Posts Tagged ‘Machu Picchu’

Magical Machu Picchu

Sunday, November 6th, 2011

Traditionally “the” way to arrive at Machu Picchu is by trekking the Inca Trail. However this is expensive and needs to be booked usually months in advance. Since I didn’t want to be tied down to a specific date for Machu Picchu and wasn’t too fussed about trekking the Inca Trail anyway I opted for the lazy option – train to Aguas Calientes and bus up the hill to Machu Picchu.

Many people have described the bus ride up and down the hill between Aguas Calientes and Machu Picchu as one of the scariest bus journeys in existence with lunatic drivers and precipitous drops off the side of the road. They’re all sensationalist melodramatics. However, travellers of a nervous disposition might be wise to be on one of the first two or three buses up the hill in the morning, that way there is no chance of meeting another bus coming the other way. The bus ride takes about thirty minutes or it’s possible to hike up the hill instead in about 60-90 minutes.

I was on the first bus up the hill in the morning and when we arrived at the gate for Machu Pichu there were already about 40 keen trekkers waiting in line. They opened the gates at 6am and we streamed in clutching our maps and spread out to get a bit of the magic to ourselves. Clouds caressed the site, the stone paths were slick from the mist and footsteps and other sounds were muffled. Ghostly ruins appeared out of the murk as I got closer to them.  A few vicuanas (similar to llamas) grazed the grass.

By 7am the cloud had lifted and thinned a bit but visibility was still less than 100m. I was one of thefirst group of 200 people with a ticket for Wayna Picchu, the peak at the northern end of the site. They slowly let us onto the path up the path. It took about 45 minutes to walk up the rough, steep path to the top, about 300m above the level of Machu Pichhu. The main site was still invisible, enveloped in cloud. As the sun warmed the atmosphere the cloud level went up and Machu Picchu appeared slowly over the course of an hour or so. I perched on a rock at the top of Wayna Picchu and watched the scene unfold. It was a magical experience, one I won’t forget in a hurry and one of the highlights of my trip so far.

As usual, there are some photos at Flickr.

Cuzco and Ollantaytambo

Saturday, November 5th, 2011

 

It was a ten hour bus ride across the Altiplano from Puno to Cuzco with stops at Pucara, La Raya, Sicuani and Raqchi. Pre-Inca civilisations worshipped a bull god and at Pucara and La Raya there are images and statues of bulls everywhere, even on the Catholic churches. The Inca ruins at Raqchi include the largest single Inca building known – 92m long, 25m wide and 12m high. Due to the construction methods used not much of it remains but it’s still pretty impressive. There are a handful of photos in my Altiplano set at Flickr.

Cuzco is considerably larger than Puno and substantially more completed. The Spanish influence is readily apparent in the layout of the historic centre and the abundance of churches, cathedrals and monasteries. Almost every shop around the Plaza de Armas and most of the surrounding streets is a tour operator and/or restaurant. The city centre is quite pretty with many cobbled streets and not too much traffic. It’s not as attractive as Arequipa but not a bad place to hang out for a few days.

I took a collectivo (public bus) from Cuzco to Ollantaytambo for just S/.10 (roughly £2.50). Ollantaytambo is traditionally a staging post on the way to or from Aquas Calientes and Machu Picchu but is quite a nice place in it’s own right. There are some substantial Inca ruins on one of the valley walls above the town. Admission is included in the “boleto turistico” which is S/.130 for about 20 different sites in Cuzco and the surrounding areas. Alternatively, there are some ruins on the other side of the valley wall which are free to visit. I opted for the freebies.

There are some photos from both Cuzco and Ollantaytambo in a set at Flickr.

Here’s the plan

Friday, March 11th, 2011

Lots of people are asking me what the itinerary for my imminent round-the-world trip is. I launch into an enthusiastic spiel and one of two things happens:

  • their eyes glaze over and they stop listening about half way through.
  • they get excited and ask more questions and after a while I reach the point of shrugging my shoulders and saying “… and then I’ll see.”

Hopefully you’re in the second group.

I have an itinerary because I booked a OneWorld Explorer ticket and I had to name airports and dates. I have an itinerary because I had a rough idea of the places I wanted to go and approximately how long I might want to spend in each place. The itinerary is flexible and likely to change once the travelling starts. The ticket is good for upto one year. There are very few details filled in yet between the flights. There are some highlights and must-see/must-do things and lots of vague arm-waving inbetween.

Date changes are freebies, changing my mind on the routing will cost me money – about £100 per change. Sadly there is no reciprocity between the airlines and me in this respect. They have changed two of my flights already and did not pay me £200.

So the plan at the moment is:

  • London-Delhi, Delhi-Kathmandu for a two week Everest base camp trek. This is organised by Above the Himalayas Trekking and I booked directly with them, cutting out a UK agent and saving some money in the process.
  • Kathmandu-Delhi, Delhi-Bangkok for a ten week tour around SE Asia with my friend, Hannah, who will be blogging about the trip from her perspective at travelpod. We have an approximate route worked out for this, based on information we found at travelfish. Briefly it’s a week in Bangkok including a Thai massage course at Wat Po, a few days in Koh Chang for Thai New Year, north through Thailand, south through Laos and Cambodia, north through Vietnam, topped off with 2 weeks lazing on a beach somewhere in Southern Thailand.
  • Two more weeks in Thailand by myself. I have various ideas for how to fill this time. We’ll see…
  • Bangkok-Beijing for three weeks in China. I have a very rough idea of how to get from Beijing to Shanghai involving Qi’An, Chengdu and half a dozen other cities. Probably this will be a challenge. A friend who knows much more about China than me says this will be hard outside of Beijing and Shanghai because of the language. It will probably involve lots of train journeys. We’ll see…
  • Shanghai-Melbourne for a couple of nights in Australia. Why only a couple of nights? Because I’ve been before and didn’t plan to stop in Oz at all on this trip. However, I couldn’t get from China to New Zealand in one day and will have to spend at least one night in Australia. So I’ve routed via Melbourne and will have a couple of nights there. Hopefully this will give me a chance to catch up with a tanguera friend I met last year in Buenos Aires, and maybe get to a milonga or two.
  • Melbourne-Queenstown for three weeks in New Zealand. How I get from Queenstown to Auckland is completely unknown right now. I’ll work it out much nearer the time. I have another tanguera friend to visit in Auckland and again, hopefully get to at least one milonga.
  • Auckland-Santiago de Chile. Not looking forward to this one; it is a LONG flight. I’ve got a few nights in Santiago and then double back westwards to Easter Island for a five night stay. Then it’s back to Santiago for another night. This extra night is courtesy of one of those airline imposed changes; they changed one of the flight times making it impossible to get from Easter Island to Lima in a single day.  Well, it would have still been possible but only by reducing my stay on Easter Island to two days, or by extending it to nine days.
  • Santiago de Chile-Lima for 3 weeks in Peru. I’ll go to Cusco and then Machu Picchu of course, but whether by train/bus or by trekking the Inca Trail is still to be determined. Yes, I’ll have to decide very soon – if it’s not already too late – because I’ll have to book the Inca Trail. That would pin me down to specific dates. I’m already tied down pretty tight with Easter Island so it could be argued that fixing another date for the Inca Trail would be no extra hardship. But that is approximately five months into the future and I don’t really want to be that constrained.
  • Then there’s a bit more uncertainty; I may go to Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands or I may not. Money will be a big factor in that decision. All the flights up to this point except Delhi-Kathmandu-Delhi are on the round-the-world ticket. Getting from Lima to the Galapagos would be a separate trip. I had thought I’d book a LAN airpass for the intra-South America flights, but found I couldn’t because I didn’t book it at the same time as the RTW ticket. Opinion on the web is divided about whether or not this should be possible. Anyway, if I’m under budget by enough when I’ve done what I want in Peru then I might manage a trip to the Galapagos Islands.
  • Finally sometime around the middle to end of September I’ll return to Buenos Aires. Ah, proper tango, at last! A couple of months of milogas and much more learning/improving my Spanish than last time. After that travel all around Argentina until about the middle of February and then return to Buenos Aires for another month. The travelling will include Ushuaia and if I’m really really lucky an Antarctic cruise. I’ll decide in that “final” month whether to use the final Buenos Aires-London sector of my RTW ticket to come home. Maybe I will, maybe I won’t. Perhaps I’ll stay in Buenos Aires or perhaps by then I’ll have decided there’s somewhere else that would suit me better. We’ll see…

Great, you were in the second group!

That’s the plan so far. I have just a few more days in the UK and then the tenants move into my house and I hop on a plane to Delhi. My transit visa for India arrived today, the Nepal visa is already stuck in my passport, I’ve had jabs against just about everything and I’ve sold or otherwise gotten rid of most of my stuff. Just another dozen or so boxes to go :-)

I’ve got three more nights of tango to look forward to, one of jive and maybe one of West Coast Swing. And then several months of probably no dancing of any sort that I’m used to. Withdrawal symptoms here I come.

Have you done a trip like this or been to any of these countries? Are there any must-see places or must-do things you would recommend in the countries I’m visiting?