Sunday, September 16, 2018

Machu Picchu Day 1: Inti Punku (Sun Gate)

Peru Day 4: 

We awoke early the next morning to take a taxi to the Poroy train station. Given the early hour of the morning, it was quite cold! The station had indoor gas-powered heat lamps which made the wait more bearable. At 7:30 AM, we boarded the PeruRail Vistadome train. The Vistadome had a more limited schedule, but had skylight windows to allow better views of the valley as we traveled. The train’s destination was Aguas Calientes, the town just outside Machu Picchu where most visitors stay.

The train was comfortable, with cabin-style seating in pods of 4 with a table in between. We 3 were seated with Lupe, a Puerto Rican woman traveling with friends seated in the adjacent pod. We all became fast friends over the 3 hour ride. Our chance meeting is also a good example of the influence of random events: upon exchanging itineraries, we realized that we shared the same itinerary for the next day, but the Puerto Ricans were also visiting Machu Picchu upon arrival! Our initial plan had us relaxing in Aguas Calientes that day, but the thought began to form upon further reflection: why travel so far and not get the most out of seeing Machu Picchu itself?

The ride paralleled the Urubamba river, which criss crossed the train tracks as we headed deeper into the mountains. The popular trekking Inca trail also started along the way, as we could see small bands of hikers taking off on their adventure. We also saw many beautiful vistas of snow-capped mountains, towering over the train.

After about three hours, we arrived at Aguas Calientes. The town itself was a collection of shops, restaurants, and hotels, split by the river itself. Three pedestrian bridges connected the two halves of the town. The seed of the idea of adding a second session of Macchu Picchu had fully germinated, so we went straight to the ticket office to see if they had extra tickets. Usually, one must book months in advance, but luckily they had a few extra slots. We checked into our hotel, then quickly made our way back to the bus depot. The bus ticket line was even longer than the Machu Picchu line! They only took cash, but luckily that included US dollars, so we were able to snag our tickets before the next bus left.

Bridges in Aguas Calientes

Every day, there are two windows of time to enter Machu Picchu, a morning session and an afternoon session. We joined in the afternoon session, taking a winding 30 minute bus ride up to the entry gate to Machu Picchu. Your ticket and passport are checked at the gate, and then a small pathway leads into the citadel. As one enters, there are several circuits around the site. We took the upper trek, which required a 15 minute climb up a set of stairs. At the end, a view of the citadel down below opens up. 

Machu Picchu citadel with Huayanapicchu peak in the background

From there, we decided to hike to the Sun Gate, or Inti Punku. The Sun Gate is about a two hour hike away from the site up an adjacent mountain. Along the way, we were greeted by several free-ranging llamas! Sadly, they didn’t share our excitement in seeing us, as they continued to graze as we walked by. About half way up, there is a guard house, which in reality is a small outcropping of stones. Mom decided to halt here, while Dad and I continued onwards to the Gate itself. After about 30 more minutes hiking, we reached the Gate. Peering back, we could see the citadel off in the distance. As the sun was starting to set, we could see its rays extending across the valley. It is still remarkable how the entire site was designed to be in harmony with its surroundings and the heavens above.

Machu Picchu citadel as seen from Inti Punku (Sun Gate)

As the rays lengthened, the site was closed, and we headed back down, picking up Mom along the way. We took the bus ride back, and quickly wound down for the night, looking forward to a second chance at Machu Picchu the next day by morning.

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