The Inca Citadel

I’ve never really liked tourist attractions.  The throngs of pushy people and unreasonable prices always dull the excitement of whatever there is to see or do. I’m always far more comfortable in the quiet, open freedom of the unmolested natural world. In the same vein, the structured nature of organized tours has both of us feeling constricted and claustrophobic. We just enjoy flexibility and spontaneity too much.  

We’ve actually skipped a few highlights along our route so far, a major one being the Galapagos Islands. Taylor, at least, was super excited to visit them earlier in our trip, but as the time to book flights and boats came near our enthusiasm waned. The exorbitant cost of the visit combined with the great time we were having in the rest of Ecuador saw us making excuses. In the end we decided against a visit.

We’d heard from many fellow travelers that the famed Macchu Picchu could be a bit of a disappointment.  The expected crowds and uncharacteristically high prices in comparison to the rest of Peru left many of our fellow overlanders with a bit of a sour taste.

Despite these reports, or friends also insisted it was a thing we simply had to see. We were tempted to skip it anyway, but held strong and promised each other we’d go, in spite of our misgivings.

Of course, the classic entrance to Macchu Picchu is the Inca Trail, a four day hike through the rugged Peruvian Andes. For those of us travelling by car, there is another classic route.. A 6-8 hour drive followed by a 2.5hr hike along railroad tracks before a 1hr climb up the mountain.

A third option is to take the astronomically expensive tourist train from Cusco before boarding an equally expensive and crowded bus up the mountain to the site entrance. Since the train was a bit over $300 for both of us to reach the site and then be delivered back to Cusco, we’d originally dismissed it. As the day to make a decision drew nearer, we did the math and realized that with our big American V8, an additional 16 hrs of driving out of our way, 7 hrs of hiking, and a probable hotel stay in the expensive gateway town of Aguas Calientes, our financial costs would near that of the train, while adding three or four days to our trip.

We ponied up for a ride on Peru Rail, and it worked out great for us. The trains were clean, comfortable, and punctual. They served up good snacks and excellent coffee, and the ability to stare out the windows at the view without the added concerns of dodging holes, children, and motorcycles in the road was a great respite from driving for me.

We elected to take a bus up the mountain and walk down after our visit, saving our legs and lungs for exploring the site.

We’d been warned that the site itself could be a bit underwhelming after all the hype but, for me at least, It was a spectacular experience. There were plenty of people and the costs for everything were astronomical, but there truly is a reason this place is a bucket list item for so many people. The weather was perfect. Essentially a warm, sunny Spring day and it accented the absolutely spectacular setting for the ruins. The remaining structures are very well preserved and with a little explanation it’s easy to see how the basics of life would have flowed in this place so many centuries ago.

Too cheap to pony up for a guide, we simply read the Wikipedia article while sipping rum from our flask at a quiet vantage point above the ceremonial plaza. A guide probably would have been a good idea looking back, but we still had a great time. I can’t say much more about the site itself so I’ll let the pictures do the talking..

As for the rest of the day, we walked the 90 minutes back down the mountain and into town, spending the money we saved not taking the bus on a alpaca burger that turned out to be one of the best I’ve had since our own hand made elk burgers at home. The house brewed beer was pretty solid too.


Bonus Content: We had a beautiful, if mostly uneventful two day drive from Nazca to Cusco where we saw a bunch more extraordinary landscapes and Taylor got to pet a one day old vicuna at 13k feet..