With an early “luggage out” call, and departure from the hotel, we’re on the way to the Ollantaytambo train station for our 90 minute ride to Machu Picchu. We’ll disembark in the village of Machu Picchu Pueblo, more commonly know as Aquas Calientes to separate it from the famous historical site. Our group is traveling on the Vistadome train, the very comfortable mid-range service of Peru Rail. The most luxurious service (and about 10 times the cost) is the Hiram Bingham. The basic train service is the Expedition, previously known as Backpacker Class.
An important note about luggage on the train. Peru Rail officially states luggage limits of 11lbs per person. Abercrombie & Kent provided luggage transfers for our large luggage back to our Cusco hotel. While there didn’t appear to be any real enforcement of the luggage limits, it certainly made walking around Ollantaytambo and Aquas Calientes easier than dragging large wheeled suitcases. If you go – be sure to take an easy to carry back pack or duffle that can accommodate what you’ll need during your stay in Machu Picchu.
Located only a short walk from the Aquas Calientes train station, the Inkaterra Hotel is perhaps the nicest, and certainly the most unique accommodation in the village. Casitas and white washed multi-unit bungalows are set on the hillside, in a forest of orchids and other tropical plants. The rooms are simple, but comfortable and provide a quiet oasis in this otherwise busy tourist village. After quick check-in procedures, we’re on our way into town to catch the bus to Machu Picchu. This trip could easily be described as the NASCAR of Peru. After our bus departs the very well organized and managed bus stop, we find ourselves crossing a 1-lane bridge and beginning the zig-zag up the mountain side, still on a 1-lane dirt road. The buses appear to have a single speed – FAST, except when meeting oncoming buses, when the STOP is fully engaged. 30 minutes later, with some on board feeling the effects of motion-discomfort, we find ourselves at the base of Machu Picchu.
Nearby is the Belmond Sanctuary Lodge, the only hotel adjacent to Machu Picchu. While we didn’t get to see the inside of the hotel, our A&K guides agreed that the Inkaterra Hotel provides much better accommodation. The only reason to stay here on top of the mountain would be to avoid the 1-hour round trip back and forth to Aquas Calientes, and have access before/after the buses are running. However, that means missing out on the wonderful village itself, the large market and what appear to be some fun dining and late-night venues. If the bus/NASCAR race turns your stomach or you want semi-exclusive access to the ruins, you might be better off here, otherwise check out the village – it has lots to offer.
Up a few stairs, through the ticket booth and around a bend on the trail lies what we’ve come here to see – Machu Picchu at last!