Traveling the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu (part 4)

Traveling the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu (part 4)

Machu Picchu, here we come. This is the last installment in our adventure to Machu Picchu on the Inca Trail by foot and by rail. To recap, part one focused on the start of the Inca Trail trek hike, part two concentrated on hiking the trail with altitude sickness and part three discussed leaving the Inca Trail and catching the train to Aguas Calientes. This section will focus on what to see inside Machu Picchu.

Day 4

Tierra Viva Breakfast

It was so nice waking up in a hotel instead of a tent on the Inca Trail. Breakfast and a hot shower were only steps away. The Tierra Viva hotel in Aguas Calientes had a lovely complimentary breakfast buffet, and we took full advantage.

Tierra Viva, Aguas Calientes, Peru

Bus Ride to Machu Picchu

After breakfast we sat in the lobby waiting for Eddie to pick us up watching the Urubamba river rush past. Eddie met us just before 8 am then walked us to the bus stop where John and Jane, our trekking friends waited. Condor Travel had VIP status, so we jumped to the front of the line to get on the bus. The buses line up one after another, transporting people back and forth to Machu Picchu. Our bus was full and we ended up sitting at the very back.

The road to Machu Picchu, is narrow and windy with multiple switchbacks. At times there doesn’t seem enough room for the buses to pass each other. More than once, I thought we were about to plummet to our deaths. Sitting at the back of the bus, we experienced every bump.

Entering Machu Picchu

As soon as we got off the bus, we got our passports stamped. Eddie wanted us to do it later, but we didn’t want to forget and there was no line-up. He advised us to use the bathroom since there were none inside. Then he gave us our tickets to enter.  Although disappointed not to be entering through the Sun Gate we were excited to be at Machu Picchu. A UNESCO protected site since 1983, and one of the 7 new wonders of the world. ‘The Lost City of the Incas’ was our primary reason for travelling to Peru.

The first thing that we saw on the other side of the gate were stairs. The same type as on the Inca Trail. Although I felt much better, Jane still had altitude sickness.  Machu Picchu rests at 2,430 metres (7,970 ft) above sea level, which was actually much lower than where we had been on the trail.

The Overlook

Eddie took us to the overlook where Machu Picchu sprawled majestically beneath us, snuggled in the Andes Mountains. This is where most people get the famous picture at Machu Picchu. People line up to take photos, although the pictures never really capture its beauty.

Machu Picchu

Eddie didn’t want us to climb up to the viewpoint at Watchman’s Hut since Jane and I had trouble with altitude sickness. You can view the entire city from the hut, but Eddie assured us the view from the overlook was similar. 

Door to the City

Machu Picchu, Peru

This door leads to the central plaza in the principal city. It is a popular photo op. Don’t even think about stepping on the grass.

Central Plaza

Machu Picchu, Peru
Machu Picchu, Peru

The central plaza is a green grass section separating the residential building from the other work-related buildings. Over 600 terraces stop the city from sliding down the mountain.

The Sacred Stone

Machu Picchu, Peru

The shape of the Sacred Stone (or Rock) mirrors the mountain behind it. It is a massive stone enveloped by a low wall. It is a powerful symbol in Machu Picchu, sometimes used to meditate or absorb positive energies. There are two open-sided shelters on either side of the rock where the Incas may have performed rituals.

The Temple of the Three Windows

Machu Picchu, Peru

The Temple of the Three Windows is part of the Sacred Plaza.  The stones and windows in this section are larger that the other sections. The windows face the sunrise. There is a lot of mystical theory on why there are three windows. Some of these stones weigh over three tons.


Intihuatana is Quechua for ‘hitching post of the sun’. The Incas used it to predict solstices, astronomical purposed, spiritual and religious ceremonies. The protruding tab points to magnetic north. On the solstices, the sun projects through a triangle of light, creating concentric circles on the floor. Historians believed they also used it as a sundial.

The Main Temple

Machu Picchu, Peru

The main temple has three sides with varying block sizes. Earthquakes caused some damage to the rear corner of the building, but it is still in great shape considering its age.


The Incas knew how to build things to last. Machu Picchu is in such great shape because the Spanish never found the city when they conquered the Incas.

Machu Picchu, Peru
Machu Picchu, Peru

Since earthquakes happen frequently in Peru, the Incas made every building at Machu Picchu earthquake resistant. The stone work is absolutely amazing, and something you really need to experience in person to appreciate.

Machu Picchu, Peru
Machu Picchu, Peru

I honestly do not remember all the names of the places within Machu Picchu, but here are some of my favorite photos of the architecture. It is unbelievable that these stones have been here since the 15th century, cut to fit together without mortar. The Incas chiseled some stones from the granite bedrock of the mountain while they pulled others up the side of the mountain.

Machu Picchu, Peru
Machu Picchu, Peru

After four hours of exploring Machu Picchu we said goodbye, marveling at the Inca architecture. The sky had darkened, but we made it to the bus before it poured.

Aguas Calientes

Eddie took us with John and Jane to a lovely restaurant where we ate a delicious lunch. We said goodbye to Eddie. He had an earlier train to catch back to Cusco. We would see him the next day for our Rainbow Mountain adventure.

After lunch we explored Aguas Calientes in the rain. Once again everyone wanted to purchase our rain ponchos. Of all the equipment we brought to hike, the ponchos were the most useful.

We spent the afternoon exploring the town and then boarded the train back to Ollantaytambo. On the train, Peru Rail treated us to a fashion show and a bit of Inca culture.

Once off the train we said our goodbyes to John and Jane. We found our driver, who would transport us the rest of the way to Cusco. We had Joshua as a driver frequently over our trip, so we were familiar with him. He only spoke Quechua, but he knew enough English to point out the major attractions. Condor Travel seems to keep the same guides and drivers where possible with travellers to build familiarity. He dropped us in Cusco, close to the Plaza de Armas at the beautiful Hotel Novotel.

Final Thoughts

We loved our four-day adventure to Machu Picchu. Our initial disappointment of not completing the Inca Trail gave way to relief that we visited Machu Picchu showered and clean instead of dirty and smelly from a four-day hike.

I honestly don’t know if we would have appreciated Machu Picchu as much exhausted from hiking. In our mind, we got the best of both worlds. We hiked the Inca Train and took the train.

My advice to anyone wanting to hike the Inca Trail is: do your research. If we had to plan it all over again, we would do the two-day hike, which includes one day on the trail and one at Machu Picchu with the night spent at a hotel.

Would you rather take the train or hike the Inca Trail? Let me know in the comments below.

Until next time


All photos in this article are copyright Frankie Cameron Writes.