a bus there or back.
– the place did get crowded by about 10 am and the crowds thickened soon after until early afternoon, when people left for lunch or town and the train ride back to Aguas.
– Peru rail was an adventure. On the way to Aguas from Ollantaytambo, we somehow landed amazing seats (there were assigned seats) right at the front of the car. It was like sitting in the front seat atop a double decker bus. I tried not to look too much at the rails in front of us. But the ride and view was spectacular, surrounded by high mountains, a rushing river with huge boulders to our left. They served us a little meal too. On the vistadome train the next day. (this is the train with windows in the roof so you can see the vista) the crowd was rowdier and there was an amusing floor show (aisle show?) In the train where two attractive railway attendants modeled variou alpaca items and one dressed like a scary Indian clown, if sorts, and danced with passengers. A far cry from Amtrak.
– Next stop…the best meal of our five days in the Sacred Valley. Stay tuned for the next installment…