Peru Part II – Inca Trail and Aguas Calientes

No trip to Peru would be complete without seeing the country’s iconic ruins high up in the Andes: Machu Picchu.  There are several ways to go about visiting this legendary place.  For the adventurous backpackers, there are 3 and 4-day hikes on the Inca Trail that finish up at Machu Picchu.  For a less vigorous trip, you can opt for the option we chose:  A one day hike along the last part of the Inca Trail, a night in the small town of Aguas Calientes and a sunrise visit to Machu Picchu the following morning.

Before I get into the “good” of the trip, I want to get the relatively “bad” out of the way.  The tour company we booked our trip through was called Peru Gateway Travel – and I would NOT recommend them.  Now nothing “horrible” happened, but they were very disorganized and did a piss poor job of preparing us for the excursion.  They typically hold pre-trip briefings where a company rep comes to your hotel and goes over what you’ll need to pack, where to be, details, etc.  However, in our case, we were directed to a random address in Cusco to find for ourselves, and relatively late at night.  The thing is: they gave us the wrong address. So my family, while suffering from altitude sickness, was left wandering around a city they don’t know in the dark.  When they got back to the hostel, we had the hotel manager call the company (who gave them an earful) and a representative eventually showed up.  The next problem was that the kid they sent barely spoke English and thought we were going on the 4-day hike.  He was going over all the wrong details, and had no idea what details we needed to hear.  So we ended up bringing way to much of the wrong items for our hike, and all along the way didn’t really have any clue at any given time if we were in the right place or not.

So long story short, like I said, while the hike wasn’t horrible (our guide, Diego, was actually quite good), I’d recommend working with a more organized group.  Now that that’s out of the way, let’s get to the trip itself.

We took the Peru Rail to the 104 KM point of the Inca Trail.  The train ride took about 3 hours from Cusco and was surprisingly comfortable.  We got of the train and our guide Diego* commenced to take us on our hike.  Going back to how bad our prep was, we were seriously over-packed so here’s are a few tips:

-Take only what you know you’ll NEED and not what you might need.  Figure out if water and/or food will be provided in advance.
-If you’re getting a travel company to put this together, they’ll probably provide a bag lunch.  Leave extra room in your backpack for that so that you’re not carrying around a one pound plastic bag full of food  on the Inca Trail.  Trust me, it’s super annoying after about 200 meters.
-If you’re not in the best of shape, or would have trouble walking up to the 15th floor of a building at any given point, I’d suggest having a walking stick.

The hike itself is moderate to very challenging at points, including one steep section the locals call the “Gringo Killer”.  You’ll also want to make sure you’re good and acclimated before you go.  Coca leaves, which Peruvians/Incans have been using for centuries to help with altitude sickness, might help you.  But even if they do, it’ll only provide a small amount of comfort.  Once you get going, take the time to enjoy the beautiful mountain ranges, hundreds of different types of orchids along the path and and the unmatched feeling of breathing in the fresh, clean air of the Andes.  Part of the way on the trail we stopped at Winay Wayna, an ancient Incan ruin built up along the mountainside.  This location provided a great place to sit back, relax and enjoy the view.

The end of our hike concluded at Machu Picchu, but we only did a quick look since it was towards the end of the day and we would be going to be back the next day at sunrise.

For our evening stay, we made our way down to Aguas Calientes, the teeny, tiny town at the bottom of the Machu Picchu mountain.  This town really isn’t worth visiting on its own unless you’ll be at Machu Picchu for two days.  The town is very touristy and is full of hostels, touristy restaurants, an unbelievable amount of massage parlors, and a ton of backpackers.  Despite the touristy-ness, the town is cute and not a bad place to stay for the evening.  Here’s where we stayed and ate:

Hostel Chaska
Alameda los artesanos #209
Urb. Las Orquideas,
Machu Picchu, Peru
974 789818
chaska_machupicchu@hotmail.com

The hostel we were put up in was Hostel Chaska which was a perfectly good, above average hostel.  Clean and no nonsense.

Chaska Restaurant
It was “eh”.  Full of backpacking groups and a basic menu of steaks, chickens, and other normal peruvian fare.

Inka Wasi Restaurant
Another “eh” restaurant.  Clearly you’re not going to have fine dining in Aguas Calienetes.  I did try one of the dishes here that I heard I had to try called Cuy, otherwise known as Guinea Pig.  Again, it was “eh”.  Kind of annoying actually.  I’d say it’s worth trying for the amusement of seeing a whole guinea pig (head and all on your plate), but it’s like eating shitty crabs: it’s a lot of work to get to just a little bit of not that great meat.

Cafe de Paris
Actually a pleasant little place to take a load off and have a latte and croissant.  The owner is actually French and you can tell he’s really into his baking (we asked him about the ingredients) which uses Peruvian spices along with European ingredients.

*Diego has been a Inca Trail guide for over 15 years and has hiked the Inca Trail hundreds of times.  His rate to guide a 4-day hike is $500.  So if you are ever interested, contact me and I will send you his email address.

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