We were in Peru too long – a little over six weeks in total with two weeks of that spent in the Cusco/Sacred Valley area – and by the time we arrived in Cusco I was already looking ahead to Colombia. I thoroughly enjoyed our excursion to Ollantaytambo where we spent one day exploring the ruins there and one day exploring Salinas de Maras, Moray, and Chinchero, but after after a few more days of being in the Sacred Valley I felt completely ruined-out and sick of Cusco. I can honestly say that I was completely unexcited about seeing Machu Picchu which was the one thing I really wanted to see before we arrived in Peru. It didn’t help matters that we heard from some people that it’s overcrowded and some even said underwhelming and anti-climatic, especially if you take the train. We made the decision soon after hiking Colca Canyon to cancel our Inca Trail trek reservations. There was no way Angela was doing it and I didn’t really feel the need to hike up more of those damned shin-high Inca Stairs and so we were taking the train.
We arrived in Aguas Caliente, really named Machu Picchu Peblo but nobody calls it that, the day before visiting Machu Picchu and got up at 4:30AM the next morning to catch the first bus up at 5:30. Luckily we’d purchased our overpriced ($24/person round trip) bus tickets the day before because when we arrived at the bus station around 5:15 the line was already roughly 200 people long. However, they have twenty buses and they run one after the other so we were on our way up a little before 6:00. We pulled up to the Machu Picchu station about twenty minutes later and immediately saw all of the same people from the bus line in Aguas Caliente plus many others, or so it appeared, lined up waiting to get in. I immediately started thinking that my fears of Machu Picchu being too crowded to enjoy were going to prove true.
Were we doomed to an overcrowded, unenjoyable trip to Machu Picchu? In a word – no (I know, the title already gave it away). Machu Picchu is spectacular and beat all of my expectations. And I mean my high, pre-Peru trip expectations. Our day at Machu Picchu stands out as my single favorite day in Peru and when I say we saved the best for last, I mean it. That was our last (full) day in Peru. I have no regrets about skipping the Inca Trail and taking the train and don’t feel my visit was any less exciting because I did so. If anything I was far more relaxed and able to really enjoy the time I had in the park. Yes there are crowds given that over 300,000 people per year visit, but they’re better early in the morning and Machu Picchu is huge. Other than when I was waiting to get the iconic Machu Picchu photo I didn’t find the crowds to be bothersome (seriously Millennials, stop with the “me jumping up in the air in front of some famous landmark”, yoga pose, and heart shaped hands photos already, they’re over). I definitely recommend getting up to go early as it seems to start getting much more crowded and also much warmer by around 11AM. Mostly I just recommend going, you won’t regret it.