After a week of non stop partying in Mexico, Lima had to be a chill transition before heading to the mountains. Therefore, I don’t have a lot to write about Lima, except that it resembled my hometown Cairo a lot (in certain aspects).
With a population of 15 million, Lima is a pretty dense city. Lots of traffic, noise, similar in terms of how chaotic it is to Cairo. However, Lima lies on the coast, offering an outstanding surfing culture. The beaches are not that great; don’t expect the Caribbean’s white sands, but at least there’s a beach. Additionally, the city itself is somewhat elevated; about 500 m above sea level, which allows for some incredible viewpoints. Moreover, had mind-blowing ceviche and seafood in general. I don’t always post food pictures, but when I do:
Flew to Cusco from Lima, rising in altitude about 2900 m. Not a very smooth transition; had altitude sickness for the first couple of days, and generally, you run out of breath a lot sooner than you typically do. At this point, anything Coca is your friend. Chew coca leaves, drink coca tea, eat coca cookies, etc. These coca products helped big time with the sickness, although all temporarily, so you must keep ingesting. You start adjusting after roughly 2-3 days.
Cusco has numerous dining options and offers a surprisingly decent nightlife scene. You will not run out of stuff to do. On the other hand, one must know that Cusco serves as a transit city for tourists and backpackers that are willing to make it to Machu Picchu and the Sacred Valley (which includes Pisac and Ollantaytambo, to name a couple). I will try to be as clear as possible on explaining how to get to Machu Picchu, because it’s not very simple. Before I move on to discuss Machu Picchu, both Pisac and Ollantaytambo have attractions worthwhile seeing (Sacred Valley & Temple of the Sun) respectively. You enter both and a couple of other attractions nearby with a $20 ticket.
Aguas Calientes (Machu Picchu)
Even though it’s 2017, getting to Machu Picchu is not a piece of cake. How the Incas built a city there more than 500 years ago is beyond me. Make sure you buy the tickets ahead of time, as they are not sold at the park entrance. You can buy them at Aguas Calientes or Cusco if you prefer. Cost: $45 for park entrance and another $15 if you decide to do one of the mountain hikes (Huayna Picchu or Montaña Machu Picchu).
- Trekking, through Inca trail, takes 5-7 days. Note that the trail is closed every February for maintenance.
- By train, train leaves from Ollantaytambo, where the ‘Temple of the Sun’ is. So, in this case, you will need to take a bus from Cusco to Ollantaytambo, then take the train. The train is the most expensive option (about $140 roundtrip) to get to Aguas Calientes (which is the city built at the bottom of Machu Picchu).
- By mini bus, most affordable option, however not the most convenient. Takes about 8 hours (to get to Hidro Electrica, not Aguas Calientes), 6 of these 8 hours on zigzag roads. Bring travel sickness pills if you get sick easily from zigzag driving. After 8 hours you get to Hidro Electrica, which is a power station built about 6 km away from Aguas Calientes. The bus drops you off there and you have no choice but to hike the rest.
The hike is easy and mostly flat; just travel light. The bus that takes you back to Cusco will pick you up from Hidro Electrica, so you will need to hike back after you’re done with Machu Picchu. Pickups are only around 3 pm everyday, so in my opinion, if you want to enjoy Machu Picchu and hike one of the two big mountains without feeling rushed, you need to spend two nights in Aguas Calientes. First night will be crucial rest after the 8 hour bus ride and the 2 hour hike. The next day will be fully devoted to Machu Picchu, till 4 pm when the park closes. Afterwards, you go rest in Aguas Calientes and the next day at noon start hiking back to Hidro Electrica to catch the bus.
One last piece of the puzzle, is getting from Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu itself. As you may know, Machu Picchu is a city that was built on and between mountains. This means, you need to ascend to get there. Luckily, there is a bus option here (about $12/way) to take you up. Otherwise, you need to climb stairs for about 2 hours, just to get to the entrance. If you are willing to climb Huayna Picchu or Montaña Machu Picchu at the park, then I recommend the bus. You can take the stairs down at the end of the day.
Now, you’re finally at Machu Picchu, and here is the reward: