Sunday, February 21, 2016

The Road to Machu Picchu: Getting There

So let's take a moment and talk logistics. Getting to the ruins is not the most complex process but there are enough moving parts that discouraged our classmates. In addition to our party of three, there was another group of three guys in our class set to explore Machu Picchu on Monday, May 5th. I tried to coordinate with them but their plans were not finalized well after ours. Furthermore, they were not all on the same flight to South America either, so it was difficult.

But back to logistics. It is likely that a flight originating from the US will enter Peru via Lima. Travelers go through immigration, get their Andean card and then hop on a short flight to Cusco. By the way, the flight from Mexico City to Lima encountered frightening turbulence. About an hour after departing the Mexican capital around midnight, I popped a melatonin pill and drifted asleep. I was abruptly awakened by other passengers cursing in fright. It felt that the jet had lost altitude quickly and was jarred by rough skies. Looking out the window, I saw bolts of lightning and figured we were in a storm. Talking to Misty and Will about that turbulence later and apparently, the same thought raced through our minds: "Oh well, I lived a good life..." We were all resigned to our fate. But we obviously lived through it although it did not seem like it at the time. In reality, the pilots probably considered the rough patch as "minor chop."

Lots of time in terminals (L: Lima after overnight flight.) (R: Mex City Wifi!)
Anyways, most expeditions to Machu Picchu start in the Incan capital of Cusco. We would then take a taxi van called a collectivo from the Cusco to Ollantaytambo in the sacred valley, a ride that took about 1.5 hours. In my opinion, this was the sketchiest part of the journey.. For one, you could not book ahead online and I noticed that the van's tires were not in the best condition. The latter fact is frightening when speeding through curvy mountain passes. To find the "terminal," I inquired at the tourist information office and the kind attendant gave me a map. We needed it. The terminal was nondescript and hardly looked official.

From Ollantaytambo, travelers would then take rail (serviced by either Inca or Peru rail) on a scenic two-hour ride to Aguas Calientes. We chose the vistadome ride and left Ollantaytambo in the late afternoon. The sights were amazing and we were served light snacks and soft drinks. Aguas Calientes exists solely to service travelers to Macchu Pichu and is really touristy. To get to the actual site, travelers could either walk or ride a bus. We elected to ride the bus to save time and calories in the morning.

Inside the collectivo and Inca Rail's vistadome. Photo cred: Will Halsey
There are a number of ways to arrive at Machu Picchu. Turns out, our other classmates spent the night in Ollantaytambo and took an uber early train to Aguas Calientes. My roommate at UT, who was in the MBA program a year ahead of me actually took the Inca trail. Disclaimer, if you are planning to hike, you need to book well in advance.

On the return, we booked vistadome from Aguas Calientes to Poroy, a station outside of Cusco. It was a good call by Misty because by skipping the Ollantaytambo leg, we mitigated the risks of having to find a collectivo headed to Cusco at night. The Poroy stop was probably 30 minutes outside of Cusco but we were able to find an official-looking taxi to bring us back to the hostel. The next posts will further elaborate on the major sights along the way. 

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